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

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Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood, based on the author's viral New York Times op-ed Inspired by her thought-provoking op-ed for The New York Times, Lisa Selin Davis's TOMBOY explores the history, and imagines the future, of girls who defy societal expectations bas Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood, based on the author's viral New York Times op-ed Inspired by her thought-provoking op-ed for The New York Times, Lisa Selin Davis's TOMBOY explores the history, and imagines the future, of girls who defy societal expectations based on their gender. TOMBOY is a revealing dive into the forces that have shifted and narrowed our ideas of what's normal for boys and girls, and for kids who don't fall neatly into either category. It looks at tomboyism from a Victorian ideal to a twenty-first century fashion statement, chronicling the evolution of the pink/blue divide and what motivates those who cross or straddle it to gender independence-and who they grow up to be. Davis critically investigates the word "tomboy," but lauds the ideas and ideals it represents. Davis talks to experts from clothing designers to psychologists, historians to neuroscientists, and tomboys from 8 to 80, to illuminate debates about what is masculine and feminine; what is biological versus socially constructed; what constitutes the categories of boy and girl; and the connection between tomboyism, gender identity, and sexuality. Ultimately, TOMBOY is a celebration not just of tomboys but of gender diversity itself, and of those who resist the pressure of gender norms and summon the courage to live as their true selves. In TOMBOY, Davis tackles an intellectual and emotional makeover of notions of gender, ultimately finding that gender nonconformity can be--and often is--a true gift.


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Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood, based on the author's viral New York Times op-ed Inspired by her thought-provoking op-ed for The New York Times, Lisa Selin Davis's TOMBOY explores the history, and imagines the future, of girls who defy societal expectations bas Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood, based on the author's viral New York Times op-ed Inspired by her thought-provoking op-ed for The New York Times, Lisa Selin Davis's TOMBOY explores the history, and imagines the future, of girls who defy societal expectations based on their gender. TOMBOY is a revealing dive into the forces that have shifted and narrowed our ideas of what's normal for boys and girls, and for kids who don't fall neatly into either category. It looks at tomboyism from a Victorian ideal to a twenty-first century fashion statement, chronicling the evolution of the pink/blue divide and what motivates those who cross or straddle it to gender independence-and who they grow up to be. Davis critically investigates the word "tomboy," but lauds the ideas and ideals it represents. Davis talks to experts from clothing designers to psychologists, historians to neuroscientists, and tomboys from 8 to 80, to illuminate debates about what is masculine and feminine; what is biological versus socially constructed; what constitutes the categories of boy and girl; and the connection between tomboyism, gender identity, and sexuality. Ultimately, TOMBOY is a celebration not just of tomboys but of gender diversity itself, and of those who resist the pressure of gender norms and summon the courage to live as their true selves. In TOMBOY, Davis tackles an intellectual and emotional makeover of notions of gender, ultimately finding that gender nonconformity can be--and often is--a true gift.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lucky

    I really enjoyed this book. The author digs into not only the history of the word "tomboy" but also the social constructions of gender. It has a nice mix of taking a look at studies related to the topic, the author's own story of how her understanding has been deepened and her discussions with other people. She asks some hard questions, but in this context i think they are important to discuss. I love how she has taken the criticism of her article in the New York Times and turned it into a learn I really enjoyed this book. The author digs into not only the history of the word "tomboy" but also the social constructions of gender. It has a nice mix of taking a look at studies related to the topic, the author's own story of how her understanding has been deepened and her discussions with other people. She asks some hard questions, but in this context i think they are important to discuss. I love how she has taken the criticism of her article in the New York Times and turned it into a learning experience. You can tell she has spent many hours reading, talking and thinking about this topic. This book is very accessible and not an overly scholarly analysis. I've been thinking about it a lot since I finished it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vic

    I did not expect to like Davis' Tomboy, and I was mostly right. Davis' definition of the word "tomboy" is so loose that even I, a person who played with Barbie dolls as a child, could squeeze myself into the definition. My friend group was almost entirely male until I started my tenure at a Historical Women's College only five years ago. I kept my hair short, I used he/him pronouns sparingly, and I'd wear ties and slacks to school. I continued to toy with gender beyond adolescence, now identifyin I did not expect to like Davis' Tomboy, and I was mostly right. Davis' definition of the word "tomboy" is so loose that even I, a person who played with Barbie dolls as a child, could squeeze myself into the definition. My friend group was almost entirely male until I started my tenure at a Historical Women's College only five years ago. I kept my hair short, I used he/him pronouns sparingly, and I'd wear ties and slacks to school. I continued to toy with gender beyond adolescence, now identifying as both non-binary and bisexual. This book seemed golden to me. I expected this book to speak directly to me, especially when Davis acknowledged how white the word "tomboy" is in itself, but it didn't speak to me as much as vaguely whisper. This book, like the word tomboy, caters to the white, centrist, norm. There is little delve into the racial implications of this word beyond Black and white, and while I understand that the audience intended is mostly white cisgender straight parents in America, I did expect more. Another critique I have is Davis' definition of girls. It's not going to sink the book's narrative to say "those assigned female at birth." I understand it's a pain, but there are transgender children who are able to transition prior to puberty , and I know from reading that these children are not included in Davis' operational definition of girls. The book is also very biased to the general idea of the American Left, the granola munching liberal northerner or westerner that wouldn't be caught alive in a gas guzzling car. I myself identify as a far left leftist/antifascist, Southeastern born and raised, but I still found it jarring how blatant some of the bias was in this book, such as on page 65 where Davis writes that LA, Portland, Seattle, etc are "...the country's most liberal spots, where there is more appreciation of gender diversity, and more of a concerted effort to promote it." My last critique lies with Davis' idea that tomboys are the harbingers of diversity, self-esteem, and self-worth. In the section "The Best of Both Worlds" (which is, perhaps, the worst title out there...it's very telling that the author of the book is cisgender), it's very heavily implied that being socialized with boys leads to better self esteem. This is a gross premise on it's own, but what disappoints me the most is that Davis doesn't fight back much on this. She tries her hardest to put a social constructionism turn on things, but it just comes off as essentialist. What about the manner in which we raise our children is leading to this divide, seeing as babies don't inherently have poor self esteem based on their assignment at birth? The whole book felt like more of a memoir based on her own child rather than an assessment of tomboys/tomboyism (?) as a whole. That all being said though, this book is wonderfully successful in that it is accessible to the common reader, it does ATTEMPT to touch on the ideas that I've critiqued, and it's a fun journey to hear what Davis' child is going to say next.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    I LOVE THIS BOOK I WAS A TOM GIRL I CLIMBED TRESS JUMPED OF THE TOP HOUSES I EVEN PLAY WITH MARBLES I WAS DIFFERENT MY MOTHER SAID I PLAY ALONE I LOVE THIS BOOK IT REMINDS ME OF THOSE WILD DAYS I JUMPED OF THE SOFA AND ALL MOST BITTEN OF MY TOUNGE THE SPOTS IS STILL OWN MY TOUNGE GOING TO SCHOOL WE ALL NO THERE ARE SO MANY MEAN KIDS THEY CALLED ME SPOTT TOUNGE I HAD BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH I WAS ONLY 5 I HAD NO SHAME MY GAME.N🤙😎

