Sunday, December 8, 2013
Lyn Mikel Brown says that as soon as she and co-author Sharon Lamb released their book ''Packaging Girlhood'' in 2006, people started asking why they didn't include boys.
The book was about the pressures the media and marketers put on girls to act certain ways and fit into narrow stereotypes. But doesn't that happen to boys, too?
Brown knows it does. That's because her husband, Mark Tappan, has been researching the development and behaviors of boys for years.
Both Brown and Tappan are professors of education at Colby College in Waterville, and Lamb is a professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts/Boston.
So the trio decided to tackle the media pressures on boys in a book. The result was ''Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes'' (St. Martin's Press, $25.99), which came out in October.
Brown took some time recently to answer questions about the book.
Q: What prompted you to do a book on media pressure on boys, after doing so much work on the same topic for girls?
A: The minute we started talking about ''Packaging Girlhood,'' the second or third question we'd get would be, ''What about boys?'' We weren't ready to answer it yet.
But when you look at how commercialized gender has become, how (media and marketers) target boys' and girls' interests so completely in a gender-specific way, it made sense to look at the effect on boys too.
There is a whole separate set of issues around boys, and questions from parents prompted us to look at them. Plus, Mark had been doing this work (research on boys' issues) for some time.
Q: What are the differences between the kind of pressures on boys as opposed to girls?
A: When you look at how girls are marginalized in media, it has to do with fashion and make-overs and an increasingly sexualized image.
With boys, they are targeted even more, because boys are the dominant figures in so much of the media aimed at children. In most animated or G-rated films, you'll see a boy lead. There has never been a single girl lead in a Pixar film, for example.
With boys, the over-the-top messaging aimed at them has increased so much over time. At a young age, the message for boys is action-adventure connected to a lot of violence, a sort of hyper-masculinity. If you look at Halloween costumes for little boys, so many have muscles sewed in. If you look at the toy weapons, they're more realistic and bigger.
Q: Do the marketers target girls more, or is it about the same?
A: It may be more with boys, because the minute a PG-13 movie comes out, like ''The Dark Knight,'' there are just weeks and weeks of promotional items marketed to boys as young as 3 or 4 years old. All of those comic-book movies do that.
One of the thing we wrote about was that when these superheroes first appeared in comic books, the emphasis wasn't so much on violence and aggression, there was more emphasis on the moral of the story and the inner struggle (within the superhero). But today, the moral stories are much grayer, and the evil and the good are much more muted.
Q: What are the greatest dangers to boys in all this?
A: Growing up with this hyper-masculine idea of what a man is supposed to be, that everything has to be big and over-the-top -- bodies, guns.
The alternative, in the media, is to become the slacker or the funny kid. But there's no academic achievement tied into any of those images.
Some of the messages are dangerous, such as drinking as a right of passage. We found in several animated or children's films the characters get ''drunk'' on ice cream or sugary soda. They're not actually drunk, but they act drunk for laughs.
Q: What can parents do?
A: Watch this stuff with their kids so they know what the messages are. Have conversations about the messages, and ask questions. Listen to what they like and why they like it. Some boys might be into video games not so much for the over-the-top violence, but for the challenge of it. If you know that, you can channel that into other areas.
Help boys to see other possibilities for them, in art or theater, for example.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: