S3 E2. Breaking Boundaries: Women Who Dressed Like Men to Do Shit They Weren't Supposed to Do with Tracy Dawson, author of Let Me Be Frank

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Anna Stoecklein: Welcome to Season 3 of The Story of Woman. I'm your host, Anna Stoecklein.

[00:00:05] Anna Stoecklein: From the intricacies of the economy and healthcare to the nuances of workplace bias and gender roles, each episode of this season features interviews with thought leaders who provide fresh perspectives on critical global issues, all through the female gaze.

[00:00:20] Anna Stoecklein: But this podcast isn't just about women's stories. It's about rewriting our collective story to be more inclusive, equitable, and effective in driving change. It's about changing the current story of mankind to the much more complete story of humankind.

[00:00:42] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:44] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, friends and welcome back. Thank you as always for being here. Today's conversation is as hilarious as it is insightful and possibly frustrating because I'm [00:01:00] speaking with comedy, writer and actress Tracy Dawson about her book, Let Me be Frank: A Book About Women Who Dressed Like Men To Do Shit They Weren't Supposed To Do. I mean, how perfect is that title? I think I saw it on Instagram and just instantly thought, Um, yep. This needs to be on the podcast. Absolutely brilliant.

[00:01:24] Anna Stoecklein: So Tracy is an award-winning actress and a TV writer who began her career on the alt comedy stages of Toronto. In 2014, Tracy worked as a writer on TBS sitcom, Your Family or Mine, where she got to write jokes for Richard Dreyfuss and Ed Bagley Jr. Ed even called her a genius once and I've got to agree with him.

[00:01:45] Anna Stoecklein: But as funny as the title of this book and Tracy are, uh, the topic is really quite serious. It's not about gender identity or women gaining the right to wear pants, uh, [00:02:00] or trousers as we say here in the UK, even though that was an actual right that we had to gain because at times it was illegal to wear pants as a woman. But this isn't what that book is about. This is a book about women from around the world, from Ancient Greece all the way up until present day, refusing to take no for an answer and doing what they needed to do just to live their lives and sometimes to save their own lives and to save the lives of others. And all along the way, forging a better path for the women and girls that came behind them. So you'll hear several of these fantastic stories in our conversation today and why all of this really matters.

[00:02:43] Anna Stoecklein: If you like what you hear and you want to keep making this a world where women don't have to dress like men or change their name or write under a pseudonym or go by anonymous in order to get their work out in the world and do what they [00:03:00] want to do, uh, please take a minute to rate and review wherever you listen. And don't forget to follow The Story of Woman on social media where you can find clips from the interviews and much more. But for now, please enjoy my conversation with Tracy Dawson.

[00:03:16] Section: Episode interview

[00:03:17] Anna Stoecklein: Hi, Tracy. Welcome. Thank you so much for being here with me today. I'm super excited for our conversation.

[00:03:24] Tracy Dawson: Anna, it is an honor to be here. I'm very excited, so thank you.

[00:03:28] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. We are discussing your book, Let Me Be Frank: a book about women who dress like men to do shit they weren't supposed to do. And the first thing I wanna just say is brilliant title, brilliant subtitle, and just really a brilliant concept generally. I absolutely love it.

[00:03:51] Tracy Dawson: Thanks.

[00:03:52] Anna Stoecklein: And I would love to start by having you tell us a bit about what the book is about and how you came up with the idea for it. I [00:04:00] know there's a bit of a personal story behind it.

[00:04:02] Tracy Dawson: Yes. The great thing about the title is it tells you exactly what the book is. It really is a book about women who dressed like men to do shit they weren't supposed to do. And that doesn't always mean a disguise. You know, when you start to read the book, you realize that this is really a book about defiant women and rule-breaking women.

[00:04:19] Tracy Dawson: And often what they did was they used dressing as men, quote unquote, to do shit they weren't supposed to do. If someone was told, you can't go there, you can't study that, you can't play that sport, you can't be that. And they, you know, refused to take no for an answer.

[00:04:34] Tracy Dawson: And I was inspired to write this book. So about 10 years ago, I was starting off as a TV writer here in LA and you go on these meetings, they're called general meetings, and you're meeting with all the networks in the studios, and they're trying to like hire writers for their new shows. And so I was on one of those meetings and I was feeling jazzed, right, like I wanted to get my first American job on a [00:05:00] TV show. And this executive said, you know, which of our new shows are you vibing with? Like, did you connect with any of them? And I said, yes, this one and this one, this one. And then she goes, oh, well none of those shows that you just mentioned have any female needs.

[00:05:15] Tracy Dawson: And I, I just think I, I think I just completely I was shocked. I don't think I'm actually very often shocked. I could not believe what came out of her mouth. And I think I turned red and I felt like really hot and ashamed and embarrassed. And it was like, you know, she was saying there are jobs available, but not for you. We have filled our quota of female writers. And unfortunately at that time, and sometimes still today, what that usually means is they had hired one or two women for a group of 10, 12, 14 writers. And so they thought, you know, we filled our woman quota. And I just thought, but I'm a writer and I write jokes and great [00:06:00] dialogue.

[00:06:00] Tracy Dawson: And it felt like, it was like it that doesn't matter. Uh, we don't wanna hear that. You know what I mean? It was like my boobs came first. And so I was infuriated, I was embarrassed. And I went home and I thought, you know, I kind of fantasized for a hot second about doing reverse Tootsie, you know, Dustin Hoffman and all that. And I just thought, oh, this sounds like a lot of work. And I, and I was like, I'm not gonna do that because I just wanted to write some fucking jokes, you know? And I don't know what the swearing is here. Is it okay to drop F bombs?

[00:06:30] Anna Stoecklein: It's allowed.

