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“Packaging Boyhood” authors Lyn Mikel Lamb and Mark Tappan Interview.

Packaging Boyhood‘s Lyn Mikel Brown and Mark Tappan

Why boys shouldn’t always have to win.

by Jennifer V. Hughes

October 26, 2009

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In 2007 writers Sharon Brown and Lyn Mikel Lamb published Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes, a book about the messages girls get from marketers and what parents can do about it. From the beginning, they also wanted to write a book about boys.

In their new book, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers and Other Media Stereotypes, writers Brown, Lamb and Mark Tappan analyze all types of data, all the way down to the valentines Johnny and Joey can give to classmates and how they’re riddled with menace (one Transformer card features the police car robot shouting: “I’ve been looking for you”).

The Valentine’s Day cards are just one tiny example of how stereotypes and other media images play out to boys. The message that boys get is that they have to be strong – and not just strong, SUPER strong. They have to play games, but they always have to be the winner.

What does this mean for boys? And what options are left out? What happens when they don’t win? If they’re not strong? Why exactly is a PG-13 movie (Batman: The Dark Knight) linked to T-shirts in 2T?

It’s a story in which those with the most power too often have the wrong kind of power – they are the bullies, the narcissistic athletes, “dogs” or “players” – the ones who call the shots and get the scantily clad, booty-jiggling music video girls. It’s a story that teaches boys that they need to avoid humiliation at all costs, seek revenge if wronged, dress to impress and intimidate, be tech-savvy, show wealth and take risks all while pretending that they don’t care about any of it.

Think this doesn’t apply to your little tot? In one hilarious and frightening example, the authors use movie quotes and invite readers to tell whether they were spoken by Rambo or Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. (The quotes are equally violent.)

Authors Lyn Mikel Brown and her husband Mark Tappan talked to Babble about what to do and what you can say to your kids to combat the media bombardment.- Jennifer V. Hughes

Your work has turned me into an advocate. I’m always pointing out things from your first book, like how few classic children’s books feature girls as the hero. But I often get the “what’s the big deal” response. So what if a kid’s t-shirt has Spiderman on it? Who cares if boys are obsessed with sports?

Lyn: The series of messages and a kind of typing about boys that happens pretty early on sets up an ideal that is pretty narrow and pretty hard for boys to fit into. The ideal of always winning and being a superhero closes out a whole range of options, for example, being able to talk about being vulnerable or feelings, the complex things we want to support in our children that make them healthy as they grow up.

Mark, how did you see this kind of thing growing up?

Mark: Things have really changed since I was a boy. One of the things we noticed was how pervasive it is, in toys, movies, books, everywhere. The other side of it is the slacker stereotype, the “I don’t care,” Bart Simpson character. It’s the alternative to the hyper super macho. If you don’t measure up to that, you can be a slacker and still be popular.

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