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough this was for an accessible book on the topic. At the start of the book I was convinced "Well, there's nothing that new here that Peggy Orenstein and others haven't already said other than specifically studying tomboys." I didn't think that I would get much out of it other than an update on how technology is shaping the younger generations' perception of gender conformity and nonconformity. I was really most surprised because bits of this topic have been I was pleasantly surprised by how thorough this was for an accessible book on the topic. At the start of the book I was convinced "Well, there's nothing that new here that Peggy Orenstein and others haven't already said other than specifically studying tomboys." I didn't think that I would get much out of it other than an update on how technology is shaping the younger generations' perception of gender conformity and nonconformity. I was really most surprised because bits of this topic have been percolating in discussions for years now, and it's nice to see that this is where straight people are in understanding now (unless she's exceptionally remarkable for a straight woman, which may be the case). Some of it made me roll my eyes in frustration, but there was a lot of good to it as well. If you're already family with the topics, I'm not sure that most of the book is worth it, but I enjoyed reading stories from women who had identified as tomboys (I never felt like a tomboy myself, but there's enough universality that most will find the stories relatable if they haven't adhered perfectly to gender roles all of their lives).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nore

    It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to say about this - while I enjoyed parts of it, I wasn't enthralled by it, and I felt that she hedged too heavily on criticizing some of the discourse that's popular on the left these days; however, it's still a worthwhile read if you're unfamiliar with the topic of gender and gender nonconfirmity and would like an easy, accessible book about it. First, in defense of it: This is written for average people, not people who spend all day on Twitter or It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to say about this - while I enjoyed parts of it, I wasn't enthralled by it, and I felt that she hedged too heavily on criticizing some of the discourse that's popular on the left these days; however, it's still a worthwhile read if you're unfamiliar with the topic of gender and gender nonconfirmity and would like an easy, accessible book about it. First, in defense of it: This is written for average people, not people who spend all day on Twitter or Tumblr and are on the bleeding edge of the word games hyperliberal circles likes to play. To the majority of people, "a child who was assigned female at birth" is, in fact, what a girl is (and let's be honest - childhood transitioners are a very recent development); no matter your stance on that, it's the truth, and she chose that language to make this book accessible to a wide audience. She also goes out of her way to include the stance of nonbinary and trans people for this book; clearly, she values what they have to say. My biggest personal issue is that she would not or could not bring herself to actually criticize liberal people in this book! I understand it; not only does criticizing gender identity politics feel like you're undermining the cause of trans rights, which is a miserable feeling when you know the struggles that trans and GNC people face, but the left can be absolutely rabid. Spend any time on liberal social media and you'll experience this. But let me, as someone who has been forcibly they/them'd multiple times now for having short hair and a masculine face as an otherwise visibly female person, say this: Some of you have bought into the binary you claim to despise so much, because you see a feminine boy or a masculine girl and think, my! This must be a baby binary trans person, or at least, a nonbinary person! I find it painfully regressive that I can't exist in liberal circles as a mildly masculine female person without being targeted for The Pronoun Question the moment I meet someone new, especially because I get side-eyed for fucking hating it. Davis comes so close to being up-front about these same reservations, but leaves it to a mild, hedging complaint in one paragraph towards the end. My other complaint is that this isn't as detailed as I would have liked; accessible as it is, it's more of an overview of the topic, less a comprehensive discussion, written more to be readable than academic. I can't count this against the book too much - it is targeted towards people who are less knowledgeable about this subject, and I can't say that describes me. All in all, I don't regret reading it, and I would recommend it to the target audience... But I was not the target audience and neither is almost anyone I know, being a person in one of those hyperliberal online circles I criticized above. Ah, well! Still worth the read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    Really interesting read! As a former tomboy, I was curious as to what this was all about. The author has two daughters, one more typically "girl-ish" and the other more "tomboy-ish" and this started her research into all types of gender awareness. I am a biological female and have been 99% happy with that all of my life. I never wanted to be a boy, just knew that they did fun things and I was all in (still am) on some of their fun. My mom never fussed or fretted; she would buy a dress that I wou Really interesting read! As a former tomboy, I was curious as to what this was all about. The author has two daughters, one more typically "girl-ish" and the other more "tomboy-ish" and this started her research into all types of gender awareness. I am a biological female and have been 99% happy with that all of my life. I never wanted to be a boy, just knew that they did fun things and I was all in (still am) on some of their fun. My mom never fussed or fretted; she would buy a dress that I would wear once (I did love them, they just weren't practical for tree climbing or to carry frogs), she usually made our clothes anyway and that meant non-descript t-shirts and hand me down jeans. It was perfect. She was the one who suggested a haircut because she was tired of combing branches of trees and leaves out of my hair from my last climb. The hairdo was perfect. I liked the boys. When puberty hit, I still liked the boys and then loved the men; still do. I love pants, comfy clothes, that is my style. I would love more pockets and utilitarian clothing. I wear boys shoes because my feet are small and pink, flashing shoes are not my thing. My children have names that could be considered for a girl/boy. I love being a woman and am a feminist. I think we are the stronger sex, by far. I will always clap for a human who is a badass and is rocking whoever they want to be. I learned a lot in this book about cisgender, bi, binary, non-binary, etc. etc. I think I have been successful in my career because of my tomboy ways and I don't intend to change. I do wear dresses in the summer, usually too big and rather billowy, especially if they have pockets; but the dresses are more for the air flow than anything else. My husband finds me sexy, and I know that I am. That is enough for me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    It's 2021. We can probably all conjure up examples of hurtful words whose power has been reclaimed, such as "dyke" by women in the LGBTQ+ community. We can also think of words we now use to judge a person or situation - their white privilege - rather than praise it - it is a privilege to accept this nomination. Tomboy gets it from both sides. This book looks at its history. It wasn't always needed because the play and dress of children wasn't gendered. When wardrobe and children's play and toys go It's 2021. We can probably all conjure up examples of hurtful words whose power has been reclaimed, such as "dyke" by women in the LGBTQ+ community. We can also think of words we now use to judge a person or situation - their white privilege - rather than praise it - it is a privilege to accept this nomination. Tomboy gets it from both sides. This book looks at its history. It wasn't always needed because the play and dress of children wasn't gendered. When wardrobe and children's play and toys got more locked into traditional gender roles, it was a way of denoting an acceptable phase for "girls" (people assigned female at birth). The author describes the all-the-time tomboys and the sometimes tomboys and how persistent and largely beloved this identity is. She tenderly and with an eye to learning more and doing better, examines how the concept of "tomboy" intersects with styles of childhood play and dress, gender identity, sexual orientation, and social control. She gets into misogyny, homophobia and transphobia somewhat. She wonders if there is a place for this term moving forward. It's a fair question. Tomboy, the identity, was a refuge for assigned female at birth folks, like me, to explore non-traditional gender roles and dress. It was a way to be comfortable as myself. It was all many of us young ones (age and location dependent) had back in the days of rigid heteronormativity and more rudimentary (yes, I mean non-inclusive) feminism. Now? More kiddos learn about the range of potentiality in terms of who they can be, without judgment and with space to explore what works best for them. This book is a good sharing of one person's learning journey. It was interesting to read about the evolution of the concept. It doesn't prescribe solutions or make recommendations. Or tackle the issues remaining to be addressed. Nor did it set out to. A decent, somewhat repetitive in places, read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Glee

    I don't know if this is a 1-star, 3-star, or 5-star book, but I don't want to punish it only because it turns out I'm not interested in it, and therefore didn't finish it. I was hoping for a little nostalgia about my very tomboyish childhood, but this is a much more academic exploration of gender identities and current cultural labeling. I just liked to ride bikes and horses as a girl, and had no use for dolls or dresses, and I was hoping to wallow in fond memories. This isn't that book. I don't know if this is a 1-star, 3-star, or 5-star book, but I don't want to punish it only because it turns out I'm not interested in it, and therefore didn't finish it. I was hoping for a little nostalgia about my very tomboyish childhood, but this is a much more academic exploration of gender identities and current cultural labeling. I just liked to ride bikes and horses as a girl, and had no use for dolls or dresses, and I was hoping to wallow in fond memories. This isn't that book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    A good book that I realize I didn’t just read to be a more informed parent as the mother of a Tom girl but as a woman who didn’t subscribe to the girly expectations of my family when I was growing up. I grew up in the 1970s and through the 1980s when unisex clothes were standard. I was an adult by the time the Spice Girls and Disney princesses rolled around. It still has an impact on how we view girls today.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Lindsay

    A thorough and engrossing sociological, historical, and psychological examination and the antiquated term 'tomboy,' an imagined future for children who defy categories, and so much more. TOMBOY: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different (Hachette Books, August 11 2020) first came to my attention this past spring and I knew I had read it. As a 'soccer mom,' I often hear this on the pitch, "Oh, she's just a Tomboy" or something of similar ilk. I started thinking about A thorough and engrossing sociological, historical, and psychological examination and the antiquated term 'tomboy,' an imagined future for children who defy categories, and so much more. TOMBOY: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different (Hachette Books, August 11 2020) first came to my attention this past spring and I knew I had read it. As a 'soccer mom,' I often hear this on the pitch, "Oh, she's just a Tomboy" or something of similar ilk. I started thinking about why we use this term and if there really was such a thing. And then I read Lisa Selin Davis's insightful and daring new book and felt we were cut from the same cloth. Here's thing: I don't really think 'Tomboys' exist. People do. And we need to stop with the labels and marketing that supports (or doesn't support) this divide. Selin-Davis takes us deep into the history of the term 'tomboy' and gives us stunning examples of how advertising and marketing have played to the stereotypes of gender, gender roles, expectations, sex, and more. Here, we investigate what a 'tomboy' was like in the early days, how they are different now. In the last decade+ we have seen a surge in changes on the gender continuum, LBGTQ+ and more, and so how are parents supposed to negotiate, guide and advise children? In TOMBOY, Selin-Davis discusses societal expectations based on gender, bringing forth current media and social events, the idea that perhaps we ought to just have courage to live as we are. This is a highly and well-researched narrative nonfiction and the author's passion for her subject is palpable. I found I had questions identified with much of what was presented, but I also felt a little lost with newer acronyms and labels, but a more ambitious parent might not. For example, it was hard to sometimes sift through what non-binary, cis, and trans-girl or trans-boy meant, but maybe that's just me. In some instances, I felt there might have been a slight deviation from what I thought the book was going to be about (parenting the so-called 'tomboy') and it morphed into a discussion of raising a child who might be trans. Still, I feel TOMBOY is an important read that will be eye-opening and life-changing for many. I found some similarities between TOMBOY and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS (Richard Louv) meets the writing style and rigor of Alexandra Robbins meets Ada Calhoun's WHY WE CAN'T SLEEP. For all my reviews, including author interviews, please see: www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book. Special thanks to Dewey Decimal Media for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come to this book with some trepidation, as the discussion of gender identity, gender expression, and how they intersect is such a complicated one. But overall, I think the author did an excellent job in walking that line. The discussions about the history of the concept of the tomboy, how the meaning of it changed over time, and when it went out of vogue is all nuanced, reflecting the sociological context of the time, including how gender roles have changed, how I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come to this book with some trepidation, as the discussion of gender identity, gender expression, and how they intersect is such a complicated one. But overall, I think the author did an excellent job in walking that line. The discussions about the history of the concept of the tomboy, how the meaning of it changed over time, and when it went out of vogue is all nuanced, reflecting the sociological context of the time, including how gender roles have changed, how the standards of gender expression has changed over time, and how society has evolved new categories of gender expression and identity. The impetus of writing the book was the experience of her daughter: a girl who, in the 80s or 90s, would have been called a tomboy. She identifies as a girl, but is not interested in feminine gender expression or interests that society typically encourages in girls. Her daughter does not identify as non-binary, nor trans, just a girl who doesn’t like girl stuff (I sympathize). This grows into the book's biggest questions: How do we support kids in finding and exploring gender identity and expression? How do we support kids in their gender identity and expression? Does the term “tomboy” still have any place in 2020? Spoiler alert (is that a thing in non-fiction?): the strongest conclusion of the book is that kids should be supported in experimenting with gender identity and expression and validated when they find their own identity and expression. BUT as a society, we also need to really pull back on the gendering of EVERYTHING. Kids (and grownups!) should be able explore their interests and fashion preferences and hair styles without everything being labelled “pink” and “blue” (literally or otherwise), and if that were the case, terms like tomboy (which she says may be past its time), wouldn’t be needed. I really appreciated this book. I was a tomboy in the 90s, but as an adult I feel there’s no one word that fits all that well. This book doesn’t give an answer, but certainly gave a path forward to a place where we can all feel like we fit in.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    DNF after multiple bouts of frustration with her '... but what about the (cishet) girls?' when talking with a trans expert who said tomboys still exist in today's media except that gender is no longer considered binary and some of these tomboy characters end up being trans or gender non conforming. She did feature interviews with trans people who were former tomboys so I thought I'd stick with it but the 'we need more tomboys that conform to my nostalgia' wore me down. DNF after multiple bouts of frustration with her '... but what about the (cishet) girls?' when talking with a trans expert who said tomboys still exist in today's media except that gender is no longer considered binary and some of these tomboy characters end up being trans or gender non conforming. She did feature interviews with trans people who were former tomboys so I thought I'd stick with it but the 'we need more tomboys that conform to my nostalgia' wore me down.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Lisa Selin Davis wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.” In it, she raises the specter that “we might be confusing cisgender girls with stereotypically masculine interests with those who needed to transition, socially or medically—and in the process telling them that they’re not actually girls, and thus narrowing that category.” Her book is in some sense a lengthy reply to the criticism that followed, and she sums it up well: “If the word Lisa Selin Davis wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.” In it, she raises the specter that “we might be confusing cisgender girls with stereotypically masculine interests with those who needed to transition, socially or medically—and in the process telling them that they’re not actually girls, and thus narrowing that category.” Her book is in some sense a lengthy reply to the criticism that followed, and she sums it up well: “If the word and idea of ‘tomboy’ are problematic, they are symptoms of a much larger problem: the problem of hyper-gendering of childhood.” With that, Selin Davis leads a guided hike through the gender terrain trod before her by Peggy Orenstein and Jo Paoletti, among others. But there’s new stuff too. Did you know the word “tomboy” has a connection to eugenics, “once referred to a boisterous boy or an adult woman’s sexuality,” and had a heyday in the 1800s before the 1970s one? Then “a Big Bang of convergent cultural shifts,” Selin Davis explains, all but vanquished the classic ‘80s tomboy: “unchecked capitalism, advances in reproductive technology, homophobia, anti-feminist backlash, a declining birthrate, deregulation of kids’ TV, and the rise of ‘girl power.’” She shares not just fresh information, but also ideas I had yet to encounter. For example, feminist parents may be relieved when their daughters drop the princess phase, Selin Davis says, but really what it means is they’ve internalized sexism: “Kids learn early that what matters about boys is what they do and what matters about girls is appearance…, [and] asserting a tomboyish side [is] a way to push themselves higher on the status ladder.” Selin Davis agrees, albeit in a begruding and belabored way, with trans advocates who suggest the terms “gender nonconforming” and “nonbinary” can encapsulate cisgender girls with stereotypically masculine appearances, approaches, and interests: “It’s as if all those words and ideas have been superglued, so the one way to break them apart, to be free of gender stereotypes, is to get rid of the boxes and blow up the gender binary altogether.” But still, “the feminist in me couldn’t help questioning why we couldn’t widen that girl category to accommodate people like Jessie or Phoenix or Mere. Did it have to be abandoned in order for people to feel free to be themselves?” She left me feeling torn, and yet, hopeful. If the historical trajectory of the word “tomboy” ultimately teaches us anything, it’s that “it is possible to steer the big ship of our culture toward more gender-equitable parenting.” That said, Selin Davis needs a wee bit of help at the helm. I’ve read extensively about neuroscience and gender, and I think she gets almost everything right until she unquestioningly cites disputed research for the proposition that there are even small innate differences between boys and girls before puberty. But the dismount, she nails, concluding: “The way we’ve gendered childhood is a construction, not rooted in biological differences between sexes. Still, what is constructed becomes reality, so much so that we abide by the divisions of our invention as if they are unassailable truths. And the problem is: Many children’s experiences don’t match up with the ‘truths’ about gender that adults believe.” And there’s no question that Selin Davis achieves her stated goal—“to get parents, especially, to question where their ideas of normalcy for boys and girls come from.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Valentino

