Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Real Boys or War Against Boys?

This turned into kind of a long book review, so I’m going to give a quick summary at the beginning. You only have to read the whole thing if you want all the details.

I’ve been reading two books:

  1. Real Boys by William Pollack
  2. The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff-Sommer

Pollack says many boys are sad, lonely, and confused because society tells us we should treat them like little men and raise them through a toughening process. This drives their true emotions underground and forces them to put on a tough, cheerful and confident mask, which ends up being very harmful. Only when we understand what boys are really experiencing can we help them learn to deal with issues.

Hoff-Sommers says that boys want to be tough and confident and treated like little men and that the real problem is that society is trying to raise boys to be like girls. If we would just let them be boys they would be better off. She identifies a systematic agenda to make education and child-rearing a form of non-surgical castration that is harmful to boys.

I think there’s truth in both books. I’ve seen first hand trends in parenting and education that are harmful to boys, but I think the answer looks much more like Pollack’s approach than Hoff-Sommer’s. Read on if you want to hear more.

Hoff-Sommer begins by presenting a pretty convincing argument. Her sources are very credible, and main point is that some of the more radical feminist leaders are promoting programs and policies that don’t simply stop at furthering the cause of girls and women. The go beyond promoting equality and the ability of girls and women to live and work up to their full potential. In fact, these “misguided feminists” (her words, not mine) actively demean, disadvantage, and discriminate against boys and just about anything that smell of masculinity or testosterone. They knowingly and unknowingly endorse practices, opinions, and perspectives that overtly and covertly harm boys. She explains that while the original motives of some in this movement were very good, it has developed into something that is contrary to the original positive intention. Rather than lifting up girls, they are putting down boys.

In Real Boys, William Pollack uses his own clinical experience and solid research to identify and address what he sees as a negative “myth of boyhood” in our culture that requires boys to detach from their caregivers and their feelings in order to be tough or what society would label a “real boy.” This disconnection results in repressed/unprocessed feelings, stunted emotional development, and sometimes psychological disorders. Pollack has treated boys who have been violent, bullies or antisocial in other ways as well as boys who are depressed and suicidal. In most of the cases he has discovered boys who are in distress emotionally and whose pain could be traced back to early trauma with toxic beliefs about what boys are supposed to be like. He goes further and says that while only some boys may exhibit pathological consequences, most boys suffer from the negative consequences of the myths of boyhood.

The conflict between these two books is that Hoff-Sommers argues that we need to stop trying to make boys act more like girls. If we do, then boys will be better off. As a culture, we don’t need to put up with boys acting inappropriately to girls, women, and each other, but we do need to let them relate to work, play, learning, and life in ways that are consistent with their biology. There’s nothing wrong with being stereotypically male. She thinks that people like Pollack are most likely trying to make boys be something that males naturally are not.

Pollack, on the other hand, would say that it’s great for boys to be authentically male, but that our society has developed an incorrect idea of what that is. To raise healthy, real boys, according to Pollack, we need to allow boys to develop the emotional intelligence that they are born with and express it with an authentically masculine style. There’s no need to force them to be artificially tough, jaded, cocky or chauvinistic.

To sum up, it is good that Hoff-Sommers raises awareness about some very scary, radical trends in feminist social activism (PLEASE NOTE, I AM NOT OPPOSED FEMINISM. RADICALISM IN GENERAL TENDS TO HAVE LESS THAN POSITIVE RESULTS, REGARDLESS OF HOW GOOD ITS FOUNDATION MIGHT BE) and education that are directly harmful to boys and indirectly harmful to girls as well. We shouldn’t stifle boy’s energy, creativity, and personhood to make classrooms more manageable, playgrounds “softer,” backyards quieter, or sports less competitive. For girls to achieve, they don’t need society to squash boys. This line of thinking maintains a low opinion of both boys and girls.

However, Pollack provides a much better path forward. Real boys are not destined to repeat a stereotypical “boys will be boys” pattern of behavior and repression. We can raise our sons to be true to themselves as well as authentic, healthy men by fostering emotional intelligence and debunking cultural myths of boyhood in a way that embraces all the wildness and wonder that naturally comes boys.

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Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Book Reviews


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Book Review: Boys Should Be Boys by Meg Meeker

Taking a family road trip to Kentucky kept me from posting for a couple weeks, but it also gave me the chance to read Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker.

Before I get started with the review, let me qualify my perspective.

  1. I DON’T believe in gender specific parenting.
  2. I DO believe in holistic, CHILD SPECIFIC parenting.
  3. A BIG part of the whole child is their gender.

Therefore, I LIKE the idea of books about boys as well as books about girls.

It’s also important to state at the beginning that I think it’s time to let go of the debate about whether boys or girls have it worst and focus on doing a good job for all children. Each sex has its own challenges and gifts. There has been gender inequity, but fighting about who has the current short end of the stick is silly. Boys benefit if we raise healthy girls. Girls benefit if we raise healthy boys. Writing a book about boys does not hurt girls and vice versa. The better we understand how to parent and teach both sexes, the better off both boys and girls will be.

I was interested in this book because:

  • I am raising boys.
  • I work with challenging boys.
  • I am writing a continuing education workshop on caring for boys.
  • It was available on i-Tunes, so I could listen to it while driving.

If I were grading Dr. Meeker’s book against other books about boys, I’d give it a  “B.” I found it useful and inspiring. It’s a good book, but I’ve got high standards. Here’s the criteria I used:

  • Boy-specific data and ideas: Much of the information could be applied to boys or girls equally. While the book expressed the ideas in a boy-centered way, the information wasn’t uniquely innovative or outstanding for boys. The “Seven Secrets” were good ideas for raising all kids.
  • Quality of parenting advice: It was good advice. Solid, but not exceptional.
  • Relevance and usefulness of stories and examples: Stories were decent examples, but not particularly inspiring or illustrative. You didn’t read them and say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way. I see this boy’s story in a whole new light.”
  • Data and information was new, innovative, or engaging: Most of the information was stuff most people had heard before. While it was good to be reminded of it, there were not revelations that would rock anyone’s world.
  • Ideas were thought provoking, applicable, and could be practically applied by busy parents: For a book to be worth most parent’s or teacher’s time, it needs to have some very useful, applicable, plug-and-play ideas that will work and change our daily practice. The book contained some very good suggestions, but it would be difficult for most people to come away with much more than a few ideas to try.
  • Reading the book inspired me to be a better parent, teacher, youth worker, etc. The last chapter was inspiring, and I did come away with a full heart wanting to be a better dad.

As far as other things that I consider important, the book was pretty weak.

  • Cultural diversity is barely mentioned.
  • Principles of adult learning hardly there.
  • The perspectives and needs of exceptional children were only briefly mentioned.
  • Best Practices for parents or professionals weren’t clearly identified but were mentioned in passing (unconsciously).
  • Other professionals were quoted a couple times. Other professional organizations that are accessible or useful to readers or participants weren’t memorably mentioned.
  • Developmental ages and stages were not discussed.
  • Parenting Styles were not discussed.
  • Learning styles were not discussed or integrated.

I don’t expect most parenting books that are published to include all of these, but I think it’s good to be aware of their importance.

If people are looking to pick it up from the library and browse through it, here’s what I’d read:

  • Chapter 4 on media that is very insightful.
  • Chapter 7 on moms.
  • Chapter 8 on dads.
  • Chapter 12 on 10 tips for making sure you get it right was encouraging and inspiring.
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Posted by on April 15, 2010 in Book Reviews


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