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Real Boys' Voices

Real Boys' Voices

5.0 2
by William S. Pollack, Todd Shuster

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This fully updated new edition examines the close link between language and society and the many factors that influence the way we speak: gender, environment, age, race, and class. Trudgill explores questions such as:

• Why do men swear more often than women?
• How do speech styles of most African Americans differ from those of white Americans?


This fully updated new edition examines the close link between language and society and the many factors that influence the way we speak: gender, environment, age, race, and class. Trudgill explores questions such as:

• Why do men swear more often than women?
• How do speech styles of most African Americans differ from those of white Americans?
• Does it make sense to defend a language against "contamination" from foreign words and phrases?

Trudgill compellingly argues his case for the need to preserve varieties of language if we are to avoid the dangers of a culturally standardized world.

Author Biography: Peter Trudgill is professor of English linguistics at Fribourg, Switzerland. An author of many books and articles on sociolinguistics and dialectology, he has carried out linguistic fieldwork in most countries.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawing on interviews with young men across the country, Harvard clinical psychologist Pollack presents a candid, troubling and occasionally humorous snapshot of contemporary American boyhood in this follow-up and companion to his bestselling Real Boys. Contextualizing young men's comments on their loneliness, depression, fear, anger and frustration, as well as their hopes and joys, within his broader research, Pollack illustrates what he views as the straitjacket of the "Boy Code." This false machismo is perpetuated, he says, by our country's "oppressive boyhood culture," a plague of homophobia and what he calls the "major national crisis" of suicide (which has tripled since 1970 for adolescent boys ages 15-19). Thematic chapters cover such topics as friendship, sex, spirituality and renewal, parents, divorce, sports, violence and more. In one of the most deeply disturbing and moving chapters, Pollack talks to boys in Littleton, Colo., many of them survivors of the Columbine High School massacre. Yet his message is hopeful: the conditions are right, he believes, "to give America's boys complete emotional freedom, to offer them the deep human understanding they desire and so richly deserve." To this end, he outlines a 15-step program for mentoring boys and redefining boyhood, from creating safe, "shame-free" havens where they can open up to those who care about them, to bully-proofing neighborhoods and schools and encouraging creative expression and spiritual connections. Practical and forceful, this is an important contribution to the growing body of commentary on helping boys navigate the rocky road to manhood. Agent, Lane Zachary; 13-city tour. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Pollack has listened to boys around the country discuss their lives, apprehensions, and aspirations, and in his second book about adolescent males, he discloses how young men cannot reveal their true feelings without the fear of being ostracized. Societal and cultural pressures force boys to "wear the mask of masculinity" and follow the rules of behavior established by the "boy code." These standards demand that boys be strong and hide their emotions for fear of being considered weak, undesirable, and ineffective. Divided into five sections, the book covers the total range of boys' lives—relationships, violence, sexuality, loneliness, and depression. Many boys discuss the feeling of dishonesty that comes from presenting a different persona to parents, to teachers, and sometimes to friends while guarding the "real person" inside. Young males between the ages of twelve and twenty also reveal their fears of not being able to measure up to other people's expectations of them. Television, movies, and magazines display macho images that conflict with many boys' true inner feelings. They frequently are torn between a "damned if you do and a damned if you don't" position. This dilemma occurs in many social situations, especially if they involve sex or drug use. Young men also are worried about the violence and anger that is often a part of their world. They want guidance in handling these pressures even if they do not ask for it. This recommended book is extremely useful for parents, teachers, clergy, psychologists and anyone who cares about the well being of boys. 2000, Random House, 392p, $25.95. Ages Adult. Reviewer: Brenda Moses-Allen

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No.5)

