cover image Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different

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

Lisa Selin Davis. Hachette Go, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-45831-3

In this thorough and engrossing investigation, novelist Davis (Lost Stars) posits that gendered child rearing may soon be a thing of the past. Prompted by criticism of her 2017 New York Times essay about her gender-nonconforming daughter, Davis uncovered the mid-17th-century roots of the term tomboy and its evolution from having a negative connotation to a positive one in the late 1800s due in part to Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women. By the 1920s, the early childhood years—previously gender neutral, with lace, ruffle, and bow-adorned outfits for both boys and girls—became a proving ground to “prepare kids for their future adult performances of gender” with the introduction of boy/girl toys and clothing. While the pop culture Girl Power movement in the 1980s and ’90s ostensibly promoted tomboy-ism in television and film, Davis learned from gender studies experts that “these [TV] characters were allowed and encouraged and beloved because they seemed straight and cisgender. They weren’t crossing the line into lesbian and/or trans territory.” In coming out, Davis notes, tomboy actors Jodie Foster and Kristy McNichol mainstreamed LBGTQ issues, and today, “gender-creative” parenting—raising a child free of gender identity or expression until they decide for themselves—introduces a new approach. 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. (Aug.)