Tomboy

The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different

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By Lisa Selin Davis

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Based on the author’s viral New York Times op-ed, this heartfelt book is a celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood.

We are in the middle of a cultural revolution, where the spectrum of gender and sexual identities is seemingly unlimited. So when author and journalist Lisa Selin Davis's six-year-old daughter first called herself a "tomboy," Davis was hesitant. Her child favored sweatpants and T-shirts over anything pink or princess-themed, just like the sporty, skinned-kneed girls Davis had played with as a kid. But "tomboy" seemed like an outdated word—why use a word with "boy" in it for such girls at all?

So was it outdated? In an era where some are throwing elaborate gender reveal parties and others are embracing they/them pronouns, Davis set out to answer that question, and to find out where tomboys fit into our changing understandings of gender.

In Tomboy, Davis explores the evolution of tomboyism from a Victorian ideal to a twentyfirst century fashion statement, honoring the girls and women—and those who identify otherwise—who stomp all over archaic gender norms. She highlights the forces that have shifted what we think of as masculine and feminine, delving into everything from clothing to psychology, history to neuroscience, and the connection between tomboyism, gender identity, and sexuality. Above all else, Davis's comprehensive deep-dive inspires us to better appreciate those who defy traditional gender boundaries, and the incredible people they become.

Whether you're a grown-up tomboy or raising a gender-rebel of your own, Tomboy is the perfect companion for navigating our cultural shift. It is a celebration of both diversity and those who dare to be different, ultimately revealing how gender nonconformity is a gift.

Excerpt

Introduction

A TOMBOY EMERGES

It started with a tie and a button-down shirt.

When my daughter was three, she asked for that ensemble for Christmas. We had no idea where she’d gotten the idea, since my husband and I both went to work in T-shirts and jeans, but my mother found her a white shirt and a clip-on navy tie with silver horses from Target. Not long after, she saw my husband slip on a blazer—we can’t remember if he was going to a funeral or a bar mitzvah—and her jaw dropped as if she’d spied a double rainbow stretching across the sky.

“What is that?” she asked. “I want one of those.”

My stepmother still had the red polyester blazer with brass buttons that my little brother had worn as a kid, and my mom added to the mix a fedora she’d picked up at Buy Buy Baby. Voila: The coolest looking three-year-old any of us had ever seen emerged. She was a pint-sized Annie Hall or Patti Smith.

With the clothing shifts emerged a style of play that was a bit different from that of the other preschool girls. She was delighted to play princess—as long as she could be a police officer or the royal dog. She played with boys and girls—but maybe a little more with the boys. She was sporty and strong by age four, when she requested a short haircut, “like Ellis’s,” she said, naming her male preschool pal.

So many of the little girls around us seemed to look and play alike: long hair and dresses, taking on female roles in make-believe games. They pined for pink and sparkles, preferring to be Cinderella over Spider-Man for Halloween. As a proper lefty feminist, I had largely avoided the Barbies and pink paraphernalia that have come to define modern girlhood, and I was relieved to find her skipping the princess phase that I’d heard so many girls go through. It seemed to emphasize appearance over adventure, magic over action, self-consciousness over self-confidence.

Still, I knew that most girls gravitated toward those things regardless of parental disapproval, and I wondered at—if I’m honest, worried about—her lack of interest in them, envisioning everything from social rejection to gender dysphoria. But I let her dress and look and play as she pleased, even as I mourned the loss of her caramel-colored curls. Soon enough, it seemed her differences were actually advantages. She had twice as many friend options as most kids, and parents praised the cuteness of the girl in the tie and fireman’s hat.

As her younger sister, with whom I was far more lenient/exhausted, embraced the traditional trappings of femininity and all the pink sparkly dresses and Barbies I allowed her to get her hands on, my older daughter entered elementary school fully clad in boys’ clothes, with short hair, a pack of little boy pals, and an air of self-possession. In the beginning, there were bathroom incidents (there still are), with kids insisting she was in the wrong one, and some children struggled to accept that she was a girl. A few had to be educated with what became our stock refrain: “Girls can look and act all kinds of ways.” But it didn’t take long for them to understand and accept her. They got it.

