Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Review; Packaging Boyhood

I just got done with this one. Being the mom of a boy, I spend a good amount of time reading and trying to figure out just what the heck I'm supposed to be doing with this kid.

I think we're all well aware of the Cultural Wasteland's effective hyper-genderization of childhood. This book is a companion to "Packaging Girlhood," which examines how the culture steers girls to be little bitches who shop a lot. The "Boyhood" version explores the clothes, books, movies, music and games that steer boys to being tough, unfeeling, super hetero examples of machismo that few boys can live up to, so they can revert to Slacker mode where nothing is expected of them. Most people are aware of the violent video games, the "music", the heavily advertised media world they wander in, the excessive fart and poop jokes that everyone assumes boys like, and so on. What this book doesn't do is advocate shielding a child from it. Instead, it encourages a "Reality Based" parenting model, which acknowledges the existence of this media and tells parents to use it to start dialogues on what boys really do and how they feel about all this subtle messaging. We should teach our kids to be smart consumers of media, not passive slugs eating everything at the buffet of media lunacy.

This is pretty close to what I've been doing with Stitch. When he came home asking me what a collection of profanity and obscene gestures was all about, I honestly told him. Watching toy advertisements, I point out that there's special lighting and camera tricks to make things seem more exciting than they really are. (It helps that we can get him up close and personal with these special effects.) While I do make some effort to limit what Stitch is exposed to, I don't go out of my way to ensure he doesn't see certain things. I won't take him to an R-Rated movie, but I will explain the trailer of one if we happen to get stuck with it while waiting for "Happy Feet" to start.

Figure Skating did get a mention in this book; "Blades of Glory" was offered as an example of the ridiculousness and ridicule of men who dare to step outside of the accepted male model. Don't get excited, that was pretty much it. But it was true. Figure Skating in this culture is not a male activity. Period. While running spots for Ice Show, I overheard a father say to his son, "They play hockey, that's how they can skate like that," referring to the male soloists doing doubles and spins. Little boys who dare to Figure Skate and not play Hockey, like Stitch, get some eyerolls and funny looks from the other Moms and Dads who are buying into our hyper-gendered culture. This is kinda sad, and sometimes I wonder what would happen if I intimated that their daughter was a lesbian because she played hockey and didn't figure skate. (I haven't done it. Yet.)

This book also took on the "F" word. "F" as in "Faggot." I have a coworker who made the comment of "fagure skating" to me once. I laughed and asked him why he said that. "Because they're all gay," he replied casually. So? Who cares? This book takes on "faggot" as the slur that it is, and that it needs to be removed from the cultural vernacular to describe anything that is ultra feminine, froufy or just plain "not hyper male."

It's sad that the Culture children grow up in does so much to shortchange boys of their potential, and this book offers up a lot of ways to counteract that. It's not easy; it involves a lot of talking, a lot of honesty and a hell of a lot of time. It involves taking your child as he is, not as what others project him to be. Stitch has defied convention for a long time, but he's never realized it. In Pre-School he was the lone Dragon among three identical Transformers. (Did anyone wonder why a PreSchooler was dressing as a character from a movie they shouldn't be seeing?) At the craft store he gets mad that all craft kits are geared towards girls. We just don't buy the kits and he enjoys making things all the same. He's passed over the "My Weird School" series for "Junie B Jones," which features a girl as lead. He loves his trains, but the Hot Wheels got played with maybe once or twice, and the Spiderman stuff got dusty really fast. (Did anyone ask why toys for 5 year olds come from an R rated movie?) People ask me what he's "into" so they can buy birthday and holiday gifts, and I don't have a pat answer like "Superman" or "Batman" or "Cars." I have to get creative to match his ever widening and expansive interests, and this makes the relations crazy. I once sent my mom on a scavenger hunt to find the elusive "Owly" comic series. (I HIGHLY recommend this series for young children, it is THE BOMB. Even for non-readers, GET IT!)((Edit, Owly Link, Free Comics!! But buy Andy's books because Andy is awesome... )

Every child is unique, and Popular Culture is going to try and fit them into a stupid box. This book offers up some great strategies to help you and your kids avoid that box and stay special. I got my copy at the library, but I imagine Amazon's got it, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment