Something I’ve always been interested in is what makes someone a reader. In general. But something much more personal to me is the issue of reading and boys and why boys don’t read. That’s the conventional wisdom. But I only started hearing it after I was already a rabid reader myself.
(A quick note: I’m a guy.)
And I found it incredibly frustrating, because it didn’t match up with my personal experience. More than that, it didn’t match up with what I saw of my friends, either. And I think that’s an issue that has to be addressed.
I’m writing this post after having stumbled across a book blog called Stacked. Specifically, a series of posts they had about boys reading. As I read this series of posts, written primarily by adult women, and often citing Michael Sullivan, I became increasingly frustrated. The posts were full of claims that boys don’t read, boys do read, but they read thus, boys’ brains work like this which is why they read this. Not a single one of these claims matched my experiences as a young reader. And I admit, I may have been an outlier. (It’s useful for understanding my comments here to actually spend the ten or twenty minutes to read those posts first.)
But I have no reason to believe it’s anymore likely that I was the outlier and Sullivan the average male reader than the other way around. It’s a common problem in scientific research to take your personal opinions and experiences as the norm. Anyone who’s taken a serious class on research or statistics will have heard about anecdotal evidence–essentially, here’s how it was for me, that must be representative of the wider reality. I have been guilty of relying on anecdotal evidence myself many times. But in this case, I don’t believe I am the only one.
One of the primary claims made in the posts is that boys have a “rules and tools” thought process. The common cliche about asking for directions gets cited. And much is made of this being an inherent cognitive attribute of men vs. women. Personally, I think it’s more of a cultural imposition. We tell boys what the proper male behavior is, and punish them for not modeling it, and then we claim it’s an inherent biological trait. It’s not. What really bothered me about these posts was that they spoke as if all boys ever followed these specific in-built patterns. That’s a pile of crap. I have no doubt that these are trends among large cross-sections of the men and boys in Western society–whatever their supposed basis. But they are not the only trends, and I’m not even convinced they’re the most common trends. But they offer a simple way to view the differences between girls and boys in terms of behavior and educational performance, and so people desperate for an explanation glom onto them.
And I want to suggest that for that reason, they may be doing more harm than good. If you tell boys this is how they are, full stop, then anyone who hasn’t yet been inculcated with these patterns is forced t re-evaluate themselves. Are they doing something wrong? Are they weird? Should they be acting differently? And that more than anything, pushes more and more boys and men into these patterns of thinking. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The short version here is that people need to learn to acknowledge that the world is complicated and cannot be reduced to simple binary patterns. It sucks, and it’s frustrating, but it’s true. And trying to force the world into those patterns, especially as concerns cultural, societal, or any human sphere can lead to exactly the harm you hope to counteract.
As a result of these issues, I don’t often share my reading with my friends and family offline, because I’ve been told that that’s not proper behavior. And if boys tend to engage in reading in isolation, then it’s only these false dichotomies we have to blame, and nothing inherent in their make-up.