    Girls (and Boys) Just Want to Be Themselves Here are some things people of any age can probably agree on: Figuring out who we were, how we fit in, as we grew up was hard. Now grown up it’s still hard figuring out where we fit in. Sure, some of us are among the fortunate who have a good and healthy concept of themselves, even when we were young. This, however, doesn’t describe most of the U.S. population, otherwise we would have a shortage of clinical psychologists. Well, maybe that’s a joke, but Girls (and Boys) Just Want to Be Themselves Here are some things people of any age can probably agree on: Figuring out who we were, how we fit in, as we grew up was hard. Now grown up it’s still hard figuring out where we fit in. Sure, some of us are among the fortunate who have a good and healthy concept of themselves, even when we were young. This, however, doesn’t describe most of the U.S. population, otherwise we would have a shortage of clinical psychologists. Well, maybe that’s a joke, but if Lisa Selin Davis has any message in her book Tomboy, it’s that, girl or boy, growing up is tough. And what’s makes it much more a bear are parents and society and their collective preconceptions and expectations of what gender means. In Tomboy, Davis roams around quite a bit as she uses the idea of tomboys to illustrate how concepts of gender roles have changed over the past couple of centuries. She reminds us that there was a time when girls and boys, at least in dress, were treated much the same, with both wearing dresses and frills up to the time of puberty. Then typing and commercialization, especially in clothing and toys, became the thing as we entered and traveled through the 20th century, producing a rigidity that cast children into roles expected of them in adulthood. This doesn’t seem to have worked out well for girls or boys, slotting women into roles best suited to their perceived strength of compassion and men into their own stereotyped aggressiveness and control. Davis marshals quite a large group of psychologists, gender thinkers, and women reflecting on their upbringings to tell her story. What you have is an exploration of how gender has come to mean more than biological assignment and how busting out of defined roles may have benefited some. Those picking up the book with the hope of reminiscing about their own tomboy childhoods will be disappointed, for this isn’t a nostalgic romp. Those looking for a better understanding of how allowing girls to express themselves will benefit in later life may also find the book less than they expected, as these examples are sparse. Okay for what it is, but it could have been better.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Overall, there were a lot of things to like here. Even as someone who's spent some time reading (and thinking) about gender, gender roles, etc, I feel like I learned some new things. While the book does a good job overall of summarizing the culture and history of "tomboy" and its meanings over the years, sometimes it ranges enough into other areas that you almost wish the title had been more general as well. Even as someone who grew up in the late 70s / early 80s, it was surprising to see exactly Overall, there were a lot of things to like here. Even as someone who's spent some time reading (and thinking) about gender, gender roles, etc, I feel like I learned some new things. While the book does a good job overall of summarizing the culture and history of "tomboy" and its meanings over the years, sometimes it ranges enough into other areas that you almost wish the title had been more general as well. Even as someone who grew up in the late 70s / early 80s, it was surprising to see exactly how much we've regressed in certain respects, even while we've progressed in others. I did feel like overall, the author was trying to do a good job to be inclusive and share lots of viewpoints (maybe by way of apology for some of her articles which, apparently, didn't go over well with some audiences), but at some points, I think it also made the book a bit more wishy-washy. There are also times where she discusses a lot of research, but then will just say "well, we know that xyz". Typically, these were usually statements that I'd agree with, personally, but it was sometimes kind of jarring in a book that otherwise takes kind of a pop-science perspective. She also interjects with stories about her own children and Brooklyn life in a way that sometimes feels a little self-involved. At times it also felt like she was a bit too quick to assume that things (and specifically, corporations) were moving in the right direction, and didn't always seem to attribute as much of the increase in gendered marketing to economic or financial causes. And, it didn't feel like she dug maybe deeply enough into some of the social factors behind these shifts either. There is some interesting discussion in terms of the need to afford more flexibility in gender roles to boys; given the title of the book, it's not surprising that the author doesn't dwell on this too much, but it does seem like a good area for future exploration.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mikayla Upcott