Library Journal
Clinical psychologist, codirector of the Center for Men at Harvard Medical School, and author of the best-selling Real Boys, Pollack delivers what is sure to be another best seller. He identifies and then breaks through what he calls the "boy code" to bring us the often poignant and always illuminating angst voiced by boys from coast to coast, as young as ten and as old as 20, from all ethnic origins and economic status. For a parent wanting to know why Johnny might be moody, to teachers wondering what they are up against, to a grandparent questioning what kids are like today and why, this is essential reading. Young men let down their guard with Pollack and talk about their emotional lives and how trapped they feel in the boy code, where they struggle with sexuality, the pressure of being male, and trying to fit in. Of particular interest in view of recent acts of violence is the section entitled "The Cycle of Rage and Violence." This is an excellent book full of insight. Heartily recommended for all types of libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/00.]--Sandra Isaacson, Las Vegas Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-Being a boy in America today means navigating a bumpy and treacherous road. Stifling societal rules that force young males to hide their feelings, affections, and, above all, vulnerabilities, causes them to suffer anxieties and fear, sometimes with tragic results. Pollack talked to youngsters nationwide and drew upon those interviews to present glimpses of their daily lives in this follow-up to his Real Boys (Random, 1998). In one particularly poignant chapter, Pollack interviews students who survived the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado in April, 1999. Most of them are very aware and disapproving of the peer culture that alienated the two killers. The book is arranged in five parts, including "The secret emotional life of boys," "The cycle of rage and violence," and "Boys reaching out and connecting." The interviews reveal articulate young men who want to be heard. Some interviews are heartbreaking, some have humor, and many are hopeful. Practical ideas on how to "break" the Boy Code appear throughout. Empowerment, education about homophobia, and bully-proofing neighborhoods are part of the program. This insightful and powerful work should be required reading for anyone who works with or lives with boys. As for young males, reading Real Boys' Voices, with its wisdom and observations, would help them discover that they are not alone on their difficult journey to adulthood.-Susanne Bardelson, Arvada Public Library, Jefferson County, CO Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How to hear volumes in the silence of boys. Pollack (Psychology/Harvard) founded the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity of the American Psychological Association, and he is well-qualified to break the macho "Boy Code" that has many young men suffering in silence behind stoic masks. Not a spin-off of Sara Shandler's Ophelia Speaks (1999, not reviewed), this book follows up on Pollack's Real Boys (1998). In it Pollack's boys remain anonymous throughout, except for the riveting account of a shooting victim from Columbine High School. Of the other couple hundred "real" voices, one boy refers to his divorced mother as "recognizing the issues" and being "supportive of the healing process." Others favor terms like "repressed adolescent," "dysfunction", or "sociopathic." Other boys apparently echo Pollack's views on Louis Farrakhan or his theory that the lack of nurturing leads to sex, drugs, or violence. Nonetheless, the essays as a whole are coherent and relevant, allowing Pollack to introduce his two dozen topics with valuable insights into how to listen to the "action talk" of boys. Before a boy opens up to someone, he often has to join him or her in their favorite activity, on their turf, or in a "shame-free zone." Pollack demonstrates that good boys will turn to antisocial behavior to express anxiety that they cannot articulate with language. While the "Columbine Syndrome" appears rare, the high-pressured, potentially violent dynamics for boys are seen as all-too-common. The author describes the warning signs of depression and suicide: even a roundabout walk to school, for example, can warn of a boy's hidden turmoil. He also presents 15 waysinwhich to relate better to boys, and describes how to diffuse problems before they explode. Topics such as virginity, spirituality, bullying, divorce, drugs, racism, and sexism are discussed by both the boys and the author. Somewhat redundant, Pollack offers many useful psychoanalytical insights worth repeating.

Product Details

Random House, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
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6.51(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.44(d)

Read an Excerpt



"Boys are supposed to shut up and take it, to keep it all in. It's harder for them to release or vent without feeling girly. And that can drive them to shoot themselves."
—Scotty, 13, from a small town in northern New England

IN MY TRAVELS THROUGHOUT THIS COUNTRY FROM THE inner-city neighborhoods of Boston, New York, and San Francisco to suburbs in Florida, Connecticut, and Rhode Island; from small, rural villages in New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania to the pain-filled classrooms of Littleton, Colorado-I have discovered a glaring truth: America's boys are absolutely desperate to talk about their lives. They long to talk about the things that are hurting them-their harassment from other boys, their troubled relationships with their fathers, their embarrassment around girls and confusion about sex, their disconnection from parents, the violence that haunts them at school and on the street, their constant fear that they might not be as masculine as other boys.