[00:06:32] Tracy Dawson: We are in a great space. Um, so, so that happened about 10 years ago and it really stuck with me and I put it in my writing, like I tried to write a pilot about it and it kept on coming up. And then I saw this story about Katherine Nichols, this writer, it was an article in Jezebel and she had submitted her novel under her real female name and then she submitted a second time with a male name George, of all names [00:07:00] George. Very historical choice there. Anyway, she got a much better response when she submitted it under with the male name.

[00:07:05] Tracy Dawson: And so I just had this idea, I was like, I wonder how many people, like I thought back to my experience in 2013 and I just was like, I wonder if there's something here. And I really never thought when I started to research that there would be that many people enough to fill a book or a TV show, cuz I was like thinking, maybe this is a TV show idea.

[00:07:23] Tracy Dawson: You know what I mean? Well, when I started to research, I realized, oh, my good gravy. There are a lot of people to fill a book here, and it's not just people, as I said at the top who were disguised, like there's people who fit into the premise, like Katherine Switzer, who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.

[00:07:42] Tracy Dawson: You know, she filled out her application form using her initials, K Switzer. And so they thought, oh, this is a man, because a woman had never run the Boston Marathon before, so it wasn't even on their radar that a woman would want to, or submit herself. So they gave her her numbers and she showed up on race day. And they were [00:08:00] just appalled. And so I put her in the book because she quote unquote, did something she wasn't supposed to do, and she took on the guise of a male, supposedly by submitting her application using just her initials.

[00:08:14] Tracy Dawson: So that was a long-winded answer, but that was the inspiration for the book because I had had this very personal shaming event and then when I started to do research, I thought, oh my God, there's all these people who just wanted to, whatever, write a book, study medicine, play a sport, run a marathon, it was like, and then when I came up with that title, Anna, when I came up with that title, it was like, game over. I knew I had to write the book. Do you know what I mean? I was like, oh my gosh, that might be the best thing I've ever written is this title.

[00:08:47] Anna Stoecklein: It's a brilliant title and yeah, the book is fantastic. It is filled with wonderful humor, which you would expect from a comedy writer such as yourself. But I [00:09:00] was laughing through the whole thing while also, yeah, shaking my head and being like, I can't believe women have had to do this and are still continuing, as you have just outlined, even yourself in today's day and age, and Katherine Nichols, who you mentioned and other people will get into who are still facing this today.

[00:09:17] Anna Stoecklein: But another thing that I liked about your book was you were always adding context about what was going on, cuz you know, you have stories from 1478 BCE until today, and they take place in cultures and societies all over the world. And you always add a lot of great context to really paint the picture of what that world was like for a woman living in those times.

[00:09:41] Anna Stoecklein: And one thing I was just gonna say, since you brought up Katherine Switzer, this first woman who officially ran the Boston Marathon, something that blew my mind about that story that I just wanna blow listener's minds is that yeah, she snuck in in that way and people were appalled and people didn't just like wait until [00:10:00] she finished to be like, how did you get in here? But the race director chased after her in the race and then physically assaulted her trying to rip the number off of her shirt while she was racing during this first ever attempt.

[00:10:17] Tracy Dawson: I mean, I had seen those famous photographs, those black and white photographs of that race director assaulting her during the marathon. Like I'd seen those photographs and they were always chilling because he looks filled with rage. And the more I researched about him, he, he was, he had anger issues.

[00:10:34] Tracy Dawson: He was this like Scottish American, you know, had this thick bro. And he just thought, I mean, I, I found this this recording of him going like, what, why do women, what don't you have enough? Like, aren't you just happy? Like why do you gotta come into our spaces? And I'm just like, this guy needs to sit down.

[00:10:52] Tracy Dawson: And eventually he came around like a few years later, like he did sort of go, oh, okay, women can run marathons. But like, those [00:11:00] pictures actually really changed something, her running that race and those pictures went worldwide and suddenly people realized, oh, this amateur athletic association, it's on the books that women were not allowed to run more than a mile. Allowed!

[00:11:17] Tracy Dawson: And so things started to change because of it's, it was embarrassing, but it, it took like a long time before they permitted. And I, I just say that with just so much, just, you know, sarcasm and snark, that they permitted a woman to run a marathon because they were convinced that it was going to mess with their reproductive system, which is ridiculous.

[00:11:40] Tracy Dawson: And like Kathrin Switzer has a quote where she's like, giving birth to a baby, like giving birth to a child does so much more to damage a woman's internal organs, her insides, her reproductive system, like, it's so, it's a lot. I've never had a child. I've talked to a lot of people who have, and it really changes your [00:12:00] body forever, right? I mean, for many people, maybe not some people, but she was just like, the idea that they were like afraid that women running around the block was gonna make their uterus fall out was just like, dear Lord.

[00:12:14] Anna Stoecklein: That was another mind blowing thing from that story. I had no idea, so this was 1967. A mile and a half was the longest distance women were allowed to run. I mean, seriously, even how far we can run has been regulated. I had no idea that was ever a thing.

[00:12:30] Tracy Dawson: I mean, there you go. It's like bodily autonomy, right? It all comes down to wanting to control the body. It's not just about, it's like what you put in the body, how you're spending time with the body, the clothes you're wearing on the body. If you're running with the body?

[00:12:42] Tracy Dawson: A common theme in the book is really about freedom of movement because it's not just about freedom of movement and space, and it's about freedom of movement in your clothing. And it's part of the reason some of the women in the book took on male clothes. I I say male clothes, literally rolling my [00:13:00] eyes for the listener because it's like tr trousers are trousers. But for a long time it was illegal in many places for women to wear trousers, period. Full stop.

[00:13:10] Tracy Dawson: So, that's a big theme that it's not that I set out when I was writing the book and researching the book, that that freedom of movement would be the theme. It just kept on coming up.

[00:13:19] Anna Stoecklein: I did wanna ask you upfront about some of the themes that you noticed because as I mentioned, you know, this is spanning millennia, this is spanning the entire world, this is spanning all kinds of cultures and societies, but you can still see commonalities amongst all of the women in their stories. So, yeah. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other themes that really jumped out at you?

