Book Review: Boys by Rachel Giese

Boys: What It Means to Become a Man – Rachel Giese (Patrick Crean Editions, 2018)

At first glance, this might seem like a strange book for me to read. As a mom to two girls, I have no need to know how to raise a boy. There are enough things to worry about and figure out when it comes to raising girls. Why bother spending time learning about boys?

Here’s the thing: how boys are raised matters. (How children in general in our society matters and it should matter to all of us.) It matters to me because the boys are today are the men that my daughters will live amongst, work with, and possibly fall in love with. It matters because some of the greatest fears I have when it comes to my daughters’ futures have to do with men. It matters because when people see me out with my girls, they too often like to tell me, “You’re in trouble!” It matters because once a father of 4 boys (a stranger to me) told me how he didn’t have to worry about his kids getting into “trouble” (trouble here was sex and pregnancy) because he didn’t have girls.

Rachel Giese approaches her study of boys as both a mother of a teenage son and as a journalist. This means the book is filled with references to studies and interviews of others but also her own anecdotes and thoughts as a parent. It’s immensely readable and didn’t take me long to finish at all. Giese delves into topics like gender, immigration, minorities, education, and video games. She covers a lot and while she doesn’t make a deep dive into every subject, she does reference many other sources that a reader could pursue.

Although there are still obstacles to be overcome for girls and women in North America (which is the area Giese primarily focuses on) it is also maybe the best time in history to be a woman. I see this in my own life when I look at the education I have, the home I own, and the choices I am free to make. The mothers I know expect their partners to fully parent with them and that expectation is now seen as fair and realistic. I know many men in my peer group who have shared parental leave with their wives after the birth of a child, feeling comfortable taking months off to spend with their newborns. We are pushing back against the old stereotypes of “throws like a girl” or what kinds of jobs women can have. I have reason to hope that when my girls are adults, things will be even better in this respect.

But are boys getting lost in the elevation of girls? Is this a harder time to be a boy on the cusp of manhood? This is the question that Giese explores. I really appreciated her nuanced approach and her willingness to not simply accept the easy or popular answers. Particularly when it comes to education and what has been referred to as the “feminization” of the school system.

Giese also spends a fair bit of time talking about minorities and boys of different ethnicities. While in some ways this could almost be left for a separate book, I think it is an important distinction to make. The experience of a white, middle class American boy might be vastly different than a boy who is the child of immigrants, growing up below the poverty line.

Boys left me feeling like there is a long way to go in making a better world for our children but that the work is already being done. There are parents and educators and programs thoughtfully raising children and attempting to change the world and that will always be a good thing.

(Rachel Giese will be one of the featured authors at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts this summer and I read Boys as part of my Writers Fest 2019 challenge.)

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Boys by Rachel Giese”

  1. When I was still teaching college freshmen composition, I used to have a section on gender, which discussed both men and women (and yet the men in class often reported feeling “attacked” after the semester was over in their evaluations). In the research (which at this point is 10-15 years old), men said they would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. They would like to be able to express their emotions more. One author I remember distinctly was Michael Kimmel, who is still writing and updating gender differences with a focus on men.

    1. I think men are still just not used to having less power so for many men even being put on equal footing as women is seen as an “attack”. I love seeing men I know take paternity leave or work reduced hours to be with their children. I really hope that the boys who are growing up now will be more comfortable with their emotions than the generations before them.

    2. I know that when it comes to paternity leave a man isn’t using it to physically heal or use his body to care for a baby, but even that emotional bonding is essential. My own dad was a stranger to me until I was a teen, and he and my mom have been married for almost 40 years, so he’s always been around!

    3. In Canada there is a portion of leave dedicated to the mother which recognizes the need for physical recovery, but the rest can be shared between parents. That bonding is so crucial but I think that bonding between dad and baby has been ignored for so long that many men don’t understand or have no experience. So it’s encouraging to see men breaking that tradition. My oldest is super attached to her dad and I still wonder if it’s because he was the one who held her the most in those early days while I was recovering from surgery.

  2. I must admit I worry more about the position of boys in society these days than girls – it seems to me that we went straight past equality without stopping and headed into reverse sexism. Oh, I know men still do better in the workplace and earn more, but they are also regularly demonized or ridiculed in a way we’d no longer accept as women. I hate that men who want to work with children or in caring professions are viewed with mistrust – even the male doctors I worked with had reached a point of being unwilling to examine a female patient without a chaperone present. I do hope the next generation does better at getting a balance than previous ones have…

    1. I don’t know if I’d go that far but there are definitely some extreme attitudes and beliefs that seem like men can’t control themselves physically or sexually. I read an editorial recently by a mother who proudly proclaimed she never let her children be alone with a man. Which is completely over the top ridiculous but it is an attitude I see in more subtle ways sometimes.

  3. Is this the same Rachel G that’s on CBC? I thought the name sounded familiar. This is a really good book, and I’m glad it’s so readable, I’m probably more likely to pick it up haha Being the mother of both of a girl and a boy makes it all the more relevant for me…

    1. I don’t know for sure but I bet she is. I think you would really enjoy it (and possible benefit from it more than me!)

  4. This sounds fascinating! As the mother of a teenage boy I feel anxious about getting the messages right. Unlike that father of 4 boys who spoke to you, I feel much more worried about my son than my daughters. Great review!

    1. I can completely understand that. I think many things are a lot clearer for girls right now than for boys. The book is really interesting though. I have been recommending it to my friends with boys!

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