Review: Better Boys, Better Men by Andrew Reiner

I’ve always suggested the book “Raising Cain” when asked about the psychology of boys and men, so I was excited to see a new book on the subject. There is a ton of super interesting information here, but no real concrete suggestions about what we should do about it. I see this book not so much as “self-help” in that regard, but just informational. Still, it’s good information!

The book starts with some research about boy babies. Contrary to the assumption that they are born with different brains, or less capacity for emotion, Reiner says that research shows now that boy babies are actually more emotional than girl babies, but that our socialization of boys starts so young that we think they are born that way! Even from a super young age, we value stoicism in boys and the repression of emotions.

Some of this is due to education, some to sports, and some to parental training. Boys learn very young in school that they must not be vulnerable, even if they have parents who encourage it. And then we introduce them to sports, which encourage toughness and competition, and “wimps” need not apply. Even among teammates, hazing can be universally accepted, even when it crosses the line into violence.

Reiner talks about vulnerability and shame quite a bit. Some men have been trained to “be a man” from such a young age they don’t even have the vocabulary to describe their feelings even if they wanted to. But other boys and men, who do understand what they are feeling inside, won’t be vulnerable because of how they are shamed when they do. Even women who beg their partners to be more emotional admit to being turned off when they actually do. And in extreme circumstances, men who are shamed become violent. The sense of being shamed underlies almost all school shootings and domestic violence.

Men also tend to be quite lonely, because of the above factors and because there are very few relationships where they can admit to their feelings and have them received well. Reiner suggests that we really need to help men and boys be authentic, embrace vulnerability, and be willing to have friendships that delve into deeper feelings and topics than sports and politics. But again, he doesn’t have any real concrete suggestions for how we do this. He highlights in the book several programs in schools and prisons around the country where boys have an opportunity to talk about their deeper feelings, but stops short of addressing how these could be utilized on a larger scale.

Overall, this is a great informational book about boys and men for anyone who wants to understand the research and the biology behind men and their feelings. Parents, teachers and coaches will find a lot of great information here. I just think maybe we need a second book with some point-by-point plans on how we achieve systemic change. This title will be released on December 1, 2020 and I received a free copy from Net Galley for my review.

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