[00:13:42] Tracy Dawson: Well, I mean, the major commonality here is the patriarchy, right? This is not a book about gender identity. This is not a book about cross-dressing to take on a different gender identity. This is about people who are defiant and who are trying to circumvent the patriarchy.

[00:13:56] Tracy Dawson: And so really the patriarchy is here everywhere. [00:14:00] Everywhere you look and just trying to control women's bodies and control their actions and control their ambitions. I mean, God forbid we have ambition. And so, yeah, and again, the freedom to move, that was the main thing that, it was such a big thing that came up.

[00:14:15] Tracy Dawson: You know, someone like George Sand, one of the authors that's in the author section of the book, people knew that she was a woman. She wasn't trying to disguise herself as a man. I really tried so hard to decipher when was the moment in George Sand's career that people realized that it wasn't a man? Because obviously there wasn't social media, there weren't videos going around. And so there must have been a moment because she was very popular as an author. There must have been a moment in the beginning when they thought that George Sand was a man.

[00:14:44] Tracy Dawson: But she famously dressed in trousers and quote unquote men's clothing, and she smoked in public, which was also considered absolutely appalling for a woman to do. And she just went against all the gender norms. And so, I don't know [00:15:00] how much is documented about how queer George Sand was or if, I believe that she was bisexual, I'm not a hundred percent clear on it, but I mean, she basically wanted freedom of movement, you know, and it was illegal at the time in Paris for a woman to wear clothes, it was called impersonating a man. It was illegal. And you were supposed to get a note from your doctor signing off and saying, you know, there's a health benefit and there's a, there's a reason that this woman needs to wear trousers. And you had to get like a paper, you had to get your doctor to sign it.

[00:15:33] Tracy Dawson: George Sand sent did not comply with these rules. She was like, fuck everything. I'm fucking whoever I want. I'm smoking cigarettes, I'm wearing these trousers and I'm gonna write some goddamn great stories.

[00:15:43] Tracy Dawson: So, you know, another commonality, unfortunately, is that it kept coming up a few times at least, that women who wound up being institutionalized in some of these stories, and you go, it starts to really wear you [00:16:00] down because you know, I can't help but think would I have been one of those women? Like women that refused to comply, women that did things a different way, women that had really, really strong ambition or highly sensitive, you know, I'm all of those things.

[00:16:18] Tracy Dawson: So I said to myself, I go, damn. You know, would I have ended up like, if you didn't have the support system or if you didn't have the class, like if you didn't have the money and the status. Would I have ended up in an institution?

[00:16:31] Tracy Dawson: I was very excited to write about hysteria in the chapter on Louise Augustine Gleizes. And, this was an instance where a very short period of time she disguised herself as a man to escape from the hospital. So when I heard that she had disguised herself as a man to escape, I said, this is great because now I can write about hysteria. I can write about what it was like in the 19th century, to be in this hysteria ward and to be photographed and to become a medical celebrity.

[00:16:59] Tracy Dawson: Again, [00:17:00] those pictures of her, like the Kathrin Switzer photographs, completely different era, they were world famous, like they were, she was a celebrity, people would go to the hospital because they had these public presentations and it was like a hot ticket to like get in, like it was a performance. And the doctor would have these hysteria patients perform their symptoms and he would hypnotize them.

[00:17:25] Tracy Dawson: And he would manipulate them. And, and he wasn't a monster. He really did believe in this affliction, and he wanted to, he took it seriously. He didn't just write it off as some female ailment. I mean, it is a gender diagnosis. It is completely problematic. And he did absolutely manipulate and he like took advantage of them for his own gain. Right? What's the word I'm looking for? It starts with an E.

[00:17:52] Anna Stoecklein: Exploit.

[00:17:52] Tracy Dawson: He, god exploited them.

[00:17:55] Tracy Dawson: He manipulated them and [00:18:00] he exploited them, right? For his own personal gain. He became a celebrity because of them. So, Louise Augustine Gleizes, she's in this hysteria ward, and after a while she said, I'm done with this in her file. It's quoted as her saying, I don't wanna be a star anymore, because she was this medical celebrity. I mean, it's wild to think about. And she disguised herself as a man. And she left the hospital and she was never heard from again.

[00:18:27] Tracy Dawson: And I was just really excited to write about hysteria because of the history of this affliction and the fact that it was so problematic and so gendered and at the end, she took control of her life and she did so by dressing as a man, you know, even though it was a short period of time, I wanted to include her. So, every story is really different in terms of how they take on this dressing as a man.

[00:18:54] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, every story is so different, but you know, I [00:19:00] just think it's wild that this has been the same kind of out that's needed to happen century after century, millennia after millennia across the world. And not always just for being able to, you know, run a race or be included in a hobby they wouldn't have access to.

[00:19:18] Anna Stoecklein: But exactly as you just laid out with Louisa, a lot of times it was a matter of life and death. I mean, maybe she wouldn't have necessarily died from her treatment, but she could have been in there for the rest of her life. And that sure as hell doesn't sound like a life to me.

[00:19:33] Anna Stoecklein: And that was another really kind of theme that I, I saw throughout. You know, I'm thinking of the very first story with Hannah Snell who joined the English army and the 17 hundreds, because that was the best way for her to escape extreme poverty after being abandoned by her cheating husband. Or Ellen Kraft, who passed as a white plantation owner in order to escape slavery in the 1800s. So I'm curious, what did you find in [00:20:00] your research about women doing this as a kind of means of survival?

[00:20:04] Tracy Dawson: Absolutely. You know, it's funny cuz we could think of survival, very black and white. And you can also say, almost like a spiritual survival, like, you know, you're not thriving anymore, you're literally just getting by. I think Ellen Craft is the clearest example of someone who, I mean it's the most ingenious story of disguise and escape and survival in the book.

