Consider the typical fairy tale: A damsel is in distress, with a definite villain(s) responsible for her dire situation. She can’t help herself, so she decides to wait for her Prince Charming to rescue her, who she is certain to dazzle. The Prince(very predictably) falls in love with her, vanquishes the villain, wins his princess, they get married and its happily ever after.
A story like that comes loaded with many messages – not only does it convey that women’s only hope in difficult situations is to be able to get the attention of a man, but the message to the man is to, well- man up, and be ready to vanquish villains(or dragons) at the drop of a hat.
A message conveyed over and over again through many stories becomes a single story- we internalize them until they become our own stories.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
And so we see these very themes in our lives. If it says to the girl “Stop laughing aloud- you attract too much attention”, it also says to the boys, “Stop being a sissy- boys don’t cry!”
The only way to move away from the narrow, repressive description of gender traits is to tell the stories differently- to move away from defining manhood through violence, mindless aggression, power, status and sex.
Thankfully there are plenty of stories to tell- and true stories at that.
And that’s what Ben Brooks, decided to bring to today’s boys through his book, “Boys Who Dare To Be Different: True Tales Of Amazing Boys Who Changed The World Without Killing Dragons” published by Quercus Books of Hachette Book Group.
The book draws up brief stories of towering men from all over the world who defied toxic masculinity and owned up to their emotions, pain, shortcomings and humanness. A lot of grown men would find it liberating enough that their own struggle to fit in, was similar to Trevor Noah’s when he found himself neither towing the white line nor the black. Or finding out that Rain, the Korean Pop star had embraced his tears and pain to have a roof over his head.
We can only imagine what it can do to 12-year old boys- and girls. Finding out that the adventures of the mind can unshackle the limitations of the body through Jean-Dominique Bauby’s story of writing a bestseller from a hospital bed, or learning to fight back cyberbullying with Ghyslain Raza’s story, who later became a trailblazer for Star War fans can do great things for their just-forming identities.
In Ben Brook’s own words, “I wanted to write this book because it’s the kind of book I wish I’d had as a kid. I wish I’d known about the endless list of boys who felt out-of-place and alone, only to grow up and be embraced for the very things that once marked them out as different.
I would go ahead and say every girl should read this too- because toxic masculinity doesn’t just affect boys, it affects the whole of society. Books like this provide a refreshing benchmark to understanding their male counterparts and resetting their own expectations.
Aided by the brilliant illustrations by Quinton Winter that brighten up the stories and eases up the reading, the book tackles gender-stereotypes in the gentlest of ways, by simply telling the stories of 100 heroic men as they are. Instead of shining the spotlight on their success and fame, the stories take us through the journeys of pain and tears and the path that led them to make the decisions they made.
The stories themselves are so diverse in that it could give our children a good glimpse into the world beyond their own- An Alan Hart struggling with his own identity as a transgender and channelling all his struggle into bestselling books, or the inspiring story of the bunch of boys from the ISCA Academy who won a uniform war by simply wearing skirts to a dance show set great benchmarks to rethinking masculinity.
Because, in all the noise against the gender stereotyping of girls, the boys do not deserve to be left behind.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting, encouraging parents to bring their attention to words, thoughts and actions that will enable them to raise a well-rounded, empathic and motivated generation. You can also find her on the Huffington Post, Parent.co, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha and many other publications.