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.)