Boys, Reading and Subversive Acts of Creativity

In the light of the deaths of three young men recently (two I knew and one the son of a colleague), it made me think about how boys are often silent. Their deaths were the result of mental illness; something that is still a misunderstood disease. It is spoken about in terms that do not lend itself to understanding, therefore, people fall silent.

It is an issue that is not given a voice. Without a voice to speak, the sufferer is left mute.

In our Western society, traditional stereotypes of men are silent stereotypes. Their voices are limited to unctions of power and authority. Their actions reflect such notions, and this is what boys model their lives on.

Boys grow and mature into men who lack the language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability. They become silent because they do not have the vocabulary to express their emotions and because they have been taught to become so.

I can see this silence in some of the boys  I teach (high school ages 13-18), an inability to understand and express their emotions in a way that their female peers find so easy to do.

So, how do boys and men discover the art and language of feeling, empathy, understanding and vulnerability?

Within the pages of a book (in this case, fiction).

A small percentage of boys read regularly and it becomes obvious they have a broader understanding of the world and their emotions. Their understanding of the world is deeper and they are more perceptive to their emotional states. The older boys get, the less they read (in terms of fiction).

  • Fathers (and mothers), read to your sons.
  • Grandfathers (and grandmothers), read to your grandchildren.

Make reading a subversive act of creativity.

An act of creativity to give boys an understanding of their emotions. An act to subvert the silent stereotype. To give boys, as they mature into men, the vocabulary to express their emotional state.

Make reading a creative conspiracy between you and your child.

A Subversive Act of Creativity Action Plan

  • Read to them from a young age.
  • Model reading by being seen with a book in your hands.
  • Have them draw their favourite scene from the book.
  • Talk to them about the characters and the decisions they make
  • Ask them to express how they feel about characters’ actions
  • Read the book with them and share the experience
  • *insert your own ideas here*

Teach boys to understand feelings, empathy, understanding and vulnerability by examining and discussing the characters and their actions.

I count it a privilege as a male English teacher that I can model this understanding. We need more male English teachers.

Let’s help create men who understand their emotions and have the vocabulary to do so.

3 responses to “Boys, Reading and Subversive Acts of Creativity

  1. Excellent suggestions – many of which I am already doing – I think the arts are the key to self expression. But your guns down, get your hands off it and pick up a book, pen, brush or camera

  2. I’m the mother of a son. I also have a background in behaviour management (a term now I loathe) where most of the teenagers I saw were boys in varying stages of falling through the cracks and out of the system.

    We read, while Mr D was still very young, about emotional intelligence and how to foster it through reading. It seemed to make a lot of sense… if you can point to a shirt and go “What colour is that?” why not point to a face and ask “How is he feeling?”

    We made it part of our parenting to include emotional discussions, to articulated how we all felt. Not because we felt we needed to “over compensate because he was a boy” but because he is human. We feel. And we need to be able to express how we feel. We created safe spaces to to talk about feelings. One of the first emotive states I remember Mr D articulating was “I’m frustrated” (ever his mother’s son).

    I still shudder when I hear parents tell their upset boys (and girls) to “Suck it up”.

    There is one mode of communication open to those without a voice, but it is another form of communication boys are frozen out of: touch. Society considers it okay to hug girls and give physical comfort, but not boys. They’ll be soft, or grow up to be gay. But an act of physical comfort transcends the need to express oneself in words.

    The last of “touch vocabulary” means the need for physical intimacy and comfort becomes mixed with sexual needs and frustrations, so that sex often ends up equaling love and affection for boys. Sex is the only time men are given “permission” for physical closeness.

    It makes me think… wouldn’t we better off as a society if we considered what is important for the human condition, and do away with stereotypes for boys or girls. To treat each child as an individual, in need of expression, story telling, contact with feelings, to feel connected, supported, loved, to feel important and heard. And in the meantime, while the rest of the world catches up with the enlightened, to do the best we can to care for all the boys, young and old. To give them safe spaces to find and share their voice. To let them know they are never alone.

  3. Pingback: Boys, Reading and Subversive Acts of Creativity - A Fullness in Brevity | Boys' Creativity |

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