saving our sons from superheroes, slackers, and other media stereotypes

In the News

Emotional Openness May be Good for Males' Mental Health Time Magazine

by Eben Harrell

Being a mama's boy, new research suggests, may be good for your mental health. That, at least, is the conclusion of a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association by Carlos Santos, a professor at Arizona State University's School of Social and Family Dynamics. Santos recently conducted a study that followed 426 boys through middle school to investigate the extent to which the boys favor stereotypically male qualities such as emotional stoicism and physical toughness over stereotypically feminine qualities such as emotional openness and communication, and whether that has any influence on their mental well-being. His main finding was that the further along the boys got in their adolescence, the more they tended to embrace hypermasculine stereotypes. But boys who remained close to their mothers did not act as tough and were more emotionally available. Closeness to fathers did not have the same effect, his research found... Sharon Lamb, a professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, believes she has identified at least one cultural influence that pushes adolescent boys toward hypermasculine traits: modern superheroes. At the same conference that Santos addressed, Lamb presented the results of a survey of 674 boys ages 4 to 18 that showed how deeply they were saturated with images of action figures. "There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic-book superhero of yesterday," Lamb recently wrote in a press release about her research. "Today's superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in nonstop violence; he's aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns." (more....)

Packaging Boyhood Offers Good Guide to Raising Sons Bangor Daily News

by Julia Hathaway

packagingboyhoodI love having a teenage son. But I’ve found the adolescent boy world often bewildering and sometimes scary. I haven’t always known how to react to what I see and hear. Fortunately for parents like me, “Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes” beautifully addresses this dilemma. Authors Lynn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappen examine in great depth the ways marketers work overtime to sell our complex, unique boys crippling stereotypes that usually don’t work in their best interests. Basing their work on more than 600 surveys, they open a window into what our sons really are listening to, watching, wearing and doing, and how they are influenced. Are you bothered by the over-the-top violence of many movies? Could you do with a little less virtual slaying in video games? Boys, we are told, are supposed to aspire to be the most powerful, the toughest, the most too cool to care. Probably very few will go on rampages. But many can be desensitized to real-world violence they might encounter in their neighborhoods or at school. (more...)

Boy oh Boy! A new book by three alumni details how media perpetuates the myth of hyper-masculinity Ed. magazine: The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

by Mary Tamer

It is rare for me to gain an assignment as a result of maternal profiling, but this was one such occasion.boyhood As the mother of two boys, would I be willing to write about a new book produced by three Harvard Graduate School of Education alumni -- Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.'89, Sharon Lamb, Ed.M.'80, Ed.D.'88, and Mark Tappan, Ed.D.'87 -- called Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes? Without hesitation, I signed on, with the hope of emerging from the process with a new, media-savvy skill set that would help me navigate my 9- and 11-year-old sons through boyhood intact. Still, as my list of questions for the authors grew, so too did my own queries surrounding whether my husband and I had instilled enough of the right messages in our children to counteract the growing tsunami of all the others around them. Would they remain kind to their friends and committed to their schoolwork, as we hoped, or move toward a more stereotypically masculine model that has been craftily -- and expensively -- manufactured and marketed to young men? In pursuit of the truth, and armed with the book's key points, I posed the first of many questions to my nine-year-old regarding whether he thought it was OK for boys to be considered "smart" in school. "It's OK for now," he said, "but once boys get to high school, it's not OK anymore." Before counting all of the ways in which I may have gotten lost on the parenting pipeline, my eyes were now fully opened to the fact that my own son was not immune to the multitude of external messages swirling around him. Whether they had been delivered by books, TV shows, or simply peer contact, I didn't know, but it was clear to me that Brown, Lamb, and Tappan did, based, in great part, on what they culled from their survey of more than 600 boys from around the country on how they perceive their path to manhood as well as what may influence them along the way. As the authors note in their book, and despite the best intentions of parents and teachers, the influences of media and marketing are "far more pervasive and insidious" than most of us would ever expect. (more...)

Superhero or Slacker?  How the Media and Marketers Stereotype Boys  Radio Times WHYY-FM Philadelphia

March 12, 2010

According to our guests, educators Lyn Mikel Brown and Mark Tappan, boys are besieged by images and messages from marketers and the media that encourage them to be over-the-top tough, aggressive winners or funny, underachieving slackers. In Packaging Boyhood, their book with co-author Sharon Lamb, they examine the troubling stereotypes in cartoons, videogames, television shows and movies that tell boys what it means to be a boy. They join guest host Tracey Matisak to talk about it all. Listen to the mp3

For Tween Boys, Masculinity in a Spray Can New York Times

by Jan Hoffman

articleLarge...Why does Jake Guttenberg, a Manhattan seventh grader, use an Axe spray? “I feel confident when I wear it,” he said. Lyn Mikel Brown, a psychologist at Colby College and an author of a new book, “Packaging Boyhood,” said the products gave boys the mere illusion of choice. In fact, she said, they often preach an extreme, singular definition of masculinity — at a time developmentally when boys are grappling uneasily with identity. “These are just one of many products that cultivate anxiety in boys at younger and younger ages about what it means to man up,” Ms. Brown said, “to be the kind of boy they’re told girls will want and other boys will respect. They’re playing with the failure to be that kind of guy, to be heterosexual even.” Even when advertisements are supposed to be crudely humorous or satiric about masculinity — approaches recommended by market researchers to reach high school boys — younger boys take them more literally, Ms. Brown said. (more...)

Signs of a Truce Spring up in Classroom Gender Wars Toronto Star

by Nicole Baute For a long time, we were worried about the girls. In early adolescence, they were struggling with low self-esteem and depression. They were less likely to be called on in class and they were less invested in school. And then, thanks to concerted efforts in the '80s and '90s to improve curriculum and teaching for girls, they started catching up. Yet when girls started upending the classroom stereotypes, researchers decided it was actually the boys who needed help – and they had the stats to prove it. It suddenly seemed that compared with their studious female classmates, boys couldn't care less about school. While the overall dropout rate decreased in Canada through the '90s, boys remained more likely to drop out than girls. And young women were gaining ground in university, accounting for 53 per cent of undergraduate enrollment in 1992-1993 and 58 per cent by 2001-2002. Boys, it was decided, were getting left behind. A plethora of books documented the trouble with boys, from Michael Gurian's The Wonder of Boys in 1996, which argued that boys' and girls' brains are fundamentally different, to William Pollack's Real Boys in 1998, which said boys are more likely to communicate through action and activity. More recent books, like this year's Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers and Other Media Stereotypes by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan, have explored the cultural context of boyhood.  (more...)

Books for Christmas: "Packaging Boyhood" Clark Kent's Lunchbox

by Ron Mattocks

Ron+Square+Headshot+72dpiThis week I'm making a brief return to share several reviews of books that could make good gifts for the holidays.
This summer I made the mistake of taking my boys to see Transformers 2. The first one didn't seem so bad, and despite the lousy reviews I figured the sequel wouldn't be either. Wrong. I spent most of the movie, either covering ears every time the mom opened her potty mouth or explaining to the boys that college is not quite the near-orgy atmosphere projected on the screen. But by the way they kept saying how cool it would be for the minivan to change into an awesome robot (that would be awesome), I'm not sure they grasped my warnings. Still, I felt like a bad parent for exposing them to such blatantly deceptive images of what a boy's life could be like. I felt even worse after reading Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheros, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes.
Written by Doctors Lyn Mikel Brown and Mark Tappan, both Professors of Education at Colby College; and University of Massachusetts Mental Health Professor, Doctor Sharon Lamb, Packaging Boyhood is a follow up the successful, Packaging Girlhood. Like it's predecessor, Packaging Boyhood focuses on the methods used by marketing and media strategists in defining a false image of who boys, and how that image comes to play in how boys perceive themselves. If you're one of those people who skips the introductions to books, don't with Packaging Boyhood as it does a superb job of laying the foundation for the authors' premises. Three sentences in, I was hooked.
...the way popular culture defines what it means to be a boy has become narrower and narrower. That's because media and marketers spend billions of dollars every year promoting a version of "cool" that requires the latest fashions, technology, and lots of money and then takes advantage of his fear of not matching up or being called a wuss or "faggot." (more...)

"Packaging Boyhood" Up to Date, KCUR-FM Kansas City

December 4, 2009 packagingboyhoodBoys are bombarded by the media... encouraged to slack off over studying; competing over teamwork; power over empowerment; and being cool over being oneself. In Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, authors Lyn Mikel Brown, Mark Tappan, and Sharon Lamb scrutinize cartoons, video games, and movies to examine the stereotypes that marketers and the media sell boys about what it means to be a boy. Today guest host Brian Ellison talks with Brown and Tappan about how parents can broach these subjects with their sons, and discuss what tools boys can use to help  resist these messages (listen to podcast here)