One day in first grade she came home and announced that she was a tomboy. “That’s a girl who has short hair and likes sports,” she informed me, smiling widely, passing on the definition that someone in her class—I still don’t know who—had provided.

A tomboy? That word, the idea, had never occurred to me.

But at its mention, I thought back to the 1970s, to the many tomboys in the various schools I attended, and on the playgrounds I frequented, in Upstate New York, Georgia, and western Massachusetts, the three main places I spent my childhood. Even I, a non-tomboy who craved the Barbies my feminist mom wouldn’t let me have and coveted the frilly, fancy clothes of wealthier girls, had short hair and wore striped turtlenecks and corduroys most of the time. So did the other little girls. So did the little boys.

Tomboys were in my favorite TV shows and movies as a kid, from Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie to Jo Polniaczek on The Facts of Life, who sported a leather jacket, talked tough, and fixed her own motorcycle—otherwise known as the coolest girl ever and the one even straight girls had crushes on. They were the heroines of America’s most beloved works of literature, from Jo March in Little Women to Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

These tomboys, admired by both boys and girls, were precocious, outspoken, and unbeholden to the silent or explicit rules of gender around them. They often adopted male nicknames, like both Jos, or Frankie from Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding. They rejected feminine fashion, or anything that could be labeled fashion at all. They were athletic and played primarily or at least partially with boys. And they played like boys—that is, they were interested in pursuits that American society had labeled as masculine, from baseball to tree climbing. They behaved differently than many of the other girls, which made them compelling and complex; it’s what made them heroines.

In fact, tomboys were once so beloved that many adult women who probably weren’t particularly tomboyish claimed to have been tomboys. An early 1970s study found that 78 percent of college women said they were tomboys growing up.1 More recent studies show that between a third and half of adult women say they were childhood tomboys—a huge decline, but still a strong showing.2 The word “tomboy” is found in or borrowed by over forty non-English languages, and more than forty others have their own version of it: garçon manqué (failed, lost, or missing boy) in French; Wildfang (little rascal or domesticated wild animal) in German.3 Kim Jong-un’s little sister, Kim Yo-jong, has been described as “sweet but with a tomboy streak.”4

Legions of famous and important women have heralded their tomboy pasts: Janet Jackson, Keira Knightley, Ava Gardner, Martina Navratilova, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Collins, Robin Roberts, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Jean Jennings, one of the first women in computer coding, all said they were tomboys growing up. “Vanessa and I were both what we call tomboys; that is, we played cricket, scrambled over rocks, climbed trees, were said not to care for clothes and so on,” Virginia Woolf said.5

Cher credited her miraculously enduring physique to her tomboy past. “You have to work out. But, thank God, I always was a tomboy, so I don’t mind doing it,” she told People in 2018. Dolly Parton, arguably the most feminine human on the face of the earth—a tomboy. Belinda Carlisle! Julia Child! Lupita Nyong’o!

It seemed like they were everywhere when I was a kid in the seventies, these feisty pigtailed or shorthaired girls in dungarees and T-shirts, playing ball, scraping knees, and getting their hands dirty; a kid like mine might have gone unremarked among them. But tomboys were so uncommon among my daughter’s crowd in 2015 that I hadn’t even conjured the term from my memory.

When the word did reenter my life, I didn’t bother to critique it—why, I would ask later, use a word with “boy” to describe a sporty, independent-minded girl?—and part of me wondered why a child who identified as a girl, but who preferred short hair and track pants, needed a separate label. But it did help me understand my daughter’s inclinations and differences. The act of naming something brings relief, the psychological exhalation gifted by taxonomy. Oh, she’s just a tomboy, I thought.

