Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir (Zest Books)
Written & drawn by Liz Prince
Last month I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a copy of Liz Prince’s Tomboy (Zest Books) and I jumped at the chance. I admit that I haven’t read Prince’s other works like Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? or Alone Forever, but I was immediately drawn to the concept of an autobiographic graphic novel focusing on a woman who grew up trying to avoid society’s imposed gender norms.
As it happens, I’m one of those guys that didn’t really think much about gender relations until I had a daughter. To be fair, I grew up with a single mother for a few years before she remarried, always had great respect for women and, because the girls in my grade school classes were so smart, assumed ladies were the more intelligent sex. So, it wasn’t like I was some he-man woman-hater going into father hood. I feel like I was a fairly open-minded dude, but there was just so much I never even thought about because of how I was born.
And that’s a great place to dive into Tomboy, because it’s about a young girl who, from an early age, realized that she didn’t fit into the rubric of what it meant to be “a girl.” So, she mentally eschewed everything that made her think of “girliness” and focused on being “more like a boy.” As she grew up, however, she realized that this made her something of an outcast from both groups. Eventually Prince made some similarly minded friends, met one of those key adults who “got her” and became this awesome person who makes autobiographical comics about her life.
Even though I might not have thought about these things much before the last few years, I did find myself relating to Prince on a variety of levels. I had a solid group of friends in grade and high school, but I was small, sorta smart and unathletic. I assumed from watching a lifetime of TV and movies that this could make me a target for bullying and did my best to just fly under the radar. As it turns out, Prince was a lot braver than I was as a kid.
But there were other personal connections I made to this work. As it turns out Prince and I are the same age, so the “boys’ toys” that she was into as a kid were the same ones I was into. I think that, had we grown up in the same neighborhood, we would have actually been pals, especially given our mutual love of all things Ghostbusters and, later, Green Day.
Back to the whole dad-thing, as I said in last week’s episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, I’ve always been concerned about my daughter conforming to society’s ideas about what a girl can be. As such, I got worried when it became clear that she was a gigantic fan of princesses, ponies and all things pink. Soon enough, though, I realized that it doesn’t matter what she likes as long as she likes it because it’s something that appeals to her and not something she’s supposed to like. I do my best to offer her plenty of other entertainment options, which she also enjoys. Because of that, I have a daughter who’s been photographed in princess dresses holding a football and wielding lightsabers, so I feel like I’m doing alright in this whole thing.
One key element that I took away from Tomboy is that talking to your kids about societal norms and ideas is a pretty good idea. From the book, it seems like Prince’s parents supported her desire to not where dresses, but maybe they didn’t actually sit down with her and explain what was going on. It wasn’t until Prince met an adult who worked with her mom that was into making zines that she realized that it wasn’t her sex or gender she was mad at, but the ideas that people place on women and girls. Hopefully, that’s something I’ll be able to impart on my daughter so she can avoid some of the trials and tribulations. Then again, I have a feeling my awesomely headstrong daughter will be the kind of person who wants to make her own mistakes (something that will drive her movies-offer-enough-experience-for-me dad nuts).