The harm in having boys books and girls books

20 May

(Originally posted to the Community section of MyMedia)

Note: added commentary for the blog at the end

On twitter, I’ve seen some discussion of how often female characters are absurdly sexualized and objectified, particularly when done by male writers. (Pro tip: women rarely think about their breasts, though we often think–and not fondly–about how badly designed the bra we are forced to wear for oh, about 14-18 hours a day, is.)

On the other hand, there is a disturbing (when you think about it) to other-ize the experiences of women and young girls. So I’m just putting this one here:

Boys Books, Girls Books and Missing out on Anne Frank

“(…)over a decade later, I remember our teacher explaining why we were reading the play instead of the original source.

Our teacher said reading about Anne Frank’s feelings in the diary made boys in past classes feel uncomfortable. The play provided distance from the interiority revealed in the diary. This made the play more appropriate”

Where “more appropriate” means, “it doesn’t have the girl cooties.” Because dog forbid boys are made uncomfortable.The flip side of the coin is how restrictive and damaging the society-approved expressions of masculinity are–dog help boys and men who do not conform to the rigid expectations of courage, overt machismo, self control, etc., for they have become the most frequent, and tacitly approved, targets of bullying and violence for ‘men’s men.’

~ * ~

More than a dozen years ago, there was a very heated discussion at the (now gone) Suzanne Brockmann’s message board, regarding the fact that Sam Starrett, who had been for many readers the epitome of what a True Alpha Man™ was supposed to be, actually cried, on page. The year was 2003, the book was Gone Too Far, and one of the reasons Sam cried a few times over the course of the novel was, that he had good reason to believe his daughter was dead.

How dare he cry, the wuss, cried many a long time reader of Ms Brockmann.

No, I am not kidding. The discussion was protracted and passionate. The phrase, “real men don’t cry,” was used often.

As the mother of a son, I was pretty angry myself, though in the exact opposite direction. Didn’t my son have a right to his feelings? Didn’t he have the right to express his feelings? Did expressing his feelings make him somehow less? WHY on earth, I asked over and over, would crying make men less than MEN?

The answer?  Yeah, you guessed it: “real men don’t cry.”

It’s 2016, and we are still telling our daughters that they cannot do ‘men’s jobs,’ and our sons that they have to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip.’

Why are we still telling our children these things?


6 Responses to “The harm in having boys books and girls books”

  1. Erin Burns 20/05/2016 at 11:28 AM #

    I remember that Brockmann readers brouhaha. It was what turned me off trying to participate among readers for a good long while.

    It is ridiculous that it is 2016 and this is still a thing.

    • azteclady 20/05/2016 at 11:40 AM #

      I was very active in that board for several years, but I remember my astonishment that this, Sam crying over his possibly DEAD child, was decried as a) a weakness, and b) a dealbreaker for so many readers who also happened to be women.

      When women believe so deeply in the stereotypes that mark people as man/woman, male/female, we are imprinting our own children with them.

      This dynamic is one of the reasons why, for example, FGM continues to be such a widespread practice among some cultures in Africa–it’s not just men, but mothers, grandmothers, sisters, who believe wholeheartedly that this is the ‘best’ and appropriate thing for female children. Evidence, in the form of lifelong pain, infections, even death, matters little in the face of deeply ingrained cultural belief.

      • Erin Burns 20/05/2016 at 11:41 AM #


      • azteclady 20/05/2016 at 11:41 AM #

        (can you tell I feel deeply about these things? sorry)

  2. Erin Burns 20/05/2016 at 11:43 AM #

    I regularly go into rants on this same subject. So you’re in good company.

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