But in writing this book, I have come to see that there’s no such thing as “just a tomboy.” I’ve come to see the values and judgments embedded in that phrase—the sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, the idea that tomboyism is normal only if it’s a phase resulting in a feminine, heterosexual, and cisgender woman—one whose assigned sex and gender identity align. I’ve come to see that childhood tomboys grow up to claim many different sexualities and gender identities. And I’ve come to see that only cisgender girls have had this privilege of blurring boundaries and crossing lines. There is no positive term for a boy version of a tomboy, not sissy (derived from sister) or Nancy boy, no historically positive word for a girl who continues such masculinity after puberty. It is because we both tend to approve of masculinity and have considered tomboys harmless because they are girls that this allowance has been made. Rarely does anyone think a boy’s “sissy” phase is cool. Rarely do they even see boys’ feminine behavior as a phase while tomboyism is often imagined that way.

But it took me a long time to see this. My understanding began to change when my daughter was in third grade, and a teacher at the after-school program she’d been attending for six months stopped me at pickup. “I just wanted to check,” she said. “Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?”

“She’s a girl,” I reminded her. The teacher seemed hesitant. Girls can look and act all kinds of ways was apparently harder for adults to understand than kids. This was becoming a recurring situation: adults’ questioning of my daughter’s gender identity and skepticism at her response (admittedly something many trans kids have to face daily—and they can’t use their anatomy as “proof” that they are who they say they are). It happened regularly in doctor’s offices, classrooms, and on baseball diamonds, with adults who had known her for some time, whose goal was to be sensitive and inclusive. Our lovely pediatric nurse practitioner almost always asked if she wanted a new pronoun. The very kind teachers and administrators at school asked if she wanted to change in the boys’ locker room.

In many ways, this was a wonderful thing, a crucial cultural shift. Caitlin Jenner had been out for two years and Time had pronounced a transgender tipping point. Transgender high school student Gavin Grimm was suing his Virginia school board for its discriminatory bathroom policies. Trans adults and kids were an occupying topic of the public mind. Asking a child his or her or their preferred pronouns was progress, reflecting our increasing awareness of trans rights and the human right to have one’s gender identity affirmed, which I support unequivocally.

But adults’ questioning and skepticism of my daughter’s gender identity seemed like zealousness to put kids in boxes—new boxes, but boxes all the same—and they seemed to be based on binaries and gender stereotypes, the idea that short hair and track pants and sports fundamentally were boy things, even in 2017. I can’t blame those well-meaning adults for thinking so. There were so few short-haired girls in sweatpants playing with boys, even in our dark blue dot in a royal-blue city, with one of the most active LGBTQ+ communities in the world. While many have finally come to see gender as a spectrum, often young children hew to the pole ends.

When I relayed the conversation with the after-school teacher to my daughter, she looked at me calmly and said, “More girls should look like this so it’s more popular so grown-ups won’t be so confused.” I hugged her and marveled at her wisdom, but it also set into motion what proved to be an unstoppable inquiry: Why did so few girls look like her these days? According to her own declaration, she was a tomboy, a type with which the world had been familiar for nearly two hundred years. They weren’t entirely extinct as a species, and clearly were still in the collective consciousness enough for a six-year-old to invoke the term to describe my child two years before. But there were certainly far fewer tomboys than when I was a kid, in the media and on the playground. Why was such a person no longer understood? Where had the tomboys gone?

I pondered my daughter’s experience in a hotly contested op-ed for the New York Times in 2017. Partially in response to the criticisms (detailed in chapter 12), I began to study gender generally and tomboys specifically. Soon, I discovered that the retreat of the classic 1970s and ’80s tomboys of my youth started long before the profile of trans kids rose. That retreat stems from a Big Bang of convergent cultural shifts: unchecked capitalism, advances in reproductive technology, homophobia, anti-feminist backlash, a declining birthrate, deregulation of kids’ TV, and the rise of “girl power.” All of those forces and more contributed to today’s era of the “hyper-gendered childhood,” the labeling of every single item, activity, piece of clothing, toy, color, and personality trait as either masculine or feminine. I believe those categories have been artificially, stiflingly narrowed, especially when it comes to children, and that there’s nothing static about what those words convey. As I researched, I found that those overly restrictive categories have had tremendous social and psychological implications for children.

