19 Nov / Let Me Be Frank: A Book about Women Who Dressed like Men to Do Shit They Weren’t Supposed to Do by Tracy Dawson [in Booklist]
Both debut author Tracy Dawson and Kendra Hoffman, a narrator we need to hear more from, share notable improv experience, making them a superb pairing to inform and delight.
Dawson highlights dozens of trailblazing women who dressed as men to gain access and opportunity. She adds/warns that this book is not about gender identity: “Caution is always required when applying modern language to historical figures.” Hoffman effortlessly animates them all, moving from awe (18-year-old Joan of Arc) to buoyant (Iranian women sneaking into stadiums) to indignant (uncredited-for-peace Hatshepsut) to scathing (“witch-pricker” Christian Caddell) to valiant (still the only woman recipient of the Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker).
Dawson’s edifying “Anonymous Was a Woman” section reveals women who assumed male names to get published, including Jane Austen (she never saw her name on her book during her lifetime), the Brontë Sisters (they only published under male pen names), Louisa May Alcott (who wrote “racy, pulpy stories” either anonymously or as A.M. Bernard!). Enlightenments abound: only men could wear fly-front pants (women’s had zippers in the back); the women’s marathon wasn’t added to the Olympics until “NINETEEN. EIGHTY. FOUR”; a Parisian law that required permits and notarized health official declarations for women to don trousers stayed on the books for 213 years—until 2013!
WOW. Dawson and Hoffman achieve perfect timing: cursing about rejecting gender-inequity never sounded this necessary.