Throughout history women have dressed as men for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to follow the man they loved when he left for war or sea. Some wanted to see the world or find the adventures denied them as women. Some were fighting injustices and needed to be taken seriously, something that was harder when they looked female. This collection of stories offers readers a glimpse at the history of women cross-dressing as men and the effect that their decision had on them and the people around them.
Hughes has picked a smattering of women throughout time, from the well-known Hapshepsut and Mu Lan to the perhaps lesser known Esther Brandeau. By trying to focus more on the varying reasons why a women in the past would choose to dress as a man, Hughes gives her collection more breadth, despite the fact that she only talks about seven women. She also places the accomplishments of these women in historical context, for example pointing out that James Barry, born either Margaret Buckley or Miranda Stuart, lived as a very successful doctor, dying eleven years before Britain allowed women to train as doctors or mentioning that no one really knows how many women might have been fighting, disguised as men in wars in the United States and Europe.
Dawson’s art is an interesting counterpoint to Hughes’ scholarship. Using typically “girly” artistic details, such as circles on the cheeks, she maintains femininity to the stories, even as she adeptly illustrates the rough lives and difficult choices of the women she draws. Using a stark black and white color scheme makes the stories standout clearly and Dawson obviously did her research as the different time periods are clear and distinct. Together Hughes and Dawson have created a strong collection of biographical stories in a non-babyish, non-cartoonish graphic novel format. Schools and libraries will find that readers interested in history, especially their younger female graphic novel readers, will be attracted by the eye-catching cover and the empowering content.
No Girls Allowed: tales of daring women dressed as men for love, freedom, and adventure
Story: Susan Hughes, Art: Willow Dawson
Kids Can Press, 2008