Booknotes: Better Boys, Better Men

would like to see some better books!!! folks,

Booknotes: Better Boys, Better Men

Previously on the HNTRW masculinity series:

maybe I'll read bell hooks like everyone's been telling me to

Now, I've not done that, for the very good reason that I started reading the bell hooks and it was way better than anything else I've read so far to the extent that it became clear to me after one chapter that this would have to be the last book of the series, so instead I put that to the side briefly to go through Better Boys, Better Men which is... arguably closer to the kind of thing I've been asking for than a lot of other stuff? but still feels quite mid.

The author, Andrew Reiner, is a university professor whose bailiwick seems to be roughly This Kind Of Thing, which is good. He brings himself into the narrative a lot, speaking about his own experience in a way that I found to be helpful to the general thrust of the book. However, the emphasis here is, at least initially, on childhood development, with chapters given over to the way that parents and others talk to children and how that differs by gender, and while some of it feels a little tendentious ("Fathers were more likely to use words with daughters that were associated with their bodies... [the researchers] speculated that this body-focused language introduced in girls a potentially damaging focus on body image") the basic points that baby boys get spoken to less, with less emotional language, are responded to less when they cry(?!) seem pretty wild to me.

It continues with chapters about crying, violence, shame etc. There are a few sharp observations—the identification of "targeted transparancy", where boys won't create a "fluid boundary" for vulnerability but instead open up to each other only when they have very specific need, for instance. A lot of it, though kinda boils down to "I went to see a group of boys/men in a private school/prison/whatever (a lot of kids in private schools, for some reason?) and they were in some kind of men's group and it helped them". There would maybe be more here if this was the first text of its kind you were approaching but after a few goes round at this you maybe get a little inured to statistics about male loneliness. Possibly unfairly, but there you go.

On the whole, this is... fine? The author's foregrounding of his own experiences is quite affecting at times, mostly around the tougher aspects of his own upbringing, but also a bit Anxious Lib Parent (the bit where he kicks off at his son for asking him questions about whether they still execute soldiers, like in the Civil War, was very Like That). Emphasis on the importance of male groups feels like a common thread throughout all the books so far, and it's really leaned into here. That's the thing I've taken away from the project the most to date.

Next time: yeah OK I'll read the bell hooks (I'm behind enough writing this that I actually read it ages ago, but let's preserve the suspense).

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