But this desperate coast-to-coast longing is silenced by the Boy Code-old rules that favor male stoicism and make boys feel ashamed about expressing weakness or vulnerability. Although our boys urgently want to talk about who they really are, they fear that they will be teased, bullied, humiliated, beaten up, and even murdered if they give voice to their truest feelings. Thus, our nation is home to millions of boys who feel they are navigating life alone-who on an emotional level are alone-and who are cast out to sea in separate lifeboats, and feel they are drowning in isolation, depression, loneliness, and despair.

Our sons, brothers, nephews, students are struggling. Our boyfriends are crying out to be understood. But many of them are afraid to talk. Scotty, a thirteen-year-old boy from a small town in northern New England, recently said to me, "Boys are supposed to shut up and take it, to keep it all in. It's harder for them to release or vent without feeling girly. And that can drive them to shoot themselves,"

I am particularly concerned about the intense angst I see in so many of America's young men and teenaged boys. I saw this angst as I did research for Real Boys, and then again in talking with boys for this book. Boys from all walks of life, including boys who seem to have made it—the suburban high school football captain, the seventh-grade prep school class president, the small-town police chief's son, the inner-city student who is an outstanding cartoonist and son of a welfare mother—all were feeling so alone that f worried that they often seemed to channel their despair into rage not only toward others but toward themselves. An ordinary boy's sadness, his everyday feelings of disappointment and shame, push him not only to dislike himself and to feel private moments of anguish or self-doubt, but also, impulsively, to assault, wound, and kill. Forced to handle life's emotional ups and downs on their own, many boys and young men-many good, honest, caring boys-are silently allowing their lives to wither away, or explode.

We still live in a society in which our boys and young men are simply not receiving the consistent attention, empathy, and support they truly need and desire. We are only listening to parts of what our sons and brothers and boyfriends are telling us. Though our intentions are good, we've developed a culture in which too often boys only feel comfortable communicating a small portion of their feelings and experiences. And through no fault of our own, frequently we don't understand what they are saying to us when they do finally talk.

Boys are acutely aware of how society constrains them. They also notice how it holds back other boys and young men, including their peers, their male teachers, and their fathers. "When bad things happen in our family," Jesse, an astute twelve-year-old boy from a large middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, recently told me, "my father gets blocked. Like if he's upset about something that happened at work, he can't say anything and we have no idea what he's thinking. He just sits in front of the television, spends time on the Internet, or just goes off on his own. You can't get through to him at all. He just gets totally blocked." Of course, Jesse is teaming to do the same. And if we don't allow, even teach boys like Jesse to express their emotion and cry tears, some will cry bullets instead.


I began a new nationwide journey to listen to boys' voices last summer in my native Massachusetts. In one of the very first interviews, I sat down with Clayton, a sixteen-year-old boy living in a modest apartment in Arlington, a medium-sized suburb of Boston. Clay introduced me to his mother and older sister, and then brought me to his attic hideaway, a small room with only two small wooden windows that allowed light into the room through a series of tiny slits. Clay decided to share some of his writing with me-poetry and prose he had written on leaves of white and yellow paper. His writings were deeply moving, but even more extraordinary were the charcoal sketches that, once he grew comfortable with my presence, he decided he would also share. His eyes downcast, his shoulders slumped inward, he opened his black sketchbook and flipped gently through the pages.

On each consecutive sheet of parchment, Clay had created a series of beautiful images in rich, multicolored charcoal and pastels. "You're a talented artist," I said, expressing my real enthusiasm.

"I haven't shown these to too many people," he said, blushing. "I don't think anyone would really be too interested."

Clay's pictures revealed his angst, and in graphic, brutal detail. There was a special series of drawings of "angels." They were half human, half creature, with beautiful wings, but their boyish faces were deeply pained. Soaring somewhere between earth and heaven, the angels seemed to be trying to free themselves from earthly repression, striving for expression, longing to reach the freedom of the skies. They evoked the mundane world where Clayton's psychological pain felt real and inescapable, yet they also evoked an imaginary place where he could feel safe, relaxed, and free.

In our conversation, Clayton revealed that his inner sense of loss and sadness had at times been so great that on at least one occasion he had seriously contemplated suicide.

"I never actually did anything to commit suicide. I was too afraid I'd end up in a permanent hell ... but that's how bad I felt. I wanted to end it all."

I thought to myself that maybe that's what these tortured angels were about-a combination of heavenly hope mixed up with a boy's suppressed "voice" of pain.

