Danger

I’m interested in the various blog posts about The Dangerous Book for Boys.  The ones I’ve read seem to be divided by the ones like Moxie that are enthusiastic about the neat things that are included in it — how to tie knots and build fires and do coin tricks and use codes — and the ones like Jody and Phantom Scribbler who can’t get past their frustration at the title.

I admit that I got a review copy of the book, but never wrote about it precisely because I fell so squarely between the camps that I couldn’t figure out what to say.  It does have a lot of interesting stuff in it (along with some things that I can’t imagine my boys ever being interested in — grammar and rugby rules and historical lists of baseball MVPs).  And it does annoy me that it’s being marketed just for boys.  And if it’s true that the companion book focuses on daisy chains and sewing, that’s pretty sad/funny.

For what it’s worth, my sons are a bit young for the book, but they expressed only mild interest.  My husband scanned through it a bit, and then wanted to know how they could have a chapter of great battles in history and not include Agincourt.  The guy inspecting our old house for the buyers was fascinated by it.

I generally agree with Jody and Phantom Scribbler that words matter.  And yet…  I read my brother’s Boys’ Life, and when he stopped getting it, I asked for a subscription for myself and read it for years.  (I mostly wanted to find out what happened in the Tripods story, although I read the whole magazine as long as it was there.)  The "boys" part of the title never bothered me in the least.  Maybe it would have been more of an issue if my brother had actually been into scouting, but he didn’t.  (We lived in New York City.  I’m not sure how he wound up with the subscription in the first place, to be honest.)  The organization is exclusionary, but words are free to all.

I guess my feelings about the book are actually quite comparable to my thoughts about the Boy Scouts.  I really dislike several things about the organization.  But I may still sign the boys up when they get to the right age, if they’re interested.  And I’m probably going to keep this book.

15 Responses to “Danger”

  1. Lisa V Says:

    I wrote a post similar to yours. I see Jody and Phantom’s great points and agree with most of it. However, my oldest daughter wanted to read it and found it more interesting because it was marketed to boys. Partly because she likes to “anything you can do, I can do better” with boys, and partly because she is part of this culture that thinks if it’s for boys it must be better.
    I ordered it. I have 3 girls and 1 boy and figured they will all read whatever part of it interests them

  2. Jody Says:

    I’m sort of strung-out on the debate now, but just for the record, I didn’t get offered a copy or actually buy one, but I did spend an hour looking through it at the bookstore. (Ah, chainstore coffee….) So I didn’t just dismiss it out of hand because of the title.
    If the initial fervor hadn’t worn off, I would try to articulate my complete embrace of magazines like “Boy’s Life” in the context of my fury over the idea that we segregate certain kinds of knowledge for girls and other sorts of knowledge for boys. And I do think we need to pay attention to the ways this book is being marketed in the context of “oh no, boys are being smothered by their [female] parents and need to get back to being ‘real boys’ again.” That the Hip Mama Blog world jumped on board that with nary a twitch just shocks me.
    I also think there’s an obvious way in which the book is just more boomer/gen-x nostalgia for a certain kind of childhood, and the fact that it’s a huge bestseller on Amazon tells us a lot about adults right now but not so much about kids. Honestly, the useful stuff was mixed in with some pretty boring lists — navy flag signals? that’s the sort of thing I remember feeling like I ‘should’ find fascinating when I was a kid because my favorite book characters were the types of kids who knew everything like that, but I never could quite bring myself to get into it.
    I don’t think I could bring this book into my house, with my kids at this age, without getting some pretty tricky questions that I’d rather not try to answer. Lisa’s girls are older than mine, and that may make a difference when it comes to how they would feel about the title (and, let’s not forget, the content, which does actually get into the whole “how boys are different from girls” debate in some fairly silly stereotypical ways — so silly really that I didn’t even bother mentioning it).

  3. dave.s. Says:

    I have actually bought this book and have it on a shelf ready to be wrapped for my second son’s birthday next month. He wants a tree house, wants to be a soldier, and loves soccer and baseball. Lots of things in this book he will adore. He has a sort of tough time in school, far prefers whispering to his buddies over listening to the teacher. I want him excited about books, and I think this one has a chance of making him want to read it. He also loved ‘Captain Underpants’ and the Magic Treehouse series. My girl – coming after two boys – had a limitless supply of hand-me-down trucks and blocks and Bob the Builder, and fought her way single-handedly towards Barbie and spangles and pink. This book, I think, wouldn’t do much for her, at least not compared to various princess fantasies.
    I’m more interested in getting all my kids towards reading, seeing books as a source of good and interest, than in fighting their inclinations.

  4. Jody Says:

    Dave, For The Record, if Wilder asked for this book, he’d get this book. He owns Captain Underpants books and LOVES them, pores over Calvin & Hobbes, and is free to express himself, as himself, however he wants. No one in our house is fighting anyone’s inclinations to express himself in any old way he or she chooses.
    I think six is a little young for any of my kids to get getting the message from me that the rules of soccer, the list of baseball MVPs, or the best way to tie knots and build a tree house most properly belong to the realm of boys. Which is why I won’t be buying this book.
    However, to repeat myself, if anyone sees and wants the book, I will certainly buy it for him or her.

  5. Lentigogirl Says:

    I admit to having recently ordered three copies — one for my own kids, one for each set of nieces and nephews.
    And when I give it to my sons, and to my nieces (whose brothers aren’t quite ready for it yet), we’re going to have a really good conversation about the title. It’s no different from any other media literacy teachable moment — and the stuff in it does look cool for ALL children.