    Tomboy: the Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different by Lisa Selin Davis is an exploration of gender experience, biological sex, traditional understanding of gender roles, and the surprising histories and multiple understandings of gender-related terms. In this book, Selin Davis, the mother of a biologically female child who identifies as a girl but tends to enjoy clothing that would be traditionally understood as "boy clothing" and activities that would be traditionally u Tomboy: the Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different by Lisa Selin Davis is an exploration of gender experience, biological sex, traditional understanding of gender roles, and the surprising histories and multiple understandings of gender-related terms. In this book, Selin Davis, the mother of a biologically female child who identifies as a girl but tends to enjoy clothing that would be traditionally understood as "boy clothing" and activities that would be traditionally understood as "boyish," explores the meaning of the word "tomboy," the history behind it, and the reason why we are so quick to dump everything into binary, gendered boxes. Is your head spinning just from reading that? Mine was too, from beginning to end of this book. Gender is complicated in the 21st century, so in some ways, this is to be expected. And I could definitely understand the author's frustration with well-meaning people who suggested that her daughter identified as male when her daughter had clearly articulated that she was merely a girl who liked "boy things." I believe that the overall premise of this book is that we should stop trying to put everyone in hyper-gendered boxes to begin with, and to that, I say bravo, hence the 3 stars. I can also appreciate that the author definitely did her homework. But did I find this book enjoyable? No, I primarily found it confusing. Hence only 3 stars. I received a free digital galley copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Hachette Book Group for the opportunity to read and review. Tomboy will be released on May 5th, 2020.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Interesting and worthwhile exploration of the claims that "childhood is overly gendered—there would be no need for the word [tomboy] if less of childhood were divided into pink and blue" and that rather than transcending gender in the wake of the women's movement and the Stonewall Riots, "we found cleverer and more pernicious forms of sexism to keep people, especially kids, in their gender-segregated lanes." Davis notes that "hearts and rainbows and sparkles and unicorns ... [are] the stuff of j Interesting and worthwhile exploration of the claims that "childhood is overly gendered—there would be no need for the word [tomboy] if less of childhood were divided into pink and blue" and that rather than transcending gender in the wake of the women's movement and the Stonewall Riots, "we found cleverer and more pernicious forms of sexism to keep people, especially kids, in their gender-segregated lanes." Davis notes that "hearts and rainbows and sparkles and unicorns ... [are] the stuff of joy. It’s that they’re associated with girly-girls that makes them bad, and that’s a sad equation. Rather than raising a daughter to reject what’s associated with girls, how about raising sons to embrace it?" I appreciated this paragraph, could have written it myself, and have in fact written things very like it myself: The only way to do gender wrong, I’ve come to believe, is to tell someone else that they’re doing it wrong–something trans people, and even some masculine cisgender girls, are constantly told. Though I’ve spent most of my life thinking about the invisible, and visible, forces encouraging me to be a certain kind of girl, and leaving me with the self-esteem of roadkill because I couldn’t measure up to those standards, I’d never thought about the forces encouraging me to identify as a girl. I never questioned my gender identity, not even when I wondered about my child’s, even though I am often loud and aggressive and pushy and brash and embody a host of qualities culturally branded as masculine. But I certainly had internalized the feeling that I was doing gender wrong, as far back as I can remember.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Milky Mixer

    What's in a label? A lot, it turns out. In one of my favorite anecdotes in this book, a writer remarks how proud she felt as a kid when her best friend told her, "My mom said we're tomboys." "It was a pretty magical moment of mutual and self-identification, and I just don't think I would have felt the same way if she'd said to me, 'My mom said we're gender nonconforming.'" I picked up this book thinking I was going to get an exploration, defense, and celebration of tomboys throughout history, bot What's in a label? A lot, it turns out. In one of my favorite anecdotes in this book, a writer remarks how proud she felt as a kid when her best friend told her, "My mom said we're tomboys." "It was a pretty magical moment of mutual and self-identification, and I just don't think I would have felt the same way if she'd said to me, 'My mom said we're gender nonconforming.'" I picked up this book thinking I was going to get an exploration, defense, and celebration of tomboys throughout history, both real (people like Amelia Earhart, Louisa May Alcott, etc.) and fictional (Jo from 'Facts of Life,' Frankie from Carson McCullers' 'The Member of the Wedding,' etc.). Instead, I got a deeper dive into the roots of the word, the backfire of the hyper-genderized 1990s, 21st century gender identity, and whether or not the label "tomboy" can or should exist alongside modern terms like non-binary and trans and genderfluid. The book does get a little repetitive, and I wondered why the author used the word "sissy" several times throughout the book without defining/explaining/negating the term, for surely if "tomboy" is seen by some as harmful and derogatory, then "sissy" is too. But she doesn't spend much time on why it's socially ok for girls to be 'masculine' but not ok for boys to be 'feminine,' which I feel might have rounded out the book better. Ultimately, I think what the author shows is that the labels we choose to apply to ourselves are the ones that are most imporant. If you want to be a tomboy, be a tomboy. 3.5 stars.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jo-Ann

    Anyone who has felt limited by gender or has any interest in gender issues should read this book. It is richly researched and written in a refreshingly clear voice. Gender is a very complicated topic and Selin Davis allows you into her own struggles both in thinking about and discussing the topic. She doesn’t pretend to be the foremost authority with all the answers, instead turning to both experts and lay people to illustrate the many opinions and ways of understanding gender out there. She sea Anyone who has felt limited by gender or has any interest in gender issues should read this book. It is richly researched and written in a refreshingly clear voice. Gender is a very complicated topic and Selin Davis allows you into her own struggles both in thinking about and discussing the topic. She doesn’t pretend to be the foremost authority with all the answers, instead turning to both experts and lay people to illustrate the many opinions and ways of understanding gender out there. She seamlessly knits together research, personal anecdotes, and the voices of those living outside the binary. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of the word Tomboy but even more so deepening my understanding of gender. The author does a fantastic job of illustrating the ways gender is used in our culture to both oppress and empower. Some of the reviews here seem to be blaming the author for the problems of our binary and shaming culture. She did not make up the words Boy and Girl and she clearly advocates against using these terms to limit our children and ourselves. But she is giving a history of gender and those terms have been in use across time and place. It is nearly impossible to write about gender without offending people (which isn’t to diminish anyone who feels offended….their feedback almost always deepens the conversation) but her wish to be inclusive and live in an inclusive world is obvious and it would be a shame if her message(s) got lost because of that. I finished it last night and have already started recommending it to friends.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    When I was a kid I owned the label of tomboy and never looked back. I doubt my parents had concerns about it because my mom was probably a tomboy in her day also. It was “no threat for the natural, maternal instincts that would kick in at puberty.” The author of Tomboy is investigating the origins of the term, its recent lack of use, and whether it is even a good descriptor; after all there is no related term for boys. “The meaning of tomboy is completely dependent on a binary of opposites, with When I was a kid I owned the label of tomboy and never looked back. I doubt my parents had concerns about it because my mom was probably a tomboy in her day also. It was “no threat for the natural, maternal instincts that would kick in at puberty.” The author of Tomboy is investigating the origins of the term, its recent lack of use, and whether it is even a good descriptor; after all there is no related term for boys. “The meaning of tomboy is completely dependent on a binary of opposites, with separate criteria of what’s normal for boys and girls.” I remember as a child questioning a portrait of my great-uncle that hung over their fireplace. In the picture he had long curls and was wearing a white dress with lace and a satin ribbon bow around the waist. Not at all atypical for the times. Obviously no longer a norm just as there is no longer a prohibition on girls whistling or riding bikes. Boomers were the first generation of children raised with gender-specific clothing and toys. I was totally immersed in this evaluation of tomboy and whether it fits into today’s culture. The author makes so many great points supported by current research. Covering a wide range of topics relating to gender-fluidity, non-binary, and trans options. The decision to declare oneself independent of the gender divide is unique and personal. It was important for me to open my eyes and expand my thinking to understand that gender decisions are not boundaries that a person must live within.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Julia Telford

