BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

by Ruth Whippman
BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity

by Ruth Whippman

eBookDigital original (Digital original)


Available on Compatible NOOK devices, the free NOOK App and in My Digital Library.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Related collections and offers


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 assault; 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593577646
Publisher: Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 06/04/2024
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 85,078
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Ruth Whippman is a British author, journalist, and cultural critic living in the United States. A former BBC documentary director and producer, her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Time magazine, New York magazine, The Guardian, HuffPost, and elsewhere. Fortune described her as one of the “25 sharpest minds” of the decade. She is the author of the book America the Anxious, which was a New York Post Best Book of the Year, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and Paperback Row pick. She lives in California with her husband and three sons.

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.







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.

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews