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“Boys don’t cry” — this stale narrative has done a lot of harm. Men’s emotions are devalued. They are pressurized into a performative model of masculinity that completely removes empathy from the equation. As a result, men are always expected to be strength personified. Their breakdowns and mental health issues are pushed under the carpet. Most importantly, since they are constantly asked to cut ties with their human side, they may not know who to be if not robotic and mechanical in their demeanor.
Today, I have curated a list of books that encourage men to work through their conditioning and embrace their true selves. Products of incredible research and excellent insights, these books look at masculinity and manhood through a new lens. They urge our world to abandon the rhetoric that censors men’s emotions and only accepts a specific model of manhood. Manhood and masculinity come in all varieties, and welcoming their multiple renditions is the only way forward. 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 each other as we are and not as who we are asked to be by a patriarchal society.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written in the form of a letter from Coates to his son, this book reexamines masculinity and incorporates the idea of caring and vulnerability into it. Young Black boys growing up in a racially-divided America are often asked to be tough. Coates doesn’t ask the same of his son. His letter zooms in on the multifacetedness of Black manhood. He talks of the kind of masculinity that resists the hegemonic forces while also practicing tenderness.
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
bell hooks writes in lucid prose about men’s inherent need to feel loved. Softness is a way of being, and despite what society tells us, it requires compassion and care. hooks addresses the most common concerns that plague men, like fear of intimacy and loss of their social standing. She believes that with a little bit of rewiring, but can also access their rich emotions and enjoy rewarding interior lives.
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 perils of toxic masculinity. He discusses the difference between what masculinity is and what it should be. His goal is to find ways in which men can foster better relationships with themselves and the world and discover true happiness along the way. Men should decide for themselves what the new definition of masculinity should be and discard the outdated script handed down to them.
Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity by Justin Baldoni
In this book, the actor, director, and activist gets real about his own experiences with rigid masculinity. He breaks down the roles expected of men and maps out how we can debunk them. He explains the issues men face with marriage, vulnerability, sexuality, body image, and fatherhood. With great insight and empathy, he pens down how men are also victims of patriarchy and its unrealistic barometers for masculinity.
The Boy And The Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera
A young Indian boy is enthralled with the bindi (dot on the forehead that many South Asian women wear) his mother wears. Bindis on men are taboo and earn them a lot of ridicule. But our young protagonist’s mother doesn’t go with the cultural expectations and teaches the boy about its significance. She doesn’t have an issue with him wearing a bindi. This book is a great way of introducing the concept of healthy masculinity to children and teaching them how 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 person’s choices irk the other. Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, leaving Nasir feeling betrayed. Instead of portraying teenage boys as emotionless automatons, this book delves into the complexities that make up their psyche. This novel debunks common misconceptions about masculinity and leaves its readers with a lovely message about compassion and acceptance.
The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making By Jared Yates Sexton
Part memoir and part cultural critique, in this book Sexton examines his working-class background, the socio-historical sources that result in the formation of toxic masculinity, and the implications of male chauvinism on society. As we move towards a more progressive society, typical gender roles have been rendered obsolete. What identity do men latch onto then? How do they come up with a new definition of masculinity that will be more appropriate for their emotional well-being?
Sparkle Boy By Lesléa Newman and Maria Mola
Casey loves all things sparkly. From his sister’s shimmery skirt to his Abuelita’s sparkly bracelets, he is fascinated by every shiny object he comes across. Even when he is being teased for not being “man enough,” he doesn’t care, as even at a young age he understands 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 mold of masculinity.
If you are looking for more thoughts on men and masculinity, check out this list of books trying to redefine masculinity. Besides this piece, I also suggest you read why we need better male literary heroes.