    I had no idea how badly I needed this book in my life. I foresee myself rereading this throughout my life. If you do have children or plan on having children this is a 100% a must read! Period. I didn’t realize how well layout this book was going to be. From the letters as well as interviews with individuals to the research through the decades of how “gendering” came to be, this was nothing short of impressive. TOMBOY, what does that mean? To LGBT kids as well straight kids. To why are we identi I had no idea how badly I needed this book in my life. I foresee myself rereading this throughout my life. If you do have children or plan on having children this is a 100% a must read! Period. I didn’t realize how well layout this book was going to be. From the letters as well as interviews with individuals to the research through the decades of how “gendering” came to be, this was nothing short of impressive. TOMBOY, what does that mean? To LGBT kids as well straight kids. To why are we identifying kids before they are able to express who they are. From how companies and brands use gender as a way to put society in boxes. There will never be enough boxes, lets lose the boxes. She helps us get comfortable with what we have been told is uncomfortable. This book is not just for girls but also boys! I love that! How it is more socially acceptable for girls to cross over to what is considered masculine but it is less socially acceptable for boys to cross over to be feminine. Which then strengthens for both girls and boys that being feminine isn’t positive. But again why now in 2021 do we have these strict lines of what is feminine or masculine? She goes back to history. So, so good. Definitely worth your time to read or listen to on audio.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    What a brilliant book. I loved Davis' clear-eyed exploration of gender circa 2020. What happened to the term "Tomboy" which our feminist moms and dads embraced in the 1970s? Why do so many people who identify as non-binary or trans still think that "being a boy" means rough-housing on the playground and being aggressive in the classroom (or in conversation) and "being a girl" means wearing pink, dressing up as princesses and wearing make-up? It seems, as Davis shows, that the Gen Z generation ha What a brilliant book. I loved Davis' clear-eyed exploration of gender circa 2020. What happened to the term "Tomboy" which our feminist moms and dads embraced in the 1970s? Why do so many people who identify as non-binary or trans still think that "being a boy" means rough-housing on the playground and being aggressive in the classroom (or in conversation) and "being a girl" means wearing pink, dressing up as princesses and wearing make-up? It seems, as Davis shows, that the Gen Z generation has had more hyper-gendered upbringings than we did in the '70s or even '80s when androgynous clothes were more common. Clothing and toys manufacturing companies are partly to blame--but so are the adults who perpetuate these antiquated notions about gender. (Gender reveal parties, anyone???) While Davis embraces Gen Z's openness about gender, and embraces what it means to be gender non-conforming in all its guises, she wonders why we can't have more expansive views about gender to begin with. Where did the tomboy go—and when did that term become so polarizing? If you want to know, read this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Annie Fillenwarth

    I learned a lot from this book, and it really got my brain wheels turning about gender categories, especially those we apply to children. I hadn't ever really considered the worth/lack of worth of the term "tomboy" before (having never been one myself), but this book digs into its history and present influence in an accessible and eager way. I wish the author had spent more time discussing the significance of the word applying almost exclusively to white children and digging into the misogyny an I learned a lot from this book, and it really got my brain wheels turning about gender categories, especially those we apply to children. I hadn't ever really considered the worth/lack of worth of the term "tomboy" before (having never been one myself), but this book digs into its history and present influence in an accessible and eager way. I wish the author had spent more time discussing the significance of the word applying almost exclusively to white children and digging into the misogyny and homophobia that cause no similar word to exist for boys who "do gender wrong." I did notice some Gen-X fingerprints on the arguments where it felt like the author was clinging too tightly to old ideas of gender when discussing trans and GNC experiences (something she acknowledges at times, though I would have preferred for them to not be present at all). My main takeaway is that gender is complicated but can be less complicated if we give kids the freedom to be who they are, apart from adults' expectations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This book was a really thorough dive in to gender roles and the gender binary. I honestly learned a lot about all the different terms out there and the binary that we're inflicting on children. I think this is a necessary read for most people 30+ to learn about all the ways that people identify with their gender. I enjoyed the first half the most as it discussed more of child development and the ways that sterotypes are internalized by kids at a very young age. The second half dealt more with ge This book was a really thorough dive in to gender roles and the gender binary. I honestly learned a lot about all the different terms out there and the binary that we're inflicting on children. I think this is a necessary read for most people 30+ to learn about all the ways that people identify with their gender. I enjoyed the first half the most as it discussed more of child development and the ways that sterotypes are internalized by kids at a very young age. The second half dealt more with gender identification as an adult, which is still very valuable. I read this for my family's book club and am curious to hear everyone's thoughts! I thought the author also did a great job of sifting through all the data out there and stating when some conclusions didn't make sense, etc. She seems like a really reliable source.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elli Pope

