Review #2 Jay M. Dunlap
Pollack, William. Real Boys. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1999.
Dr. Pollack’s book Real Boys sets out to debunk and revise many of the myths we, as North Americans, hold regarding what it means to be a boy and a man. His main premise is that boys are forced to live up to two codes of acceptable behavior (traditional masculinity and new age sensitivity), they are separated too soon from their families, and are expected too often to repress many of their true emotions. The result of these pressures is disconnection from self and family, emotional withdrawal, and shame. Furthermore, these results often lead boys to develop learning disabilities, depression, violence, drug abuse, and general lack of self-understanding. Pollack claims quite boldly that with a little understanding about who boys really are (underneath their masks) we can set out on a new path that will bring boys and men wider ranges of emotions, behaviors, and social possibilities. Pollack claims, "it’s simply no longer acceptable for boys to have to follow the old Boy Codes, stuff away feelings and behaviors once labeled ‘feminine,’ and suppress half of themselves to avoid being shamed."
Pollack fills the bulk of this book with relevant and insightful examples of how these Boy Codes affect every aspect of growing up male in North America. In the first part of Real Boys he takes on the project of laying out the myths Americans have about manhood. By going through then one at a time, he attempts to show how they have affected individual boys. He then attempts to debunk these myths. Finally, he goes on the show how even at the earliest stages parents accidentally (or purposefully) teach the Boy Codes to their sons. The results Pollack comes to in this section are that boys are forced to be independent too early, and the result of this is they feel shame at their inability to fully disconnect. When in actuality they aren’t yet prepared for the disconnection. The resulting shame can manifest itself later in life. The advice Pollack gives parents, teachers, and other boy lovers is to listen to boys, to see beyond the Boy Code, and to allow boys to stay connected to their families as long as they need to. He states, "You don’t find people who are psychologically unbalanced because they got too much love or protection at home."
In later sections of the book Pollack takes on the double standard that boys operate under in society today. He claims that boys are misunderstood when they act like traditional men, and they are also misunderstood when they act sensitive. The result of acting like a traditional male is that boys put on the mask of toughness. This mask is an attempt by the boy to appear independent, okay, and indestructible. This is necessary in public life as boys are constantly subject to ridicule and shame. However, the mask often alienates the boy from his family, friends, and ultimately himself. In public life it is necessary to follow the Code, but in private boys need to be able to put the mask aside, be vulnerable, and emotionally present. Pollack gives much
advice about how to reconnect with boys and how help cultivate emotionally strong, communicative personalities.
Pollack has created a powerful and necessary work on the subject of boys in America today. It looks at myths of masculinity, and the truths and untruths that lie behind the mask. It gives relevant and useful information about how we can overcome "Gender Straightjacketing," and provides new views of social problems such as drug abuse, teen violence, sexuality, suicide, and divorce. In light of his new vision of masculinity he offers some good advice and long awaited council. This book is a must for all parents, teachers, and professionals who work or live with boys.