Monday, 29 November 2010

Books and boys: policing masculinity

"Study shows boys and books don't mix", said the Dom-Post headline on Saturday. "Boys think reading books is for girls..."
           In fact the study, by teacher Sheryl Wright, showed nothing of the kind. What it did show was that Year 7 boys (aged around 11) had two different opinions of reading books, depending on whether they were talking to the researcher by themselves or in a group of boys.
          "The minute I got them into the group they started the subtle put-downs...It was all 'that's a girl's book' or 'you're a girl', whereas while they were talking one-on-one they were happy to say they read books."
           This fits perfectly with what a major NZ study of gender and education found. To lift boys' achievement, we have to tackle the way "reading books", and study in general, is cast as "for girls", and the way boys endlessly police each other to hold the line. (When they're older they don't just say it's for girls, they say it's "gay" - an even worse slur on the masculinity of any boy seen to be flouting the rules.)
            Wright says, too, that having a male in the house reading for pleasure is "incredibly powerful for boys", and that if you can find a series they like - such as Harry Potter - you've got them hooked.
            I find it fascinating that after so many years of seeing girls as just naturally deficient in various ways (to explain why they did less well than boys in education), followed by working out how sexism was holding girls back, we're now having to understand how sexism holds boys back too.


N said...

It is amazing how quickly kids pick up on the importance of Gender - and how quick they are to police it!
For a really interesting dissection of the pseudoscience about gender differences that gets published in articles such as this one, I recommend Cordelia Fine's recent book: Delusions of Gender. It is pretty openminded but insists on scientific rigour - and is pretty enjoyable to read.

Kate said...

I have a boy and a girl who have been inhaling books since the moment they discovered words. They are both the same and often read the same books, including Harry Potter. The problem I have with my son, who is only eight, is that he is fast running out of appropriate books to read! My daughter, who is 10, is the same - her choices currently include boyfriend/ girlfriend and dating stuff that she is simply not into yet. I am reading them my old hard cover Enid Blyton books at the moment, but thank goodness for library cards :)

OwhiroLady said...

Some thoughts:
- make friends with the children's librarian at your local library - they have wonderful lists of appropriate books for different ages
- think about non-fiction, poetry, biographies
- whatever the new equivalent of talking books is (they were all on tape when my daughters were young) - kids love being read to
- don't forget to read aloud to them - this allows you to do a bit of an edit as you go, if need be - also a chance to talk about some of the stuff you think might be a little old for them
- miss having small people to read to - books, kids fresh from the bath and all ready for bed - wonderful combination.

moz said...

Also start on non-fiction., especially the "science you can do at home" stuff that's increasingly available (not just "how stuff works" but "make stuff that works").
I was "made" to read everything in our local children's section before I was allowed to read adult fiction (I was ~10 IIRC) and was bemused and disinterested by the sexual content. I did read a lot of adventure and science fiction, as well as non fiction.
A lot of "adult" fiction is quite digestable to kids as soon as they have the attention span. I was reading Barry Crump when I was very young, albeit he writes for a semi-literate audience.

Scuba Nurse said...

A very good point about gender barriers and how they are not just a female issue.
My parents never stopped me reading anything. I was reading Stephen King age 8. As an adult re reading these books I realise how much went straight over my head.
I think that to a degree kids only absorb what they are ready to. In spite of my adult level reading list I still needed "the talk" and had no idea of why adults would do the stuff in "the talk!"

Anonymous said...

Can we please avoid having this thread turn into people bragging about how they're raising their boys to be bookworms? Thanks.

- Mr Philosopher

A Nonny Moose said...

I don't see any bragging going on here Mr Philosopher.

And what would be wrong with pushing the idea that boys can be readers (forget being bookworms, just picking up a book full stop). Kind of the whole point of the discussion. Why wouldn't you want the idea to out there that it's perfectly fine, natural and good for boys to read?

Anonymous said...

There hasn't, and I was hoping to stop it before it happens. I've seen this discussed previously on other blogs and threads often degenerate into a bunch of individual parents congratulating one another on how much their kids read.

The fact is this is a problem that exists in society and it can't be solved by individual parents just pushing their sons harder. We wouldn't say the solution to male bullying is for every mother to teach her son that bullying is wrong.

And also, could we get a shout out for all the girls out there who are reading and don't have this problem? I'm not arguing that this is a legitimate cause for concern but I don't want the great successes of female students to be papered over.

-Mr Philosopher

Anonymous said...

@ Mr Philosopher

Let me get this straight. A short but incisive blog about boy culture and the impact on boy's reading and you respond by suggesting we have a shout out for girls because you don't want their success papered over. Sorry but how does raising such an issue suggest that girl's success is diminished?

Anonymous said...

I didn't read the report (apart from the executive summary) but do we know that it is 'policing masculinity' or simply asserting dominance by any means possible? At that age, experimentation with asserting dominance can be crude and a bit hit-and-miss.

But if it is about policing masculinity, I'm sure Bear Grylls trumps any 11 year old kid.