    I picked this up on a whim at the library, thinking it could be interesting as I reflected on my own "tomboy" childhood. However, this was a much more in-depth guide to modern gender roles than I had expected when I first picked it up. A lot of it was informative, a lot of it was repetitive, and a lot of it was simply a slog to get through. I ended up skimming most of the last part of the book. I think I had hoped to see a lot of research on how women who grew up as "tomboys" fared in the real wo I picked this up on a whim at the library, thinking it could be interesting as I reflected on my own "tomboy" childhood. However, this was a much more in-depth guide to modern gender roles than I had expected when I first picked it up. A lot of it was informative, a lot of it was repetitive, and a lot of it was simply a slog to get through. I ended up skimming most of the last part of the book. I think I had hoped to see a lot of research on how women who grew up as "tomboys" fared in the real world, and to the author's credit, there's a bit of this here. But I do feel like the book was primarily written as a way for the author to process her daughter's gender non-conformity and explore bits and pieces of all the gender variations that exist today. Which is fine, it just wasn't what I was particularly interested in reading about, and so for that reason I walked away disappointed.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jes Smith

    Compelling read about the complicated history of the word Tomboy and its usage today and in the past. Davis doesn’t give pat answers, or really any answers at all. Rather she encourages readers to make space for our inadequate vocabularies, changing understandings and above all the ambiguity. Is the book perfect, no. Is it problematic in places? Yes. Are well all problematic as humans? Yes! There is a lot she misses and I assume we all miss because it is so hard to break out of our binary thinking. Compelling read about the complicated history of the word Tomboy and its usage today and in the past. Davis doesn’t give pat answers, or really any answers at all. Rather she encourages readers to make space for our inadequate vocabularies, changing understandings and above all the ambiguity. Is the book perfect, no. Is it problematic in places? Yes. Are well all problematic as humans? Yes! There is a lot she misses and I assume we all miss because it is so hard to break out of our binary thinking. She challenged me in a lot of ways and also spoke to me as a mother and parent of Gen Z kids who are breaking down historical barriers. This book is an exploration, not a guidebook or answer book. She has propelled me to dig deeper to continue exploring the myriad of ways gender and sex is lived, expressed and felt around the world.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adani Sanchez

    Solid overview of gender issues and analyzing stereotypes, meant for beginners, but does go into some research and literature as well as survey data. I enjoyed how open the author was to admitting her lack of knowledge in certain areas and changing her opinions after learning new information. I really enjoyed learning about the history of the word and the concept of 'tomboy' and getting into the research around gender. I learned a lot, but I think the Take did a better job of succinctly capturin Solid overview of gender issues and analyzing stereotypes, meant for beginners, but does go into some research and literature as well as survey data. I enjoyed how open the author was to admitting her lack of knowledge in certain areas and changing her opinions after learning new information. I really enjoyed learning about the history of the word and the concept of 'tomboy' and getting into the research around gender. I learned a lot, but I think the Take did a better job of succinctly capturing the 'future of the tomboy' in this video: https://youtu.be/DEcBpleJ6SU.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sonya Loyer

    This was my book club's selection for February and I got it on audiobook from the library because the ebook would not have been available in time for our meeting. I would recommend this in print. At about the 75% mark, my brain imploded. It was more information than my ears could absorb! It was interesting and I'm glad that I read it. I had not read the viral article that it is based on. From Goodreads: Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration This was my book club's selection for February and I got it on audiobook from the library because the ebook would not have been available in time for our meeting. I would recommend this in print. At about the 75% mark, my brain imploded. It was more information than my ears could absorb! It was interesting and I'm glad that I read it. I had not read the viral article that it is based on. From Goodreads: Strong Is the New Pretty meets All the Single Ladies, a heartfelt celebration and exploration of the tomboy phenomenon and the future of girlhood, based on the author's viral New York Times op-ed

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ainsley Wortman

    Very interesting coverage of the history of what it means to be a tomboy, who got to be in that category, and the way that gender has been ingrained in children since the 1700s. This is a book I would recommend to those that don't quite understand where we are at currently with the gender binary (or lack thereof) and where some of our antiquated ideas of what gender means have come from. Also good for parents of gender non-conforming kids and those who aren't sure how to understand their child's Very interesting coverage of the history of what it means to be a tomboy, who got to be in that category, and the way that gender has been ingrained in children since the 1700s. This is a book I would recommend to those that don't quite understand where we are at currently with the gender binary (or lack thereof) and where some of our antiquated ideas of what gender means have come from. Also good for parents of gender non-conforming kids and those who aren't sure how to understand their child's presentation.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    I liked this. It was heavy on the history so a tad slow to start but such a timely topic. I hadn't even considered that "tomboy" is now a rarely used word (which is a good thing) but the concept of "girls who dare to be different" is such an important and timely subject. Thank heavens for increased acceptance of gender fluidity but the book reminds that society should not rush to re-categorize those kids as gay, transgendered or "gender nonconforming." It's all a "wait and see" during which we s I liked this. It was heavy on the history so a tad slow to start but such a timely topic. I hadn't even considered that "tomboy" is now a rarely used word (which is a good thing) but the concept of "girls who dare to be different" is such an important and timely subject. Thank heavens for increased acceptance of gender fluidity but the book reminds that society should not rush to re-categorize those kids as gay, transgendered or "gender nonconforming." It's all a "wait and see" during which we should do all we can to reject the notion that there is only one way to be a boy, girl or neither.

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