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“Boys don’t cry” – this old-fashioned tale has done a lot of damage. Men’s emotions are devalued. They are pushed into a performative model of masculinity that removes empathy from the equation entirely. As a result, men are always expected to be strength personified. Their breakdowns and psychological problems are swept under the rug. Most importantly, as they are constantly being asked to disconnect from their human side, they may not know who they are supposed to be if not robotic and mechanical in their behavior.
Today I have compiled a list of books that encourage men to overcome their conditioning and embrace their true selves. The products of incredible research and excellent insight, these books look at masculinity and masculinity through a new lens. They challenge our world to abandon the rhetoric that censors men’s emotions and accepts only one particular model of masculinity. Masculinity and masculinity come in all variations, and the only way forward is to embrace their multiple interpretations. If you too are tired of how we look at our men and how they are trained to remove their softer side, this list is for you. The goal is to love one another as we are and not as a patriarchal society tells us to be.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written in the form of a letter from Coates to his son, this book re-examines masculinity and incorporates the idea of nurturing and vulnerability into it. Young black boys growing up in a racially divided America are often asked to be tough. Coates doesn’t ask that of his son. His letter zooms in on the diversity of black masculinity. He speaks of a masculinity that resists the forces of hegemony and at the same time practices tenderness.
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by Bell Hooks
Bell Hooks writes in clear prose about men’s innate need to feel loved. Softness is a way of being, and despite what society tells us, men need compassion and caring. Hooks addresses the most common concerns that plague men, such as fear of intimacy and losing their social standing. She believes that with a little rewiring, men can also access their rich emotions and enjoy a rewarding inner workings.
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Perry examines what it would be like to live in a world where men are not bound by the dangers of toxic masculinity. He discusses the difference between what masculinity is and what it should be. His goal is to find ways for men to build better relationships with themselves and the world, and discover true happiness in the process. Men should decide for themselves what the new definition of masculinity should be and discard the outdated script being handed down to them.
Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity by Justin Baldoni
In this book, the actor, director and activist tells of his own experiences with rigid masculinity. He breaks down the roles expected of men and outlines how we can unmask them. He explains the issues men face in relation to marriage, vulnerability, sexuality, body image and fatherhood. With great empathy and empathy, he notes that men too are victims of patriarchy and its unrealistic barometers of masculinity.
The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera
A young Indian boy is delighted with the bindi (dot on the forehead worn by many South Asian women) worn by his mother. Bindis on men are taboo and bring them a lot of ridicule. But the mother of our young protagonist does not comply with cultural expectations and teaches the boy about their meaning. She has no problem with him wearing a bindi. This book is a great way to introduce children to the concept of healthy masculinity and teach them to respect differences.
After The Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
Bunny and Nasir have been friends for a long time. But in every friendship there comes a time when one’s choices annoy the other. Bunny accepts a city-wide athletic scholarship, and Nasir feels betrayed. Rather than portraying teenagers as emotionless automatons, this book delves into the complexities that make up their psyches. This novel debunks common misconceptions about masculinity and leaves its readers with a beautiful message of compassion and acceptance.
The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis We Made by Jared Yates Sexton
Part memoir and part cultural criticism, in this book Sexton examines his working-class background, the socio-historical sources leading to the formation of toxic masculinity, and the impact of male chauvinism on society. On the way to a more progressive society, typical gender roles have become obsolete. So what identity do men cling to? How do they find a new definition of masculinity that better suits their emotional well-being?
Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman and Maria Mola
Casey loves all things glitter. From his sister’s shimmering skirt to his Abuelita’s glittering bracelets, he is fascinated by every shiny object that comes his way. Even if he’s teased for not being “man enough,” he doesn’t care as he understands from a young age that he can be anyone he wants to be. This book is a heartwarming story about gender expression and breaking out of the old-fashioned form of masculinity.
If you’re looking for more thoughts on men and masculinity, check out this list of books that attempt to redefine masculinity. Aside from this piece, I also encourage you to read Why We Need Better Male Literary Heroes.