[00:20:27] Tracy Dawson: I was appalled that I had never heard of Ellen Craft before I started researching this book. Ellen Craft was a very light skinned, mixed race woman who was born into enslavement in Georgia and she escaped along with her husband from enslavement by passing as a white male plantation owner and her husband passing as her enslaved valet.

[00:20:50] Tracy Dawson: I mean, this is absolutely jaw droppingly incredible to me. And I have not yet met anyone in America [00:21:00] where I live who had heard of Ellen Craft. The people that I know who've heard of Ellen Craft are in the UK. Interestingly enough, because that is where she escaped. She left America and she landed in the UK because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.

[00:21:16] Tracy Dawson: After they had settled in the north. They really were not safe. They had to leave America. They were like, we have to get outta here. And they landed in Liverpool and they, they lived a couple places. They had five kids in the uk. So there's plaques to Ellen Craft, there is memorials to Ellen Craft in the uk.

[00:21:32] Tracy Dawson: And I'm ashamed that, I mean, I'm Canadian born, so that's my, I was just like, I wasn't taught about Ellen Craft in school, and my American friends were like, yo, neither were we. So I just, I'm just amazed that there's not a documentary, a film, like a biopic, right? Oh, we got the biopics about Elvis out there, but not Ellen Craft. Okay, everybody, thanks. I'm gonna go to bed for a thousand years. Okay. So, you know, Ellen's story is truly ingenious and [00:22:00] yes, yes, her and her husband, they could have survived in enslavement, but they actually were motivated by this idea that they wanted to start a family. They loved each other and they wanted to have children.

[00:22:10] Tracy Dawson: And there was no way that Ellen was going to have children while in bondage because she knew very well what would happen to those children. They would not be hers, they would be taken from her. It's a horror show. It is a horror film. And so they were really motivated to do this. It's incredible. Their story is incredible.

[00:22:29] Tracy Dawson: I hope people are inspired when they read the book to then go and learn even more, and to just like delve into unknown stories of escape like theirs, because there's a lot of stuff that we weren't taught in school. And guess what? We're living in a time when they're trying to ban even more of these American history stories and just, it's just, ugh, it gets my goat. And um, I was thrilled and honored to write about Ellen and William Craft.

[00:22:55] Tracy Dawson: Another story of survival, I would say is Maria Toorpakai, who's was born in [00:23:00] 1990, a completely different era. She was born in the tribal region of Northwestern Pakistan, it was a hotbed of the Taliban, and it was a very conservative upbringing. Her family, her parents, she was very fortunate, they were very liberal. They believed in girls being educated. They wanted to see their child be able to run and play in the street outside with the other children. And the only way that they could do that is if they cut off Maria's hair and let her live as a boy, as a child.

[00:23:29] Tracy Dawson: As a girl, you weren't supposed to leave the house without a male companion, right. And so she couldn't run and play outside. And she would look at the kids from the window and her dad was like, this is killing her. This is survival. So even though she would've maybe stayed alive, it was like she took on this disguise, her father was, I mean, I, I loved reading about her family. I absolutely, I say it several times in the chapter. I'm like, I love this family because he was the one...

[00:23:56] Tracy Dawson: Okay, let me tell her whole story very briefly. So not only did she wanna run and play [00:24:00] outside, that eventually, you know, he's like, this child has a lot of energy. I'm gonna introduce her to weightlifting and to sports. And so as a disguised, as a young boy, she took on weightlifting. She found it really boring. And then she found squash. Squash was huge in Pakistan at the time. She then was found out by her team. They all thought that she was the coolest and she had the biggest muscles and she was the tallest. And then they found out she was a girl in disguise, and they all turned against her.

[00:24:25] Tracy Dawson: And they called her a slut. And it was very violent and horrible. And instead of going, oh, I'm sad and I'm gonna go home, she said, you know what, f you, I'm gonna become the best female squash player in the nation. And she did, she rose to number one nationally female squash player. She was the first girl to play in shorts and t-shirt, you know.

[00:24:45] Tracy Dawson: And she, because of this visibility, because of this acclaim, she then had a target on her back. Her name indicates the region that she's from, like it's built into the fabric of her last name. And so the Taliban, [00:25:00] when they saw her name in the news, they're like, wait, she's from our people. She's from our region. And so the death threats began and she ended up having to hole herself up in her house for three years. And she tried to continue her training. This is when she was ranked number one nationally. Like she had to sort of pull everything back. And then she tried to continue to train by bouncing the wall with her squash racket up against the side of her bedroom wall.

[00:25:25] Tracy Dawson: I mean, what? So you can imagine that mentally and physically she started to decline. She wasn't playing as often. She wasn't getting out as much. And her dad just said to her, it's time. You gotta go. And Maria was like, you gotta go. Who's gonna take me? I'm not number one anymore. I'm not. He's like, this isn't about the sport, this is about survival. He says it like, this is a quote from her book, A Different Kind of Daughter, which I highly recommend, loved reading her whole story. And she eventually was welcomed by a sponsor in my hometown of Toronto. [00:26:00] She got back on track, she got her training all back up, and she started winning tournaments again.

[00:26:04] Tracy Dawson: And I just absolutely love Maria. I love that she landed in my home country very much. And I just want everybody to know about these women all the way from ancient Egypt, you know, Ellen Craft in the Civil War, and then Maria Toorpakai in the 2000s. What, this is crazy.

[00:26:22] Tracy Dawson: This is women showing you can't keep us down. We;re gonna innovate, we're going to have a claim, we're going to have ambition, and we're gonna do what we want. It's like it was so inspiring to write it, you know what I mean? Cuz I'm someone that doesn't take no for an answer. And so, what, I'm in Aries, uh, I'm ruled by Mars. It's the god of war. Are you in Aries?

[00:26:46] Anna Stoecklein: Ya me too.

