Books·Canadian

Boys: What It Means to Become a Man

Rachel Giese's book explores what the transition from boyhood to manhood looks like in today's social climate.

Rachel Giese

What does it mean to be growing up male right now, when ideas about masculinity are in flux and power differences between the sexes are shifting? In Boys: What It Means to Become a Man award-winning Canadian journalist Rachel Giese connects with readers on both sides of the gender divide as she investigates how we can support boys to become their fullest and most honest selves.

Blending reporting, cultural analysis and personal narrative, Giese aims to reset the conversation about gender identity, toxic masculinity and the "boy crisis." She takes the reader from a boys-only sex education class to recreational sports leagues, talks to Boy Scouts and transgender activists, and studies the dynamics of male friendships. Drawing on history, pop culture, sociological and psychological research, she looks at the forces that shape how boys see themselves and how we see them. With empathy and insight, she tells stories of how boys from different races, classes and backgrounds are navigating the transition into manhood.

The successes of the feminist movement have led to greater opportunities for girls and women, as well as a broadening of our understanding of what it means to be female. While boys and men have travelled alongside this transformation, what it means for them is not always clear. Boys aims to make sense of this moment of confusion, backlash and sometimes even rage. Might boys one day be free of stifling expectations about manhood and masculinity? With clear-eyed analysis, Giese reveals reasons to feel hopeful for our young men, and shows that this emerging new gender reality has the potential to liberate us all. (From HarperCollins)

Boys won the 2019 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing.

From the book

For all the power these gender biases exert, the idea of "manliness" or "masculinity" as a fixed or natural thing has until recently rarely been questioned. Like whiteness, masculinity is considered the default — think about how we address a mixed-gender group as "you guys" but never "you gals," much as we use adjectives like "ethnic" and "exotic" to describe every group but WASPs. In the 1990s, whiteness studies and masculinity studies (or men's studies, as it's sometimes called) began to crop up at university and college campuses. These fields of research seek to debunk the belief that "white" and "masculine" are the norm from which other identities diverge and deviate. Rather, "whiteness" and "maleness" are made-up classifications, deployed to concentrate power among some people and deny it to others. The myth that people of European descent are distinct from and superior to those with African ancestry was the undergirding of slavery and segregation. Yet as the sequencing of the human genome has proven, there is no meaningful biological difference or distinct dividing line between racial groups. Neither are racial categories stable or "pure." Human history is the story of migration and intermixing, of social and ethnic identities shifting over time. That's why a hundred or so years ago, Italian Americans and Irish Americans were not considered "white," but over time came to be seen as such. As American social anthropologist Audrey Smedley phrased it, "Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real."


From Boys by Rachel Giese ©2018. Published by HarperCollins.

Why Rachel Giese wants us to re-examine how we raise boys

"I was hearing my female friends who were raising daughters talk a lot about the onslaught of princess culture and wanting to be mindful of that, wanting their girls to know they could also be scientists and do math and have chemistry sets and not just Barbies. But with boys, I'd hear things like, 'He just love trucks. We didn't do anything, he just gravitated toward trucks.' Or if my son, who's a very active rambunctious person, was acting out, I would hear a lot of, 'Oh he's such a typical boy.' It's interesting that we have this critique of gender norms and stereotypes for girls, but we don't have that yet for boys.

It's interesting that we have this critique of gender norms and stereotypes for girls, but we don't have that yet for boys.- Rachel Giese

"It's funny because having spent all this time around boys and talking about these issues, I'm way more bullish than most people because I actually got to see a lot of good. At this moment where there's so much hand-wringing about the state of boys and what's wrong with boys and how to fix boys, I spent a lot of time with incredible people who are devoted to boys' mental health and building boys to be respectful, thoughtful equity-seeking men. I see lots of signs of hope."

Read more in her interview with The Next Chapter.

Interviews with Rachel Giese

Rachel Giese on her book Boys: What it Means to Become a Man 12:56

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