February 19, 2015

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir

Tomboy is an excellent addition to the small, but growing canon of books about gender expression and identity for young people. Liz Prince has written a gentle, down-to-earth, and inclusive primer on gender norms for teen readers (and adults, remembering a rocky childhood and adolescence!) if you can get past the numerous F-bombs. Prince is uncomfortable in her skin only as a result of the bullying and restrictions she battles. While this is true a lot of the time, she really makes it clear that there's nothing wrong with her, but something wrong with you if you have a problem with her demeanor, interests, or the way she looks.

The tone of this book is tricky. She has to communicate the seriousness of being bullied without hosting a pity party. While her relationships are not perfect, Prince is fortunate to not be alone and is lucky to have an older mentor to show her the world of open mic nights and zines. While being an outcast was a familiar experience, Prince found her people. It got better.

Fans of Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, Mariko Tamaki, and Megan Kelso will love this graphic memoir. Prince's use of expletives and some discussions about sex later in the story will unfortunately keep this book from entering the school curriculum. Prince's style has an accessibility that's reminiscent of some of the aforementioned artists.

Many women, and successful ones, proudly self report that they were tomboys as children; it's a common experience, though young girls today seem to be inundated with pink princess tulle. Though it seems to be prescribed by society, hyperfemininity has few rewards and is often received with disdain.

It's difficult to discuss the nuances of gender and sexuality in the graphic form. One of my concerns is that it's so easy to pick on feminine girls as the target of one's ire, rather than the whole system of gender norms. Prince addresses this wholeheartedly, though it comes as a revelation at the end of her story:

"Do you hate girls? Or do you hate expectations put on girls by society?" She learns from a zine that she "subscribed to the idea that there was only one form of femininity and that it was inferior to being a man."
I wish I had really understood this when I was a teen. And that my delight in girly things didn't come with guilt or embarrassment. I've always thought that most people's identities are fluid and that if we were free to act, we could wear sequins and have dirt under our nails if we chose to.

Posted by kathryn at February 19, 2015 06:21 PM
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