Today I read "How to Talk to Little Boys" by Lisa Bloom in the Huffington Post. I read it because, well, I have a little boy.
While I'm fairly confident that we communicate well and understand each other, I am aware that things could change in an instant and that it's important to keep the tools in my parenting toolbox sharp. So, I read.
And read about how boys don't read. I didn't find much in the article about how to talk to little boys, but I did find that according to her article and her new book about boys, Swagger, my son, his friends, and a great many boys I know are anomalies because they read. They don't just read, they read voraciously, talk about books, share ideas for other books to read, and often read while they should be paying attention in class. My son reads in the car, while walking, in bed, and wherever he can. He begs to go to the library and bookstore. Phew - he's not that boy she's talking about. Yet.
Our home has always been filled with books. Heck, when I worked at a bookstore, years before he was born, I purchased children's books and had authors sign them to my "future children". Luckily, he caught the reading bug and shows no immediate signs of getting over it. But we are starting to reach the point where we need book suggestions to keep him adequately supplied.
In "How to Talk to Little Boys" Bloom addresses the attitude that many boys have about reading and hits on the one challenge to get and keep boys, and some girls for that matter, reading forever; finding that first juicy book that hooks them. Once started, keeping them supplied with interesting books is key, and as they reach the teen years, it starts to be more difficult to find books for boys. Really. Browse any local bookstore and check out the shelves for teens. Take note of the genres. While looking for a gift for a teenage family member I noticed shelf after shelf of "paranormal romance" books, and then a small section of fantasy and then whatever was left. It appears there is a genre bridge for girls to traverse from teen to adult books, but for boys there is not much to offer after a certain point other than a jump to adult action/adventure, fantasy and science fiction.
Bloom provides a litany of reasons why boys shun reading from social and cultural pressures and ideals, to the reading struggles that seem to disproportionately affect boys; all valid points. However I hope she is wrong on one very important point. I hope she is wrong that parents and teachers have lowered their expectations for boys; that they have the attitude that being a boy is more about physicality than intellectuality. Why can't it be about both? Why can't it be about a lot more than either of those things individually or together?
We have come a long way in our attitudes toward girls and women and what they can do, should do, and are capable of doing. Women are competent, smart, strong and complex and have worked hard to attain that science fair victory and valedictorian status. In the not too distant past, men, including some fathers, may have insinuated that we could, or could not do something simply because "well, she's a girl you know", or that we were prone to being "highly emotional, or too sensitive". All stereotypical beliefs that girls have had to vault over and around to prove their worth.
As the mother of a son, I am becoming more and more aware, as he gets
older, of the socially accepted male bashing that goes on. Yes, boys
are different from girls, and as a girl, I can say that many of us (me
included) can be prone to the occasional superiority complex. Jokes about our husband's and son's perceived ineptness in certain household duties, while meant in jest, have an edge that is no different from put-downs of women and girls in the past. It didn't feel good then and I'm sure it doesn't feel good now.
I won't know whether or not I agree with Ms. Bloom's theory that lowered expectations and thuggish media influences are to blame for the slide in achievement of our boys until I've read her book, but I do have a theory of my own - as unscientific as it may be.
Perhaps our boys haven't slipped so much as we have pushed them down, aside, and out of the way?
We don't have to take one gender out at the knees to elevate the other, do we?
As a woman, and a mother to a son, I hope we can do better.