The Next Chapter

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

The journalist talks about her new book, Boys: What It Means to Become a Man.
Rachel Giese is a journalist and the author of Boys. (HarperCollins Canada,

Rachel Giese is a loving mother to a boy who loves hockey, his friends and games. He's also sweet and sensitive. The traditional male script allows for the first part of that description, but conventional rules about masculinity muzzle the emotional side of a boy's life. In Boys, Giese writes from her own experience as a mother and cultural commentator about what it means to grow up male now. Feminism has changed women's lives and expectations and Giese looks at how old and rigid ideas of masculinity need to be re-examined and changed as well.

The difference between raising sons and daughters

"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."

Teaching kids about healthy relationships

"We need to take a step back and talk about how we foster the idea in young people that it's important to have healthy relationships. Whether it's friendship or a romantic relationship, there are skills they can develop to be a good friend and good partner. Or to give them support when they have feelings for somebody — How do you express them and what happens if they don't return those feelings? How do you deal with that rejection? All of these are important lessons that we need to start having way ahead of the consent conversation.

"In the book, I talk about the Netherlands, which does a very good job in having a holistic approach to talking about those relationships. What they find is that if they talk more openly and with more emotional honesty about sex and relationships, kids actually end up having sex later. And when they do make the choice to have sex, it is a choice. It is something they want to do — not something they feel pressured to do. They also report less regret about it. That kind of sex-ed enables young people to make healthier, smarter choices for themselves and I think that's what we all want for our kids."

There's a light at the end of the tunnel

"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."

Rachel Giese's comments have been edited for length and clarity.