BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

by Ruth Whippman

Narrated by Ruth Whippman

Unabridged — 10 hours, 23 minutes

BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

by Ruth Whippman

Narrated by Ruth Whippman

Unabridged — 10 hours, 23 minutes

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Overview

Combining*painfully honest*memoir, cultural analysis, and reporting, BoyMom is a humorous and heartbreaking deep dive into the complexities of raising boys in our fraught*political*moment.

“Rapist, school-shooter, incel, man-child, interrupter, mansplainer, boob-starer, birthday forgetter, frat boy, dude-bro, homophobe, self-important stoner, emotional-labor abstainer, non-wiper of kitchen counters. Trying to raise good sons suddenly felt like a hopeless task.”
**
As the culture wars rage, and masculinity has been politicized from all sides, feminist writer and mother of three boys Ruth Whippman finds herself conflicted and scared. While the right pushes a dangerous vision of fantasy manhood, her feminist peers often dismiss boys as little more than entitled predators-in-waiting.* Meanwhile her home life feels like a daily confrontation with the triumph of nature over nurture.*
**
With young men in the grip of a loneliness epidemic and dying by suicide at a rate of nearly four times their female peers, Whippman asks: How do we raise our sons to have a healthy sense of self without turning them into privileged assholes? How can we find a feminism that holds boys to a higher standard but still treats them with empathy? And what do we do when our boys won't cooperate with our plans?
*
Whippman digs into the impossibly contradictory pressures boys now face; and the harmful blind spots of male socialization that are leaving boys isolated, emotionally repressed, and adrift.*Feminist gonzo-style, she*spends months interviewing incels, reports on a conference for boys accused of sexual assau< crashes at a residential therapy center for young men in Utah, talks to a wide range of psychologists and other experts, and gets boys of all backgrounds to open up about sex, consent, porn, body image, mental health, cancel culture, screens, friendship and loneliness. Along the way, she finds her simple certainties about male privilege seriously challenged.
**
With wit, honesty, and a refusal to settle for easy answers, BoyMom charts a new path to give boys a healthier, more expansive, and fulfilling story about their own lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 04/15/2024

This captivating work of cultural criticism from journalist Whippman (America the Anxious), the mother of three young sons, explores how masculine norms deprive boys of connection. Interweaving personal anecdotes and reporting, Whippman discusses struggling to find books, movies, or other media about emotionally attuned male characters that would encourage her sons to “see themselves as... relational beings.” This dearth leads to disconnection, Whippman argues, citing her interviews with adolescent boys who reported wanting “more emotionally focused connections with friends” despite having “no real idea how to go about it.” Whippman’s deep dive into the state of modern boyhood serves up fascinating dispatches from a Manhattan all-boys’ prep school trying to stamp out toxic masculinity, a Utah residential therapy program aiming to instill “the values of traditional manhood” in participants, and a conference for an advocacy organization that defends young men accused of campus sexual assault. Whippman’s trenchant analysis explains without excusing some of the worst excesses of patriarchy, as when she concludes after interviewing incels (a group of “superonline” young men who feel entitled to sex) that they represent a toxic mixture of misogyny and a “lack of nurturing for young boys” that drives them to seek community in the “manosphere.” It’s an urgent call to reassess how boys are raised and socialized. Agent: Steve Ross, Steve Ross Agency. (June)

From the Publisher

BoyMom is funny, heartrending, and revelatory. Ruth Whippman manages to deliver both an important contribution to the feminist literature and an emotive page-turner. . . . A must-read.”—Eve Rodsky, New York Times bestselling author of Fair Play

“Provocative and probing . . . Ruth Whippman investigates the changing orthodoxies of American manhood. She discovers loneliness and failed good intentions but also a longing for connection and moments of grace. Whippman shows us that we ought to think harder about who we want our boys to become.”—Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé

“Weaving her moving journey as a mother to three sons through a remarkably lucid review of child development and masculinity literatures, Whippman offers a powerful critique of our contemporary model for raising boys.”—Michael Reichert, author of How to Raise a Boy

“This book challenged and educated me, gave me hope while refusing easy answers. . . . A necessary addition to the canon of motherhood books.”—Amanda Montei, author of Touched Out

“This evocative and deeply reported account shines a light through the darkness of societal rules that limit boys from connecting with their full humanity, and offers a road map for how to work together for liberation. I loved it.”—Devorah Heitner, author of Growing Up in Public

BoyMom is a revelation. So relatable, funny, and engaging—full of eye-opening insights that will transform my parenting.”—Melinda Wenner Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes

“A fabulous and much-needed book.”—Pragya Agarwal, author of Sway and M(otherhood)
 
“Ruth Whippman is a rare talent with an even rarer set of skills, deftly combining forensic academic research, dazzling wit and disarmingly punchy prose that leaps from the page and leaves you wondering how something so clever and so urgent can be so much fun to read.”—Charlotte Philby, author of Part of the Family, A Double Life, and Edith and Kim
 
