Lisa Selin Davis Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare To Be Different




Lisa Selin Davis
Hachette, August 12, 2020, $28
ISBN 10: 0316458317; ISBN 13: 978-0316458313

Davis reports:

When my daughter was three, and kids were increasingly segregating by sex in how and with whom and what they played, she stayed in the middle: friends with boys and girls, playing with “boys’” and “girls’” toys, preferring short hair and sweatpants to princess looks.

Eventually someone told her she was a tomboy, leading me to wonder 1) where the popular tomboy of my own youth had disappeared to, and 2) why adults would assume that a child who expresses stereotypical male preferences would want to identify as a boy. I decided to write about the history, science, psychology and future of tomboys.

Lisa Selin Davis, photo by Marc Goldberg

Lisa Selin Davis, photo by Marc Goldberg

I investigated how we divided children’s material and psychic worlds into pink and blue, the nefarious forces behind that divide, and whom it served, or didn’t. I asked what motivated kids who straddled or crossed that line, and who they grew up to be. I discovered that in the last 50 years we have hyper-gendered childhood as never before, leading to a narrower range of normal and a limited understanding of what in gender is biological versus constructed, fueling culture wars.

I also discovered the research that says kids we now describe as “gender nonconforming” are more likely to do well in school and in life. What some people see as a liability, or even a diagnosis, is an advantage. We should encourage all kids to straddle, cross, ignore, or get rid of the pink/blue divide.

After I wrote a New York Times op-ed about the lack of understanding of kids like mine, an agent reached out to me about turning it into a book. Because of cancel culture, I was hesitant to do so, but the more fraught the discussion of gender became, the more I felt it important to shed light on the complexity of gender, to complicate the conversation, and try to create more understanding.

My advice to writers is: don’t let cancel culture stop you from investigating something that’s important, no matter how unpopular. What I learned has changed my life forever.

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Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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