I recently spotted How to Be a Real Man by Scott Stuart at our Fairmount branch and I really recommend you check it out. This super cute children’s book draws you in with verse and a gently progressive message about identity and value. First, it examines different “tough guys” from history — vikings and pirates, etc. — and how “tough” they were. Then it offers a real set of guidelines for good men: fight for what’s right, express your feelings, help others. It’s a good read for all ages and genders to feel a hopeful breath of fresh air.
Here are some reads from the adult section that share a more enlightened view of masculine identity:
Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity by Justin Baldoni
In this urgent, groundbreaking and provocative reimagining of what it means to be man enough, Justin arms readers with new tools and the ability to have both compassion and empathy for themselves and the men in their lives.
Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and how to glow up too) by David Yi
In this inclusive, illustrated history and guide to skin care and beauty, journalist and founder of Very Good Light David Yi teaches us that self-care, wellness, and feeling beautiful transcends time, boundaries, and binaries-and that pretty boys can change the world.
Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad by Jordan Shapiro
Shapiro presents an exploration of the psychology of fatherhood from an archetypal perspective as well as a cultural history that challenges familiar assumptions about the origins of so-called traditional parenting roles.
Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency by Andrew Reiner
How modern forms of masculinity are harming men-and what we can do about it.
Tough: My Journey to True Power by Terry Crews
Not only the gripping story of a man’s struggle against himself and how he finally got his mind right, but a bold indictment of the cultural norms and taboos that ask men to be outwardly tough while leaving them inwardly weak.
It isn’t a new book by any means, but I found the themes and the writing of the short stories in The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Writings so timeless that it could be.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her stories about a hundred years ago. If you think of authors who lived at the turn of the 20th century to be stodgy, you may be as surprised as I was by Gilman’s candor and (sometimes) humor about gender identity, mental health and social norms. These themes are very much hot-button issues today.
“Herland” is the story that most made me want to check out the book, but I enjoyed all of them. In this utopian fantasy, a group of three male explorers set out to find a secret, all-female civilization rumored to exist in the seclusion of the forest. Their tantalizing visions of what they hope to encounter is not exactly what they actually find!
For a different -but no less interesting- take on the all-female society theme, you may want to check out the graphic novel Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.
Have you ever thought it would be fun to be a fly on the wall during an interesting conversation? Reading the book We Have to Talk : Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem is like being a fly on the wall during couples therapy. I find it fascinating how our cultural differences are shaped by gender. Understanding between women and men is often lacking (sometimes comedically, sometimes painfully so). The authors of this book hope to change that.
Surrey and Shem are psychologists who are also married to one another. They have been conducting workshops for married men and women for over 30 years. Their method, put simply, went like this: first, they invited couples to gather together for a weekend workshop. Fifteen people showed up to the first one: 9 women and 6 men. This included four couples and seven individuals whose partners chose to stay home. First, they gathered as a group to talk. Then, Samuel took the men to a different room while Janet stayed with the women. This is when things started to get real. The group participants shared the honest truth about their relationships among their same-sex peers, where they didn’t have to worry about hurting their partners’ feelings. Finally, they re-convened in the larger group.
What happened next was life-changing. The workshops led the psychologists and the participants to some valuable discoveries about themselves and each other.
They came to the conclusion that even though men and women generally want the same outcome from the relationship (connection), they tend to go about achieving it in vastly different ways. Not only that, but the way in which women prefer to connect (talking to their partners) has the exact opposite of the intended effect.
Women: have you ever been talking to a man and get the sense that he isn’t really listening? Men: have you ever found yourself at the mercy of a seemingly never-ending conversation, getting more and more anxious and trying to figure out some way to get out of it? The authors call this “male relational dread.” According to the authors, men often feel threatened and want out of a conversation with their partners about the relationship as quickly as possible. This often has the effect of leaving the woman feeling abandoned, then angry. Her male partner feels ashamed that his actions have upset his partner. When he tries to reconnect, his active attempts to do so (often in the form of physical touch) are received with- you guessed it- the opposite of the intended effect. The woman feels like she is being taken advantage of and wants out of the situation as quickly as possible.
How are couples to find a way to connect when their attempts to do so are by vastly different methods? Surrey and Shem attempt to answer that question. The key seems to be giving the relationship it’s own identity. It is almost like giving it an anthropomorphic quality. That is to say, whether or not the couple has children, it is helpful to think of the well-being of a third entity – the “we” – in the relationship. When problems arise, approach it by asking the question “What does the “We” need right now?” rather than from a first-person perspective (“Here is what I need…”) The authors refer to this as “mutuality” and they have found it can make all the difference.
To learn more, check out We Have to Talk : Healing Dialogues Between Women and Men by Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem.