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

Why boys shouldn't always have to win.

By Jennifer V. Hughes |

Packaging Boyhood‘s Lyn Mikel Brown and Mark Tappan

Why boys shouldn’t always have to win.

by Jennifer V. Hughes

October 26, 2009


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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About Jennifer V. Hughes


Jennifer V. Hughes

Jennifer V. Hughes is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Mothering magazine and the Columbia Law School Report. She also makes a killer sangria.

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

  1. mumus says:

    What concerns me more than the stereotyping is the brand identification that is being instilled at such an early age. I needed to get a birthday present for my preschool daughter’s friend and asked the kid’s mom what he was interested in. ‘Anything Cars’ was her reply. Since when did a movie and all of the accompanying paraphernalia qualify as an ‘interest?’ Instead of cultivating a genuine passion for bugs or dinosaurs or ballet, kids are defining themselves with readily-available television and movie personalities.

  2. EllaAnne says:

    I’m really disturbed with the theme parties. Why does a 4-year-old need a Hannah Montana party? For that matter, why does an 8-year old? People need to learn to say no.
    Also, I’ve explained to my 5-year-old that I don’t mind seeing some movies (I’m talking Monsters and Aliens, here, not Spiderman, which is an ADULT movie), but unless they’re going to pay us to do it, we will not buy anything that is associated with it, becasue then we are advertising for them. (one exception, certain lego sets, which he builds and then plays with for months) In fact we are paying THEM to do their advertising.
    Luckily, we’ve had conversations for years about marketing and advertising, and what sort of things marketers and advertisers do to try to encourage kids to like something. We talk about the difference between what’s ON the toy box and what’s IN the toybox. My favorite examples are the Hot Wheels sets that have cars fling through the air and exploding and dragons breathing fire, etc. Of course he still asks for the stuff, but I say no.
     I also told him about Hasbro and how they came up with the GI Joe and Transformers shows, (to sell toys) and he hasn’t asked about them since.
    We also have a strict “no toys that make noise” rule, barring engine noise, like Rokenbok R/C. That cuts down on a LOT of crap.
    My brother and I were talking about this and he said society tries to rush our children towards adolescence, and then keep them there forever. I think this is part of it. Why do people seem so surprised that my 5-year-old son “still” watches Wonderpets, and Sesame Street? His sister is only 15 months, and they watch it together. He does not get to watch Bakugan or Transformers or ANY of that violent, hyper-marketed stuff. And no, he’s not dumb. He just has parents that aren’t afraid to say no.
    We are addicted to blocks, though. It’s a problem.

  3. RogueDaddy says:

    It’s this exact type of “feel good, no gender role, let’s all be winners” psychobabble that has gotten our society to where we are today. There are so few “real men” left, and you can trace it back to the lack of men being forced to BE MEN. Yes, men are supposed to be strong, tough, protective, and somewhat aggressive. From the beginning of the evolution of man, the males have been the hunters, the warriors, the first line of defense against predators. Now, couples like this move in with the “politically correct” notion that “boys can be non aggressive, boys need to be vulnerable, need to talk about feelings”. No, really, we don’t. Women can, women do, it’s what triggers the instinct in men to protect women, to open doors for them, to offer them your seat in a crowded bus, to help them with carrying heavy things. So many “single Moms” have been fed this crap about “being strong, and not needing a man in your life” tripe for so long, that now, they can’t have a man in their life to help raise a son. The boy has no idea of Maleness, of what it is to Be A Man, and fails when it comes time to Man Up in his life.
    If you think that the Maleness isn’t real, look at romance novels. The guy holding the woman isn’t a thin, be speckled, receding-hairlined femboy wanting to discuss his fears and feelings. He’s a MAN, muscled and strong, domineering without being abusive, and pulls the woman close, “conquers” her, and makes her his. Women still respond to that, women will ALWAYS respond to that. We’ll lose it if we keep allowing people like these authors to damage that role for men with this kind of crap mass produced and directed at Mommy, so she can feminize her son.

  4. HappyBaby says:

    Packaging Boyhood is just more marketing garbage we need to avoid. It is the opposite extreme of the very marketing it is condemning. It is simple – don’t overload your son’s life with violent images or force them to talk about every emotion. Follow the middle road and your children will flourish…. but I guess you cannot sell books with sound advice….. good luck to these “experts”.

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