That narrowing is now giving way to a much-needed explosion. Today, with the rise of non-binary and genderfluid identities, with Xs on birth certificates instead of Fs and Ms, and increasing consumer pressure on marketers to strip the boy and girl markers from toys and clothes, a gender revolution is taking place. Meanwhile, there are somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 2,000 intersex babies born each year (depending on sources of statistics and definitions), whose biological or chromosomal makeup or anatomy don’t fit neatly into a single sex category.6 Their parents are now less frequently pressured into surgeries that would make their children’s bodies look conventionally male or female; in some states, such surgeries are illegal. Thus, our ideas of assigned or biological sex are likely to expand along with our ideas about gender—all the cultural associations and expectations associated with sex, along with a person’s self-representation, or how that person is treated based on gender presentation.

Yet this is also the era of gender-reveal parties, and everything from candy to pens, toys to clothes, every item associated with childhood stuffed into separate pink or blue packaging. In many ways, early childhood is as binary as it ever was, and in some cases, more so.

In the midst of this upheaval, I wanted to find out what tomboys could teach us about gender as our culture grapples with what it means to be a boy or a girl, man or woman, masculine or feminine, or none or all of those things. I spoke to sociologists, biologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, historians, Shakespearean scholars, clothing designers, gender therapists, people of many sexualities and gender identities, and tomboys from eight to eighty, asking three main questions, the sections of this book:

• Where did the pink/blue divide come from, and where do tomboys fit within it?

• What motivates childhood tomboys to straddle or cross that divide?

• Who do those tomboys grow up to be?

Amid the studies and stories, I discovered common narratives of tomboys who were physically active, proud of their muscles, self-confident, and open to both traditionally feminine and masculine playmates and toys. They were, as one researcher put it, egalitarians.7 When puberty hit, those similar tomboy stories diverged into tremendously diverse adulthoods. My hope is that reexamining what we already thought we knew about tomboys will create more understanding of and appreciation for gender diversity.

Many people feel that “boy” and “girl” are only gender or social identities, and don’t refer to hormones, chromosomes, or anatomy as the words “male” and “female” do. That is, those words don’t refer to sex—biology—but the social meaning of sex: gender. But in this book, unless otherwise noted, I use “boy” and “girl” the way that most of the research I consulted and most of the researchers I spoke with used them: as shorthand for those who are assigned male or female at birth. The broader truth is that some people who identify as tomboys may not have been assigned female at birth, and some people who claim the mantle of tomboys may not identify as girls.

Gender is one of the hardest subjects to talk about. It may be a spectrum (and some people even object to that idea because it’s a line between the poles of man and woman, instead of a more inclusive sphere), but it is made up of individual dots, and each of us sees gender from the perspective of our own dot. Many experts I spoke to—academics, doctors, specialists—had differing opinions and plenty of research to back them up. So did laypeople, who had equally strong opinions because of their lived experience, which gave them their own expertise. They had competing gender belief systems, and complete faith in what they believed. Over decades and generations, experts found new and opposing truths, each time declaring that they knew all there was to know about gender, sex, and sexuality, but most of what early experts knew is in dispute. The single unequivocal truth about gender I could locate was this: It’s complicated.

Our shifting understandings of gender over the last two centuries have had profound effects on how we raise children and divide the stuff of their childhoods into pink and blue columns. My goal is to get parents, especially, to question where their ideas of normalcy for boys and girls come from—and even where they got the idea that those are the only two kinds of kids—and understand how we as a society perpetuate those ideas.

Sometimes tomboys are cute little girls in fireman—firefighter—hats. Sometimes they are radical gender warriors, “gender heroes,” as the writer Karleen Pendleton Jiménez called them, who manage to rebel against restrictive norms, at times against tremendous backlash, at others with relative impunity. And sometimes they are just following their instincts, doing what they like, oblivious to how adults categorize them. What if there were room for every boy, girl, intersex, trans, non-binary, and every other kind of kid to explore and express their gender? What if we could all feel the freedom that tomboys historically have, and enjoy that same declaration of gender independence?

Long before the debates about bathrooms and binaries, tomboys showed us that there are all kinds of ways to do gender, as the theorists say. They offer us a perch from which to view the beauty, mystery, and complexity of gender.

7




I

The Creation of the Pink/Blue Divide




Chapter 1

WHAT THE HECK IS A TOMBOY, ANYWAY?

“She is gentle! She is wild! She’s a riddle! She’s a child!”

Richard Rodgers, “Maria,” from The Sound of Music

One of the first things I did when I embarked on this project was set up a Google alert for the word “tomboy.” When my daughter came home in first grade with her new descriptor, I didn’t think much about the word itself. I thought of what it evoked: a sporty young girl in ripped overalls or shorts, with skinned knees and messy hair, playing ball with the boys, running with her shirt off down the street or across the field. Maybe a kid with swagger and confidence, a tough talker, who either doesn’t give a hoot about gender norms that tell her she’s supposed to be demure and passive, stuck in a dress and on the sidelines, or doesn’t think those rules apply to her and makes up her own. I thought of all the kids that young Kristy McNichol and Jodie Foster played.

But almost no references to young girls graced my inbox. Day after day, I was provided with a roundup of season three of the Russian reality makeover show From Tomboy to Lady, or lots of hot animated tomboy avatars from gamers chatting on Reddit or 4chan. There were more than 2.8 million #tomboy images on Instagram, most of them showing androgynous-looking models and actresses, or long-haired women kissing each other, or just pictures of Kristen Stewart walking the red carpet in sneakers and leather pants.

There were references to the pan-gender underwear company TomboyX, which describes a tomboy as “an energetic, sometimes boisterous girl” who “dresses and sometimes behaves the way boys are expected to” and “who is not afraid to stand up, stand out, be heard and be seen.” Based on my experience, it’s hard to find gender-neutral kids’ boxer briefs, but sadly TomboyX doesn’t market its wares to the young girls who inspired its name.

On Facebook, there were dozens of tomboy groups, almost all of them dedicated to a kind of butch lesbian sexuality, and sometimes transgender identity, in Asian countries from Thailand to China to the Philippines. THAT’S MY TOMBOY PHILIPPINES, Femmes and Tomboys, and TOMBOYS LOVE GIRLS each had tens of thousands of members. Tom suay is Thai for “beautiful butch.”

Yet there were but five members of the group Tomboys just being Tomboys, which had no posts and just one photo, of a tawny-skinned girl sticking out her tongue. That was pretty much it for childhood tomboys on social media.

When I did find current, contemporary references to young girls in my inbox, they were almost always in articles and blog posts from mothers insisting that their daughters not be called tomboys—even though I found scant evidence that girls today are commonly referred to that way. These writers denounced the word as outdated and offensive, noting that making a separate category for sporty, assertive girls implies that the normal state of girlhood is inactive and quiet. Why should we use a term with boy in it to describe these Jos and Punkys and Scouts, indicating that they are both a lesser form of boy and a better form of girl?

Meanwhile, the word “tomboy” has sometimes been foisted upon trans people, to tell them that their core gender identities aren’t valid. Saying someone is “just a tomboy” can also be code for: “I don’t believe that you are trans.”

So, yes, the word in all its deployments is full of flaws, misuses, even abuses. In fact, it always was.

A Brief History of the Word “Tomboy”

The “tom” part of tomboy likely comes from the twelfth-century Middle English thom, meaning “boy type”—like tomcat, tom turkey. And the “boy” is, well, boy. The term, when it was coined in 1556, meant an extra-boisterous boy, a dose of prepubescent toxic masculinity.

