Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Counteracting Media Stereotypes for our Sons

Thank you to Mary Tamer for taking a close look at a crucial conversation.

"In pursuit of the truth, and armed with the book's key points, I posed the first of many questions to my nine-year-old regarding whether he thought it was OK for boys to be considered "smart" in school.

'It's OK for now,' he said, "'but once boys get to high school, it's not OK anymore.'"

Mary Tamer relays the above conversation with her 9-year-old son after being asked to write the blog Boy, Oh Boy! for ED.magazine about the book Packaging Boyhood written by Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., and Mark Tappan, Ed.D. In her thorough analysis of the book, Tamer goes on to quote Brown.

"Packaging Boyhood addresses all of the ages and stages influenced by the stereotypes and media messages our sons receive, (ranging from the slacker to the careless risk-taker) it is particularly interesting to look at the youngest ages being influence and how a planted seed can that develops through time."

'Studies show that boys and girls, as infants, are handled and treated differently by gender, and that speaks to the way we all . . . interact with kids... I think the media impacts children almost immediately because of the way we interact with them, but when children start to really identify around gender and class and race is around three years old. Little girls who have a lot of media influences begin to naturally assume they should like pink and princesses, and the same is true for boys, who believe that they should like dark colors and trucks. Boys are also told that real boys don't cry and big boys don't act this way.'"

If we are going to make a significant difference in how we raise our children, both boys and girls, then we need to take the cues from Tamer and Brown to recognize the influences we are all subject to, and how it consequently shapes our children's perception of their own roles. It is crucial that we are willing to allow our sons to perceive themselves as caregivers and stay-at-home fathers. At the earliest ages of development and influence, breaking down the pink versus blue color boundaries and allowing boys to have a doll they can relate to teaches them the family principles that counteract what they will see in the media over the following decades.

"'In terms of play, there's a little more gender bending for girls allowed; girls can do sports, play with trucks, and be tomboys,' continues Brown. 'While this is outside of my experience, my inclination is that fantasy is a really important part of kids coming to know who they are, and being able to cross gender boundaries is a healthy exploration. A boy is not going to become a girl because he dresses in girl's clothing, for example, but in this culture, because there is so much anxiety around masculinity, there is pressure for fathers not only to be masculine themselves but to raise 'real' boys.'"

The book is a must read for anyone raising boys, (the counterpart Packaging Girlhood a must read for those raising girls) but we must go beyond reading about parenting, and begin to stand up for what we believe is best for our children. Allowing your sons to nurture a doll, and receive the educational benefits of this developmental play is the first step towards allowing him to think of himself as caring and nurturing, masculine adult.

To read Boy, Oh Boy! by Mary Tamer visit

For more info on Packaging Boyhood visit


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