  6. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    Also for the record, since Jody’s on the record, I dismissed the book out of hand because of the sexist marketing campaign (which we bloggers were asked to help facilitate), not just because of the sexist title.

  7. Andrea Says:

    Hmm. I ordered a copy for Father’s Day because I thought my husband would like the content in a nostalgic kind of way, and because he loves making/experimenting/camping/building. I thought it might even give him ideas for things to do with the kids (we have one girl, one boy).
    But Jody’s post was kind of like a 2 x 4 to the skull to me– of course the title is too exclusionary and of course I should have thought about that more before I ordered it! I hate that I was unwittingly ready to in anyway endorse the idea that this cool stuff here is “boy stuff” and that over there is “girl stuff.” Lord knows we walk that gender equality line every day here, between the princess gear and the trucks and dinosaurs. So far my kids seem to get it that no matter what their personal interests (which do seem to divide neatly along stereotypical lines, to my chagrin) all the toys may be used by everyone. They both enjoy dressing up, make-up, cooking, art, trucks, trains, blocks, working with tools, etc.
    For the record, I also agree that the marketing of this thing has been playing on the whole “we’re losing our boys to those emasculating feminists” theme that I just hate.
    And yet, I probably will still give my husband the book. And have talks with him and the kids about why the title sucks.

  8. Christine Says:

    I think these types of books are really outdated for either girls or boys. Who is writing and publishing this stuff? Someone who is not living in the modern era and instead living in a world of nostalgia. Even though this title is blatantly gender biased it does reflect how kids toys or educational products when it comes to the sciences and math are packaged more towards boys than girls. I am talking overall the design layout, colors, choice of text, etc. Maybe somewhere there is a pink microscope. I know alot of men that were single and couldn’t cook a pot of spagetti, but I am sure cooking is not included in this book unless it is outdoors. I guess my point is that there are certain life skills that benefit both boys and girls on a basic level. There are plenty of books for adults on how to do things and books specifically for women on traditional male tasks.
    I really don’t know much about the Boy Scouts except my male cousins had no intererst after about a year. I was a Girl Scout from Brownie to Senior (there were no Pixies at the time) and I loved it; it was a great bonding experience. I hope my daughter wants to join and I would be willing to volunteer. However, why is it still separate, the Scouts? There should be a scout organization the encompasses everyone regardless of gender. Maybe I am unaware of one that exists.

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    Since both Jody and Phantom felt like they needed to comment for the record, I suspect that my wording was off — I didn’t mean to suggest that they were being uptight or overreacting to the title. If anything, I’m feeling slightly defensive that I’m not holding a harder line here. And, for what it’s worth, I didn’t get the book through the MotherTalk tour.

  10. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    Didn’t mean to make you feel defensive, Elizabeth! I’m sorry if I did. And anyway, uptight and overreacting are both valid criticisms. I’m just glad that we’re all talking about it critically now, instead of letting it slide by.

  11. dave.s. Says:

    Elizabeth, Jody, I think it was I who set folks off, and I am sorry. Looking at my post, it could have been smoother.
    “..agree with Jody and Phantom Scribbler that words matter..” I’m not really convinced, that words matter very much. Assholes like the chemistry prof who told my mother that women didn’t belong in chemistry (this was, I think, 1940 – before she went into the Navy) and backed his words up with failing grades for women matter. Her friend who never got a grade lower than ‘A’ in any other class got a ‘C’ from this guy. My mother fled to library school. Sticks n stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, that’s my view. I think a lot of people hide behind notions of great vulnerability to words, and don’t work on the real problems. We have lots of wheels within wheels orthodoxy about why things haven’t turned out exactly as we wish. If we focus on silly stuff, which isn’t the real problem, nothing changes.

  12. Anjali Says:

    I’m quite relieved, Elizabeth, that you couldn’t take a hard line one way or the other with this book, because even though I’ve only read a few excerpts, neither can I. I was beginning to wonder whether I was turning into a softy for not feeling strongly against this book or its marketing. Having said that, I think Jody and Phantom’s points ring absolutely true.
    Words matter, but I believe they matter far more in some contexts than in others. In the context of the book itself, well, I just won’t pay for them.

  13. Christine Says:

    So, I got a chance to check the book out and it is cute in a nostalgic way. The New York Times had a review of the book last weekend in the Style section. It talked about this new movement across the country to revive old games that were outdoor play. The irony is the same parents that are pushing this type of play on their kids are buying the video games and other indoor toys. Only one mother cited in the article did not buy that stuff and realized she was putting her son in an outsider situation. Another mother admitted that her daughter and friends were really not interested. The other thing I have not heard discussed anywhere is that the reason for all this indoor play was because streets were unsafe for kids. My great aunt used to teach me all different card games and they were fun, but I refused to learn mahjong. She used to say that I would have to learn it sooner or later if I wanted to have a social life in retirement (this is a good 50 years off). I used to laugh in her face and say that my generation will have geriatric speed video rec rooms by the time I am retired.

  14. Anjali Says:

    And now Miriam Peskowitz and Andi Buchanan of MotherTalk are coming out with their own book: The Daring Book for Girls!
    http://www.everydaymomblog.com/post/index/125/Great-News#track

  15. MC Milker Says:

    I wrote a post on this book awhile back.http://notquitecrunchyparent.blogspot.com/2007/02/danger-weapons-and-boys.html. In short, what I gleaned from the book was – rather than having boys experience real danger in the virtual world of TV/videogames, let them get a little adrenaline rush outside instead – which I can support.
    BTW- girls will surely benefit from this book as well. A basic premise in marketing to children is: “Boys will be boys and girls will be either”. ..which explains why you weren’t bothered by the title of “Boys Life”.

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