What does it mean to be a man in America? How about the role of fatherhood? How that has changed since you were a kid?
Those are some of the questions the following Books of the Month take on in our Father’s Day special issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.
The first two books described below are by Michael Kimmel, PhD (shown here on the far right), whose tomes take on groundbreaking territory that shed a light on what it means to be a man in America in the 21st century. An American sociologist specializing in gender studies, the distinguished professor of sociology at Stony Brook University in New York is the founder and editor of the academic journal Men and Masculinities. Kimmel is also a spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, and a longtime feminist.
When it comes to being a dad, “Raising Cain” imparts what two of the nation’s leading child psychologists, Dan Kindlon, PhD, and Michael Thompson, PhD, have learned from their more than 35 years of combined experience working with boys and their families.
Following are summaries of these three books, plus a primer on how boys develop, and a book that attempts to answer “what women want.”
Our top pick:
- Manhood in America — For more than three decades, the women’s movement and its scholars have exhaustively studied women’s complex history, roles, and struggles. In this book, Kimmel argues that it is time for men to rediscover their own evolution. Drawing on myriad sources, he demonstrates that American men have been frustrated by their efforts to keep up with constantly changing standards. Kimmel contends that it is only by mining their past for its best qualities and worst excesses that men will free themselves from the constraints of the masculine ideal. This third edition discusses such topics as post-9/11 politics, “self-made” masculinities (including those of Internet entrepreneurs), presidential campaigns, and gender politics. It also covers contemporary debates about fatherlessness, the biology of male aggression, and pop psychologists such as John Gray and Dr. Laura. Outlining the various ways in which manhood has been constructed and portrayed in America, this engaging history is ideal as a main text for courses on masculinity or as a supplementary text for courses in gender studies and cultural history.
Also by Michael Kimmel:
- Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men — This book addresses the passage from adolescence to adulthood, noting that such a route was once clear. Kimmel argues that today, growing up has become more complex and confusing, as young men drift casually through college and beyond — hanging out, partying, playing with hi-tech toys, watching sports. But beneath the appearance of a simple extended boyhood, a more dangerous social world has developed, far away from the traditional signposts and cultural signals that once helped boys navigate their way to “Guyland.” In mapping the social world where men are now made, Kimmel provides a glimpse into the minds and times of America’s sons, brothers, and boyfriends — and he strives to redefine what it means to be a man today — and tomorrow. “Only by understanding this world and this life stage can we enable young men to chart their own paths, stay true to themselves, and emerge safely from Guyland as responsible and fully formed male adults,” he insists.
Here’s a classic for understanding, and raising, our sons better:
- Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys — In this essential book on fatherhood, Dan Kindlon, PhD, and Michael Thompson, PhD, reveal a nation of boys who are hurting — sad, afraid, angry, and silent. Kindlon and Thompson set out to answer this basic, crucial question: What do boys need that they’re not getting? They illuminate the forces that threaten our boys, teaching them to believe that “cool” equals macho strength and stoicism. Cutting through outdated theories of “mother blame,” “boy biology,” and “testosterone,” the authors shed light on the destructive emotional training our boys receive — the emotional miseducation of boys. Kindlon and Thompson make a compelling case that emotional literacy is the most valuable gift we can offer our sons, urging parents to recognize the price boys pay when we hold them to an impossible standard of manhood. They identify the social and emotional challenges that boys encounter in school and show how parents can help boys cultivate emotional awareness and empathy — giving them the vital connections and support they need to navigate the social pressures of youth.
And here’s a good primer on how boys develop:
It’s a Boy! Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18 — This practical, insightful, and engaging book is filled with humor and compassion as it offers developmental milestones, while keeping in mind the emotionally profound ways in which we love our sons. By focusing on the psychological, social, and academic life of boys from infancy through the teen years, the authors explore the many ways in which boys strive for masculinity and attempt to define themselves. By psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, an international expert on boys’ development, and journalist Teresa H. Barker, the book identifies the key developmental transitions that mark a boy’s psychological growth and emotional health, and the challenges both boys and parents face at each age, including:
- Baby Boys (birth to 18 months): falling in love with your son, healthy attachment, trust, and temperament
- Toddler Years (18 months to 3 years): boys on the go, bold steps, blankies, budding language, and rambunctious physicality
- Powerful Little Boys (ages 3 and 4): superhero ambitions, learning to manage the force of his anger, and celebrating the power of the boy group
- Starting School (ages 5 through 7): developmental cues for school readiness, transitional challenges, tough talk, tender hearts, and first friends
- Boys on a Mission (ages 8 through 10): striving for mastery in sports, organizing the boy brain for school success, and glaring academic gender gaps
- The Preteen (ages 11 through 13): puberty, posturing, and popularity; the culture of cruelty; and stoic silence in the middle school years
- Early High School (ages 14 and 15): powerful peer groups, sexuality, the shift away from Mom, and yearning for Dad’s respect and attention
- On the Brink of Manhood (ages 16 through 18): the quest for independence, sex, love, driving, drinking, and other challenges of life
Last, but not least, we recommend this book for men looking for a little insight into attraction:
- What Women Really Want in a Man: Understanding Sexual Attraction and Attracting Women — This book by Kris Kaynes asks: Have you ever wondered what’s going on in these women’s brains? Ever wonder why they seem to like that other guy, but not you? Want to learn how to attract them? “Women are understandable as long as you can realize how much women are emotional beings while men are rational,” Kaynes suggests in this book, which offers tweaks men can make such as being more physical, making less-generic comments, and even just smiling.