[00:26:47] Tracy Dawson: We're, I mean, we love to do stuff. We love to get shit done. And so, that's why I wonder, I go, I wonder how many of those women that were institutionalized way back when were just like Aries, who were like, get the fuck.

[00:26:59] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.[00:27:00] Yeah. I definitely, almost 100% would've been institutionalized. I would've been a witch. I would've been all of the things.

[00:27:08] Tracy Dawson: Mm-hmm.

[00:27:09] Anna Stoecklein: But you bring up a, you know, a good point in the kind of the next commonality theme that I picked up throughout the book, which was a lot of the times women were doing this for their own wellbeing, safety, to be able to participate in a sport, whatever it was, but it wasn't just their own individual lives that were transformed, that were also kind of transforming the course of history and life for women for the next generations at the same time. So talk about inspirational. I mean, we've already mentioned Katherine Switzer.

[00:27:42] Anna Stoecklein: You wrote about Rena "Rusty" Kanokogi, I'm probably totally butchering that, who is basically the mother of women's judo who got her start from dressing like a man. And there was other examples throughout the book of people who transformed [00:28:00] some aspect of a culture, an institution, a country, by taking this on and going into the places that they weren't supposed to go into.

[00:28:10] Anna Stoecklein: So what did you find in regards to how these women's actions and decisions to dress, quote like men um, drove progress for future generations?

[00:28:20] Tracy Dawson: Yeah. You mentioned Rena "Rusty" Kanokogi, you were very close with the pronunciation. Good job. First of all, there's, it's a twofold with this book, right? It's like I want everybody to know them, but also I wanna say, why don't we all know them? Do you know what I mean? Because like, Rena "Rusty" Kanokogi literally changed the world. Like she changed the world. So I'm happy to talk about her because I love talking about her.

[00:28:45] Tracy Dawson: Okay, so Rusty was born in New York and she was like a tough little kid. She was the leader of like a youth gang on the street called the Apaches. And she got her nickname because she had the same color [00:29:00] hair as this local dog and the dog's name was Rusty. It's just like, guys, can we get more creative here?

[00:29:04] Tracy Dawson: Anyway, so she, she was introduced to judo at a young age because she had all this energy and she was always getting into fights. I mean, kind of similar to Maria Toorpakai, if I'm honest. Just had all this energy and, thank God some elder stepped in and said, you know, you should try this. Well, there were no women doing judo and so she had to join this Y M C A group that was like 40 men and she was the first one to show up in the morning and the last one to leave. And it was like she was completely dedicated and she became a badass. And when she was 24, she decided that she wanted to take part in this Y M C A Judo championship.

[00:29:39] Tracy Dawson: And so, of course it was all men. So she cut off her hair and she taped down her breasts, and her coach said, you know, don't be too good. Don't draw attention to yourself. Just, you know, just be okay. And so, of course she couldn't, she could not, she couldn't just be okay. She won. And when she went up to collect her medal, they said, are you a [00:30:00] girl? And she said, yes. And they stripped her of the medal right then and there. And that moment planted this seed in her that she said in a article in the New York Times near the end of her life, if that moment hadn't happened to her, her whole life would've been different. Women's Judo wouldn't have been in the Olympics.

[00:30:15] Tracy Dawson: None of this stuff would've happened. And what this stuff is, is that her advocacy got just like, like lit on fire. And she was like, F this, I'm gonna do something about this. And what she ended up doing was she became the best women's judo practitioner. She ended up going to Japan because a lot more women were practicing and competing in judo in Japan.

[00:30:38] Tracy Dawson: And they put her in this women's only group. Well, she just dominated there like no one could, could stand up to her. And so for the first time in history, Rusty Kanokogi was the first woman to be allowed to practice and compete with the men in the Kodokan in Japan, which is incredible. Basically then, her whole mission became getting women's [00:31:00] judo to be accepted, women's judo to be accepted into the Olympics.

[00:31:05] Tracy Dawson: She got into screaming matches with the Olympic committee. She mortgaged her house to fund a tournament of women's judo at Madison Square Garden. Like she literally put her life, her money, her livelihood on the line. It all started from that moment when she was disguised as a man, and she was just trying to compete in judo in the Y M C tournament.

[00:31:25] Tracy Dawson: I mean, can you even, so her story is incredibly moving to me. She changed so many people's lives. She didn't just do this on a grand scale, she on a daily basis, in her gym, she helped children, she had students, she mentored people. And her greatest achievement, she said, was helping a child, male or female, who thought that they couldn't do something to help them realize that they could do it.

[00:31:50] Tracy Dawson: That was her greatest, you know, reward in life. And, a few months before she died, the Y M C A reissued, that medal gave her that medal that they stripped [00:32:00] from her all those decades ago. And it's just an incredibly moving story. And you go, how does everybody not know who she is? It's because women's stories and women's achievements and accolades and innovations are generally not considered as worthy, just like queer people, just like people of color. You know, who gets left off of the history pages. The people that have been traditionally writing those history pages are old white men. And that's why the curriculum is the way that it is. And that's why the biopics in Hollywood sometimes are the way that they are. Why did it take so long for Hidden Figures to be a movie? That's crazy.

[00:32:36] Tracy Dawson: I know I'm jumping all over the place cause I get fired up. But the great end to the Rusty story is that Wisconsin Public Radio read several chapters of my book on thier program called a Chapter a Day. And Rusty's daughter, Dr. Jean Kanokogi heard the Rusty Chapter being read, and she contacted the radio station saying that she was brought to tears and she was so moved. And then they [00:33:00] introduced us on email and we've had some email exchanges and it's just like, what an honor. What an honor to, to be connected to her daughter and that the daughters thought that I did a great job in telling her story.

[00:33:13] Anna Stoecklein: Oh, that's incredible. Yeah. Full circle. And also just to point out, you know, Rusty something personal happening to her, her deciding to dedicate her life and do something to change it. Not too dissimilar to you, Tracy, something personal happening to you in this regard and you deciding to do something about it and tackling this exact issue that we're talking about, which is women being left out of the history book. So, one day there's probably gonna be a book that includes Tracy and about the wonderful contributions she made in, to get very meta here.

[00:33:50] Tracy Dawson: Yeah. Well, I really these things are, these moments are born out of rejection and failure in a way. And I've, I've really leaned this idea that, like, and I think I heard [00:34:00] something similar on a previous episode of The Story of Woman, which is like, you know, in order to have the triumph, sometimes you need to be the one that's knocked down. And that makes us stronger. That makes our heart and our resolve stronger. It teaches us more about ourselves. But, sometimes it is the thing that inspires us to then make the change. Right? And so, you know, I was rejected in that executive's office, like right to my face. And also, this book was born out of rejection and Failure because I did first take it out as a TV pitch.

[00:34:30] Tracy Dawson: I thought it could be a really cool TV anthology show. People loved the idea, but anthologies are notoriously hard to sell and to make because they're expensive and there's a lot of different time periods and yada, yada yada. It really was meant to be a book and I had never written a book before, so it's like, what a beautiful thing that sometimes being knocked down, or being rejected, can actually make you do the thing that you were meant to do, which is what I truly believe in with [00:35:00] Rusty's case, for sure.

[00:35:01] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. It's about what you do, what you do in response to the situation.

[00:35:06] Anna Stoecklein: So you had a chapter called Anonymous was a Woman, which is a different sort of disguise that women have taken on, again, through the centuries, throughout time, throughout the world. So tell us a bit about that practice and what you found in your research.

[00:35:20] Tracy Dawson: Yeah, so there's this big chapter in the middle of the book called Anonymous Was a Woman. And I decided instead of having several chapters about authors who took on male pseudonyms or quote unquote disguises, I said, oh, you know what? I'm gonna do a big compendium chapter in the middle of the book because my goodness, there's a lot of people and there's people who took on male pseudonyms as well as who wrote anonymously.

[00:35:44] Tracy Dawson: And so I loved writing this chapter because I learned an awful lot in my research and even talking to my most well-read and educated friends. They were shocked at some of the stuff. I said, did you know that [00:36:00] Jane Austin only was published anonymously the entire time she was alive. And friends were like, what? No, I didn't know that. It was just like Jane Austin was not known to be Jane Austin when she was alive.

[00:36:10] Tracy Dawson: And the same thing with the Bronte sisters. The Bronte sisters only published using male names while they were living, so they didn't get to enjoy the accolades. And as I point out in the chapter, you know, stuff like free dinner and drinks, cuz it's like, I, I wanna be taken out, take me up for dinner, you know, you love Jane Eyre, take me out.

[00:36:30] Tracy Dawson: So yeah, the chapter's filled with authors who took on pseudonyms, who wrote anonymously. And I wanted to introduce people to new people that they'd never heard of, as well as write about the Jane Austins the Bronte's, the Mary Shelley's. Because a lot of people were unaware that these people when they were living didn't actually get to enjoy their success and be known.

[00:36:54] Tracy Dawson: And it wasn't until after they died. And the joke I have in the book about Jane Austin is the only time it's [00:37:00] safe to be, you know, a successful female author at that time was when you were dead and six feet underground, because you couldn't be accused of boasting anymore. There's just a lot of authors and I've heard from many readers that it's their favorite chapter in the book because obviously readers tend to like writers, they like to read about authors and it's just so fulfilling that, that people would reach out to me and go, I had no idea about Jane Austin. I had no idea about Charlotte Bronte.

[00:37:30] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. And I mean, it still happens today, right? Like aren't there authors that still write? Maybe. I don't know. I'm thinking like JK Rolling. Was there any reasoning behind that? I feel like I heard that at some point. I should have looked that up before this conversation.

[00:37:43] Tracy Dawson: No, I mean, listen, listen, I purposefully didn't include JK Rowling because, her story, I actually had a chapter, and I decided to take it out because I thought maybe there could be something that we could publish separately, like, in like an op-ed or something, because I her, okay.

[00:37:58] Tracy Dawson: So my thing about [00:38:00] that is just separating from her extremely problematic stance that trans women aren't women. Uh, okay. I mean, I don't even know where to start with that, but in terms of like, you know, Harry Potter was not that long ago. And so when you think that everybody, the story is, and maybe not everybody knows this, I thought this was common knowledge, but the story goes, her publisher said, listen, we don't think that this book will be attractive to young boys.

[00:38:30] Tracy Dawson: You know, it's a book about wizards and we just think if the name Joanne is on the cover, you know it's not gonna do well. And so a lot of people like say, but that's just a decision about sales. That's about sales and marketing. I go, no, that's about misogyny. That's about saying, you are less than if you put the name Joanne on the cover, you know, we don't think that your book's gonna sell because it's gonna be seen as less than with a female sounding name. And I just, I mean, I'm just appalled. [00:39:00] I'm like, I'm never not gonna be upset about this because I think that we have been told over eons that we are overreacting and that we're overly sensitive.

[00:39:09] Tracy Dawson: And the fact of the matter is, I, I have this fantasy in my head of a young girl reader and she loves these books. And then she finds out that her favorite books are written by a girl. A girl just like her. Oh my God, her name is Joanne. My name's Joanne. And so like, think of that visibility. Think of that inspiration, and then all of a sudden they say, but do you know why her name is JK on the cover?

[00:39:31] Tracy Dawson: And the little girl goes, why? Well, because they thought that little boys wouldn't like to buy a book with the, the name Joanne on it. But you know how disgusting and like how cancerous that is, like it sort it sort of digs under your skin like a cancer disease and you carry that reality around with you your whole entire life, which is no, no, no, no, no, you are less than. And so that affects how that little girl is gonna see herself as a writer and what [00:40:00] she thinks she's able to write and what, how, what her chances are of being published. It's all there. So just that this idea that, oh, you know, it was just about sales with the jk, joanne.

[00:40:11] Tracy Dawson: Here's the other thing. We're never gonna be able to go back in time. We're never going to be able to know what the sales of Harry Potter would've been with the name Joanne. And I just wonder in her quiet moments, does JK Rowling ever think of that? I wonder what would've happened. I wonder if it would've been the juggernaut and if I would be the billionaire I am today if my name, my real name... I don't know. I'm big on names. I tend to lean towards Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who was someone I'd love to talk about because she is in the book and she, this was no disguise, you know, she tended to dress in what they called male clothing and she always said, I don't dress as a man. I dress in my own clothing. That's what this is.

[00:40:55] Tracy Dawson: And just to give you a little brief overview, she was the [00:41:00] second woman in the United States to graduate from medical school. She's the sole female recipient of the Medal of Honor. She was the first United States Army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. And she got that position because she demanded it. She was this doctor, the Civil War broke out. She went down and she said, I wanna support the United States Army. Give me a position. And they laughed in her face. They laughed in her face and they kept laughing in her face. And she said, fine, I'll volunteer. I'll be a volunteer surgeon.

[00:41:28] Tracy Dawson: And then the media found out about her because she was really beloved by the soldiers, because she was one of the only doctors who tried to save limbs instead of amputating them. I get real fired up when I talk about her. Here's the thing, when she finally got that because the media shamed the army into giving, saying she's a qualified, amazing doctor, give her an official position for God's sake. And so they did. So there she is, and she's dressed in the exact same uniform as her male colleagues. But she said, I decided to grow my [00:42:00] curls long. I wanted them to see that I am a woman. You know, she had no interest in disguising herself. And she was taken as a prisoner of war for several months, being held in a Confederate prison.

[00:42:12] Tracy Dawson: And that's why she got the Medal of Honor. Okay, so then the war ends. She's got her Medal of honor her whole M.O. Became, her whole fight became about dress reform, meaning women should be able to wear whatever they want. These long skirts were dragging along the ground are dirty. They're unhygienic. You don't have freedom of movement.

[00:42:31] Tracy Dawson: She believed the freedom to dress and to wear whatever you wanted was more important than getting the right to vote. I laugh because I'm like, I love how vocal she was. I love that she was just fired up. She was eccentric. They arrested her innumerable times for posing as a man. Finally, the judge said, stop arresting Dr. Walker. The judge had to say, stop arresting her. [00:43:00] She's got the Medal of Honor. She was a prisoner of war. She saved countless limbs of our soldiers. Please stop arresting her.

[00:43:07] Tracy Dawson: So, she just believed in. Freedom of movement, and she was just very vocal and very fiery. And that's why I love her. Maybe, I would've thought she was really annoying if we were friends at that time. But, you know, but like with this, with this benefit of space and time, I can say I just love this woman. And she changed the world in a different way than Rusty's or Kathrine Switzer changed things, she changed the world because she was adamant about being visible, about growing her curls long about saying, I don't wanna be a volunteer, put me on the frontline.

[00:43:45] Tracy Dawson: And so to me it's like, okay, so that kid who learns about the story of JK Rowling, like that feeds into her, right? The same thing is what if there was a young woman who looked at Dr. Mary Walker, and you go, oh [00:44:00] my God. I mean that's why they say representation is everything. If you see it, you can be it, literally.

[00:44:05] Tracy Dawson: So I just think that she changed the world in her own way. Not only because she was the first and only woman to get the Medal of Honor, but because she was persistent and adamant about being visible.

[00:44:16] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, I loved her story as well and her whole fight about just fighting for women to be able to wear pants. And that was also a kind of meta thing in your book because, as you said at the very beginning, most of these women weren't just breaking the rules by doing the thing they weren't supposed to do, they were also breaking the rules just by wearing pants. So she kind of tackled that and really made a mark there.

[00:44:42] Anna Stoecklein: And also just to point out, which you pointed out in your book, as you mentioned, she received a medal of honor and she is, to this day, the only woman to ever have received that in the history of the United States out of 3,500 recipients. So she is a trailblazer in a multitude of [00:45:00] ways

[00:45:00] Tracy Dawson: Absolutely. And they tried to take it from her, by the way. They tried to strip her of that medal, not because she was a woman, but because they realized after the war that they had given out so many of them, and they were thinking about the pension payouts. They were thinking about, oh shit, this is gonna cost us a lot of money.

[00:45:14] Tracy Dawson: So they decided, oh, I know what we'll do. We'll say that you can only have a medal of honor if you actually took part in combat. And she was like, are you kidding me? I was a prisoner of war for four months in a confederate prison. I was on the line, I was saving limbs. And they said, we're asking for the medal back.

[00:45:33] Tracy Dawson: And you know what she told them? No! She said, not only did she refuse to give but she defiantly wore it on her lapel every single day until the day she died. So to me, I'm like, this is a fiery woman who changed things by not shutting up. You know what I mean? And in the end, after she passed, I think her great niece like, took this up with the president and they said, Nope, she has the honor, she has the medal of honor. Do you know what I mean? Like, they, [00:46:00] they backtracked. They were like, absolutely. She deserves it. It's just like, yeah. You think?

[00:46:04] Anna Stoecklein: No kidding. And still the only woman. I mean, it's just, it's unbelievable.

[00:46:10] Anna Stoecklein: So we've seen how this has persisted through the millennia and in reading this, you know, sometimes I was thinking to myself, in some instances today, women are still having to fully dress as men. But in other instances, it's almost just like the disguise has kind of changed.

[00:46:28] Anna Stoecklein: You know, there was this whole era of women in the business world needing to act more like men to be successful. There's stories of women trying to make their voices lower in recent times. I mean, it's really, I feel like these disguises haven't gone away. They've just kind of transformed. And there are different things that we have to do now to try to lessen the feminine aspects of ourselves that are unfavorable in many instances.