Clayton then revealed "The Bound Angel," a breathtaking sketch of one of his winged, half-man creatures bent over in pain, eyes looking skyward, but trunk and legs bound like an animal awaiting slaughter.

Clayton explained, "His hands are tied, and his mouth is sealed so he cannot speak. He's in pain, but he has no way to run from it, to express it, or to get to heaven."

"Your angel wants to shout out his troubles to the high heavens, but he is bound and gagged. He wants to move toward someone, but he is frozen in space. He needs to release his voice, but he cannot, and fears he will not be heard. That's why he's so tortured."

"Yes, exactly," he said.

"I guess if he's tied up long enough," I responded, "and can't release that voice, he'll want to die, like you did."

"I think so," Clay said.

There is no reason we should wait until a boy like Clay feels hopeless, suicidal, or homicidal to address his inner experience. The time to listen to boys is now.


As devoted as our country is gradually becoming to changing things for boys, society remains ambivalent about giving boys permission to express their feelings. I was recently speaking at a Congregational church in a small New Hampshire town. It was a bright October Saturday morning and I was there to talk to boys and their parents about my Listening to Boys' Voices project. Gazing out at the rows and rows of boys and their parents, I explained that several research associates and I were going across the country to interview and capture the unique voices of adolescent males ranging in ages eleven through twenty. I told the audience, "I hope this project will be just the beginning, that we will all find a way to reconnect with boys, listen to them carefully, and get to know what's really happening inside their minds and hearts."

"That's not so easy," a young, well-dressed woman said from the pews. "I have four sons," she continued, "and, with all due respect, Dr. Pollack, let me tell you something. Number one: my husband is not so hot on my trying to sit down and get all emotional with our sons. I'm not so sure he's going to encourage me to do that. And number two: these days, I don't think our boys are capable of saying much about any thing other than girls and sports, and girls and sports." People chuckled throughout the church.

"How old are your sons?" I asked.

"Eleven, thirteen, fourteen, and seventeen," the woman said.

"Do you wish you could reach inside them and get to what they're really feeling and thinking about? Is this something you would like to do?"

"If I could," she said intently, "I would." Looking around at the other boys and parents in the audience and shaking her head incredulously, she added, "I don't think many of the people in this room really feel in touch with their kids, especially not their boys. To be able to do that, we'd have to all decide we're going to give boys a break. Otherwise, nobody in this room is going to take the first step. Nobody wants his or her kid to be an outcast. So I'm not sure any of us are going to take that first step."

"I'm not so sure I agree with you," I said. "The fact that you showed up today to talk about boys is itself one of those first steps. In fact, everybody in this room decided to come here this morning because they care about boys and about making things better for boys. So everyone in this room actually is taking an important first step."

"I guess you're right," the woman said. "So thank you. Thank you for coming way out here to talk to us."

What People are Saying About This

Mary Pipher
I wish I had read Real Boys when my son was a boy.
— (Mary Pipher, Ph.D., author of Reviving Ophelia)
Robert Coles
A thoughtful and sensitive discussion of contemporary American boyhood.
Gail Sheehy
Anyone who lives or works with boys should read Real Boys.
Judith V. Jordan
Just as Reviving Ophelia opened our eyes to the challenges faced by adolescent girls, Real Boys helps us hear and respond to the needs of growing boys. Illuminating, exciting, and courageous, this book should be read by everyone concerned about boys. It is a beacon of hope and a gift to all of us.
— (Judith V. Jordan, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School)

Meet the Author

William S. Pollack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital, and a founding member and fellow of the American Psycho-logical Association's Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity. He and his family live in Massachusetts.

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Real Boys' Voices 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. Pollack gives some interesting thoughts on the problems that are plaguing today's boys.We liberated the girls. Maybe it's time to liberate the boys.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's awesome. What have we done to block out out the voices for real boys? We have stood by and not listened. We've tried to make them men before their time, we've turned our heads and said, 'Suck it up and be a real man.' Now, it's time to read, cry and get mad at ourselves but begin to see what we should have HEARD all alone - 'I am a little boy or I am a big boy - who is scared, happy, mad. Isn't it ok? Could you just listen to me?' Everyone counts but we need to let boys share their feelings and be counted too without feeling bad, sad or mad.