Reading this book was a whole new experience for me. I have read a lot of graphic novels and I have read my fair share of memoirs. I have read a lot of fiction with blank slate protagonists, and about a lot of characters I can empathize with, but I have never read a book where I felt I was reading about myself. Liz Prince is not only a self-proclaimed Tomboy, but I’m quite certain that others have labelled her the same. In her newest comic series memoir, she tells her coming of age story as a tomboy and not letting go of what made her happy. She does not want to be the traditional girly girl.
These thoughts are going to be somewhat different from any of my previous posts because this is a very personal piece to me. It is a story close to my heart. I do not have the same exact interests and stories that Prince has, but I can confidently say that I have had similar thoughts, or at the very least I understand the thought.
My favourite panels are in the second chapter as Prince talks about the mantra for tomboys around the world. She explains that when she admired someone, fictional or non, she wanted to BE LIKE them. She wanted to be a Jedi like Luke Skywalker, an explorer like Indiana Jones, a carefree troublemaker like Dennis the Menace. All of these people she admired happened to have been those of the male variety.
Starting from the left page, on the bottom: “I didn’t want to be rescued. I wanted to be the HERO. The slew of fairy tales and Disney movies I consumed presented women in need of a savior. Sleeping Beauty is cursed with eternal sleep; only a kiss from Prince Charming can save her. Snow White is the ultimate home-maker, but suffers the same fate as Sleeping Beauty. Rapunzel is waiting in a tower her whole life for a guy to save her! Even when women were the main characters, a man always came to steal the show. Given the choice, I’d much rather wield a sowrd than wear a tiara. So, it’s not that surprising that I would envy those born into boyhood.”
Growing up I was a huge fan of Pokemon, Power Rangers, Dragonball Z, Gundam Wing, and other classic 90s kid cartoons. If you asked me who was my favourite character in the show, I can almost guarantee with 95% certainty that I gravitated towards the male characters. In all my favourite Disney movies, I liked the male characters better than the female ones. I had no interest in being a Disney Princess. If that’s what it meant to be a girl, I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be Aladdin saving Jasmine from Jafar. I wanted to be Goku, powering up for 8 episodes to save the world. I wanted to be Simba…. Okay bad example, I probably just wanted to be a lion. But I can tell you now I had no interest in waiting for some prince to save the day.
One of my earliest memories is 3-or-4-year-old me visiting family in the Philippines. I can’t tell you why we were there… There was some sort of celebration for someone I think? Al I remember is my huge temper tantrum at my aunt’s house. My mother was trying to get me to wear a dress for a party. I cried and kicked and refused to get off the bed because I didn’t want to wear that dress. I can’t tell you why I didn’t want to wear the dress; all I can say is that I didn’t want to.
This aversion from dresses and skirts is a recurring theme in my life. My arguments of “I don’t wanna” were just combated with “you have to because you’re a girl”. Ugh, gender norms. My parents would often remind me of the infamous dress tantrum whenever a “fancy” event was coming up, and I surrendered to the fabric. At least they let me wear overalls whenever I wanted to on “non-fancy” days.
At my First Communion in grade 2, I was so unhappy in that white dress that I stood at the alter beside the priest with a scowl on my face and my arms crossed. My sister and mother had to try to get my attention to signal me to not to do that. Very unlady-like. Looking at family photos of me in dresses, there is not one genuine smile. It was either an expression of confusion or a small curl at the ends of my lips when the camera flashed.
In elementary school, I found myself gravitating towards the boys at recess to play pretend or do more than just sit in the grass picking dandelions and talking. This alienated me from some of the other girls. I just didn’t fit in with them. I didn’t know what to do around them. I remember this one girl in grade 5 told a bunch of the other girls that I was a lesbian; that was why I never hung out with girls (trust me, this is a big deal when you go to a Catholic school and homosexuality is still an unspoken or worse negative topic in the late 90s-early 00s). This was something that resulted in a lot of tears being shed. I like to think I was upset at her spreading untrue rumours about me as opposed to being upset about being a lesbian. I actually don’t even know if I knew what being a lesbian meant at that time, but it made the other girls avoid me more (looking back at it now, if I was a lesbian, I don’t think I would be avoiding those of my gender… In fact, wouldn’t I want to hang out with girls? Playground politics are still beyond me). In fact it was one of my male comrades who stood up for me. This is the earliest I can recall of ever hearing someone call another person a “bitch” in real life.
So 10-year-old me continued to paint a negative picture of girls. Girls spread rumours. They lie about other people, especially about those who are different. Boys are loyal. They stand up for their friends and call the bad guy a bitch.
What makes my story different from Prince’s is I was able to find some stronger female role models while I was young and impressionable. I was obsessed, and still carry this obsession today, with Sailor Moon. Not exactly the character of Sailor Moon (she was never my favourite despite trying to imitate her hair style at age 4 and 5.. And insisting on people to call me Sailor Moon…). Personally, my favourites were Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Mars. Sailor Jupiter because she was more of the tomboy type who knew martial arts and can flip guys over her shoulder, and Sailor Mars because I also has long straight dark hair. Sailor Moon showed me that I can also kick butt and fight evil by moonlight, without having to be a guy.
This is a recurring thing in a lot of Japanese animes. The female lead isn’t always waiting for her prince to come to save her. Instead she is able to handle herself, wants to take care of herself, and pushes to be seen as an equal to work together with male companions to kick some ass.
Another anime I loved as a kid was Cardcaptors/Cardcaptors Sakura. There were several strong female characters that I still love to this day: Sakura with her amazing gymnastic skills and determination to not let chaotic magic patrol the city, Meilin with her superior martial arts skills, Madison taking artistic agency in her costume designs and video compilations, and even Kaho Mizuki (Layla Mackenzie in the dub) with her priestess magic to guide Sakura along the way. If anything the male characters play the backseat.
Growing up, there were times where I wished I was a boy. It looked like there were more options to dream and be whatever you wanted to be. They seemed to have emulated more positive qualities, like strength, intelligence, and loyalty. I now understand as an adult that male and female doesn’t determine those qualities, but I was just a kid who let media raise me with parents who wanted me to be whoever I wanted.
Today there is much more diversity in female roles in television and in movies, but we cannot stop there. We need to give kids more credit to understand more complex individuals and not teach them binary lessons. There are reasons why kids say they want to be a rocket scientist when they grow up. They admire what they see as cool and exciting. And trust me when I say wearing dresses and waiting for your prince is not cool nor exciting.
I didn’t want to wear a dress because I didn’t want to be a damsel in distress waiting to be saved. But when I saw Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts wearing skirts, I was slowly able to shimmy myself into one. When I saw Sakura wear fancy costumes with a skirt while using the Clow cards, I knew that I could still use magic without having to wear pants. You can still kick ass and save the world while wearing a dress.