[00:46:55] Anna Stoecklein: So, I don't know. Just thinking about that, thinking about where we are today, everything that [00:47:00] you've looked at and researched and learned, are there any lessons that you feel like that we can take away as individuals or as a society? And I'm also curious if you feel like it's gotten better or we just kind of wear different disguises?

[00:47:17] Tracy Dawson: Mm-hmm. I think that, you know, in many, many ways, it's gotten better. We are in a moment of time where gender is more fluid than ever, sexuality is more fluid, queerness. It's like everything just feels like we're getting more spacious. Patriarchy isn't just bad for women. Patriarchy is bad for society. Patriarchy is bad for men.

[00:47:40] Tracy Dawson: And there we're all in these boxes and these gendered norms. And it's like, I think that we are in the most incredible moment, but with great progress and great change comes, you know, the fascists, the fascists are here, the fascists are here everybody, you guys, the fascists are here. You know, so and so we have [00:48:00] to be, we really have to stick together as these communities of people who have been othered, historically, we really have to, like, it's now more than ever we do.

[00:48:10] Tracy Dawson: In terms of women's rights, it's unfathomable to me and to many, many people that we are here, once again, just fighting to be considered a full, equal human being. Just a, just a human being, you know, just that, who can be in charge of what is in or on, or what we do with our own bodies. Just basic human rights. So that's very disheartening. It's hard not to look at what's happening in the right wing politics, and what's happening on the Supreme Court in America and not be depressed and wanna like lay down.

[00:48:44] Tracy Dawson: But in terms of lessons, I mean, what I got out of writing this book and what other people have told me they've gotten out of it as they read it, is, dear Lord, we are innovative and I wish I didn't have to have all my writing be [00:49:00] focused on excavating women's stories, excavating the history, the innovation and the accolades, but I will continue to do it because I just think we are so resilient and resourceful and innovative. It's incredible. If you think of the history of knocking us down again and again and again, and as I say in the introduction, we will always get up. We will always get up. We are resourceful and savvy and resilient as fuck.

[00:49:29] Tracy Dawson: And I just, that's how I feel on a day-to-day basis in my own life. Whether I'm facing just like regular ups and downs of career creativity, you know, existential crises or whether it's like because things are being leveled at me because of my gender identity. I just, I guess that's the lesson is like, we're going to keep getting up and I hope that people are really engaged right now politically.

[00:49:56] Tracy Dawson: I think that there's no sidelines. You know, there's this joke, [00:50:00] like when you're on a dating app, I'm not on them anymore, but when you're on the dating app and like people fill out where it says like, politics and the person puts apolitical, I couldn't, you know, it's like, it's like, what? It's disgusting.

[00:50:13] Tracy Dawson: First of all, someone made a joke that apolitical, when they put apolitical, it just means conservative, but they're too ashamed to say so, you know what I mean? So it's like I couldn't run away faster from someone who considers themselves apolitical because that generally means you're a white person who's like, I'm fine and comfortable, I'm okay with white supremacy. It benefits me. Bye. So yeah, I'm very fulfilled and satisfied, and just like full in my heart because people reach out to me and say, oh my gosh, I, I read your book, and I was laughing. And then the next page I was crying, and then the next page I was enraged. And the thing I'm most proud of, of course, I'm a comedy writer who likes to make people laugh, but I really am most proud about making people angry.

[00:50:58] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, I can [00:51:00] attest I had all of those emotions throughout all of the book and sometimes in one story. So it really, it really is phenomenal. So it's a great way to read about women's stories, but in a way where you're entertained or you learn a bit about history and where you feel a good angry, where you're perhaps inspired to o do something in your own life.

[00:51:23] Tracy Dawson: Absolutely.

[00:51:24] Anna Stoecklein: Take a chance in your own life where maybe you've faced resistance yourself. Because I think every woman, non-binary person, anybody reading this book, will be able to think about instances in their own life when they've been up against these types of challenges. So perhaps that's something else we can take away is where is this happening in our own life, how are we disguising ourselves still today?

[00:51:43] Tracy Dawson: Absolutely. I mean, this, this is so rewarding and also that's why I put my own stories. Something we didn't talk about is that I don't treat these people in the book at arm's length. I'm like in the story with them. And so I try to bring some personal stories into each chapter because I wanna be involved and I want the [00:52:00] reader to feel exactly the same way They're invested and they can see their own selves in some of these stories.

[00:52:05] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I definitely could. Well, is there anything else that you would to talk about, about which we haven't gotten to today?

[00:52:16] Tracy Dawson: Oh Lord. Well, I mean, not really. This was fantastic. I feel like I, I jumped all over the place, but that's, that's I guess what happens when you write an anthology book.

[00:52:26] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.

[00:52:27] Tracy Dawson: There's a lot to jump around to. But thank you so much. This is a joy to talk to you.

[00:52:33] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. It's been such a pleasure. It was such a pleasure reading the book. Such a pleasure talking to you. I'm so glad that we have you putting these kinds of stories out into the world. And perhaps somebody is listening, you know, now we could get some biopics out there on these types of stories, a TV series. I mean, I do think that that would be a great way to bring these women's stories to life. But, the book was absolutely fantastic and couldn't recommend it more to [00:53:00] everybody and thank you so much for being here today.

[00:53:03] Tracy Dawson: Thanks, Anna.

[00:53:04] Section: Outro

[00:53:05] Anna Stoecklein: Thanks for listening. The Story of Woman is a one woman operation run by me, Anna Stoecklein. So if you enjoy listening and want to help me on this mission of adding woman's perspective to mankind's story, be sure to share with a friend. One mention goes a long way. Hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode and make sure to rate and review the podcast while you're there.

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Tracy Dawson
Tracy Dawson
Author of Let Me Be Frank