“A scathing indictment of the harmful ways masculinity impacts the lives of boys and men . . . Every mother of boys will relate.”—Minna Dubin, author of Mom Rage
 
“Whippman takes readers on a deeply reported and eye-opening journey through the perilous landscape of modern masculinity. She skillfully upends limiting stereotypes along the way and shows how caring, intimacy and relationships make possible richer lives for all genders.”—Brigid Schulte, New York Times bestselling author of Overwhelmed and director of The Better Life Lab

“Whippman is a gifted writer: funny, smart, vulnerable, and wise.  This wonderful and timely book provides much-needed insight for anyone with a stake in the future of boys and men.”—Joshua Coleman, author of Rules of Estrangement

Kirkus Reviews

2024-04-05
Examining the challenges of bringing up boys.

Whippman, a British journalist, the author of America the Anxious, and the mother of “three adorable, irrepressible, anarchic, creative, rambunctious, aggressive, big-hearted boys,” brings her anxieties about parenting to an investigation into the biological, psychological, and cultural forces that shape boys’ identity and behavior. In the context of #MeToo and the swirling miasma of toxic masculinity, she finds parenting difficult and, at times, overwhelming. Hoping for insight and even guidance, she talked to psychologists, educators, academics, behavioral researchers, and therapists. She delves into scientific and sociological studies and chronicles her interviews with myriad boys and men—including “misogynistic incels” and residents at a teen therapy center—to help her understand what makes boys who they are. From birth, one researcher told her, boys are different from girls; their brains “are born more immature and vulnerable, and they mature more slowly throughout childhood.” Especially in their early years, they need more nurturing than girls, and yet the opposite often occurs: Girls are cuddled and protected; boys told to act like “big men.” Girls have constant role models of caretaking and emotional connection, while boys lack similar models “that could help them see themselves as connected, emotionally nuanced, relational beings, or even to see these kinds of social-emotional skills as something worth prioritizing and cultivating.” Teenage boys who open up to her about sex, friendship, porn, and depression say they struggle to relate to their friends with the same honesty. “American men are the loneliest they have ever been,” Whippman writes, “and the seeds of this loneliness and emotional disconnection take root during boyhood.” Isolation is also exacerbated by the increasing time boys spend on social media and playing video games. “Connection,” writes the author, “is at the heart of loosening the grip of masculinity.”

A thoughtful, well-informed look at boys’ lives.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159561039
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 06/04/2024
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Boys Will Be Boys


Off to a Bad Start

About three months after we bring baby Abe home from the hospital, a biblical plague of rage and vengeance befalls our household.

We have had a few weeks’ grace. Abe is the kind of easy newborn that I had envied from afar when the older two were babies. In his early days, he is more like a cute clutch purse than a demanding human infant, lying quietly next to me wherever I put him, an adorable accessory to family life who doesn’t ask for much in return.

Our fridge, the hub for our family photo collection, is now living its best life as a millennial’s Instagram page, proudly displaying a fanatically curated vision board of life as a family of five. There are the two big boys perched on the sofa, their brand-new brother draped across their laps, still scrunchy eyed and burrito-wrapped in the regulation hospital blanket. There is Solly, nose to nose with a three-week-old Abe, staring into his eyes with exquisite tenderness. There is me, caught at an unfeasibly flattering angle on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, a curly haired boy holding each hand, the baby carrier neatly obscuring my bulging postpartum stomach.

But then, at around the three-month mark, Abe’s crumpled little womb eyes pop open, his tiny chalky mouth spreads into a winning gummy grin, and he presents us with his list of demands. Enraged by the sudden reduction in parental attention, his brothers are instantly gripped by a violent, uncontrolled jealousy.

Both Solly and Zephy adore their baby brother and are surprisingly gentle and nurturing with him. But when they realize that the overall pie of attention is now to be divided three ways instead of two, they turn on each other, in a bloody pact to fight to the death for the remaining sliver.

Solly, my sensitive, thoughtful eldest, who had been a model big brother when Zephy was born and who, as far as I could remember, even in deepest toddlerhood had never hit or bitten or pushed another child, now becomes angry and dysregulated.

Zephy, always a good-hearted, rufty-tufty little bundle of energy, now takes on an alter ego he calls Dino Slash, an outlet for his most out-of-control impulses. He can assume the Dino Slash persona without warning, flailing wildly, biting and karate chopping anyone who comes near.

They fight constantly and brutally. If I leave the room for three minutes, at speed, to change the baby’s diaper or go to the bathroom, by the time I race back, still zipping up my jeans, at least one of the older boys is wailing and clutching an injured body part. When I get out of the car, in the time it takes me to walk round to open the back door and unbuckle the baby from his car seat, the other two have locked themselves together in a fevered wrestling match, bones and feelings cracking. When I pick them up from school, the moment they lay eyes on each other, one of them starts pushing or punching the other, while crowds of parents and teachers look on. We are constantly one snatched Lego brick away from a crushed skull.

