Sunday, June 22, 2008

Books for Boys Are Emasculating?

I think there has been some backlash against males in this culture, which is a natural part of righting the pre-feminism imbalances. But I think some people are taking things too far -- then again, it was Glenn Beck and it was CNN (Faux News lite), claiming that most of the books written for boys these days are "emasculating."

Here's the interview:

Sassy Monkey had some thoughts cogent on this:
Books for boys are emasculating?

by sassymonkey

This past week on CNN Glenn Beck and his guest, author Ted Bell, raised a few hackles with both male and female readers. It seems that because boys don't go around running to the rescue of girls in stories anymore boys are being emasculated. Yes, we're damaging young boys by not writing and publishing books with strong male characters, because boys (and men) can only be strong when girls (and women) are weak. Who wants to join me in the "Give me a break!" corner?

Not being an avid watcher of CNN, or TV in general (sorry Mr. Beck, I'm too busy reading), I first heard about it and watched the coverage on the Guys Lit Wire blog - a blog dedicated to good Young Adult fiction for boys. We've all heard people say that finding books for girls is easy and that finding books for boys is hard. There really are more books out there for girls (not all of which would fall under the "good" category) but that doesn't mean that the quality of books for boys is bad. There's a lot of good books out there and on Guy Lit Wire you'll find them along with some good conversation. Including this post questioning do teenage boys need books with weak females?

There are a couple of things that bother me about this discussion (between two adult men without a teenager in sight by the way). First it is that for a boy to feel heroic he must rescue a girl - and the girl also needs to be rescued. I'm sure the sociologists would have a field day over all this but I can't believe that anyone in the 21st century would believe that such antiquated notions of what it means to be a hero have any place in a worthwhile discussion.

One of the points brought up by Beck and Bell is that in Bell's book, Nick of Time, the little sister tells the bad guys that they better not do anything to her because her brother was going to come save her. And Bell and Beck thought that the girl not trying to save herself and waiting for the big brother was simply fantastic. Perhaps it worked in this book (I haven't read it so I can't comment on it) but as a general statement about books and boys? No. Scratch that, make that a heck no.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with a boy being the hero nor do I believe anyone else who is involved in this discussion believes that either. What I, and I believe many others, have a problem with is the statement that girls should not be heroes and that when they are it's threatening and damaging to boys. Libr*fiti doesn't mince words on this point.

Ok the whole brother not saving the sister anymore?????? I have no other way to say this - that is a load of crap.

Anna Jarzab isn't buying what Beck and Bell are saying either.

All YA is not emasculating to boys, and anyway their idea of “emasculating” is pretty narrow. They think that if the boy isn’t swashbuckling and rescuing damsels, then they’re not “learning to be a man”. Well, guess what? That sort of “adventure”, in our current times, has nothing to do with “being a man”. If they were bemoaning the lack of books that teach boys about respect or dignity or self-understanding or human connection, if they were saying that all books are like The Rachel Papers, filled with cheap sex and narcissism, that’d be one argument. But if it’s just that girls do all the rescuin’ in today’s YA market, well, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

The men on these blogs aren't getting behind Beck and Bell either. Raising strong independent girls does not mean we're raising weak boys. Maybe Beck and Bell are just a few too many generations removed to understand that. Perhaps they need to wander down to their local brick and mortar or library and check out what is actually on those shelves. Maybe they'll find a book that's actually been published in the last 50 years unlike the books they referenced on air. Or maybe they should let their fingers do the walking and find some great books online at the blogs above. Maybe they'll go to an online bookseller and realize that Bell's book is not even being marketed to teens but to tweens. I'm not holding my breath though. What about you?

Just in case you might think there are not any books for boys, Guys Lit Wire begs to differ:

I am second to none in my hope that more adventurous books for teens will be published (and more mysteries!) but I have read a lot of adventure type books that I am quite confident include strong and heroic boy characters. Just off the top of my head:

Darkside by Tom Becker - werewolves, vamps etc. (sequel due out shortly)
Operation Red Jericho & Operation Typhoon Shore by Joshua Mowll - pirates, mad inventors, etc.
Corbenic by Catherine Fisher - a fight to save the Fisher King
London Calling by Edward Bloor - time travel back to WWII in London
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson - travel to Faerie to save time itself
The Seiki & Judge Ooka series by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler - a series of murder mysteries set in early 18th century Japan where the hero goes up against all sorts of greedy devious bad guys

And then there are all the wonderful realistic dramas in which boys do some heroic things not in the grand adventure model, but very significant in many other ways:

King of the Pygmies by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer
The Blue Helmet by William Bell
Into the Ravine by Richard Scrimger
At the Firefly Gate by Linda Newberry
Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp

I have not read the Percy Jackson series although it seems like it would fit in here as a big adventure and I'm still reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and Sunrise in Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, but in both those cases young men seem to be making heroic decisions. It could be that these two books do not fit into Glenn Beck's moral framework however, as they challenge issues of freedom and patriotism in ways that are beyond the classic vision of unquestioning loyalty to "king and country".

But then again, part of the point of the 21st century is just what it means to be a patriot and beyond that, what it means to be a hero.
I would add Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain series was my favorite as a young lad), who is quite dead and not writing, or Gary Paulson, who has written many fantastic coming of age stories about being in the wilderness.

And what is wrong with the classic stories? Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Call of the Wild, Treasure Island, Lord of the Flies -- all of these and many more are great books for boys and teens, with good moral lessons and lots of adventure.

I agree that boys need the Hero myth as part of their maturation process. But not all books for boys need to be hero stories. Contemporary reality is not conducive to heroic stories, and people are apt to write about what they know.

Besides, has anyone asked boys what makes them feel heroic? I'm guessing it isn't rescuing the girl -- it's probably shooting things (bad guys, monsters, whatever) in a video game. Most adolescent and teen boys don't even read (which is horrible), so what does it matter if there are good books? Get rid of the video games and give them some classic books.

Glenn Beck is a moron (on his best days).

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