Not long after, the meaning shifted to describe a lascivious woman whose sexual appetites rivaled men’s. By 1656, it had begun to describe a girl who acted more like a rambunctious boy, a definition that stuck, even if for the first two hundred years or so it was an insult. But in mid-1800s antebellum America, “tomboy” began shifting from a slur to a term of pride.

In many ways, the mass media and publishing industries, which ballooned after the Civil War, created and popularized the modern concept of the tomboy. They supplied books to the growing demographic of middle-class children who went to school instead of worked, who were partaking of this new time and space called childhood. These books told girls and boys how, and how not, to behave. The emerging products of women’s magazines and children’s literature trafficked in gendered cultural normalcy.

Credit: From Freaks and Frolics of Little Girls and Boys by Josephine Pollard (New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1888)

Amid the tales of naughty boys who were more interested in spinning tops than reading books, and girls who were too vain, were tales of girls who, when told that they should be sweet and sedentary and deferential and demure, said no way.1 Those girls became known in American media and culture as tomboys. Adult women in the Victorian era, predominantly middle-class white women, were largely constrained by the gender roles of what was known as the “cult of true womanhood,” sometimes called the “cult of domesticity.” This ideology promoted the ideal of women sticking to the private sphere, tending to children and cultivating piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness (though some were also cultivating their own industries and romances). But some of their daughters were doing wildly “masculine” things like playing sports with boys, even if they were expected to desist once they became mothers themselves.

Early on, “tomboy” was a divisive word. The media debated tomboyism’s merits and deficits during this first nineteenth-century tomboy heyday; there are more than twenty-two thousand tomboy mentions in the Newspapers.com archive alone.2 Sometimes tomboys were called vulgar or dangerous, with experts declaring that girls should not be raised with the malignant idea that they deserved equality with boys, or be educated with them. The biggest peril? Studying would siphon blood away from the womb.

The greatest possibility? It’s nicely put in this 1891 article from San Francisco’s the Morning Call: “The American Tomboy: She Often Becomes a Woman Men Admire and Worship.” If some people believed tomboys would lose what was thought to be women’s most important power—procreation—others believed tomboyism would strengthen that power; tomboys would grow up to be the healthiest and most attractive women, the most suited to reproduce.

Some encouragement of tomboyism was downright feminist. An author named L.V.F. wrote a widely reprinted 1858 editorial called “Our Daughters—Tomboys.” She suggested what mothers should remember: “… if restricted (physical) education, enfeebled health, delicate nervous system, and above all a purposeless, aimless life, are not calculated to bring out the genius and build up the reputation of their sons; neither are they to be depended on to do this for their daughters.”3 That is, some people began to believe that daughters should be treated, in many ways, like sons.

Jo Changes Everybody’s Mind

What really upped the cultural approval of tomboys was the rise of tomboy literature, starting with what may have been the country’s first bestseller, E. D. E. N. Southworth’s 1859 The Hidden Hand. It starred the mischievous tomboy orphan Capitola Black and electrified the kid-lit industry. Books about feisty, fending-for-themselves, often motherless girls followed (their lack of maternal influence was used to explain their tomboyism). They were misfits, and pals with fellow-misfit sissies, but also heroines. Soon there were Western books for boys that included horse-wrangling tomboy characters.

