How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb
More than any other, I suppose, this book has defined my year. Robert Webb offers a hilarious and devastating look at how the masculine tropes he inherited did a diservice to his life and his loved ones.
If the words “toxic masculinity” cause you to rock back and assume a defensive posture, read this book. If you think feminism is the antonym to masculinity, read this book. If you believe you’re a sensitive and self-aware man, read this book.
No joke, this book changed my life.
One way of imagining life is that it’s a competition between love and death. Death always wins, of course, but love is there to make its victory a hollow one.
What are we saying to a boy when we tell him to ‘man up’ or ‘act like a man’? At its most benign, we might just be saying: do the thing that needs doing even if you don’t want to do it. But more often, when we tell a boy to ‘act like a man’, we’re effectively saying, ‘Stop expressing those feelings.’ And if the boy hears that often enough, it actually starts to sound uncannily like, ‘Stop *feeling* those feelings.’ It sounds like a good deal. The great thing about refusing to feel feelings is that, once you’ve denied them, you don’t have to take responsibility for them.
Feminists didn’t create these circumstances. Neither am I saying that men have gone along with this stuff like a bunch of passive idiots. I’m saying it’s difficult to resist because it hides in plain sight. It’s everywhere: a system of thought and a set of invented and discriminatory practices in our laws, culture and economy that feminists call the patriarchy. Feminists are not out to get us. They’re out to get the patriarchy. They don’t hate men, they hate The Man. They’re our mates. The patriarchy was created for the convenience of men, but it comes at a heavy cost to ourselves and to everyone else.
Saying goodbye in the care home, I’d got used to the idea that it might be for the last time. This time, while Abbie and I are ushering the girls out of the door, I hear by ninety-two-year-old Dada say: ‘At least we had some good holidays, mate!’ I turn back and reassure him that we had some brilliant holidays, which we did. But what does he mean, ‘at least’? I think I know: he felt a deficit. And so did Derek, and so did Dad. None of them spent their last words with me saying: ‘I wish I’d spent less time with my children, I wish I’d dominated more men, I wish I’d cried less, I wish I’d shrugged and walked away more often when I upset the women I loved, I wish I’d spent less time saying what I was really afraid of and what I really wanted.’ No, they ended their lives saying that they’d missed out on too much of the good stuff; friendship, understanding, family and love. And that they’d caused too much harm.