Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: The Wonder of Boys

The Wonder of Boys is an interesting book about raising boys by Michael Gurian. The author, a self-styled feminist, attempts to correct some misconceptions about boys that were created by radical feminists. Along the way he takes a few swipes at radical conservatives as well, trying for a moderate line. The book is good evidence for the end of the Culture Wars.

Some of the myths Gurian corrects are (1) that the difference between boys and girls is a social construct that can be "corrected" by proper upbringing; (2) that male culture is the root of all evil and should be thwarted at every turn; and (3) that the particular family structure isn't important as long as the boy is loved. The emphasis the author puts on these corrections will inevitably waste the time of those readers who already agree with him.

Luckily, there is still much to glean from the book about the nuts and bolts of boy-raising. From sports to discipline to learning styles to the teaching of morality, Gurian covers all aspects of this important task. Both the father's and mother's point of view are considered. The author is clearly an expert in his field. Still, while the book's advice is good and, I think, worth applying, his reasoning is often muddled.

For example, Gurian refers often to primitive tribes as archetypes for how we should be raising boys. He uses the Hillary Clinton line "it takes a village to raise a child" unironically, even giving it the authority of unnamed "anthropologists". (As in, "[A]nthropologists have generally agreed that it takes a whole village to raise a child." They have?) This line of reasoning is odd considering that in other places Gurian discusses what modern America has lost in terms of community as we have become more mobile. Wouldn't a better archetype, then, be pre-modern America rather than primitive tribes who have very different methods of child-rearing than Americans ever did?

I'll end the review with this thought-provoking extended quote from near the end of the book:

By focusing so obsessively on the safe ascension of women in the workplace and neglecting the work role of men, we are teaching most boys that they don't really have a clear path to self-respect anymore; their job is to make sure women and girls have a clear path to those things. Herein lies a bitter irony. Boys and men have always, in whatever culture, known that their primary job is to sacrifice themselves so that women and girls can be safe. The last thirty years of feminism, for all its good, has not noticed that feminism is preaching the same old message to male culture when it asks male culture to see how victimized women are, and make sure women are taken care of. Male culture has been biologically and socially based on this principle for millennia.

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