Once Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Genre:

  • *** A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW Editor's Choice/Staff Pick ***Publishers Weekly’s Top Nonfiction Books of 2020***

    *PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, STARRED REVIEW*

    New York Times, "9 New Books We Recommend This Week"
     
    MS. MAGAZINE, "Reads for the Rest of Us"
     
    Chronogram, "Books For Your October Reading List"
     
    Featured on Cool Mom Picks "Spawned" Podcast
  • "Hooray for gender rebels!"—Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex
  • "[A] thorough and engrossing investigation... Davis's persuasive and deeply personal argument for moving beyond the gender binary will resonate with those curious about child rearing free of normative expectations."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Lisa Selin Davis leverages a familiar term to take a comprehensive look at gender performance in girls...Davis takes the reader in a fresh direction by illuminating the forces behind the shifting regard in which tomboys have been held. ...[a] thoughtful consideration of how money and power have shaped our ever-changing view of tomboys."—New York Times Book Review
  • "An intriguing look at culture's influence on gender & identity."—PEOPLE Magazine
  • "Tomboy is a revelation, an impassioned and empathic consideration of how gender is manufactured and sold, and how it can both oppress and empower. This is way more than a book for parents navigating how to raise individuals in a world of stubborn binaries; it's for all of us who want to understand that world, and how we might become our true selves within it."—LaurenSandler, author of This Is All I Got: A New Mother's Search for Home andOne and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One
  • "As I read this book, I felt at turns challenged and surprised and at turns comforted-as a tomboy in the 80s, I saw myself on the pages and understood where I had come from and the forces that shaped me. As someone who currently teaches gender inclusion at schools across the country, I can't wait to use this book in the presentations I give. It will really help teachers and parents understand not just tomboys but gender. But it isn't just an informative and useful book; it's exciting and compelling as well."—Alex Myers, author of Revolutionaryand Continental Divide
  • "Lisa Selin Davis uses TOMBOY as a launch pad for a thought-provoking and enlightening exploration of the troubled pink and blue waters of gender categories-and the words that can be life rafts to help us float above them or stones pulling us in deeper."—Deborah Tannen, professor oflinguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don't Understand,You're Wearing THAT?, and You're the Only One I Can Tell
  • "This book will surprise, delight, and challenge everything you think you know about gender. Davis's writing is lively and lucid; a sage and compassionate guide on this rocky terrain. Every parent needs to read this book."—Jennifer Block, author of EverythingBelow the Waist
  • "A thoughtful, thorough examination and celebration of gender non-conformity, and a crucial contribution to our cultural understanding of this moment, and how we got here."—LizPlank, author of FOR THE LOVE OF MEN
  • "Tomboy tackles a unique, contradictory moment in history: male and female binaries are exploding yet childhood has become more hyper-gendered than ever. How did we get here? What does it mean? I picked up this book expecting to read a few pages; hours later I was still riveted, underlining paragraphs, scribbling margin notes and rethinking all my assumptions about boys, girls and everyone along or beyond that spectrum. Hooray for gender rebels!"—Peggy Orenstein, NewYork Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex
  • "An informative jumping-off point for further investigation."—Kirkus
  • "[A] fascinating book that has resulted [explores] the concept of the tomboy from Victorian times to today's world, where considerations of gender are front and center."—Booklist
  • "Davis traces the origin of the word tomboy, as well as movements of the pink/blue line in history and the impact of commercialism, homo- and transphobias, the media, racism and privilege. Who gets to draw the line? The single unequivocal truth about gender Davis uncovered is "it's complicated," but the more we know, the sooner we can undo stereotypes. Tracing the history and impact of the word "tomboy" [Davis] provides the backdrop for a study of changing gender identity lines and how better to navigate complex gender issues."Shelf Awareness
  • “Davis entertainingly explores the history of tomboyism from the Victorian era up until today with painstaking attention to detail and healthy doses of humor. She sheds new light on a fascinating subject and brings fresh insight to the discussion of gender nonconformity. This one-of-a-kind narrative is both innovative in subject and breathtaking in scope.”—Publisher's Weekly

On Sale
Aug 11, 2020
Page Count
336 pages
Publisher
Legacy Lit
ISBN-13
9780316458313

Lisa Selin Davis

About the Author

Lisa Selin Davis is an essayist, novelist, and journalist who has written for major publications such as the New York Times, the WallStreet Journal, the Guardian, Time, Yahoo!, and Salon, among many others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and kids.

Learn more about this author