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REAL BOYS by William Pollack


Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood

by William Pollack

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-375-50131-2
Publisher: Random House

Following in the footsteps of Carol Gilligan, a study showing that boys learn to hide their real selves and may suffer from it more than girls do. Schools, parents, and society fail boys by demanding that they fit into an unwritten “Boy Code,” says psychiatrist Pollack (co-director of the Center for Men at Harvard Medical School). The code challenges boys to be self-reliant and confident, risk takers, powerful and dominant and unemotional. The toughening process begins as early as preschool, when according to Pollack, boys are encouraged to separate from their parents--in particular their mothers--far too early and are shamed into hiding their fears and sorrow. The shaming process (don’t be a —wimp,— don’t be a —wuss—) continues into adulthood, perpetuated sometimes unconsciously by parents, teachers, and peers. Boys can become confused, frustrated, lonely, sad, and disconnected as they learn to bury feelings and behavior that would lead to taunts or teasing. Their confusion can lead to actions that on one end of the scale are characterized as “boys will be boys”--calling out in class, daring each other to new exploits--but on the other end are violent and suicidal. School statistics, which show far more boys than girls diagnosed as learning disabled or emotionally disturbed, support Pollack’s findings. The book is divided into three parts, the first an overview of the Boy Code and its effect on boys’ development. The second section gives advice to mothers and fathers on how to offset social pressure, so boys can develop into their “real selves.” Part three is a discussion of sadness, suicide, and depression, often misdiagnosed in boys, because they may try to hide it with bravado. There is a section generally approving sports as molder of boys— character but warning of tyrannical and insensitive coaches, and a section on homosexuality. Sympathetic, but with little that’s new, this project unfortunately has a kind of “Hey, we’re sensitive too” quality. Better to wait for Gilligan’s study of boys, now in the works. (Author tour)