Their “love language” is light physical violence. So is their hate language. And also their “I’m actually pretty indifferent to this situation, but I might as well just hit you anyway” language. They rarely communicate with each other in words. My sole job as a mother quickly becomes just getting to the end of each day with everyone alive. Any hopes for a higher order of parenting—chores, etiquette, craft projects, how to handle both a fork and a knife during the same meal, let alone teaching them the meaning of consent or the nuances of feminism—quickly fall away.

Now the fridge fantasy photo montage is obscured by a new gallery. The Apology Letter collection.

IM SORREE I HIT U WIV A SHUVL

IM SORREE I BASHD U INTO THE WOL

IM SORREE I KIKD U

IM SORREE I PUNCHT U

IM SORREE I YELD AT U

IM SORREE UR HED IS SMASHT

Not that the letters I make them write after every incident do any good. Nothing does. Not extra attention or clear limits or “special time.” Not “logical consequences” or empathetic listening or sticker charts or time-outs or less screen time or more exercise or an “authoritative voice.” None of the dozens of parenting strategies I try even touch this angry, boisterous mess.

At night, as I spiral deeper into a mental sinkhole of inadequacy, I read parenting books on my Kindle. Positive Parenting Solutions! Negative Parenting Solutions! Be more lenient! Be stricter! Fill their power buckets! Don’t give them too much power! Time-outs are abusive! If you don’t enforce time-outs, you are raising an entitled monster! The only thing they seem to agree on is that I am doing it all wrong.

It isn’t just the hitting. It is the constant wild energy, the complete lack of moments of calm or reflection. During this time, my boys do sometimes seem more animal than human, but they aren’t like dogs. Dogs can be trained to follow commands, walk to heel, rescue children from wells, and perch coquettishly in fancy purses. At times my boys seem more like rabid wolves. And ever present in the back of my mind is the cold dread that it will be a straight line from this grade-school house of horrors to pussy grabbing and school shooting.

I had always pushed back hard against the idea of gender essentialism, the idea that boys are predestined to be rambunctious or aggressive. The only differences between boys and girls are genitals and socialization, my pre-kids self had maintained ferociously. But now, I am not so sure.

All of my lofty ambitions about raising sons who are different—who use their words and not their fists, who are empathetic and sensitive and mindful of their own privilege—have been exposed as pathetic vanities. I had prided myself on avoiding this exact situation, formed an entire feminist identity around it, and now my worst fears are coming true. This is toxic masculinity, junior edition, live in my own home.

•••

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, my friend Hanna is taping a sweet drawing of a rainbow to her fridge.

Hanna had been my neighbor for a couple of years when Solly was a toddler, and we had become close friends. She had a girl the same age, and we had slogged through the long days of early motherhood together, in one or the other of our living rooms. I hadn’t noticed a huge difference between the behavior of her daughter Sky and Solly. They both had tantrums and gave cuddles and hated sitting still. They both played with trains and dolls. If anything, Sky had been the more aggressive of the pair, enthusiastically adopting the role of hair puller to Solly’s hair “pullee.”

Then Hanna moved with her family to Colorado, and now she has three girls, roughly lining up with our boys in age, including a new baby just a few weeks older than Abe. But despite having the same basic family ingredients, the same potential for chaos and conflict, life in the Simmons household as a new family of five is playing out very differently.

Like any good social media nemesis, Hanna’s online self-presentation speaks directly to my own insecurities; her particular strain of perfection communicates at some deep cellular level with my own failings. As I help Zephy to sound out the word B-L-E-E-D-I-N-G for his third apology note of the morning, I log onto social media and see a post from Hanna: pictures of her girls together, peacefully doing crafts, playing house or school, and cooperating on art projects they had devised themselves. One of them is an elaborate painting of a rainbow-colored elephant that her two older daughters spent the morning on, working together before she had even woken up. “Sky outlined it and Siena colored it in!” she had written. She might as well have said that they bred live elephants themselves in their bedrooms for all I can relate.

I convince myself that this is probably all social media hype, that the actual reality is less idyllic. After all, I post my fair share of blissful kid pictures, too. People probably think my own life is pretty perfect. But then Hanna brings the girls to visit me in our hometown, and I realize that the difference between our experiences is even starker than I had feared.

We meet for breakfast at a local café. My boys are at school, but Hanna has brought her daughters with her. I am initially a bit disappointed when I see them walking through the door—I had wanted to catch up with Hanna properly and couldn’t imagine sitting and chatting for ten seconds if my own boys were around. But we end up lingering for nearly two hours, while the girls join in the conversation, draw pictures, play quiet games with each other, and generally self-regulate.

Wow! I think to myself. Girls are like humans.

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