"The Puzzle of Boys" The Chronicle of Higher Education

by Thomas Barlett photo_2492_wide_large...If the first round of books [about boys] was focused on the classroom, the second round observes the boy in his natural habitat. The new book Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes offers an analysis of what boys soak in from TV shows, video games, toys, and other facets of boy-directed pop culture. The news isn't good here, either. According to the book, boys are being taught they have to be tough and cool, athletic and stoic. This starts early with toddler T-shirts emblazoned with "Future All-Star" or "Little Champion." Even once-benign toys like Legos and Nerf have assumed a more hostile profile with Lego Exo-Force Assault Tigers and the Nerf N-Strike Raider Rapid Fire CS-35 Dart Blaster. "That kind of surprised us," says one of the book's three authors, Lyn Mikel Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. "What happened to Nerf? What happened to Lego?" Brown also co-wrote Packaging Girlhood. In that book, the disease was easier to diagnose, what with the Disney princess phenomenon and sexy clothes being marketed to pre-adolescent girls. Everyone was worried about how girls were being portrayed in the mass media and what that was doing to their self-esteem. The messages about boys, however, were easier to miss, in part because they're so ubiquitous. "We expect a certain amount of teasing, bullying, spoofing about being tough enough, even in animated films for the littlest boys," Brown says. For Packaging Boyhood, the authors interviewed more than 600 boys and found that models of manhood were turning up in some unexpected places, like the Discovery Channel's Man vs. Wild, in which the star is dropped into the harsh wilderness and forced to forage. They're concerned that such programs, in order to compete against all the stimuli vying for boys' attentions, have become more aggressively in-your-face, more fearlessly risk-taking, manlier than thou. Says Brown: "What really got us was the pumping up of the volume."  (more...)

"I'm Too Sexy for my Onesie" Double

by Marissa Meltzer091111-onesieA For their 2006 book Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers' Schemes, Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb, both professors, waded through the pink muck of girl culture. They watched Dora the Explorer, visited Hot Topic, and became familiar with Hilary Duff’s oeuvre. They found that girls were increasingly being encouraged to “choose accessorizing over academics, sex appeal over sports, and boyfriends over friends.” Girls just a year or two out of kindergarten were being sold sex in the form of skimpy underwear and French Maid Halloween costumes. “Welcome,” they wrote, to “the stark commercialization of gender.” One of the questions they encountered most often in promoting the book was “What about the boys?” So they set out to find the answer. What they discovered was that boys were being pigeonholed as much as girls. In their new book, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, co-authored with Mark Tappan, a professor of education at Colby College, they offer interesting new insight into the way oversexed “raunch culture” is marketed to young boys in everything from T-shirts to cologne. Boys are being told, from an early age, to want sex just as much as girls are being told to embody it. (more...)

Psychjourney Podcast: Packaging Boyhood

Deborah Harper, President of Psychjourney, interviews Dr. Sharon Lamb and Dr. Mark Tappan. (more...)

Author Spotlight: Packaging Boyhood Ypulse

logoby meredith Today's Ypulse Author Spotlight is on Mark Tappan, Lyn Brown, and Sharon Lamb, the authors behind "Packaging Boyhood," a much anticipated follow up to "Packaging Girlhood" that takes a similarly critical look at the troubling media targeted towards young boys today.... YP: What made you decide to take on boys after "Packaging Girlhood"? Packaging Boyhood authors: I guess because as we researched PG, we came across a lot of troubling material aimed at boys. And because enlightenment via media literacy has come to taking a look at gender stereotyping. We also heard a lot of parental concern about boy targeted media when we were on the road taking about [Packaging Girlhood]. YP: Could you identify some of the factors (or combination of factors) that are driving the superhero and slacker stereotypes? Do you think the message has transformed in recent years? If so, how and why? PB: First we want to make clear that these are separate. First the superhero — we love comic book superheroes but once they hit the big screen they've been transformed into bulked up, hyper masculine guys who use justice as an excuse for aggression. Also the movies come with heavily marketed stuff for boys of all ages, but especially to boys too young to see the movies. The slacker is any sidekick, lovable loser, or failure that a boy can identify with, wait, that a boy is encouraged to identify with if he can't be number one, the best, a superhero. The slacker image has really taken off in recent years — from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Jack Black to Will Ferrell movies. We worry about this image because there's no room for boys to be ambitious, responsible, to love school, to work hard and really try. It's a way out. A way to look cool if you feel you can't cut it — just don't care. (more...)

"Saving the Males" Maine Sunday Telegram

by Ray Routhier Lyn Mikel Brown says that as soon as she and co-author Sharon Lamb released their book "Packaging Girlhood" in 2006, people started asking why they didn't include boys. The book was about the pressures the media and marketers put on girls to act certain ways and fit into narrow stereotypes. But doesn't that happen to boys, too? Brown knows it does. That's because her husband, Mark Tappan, has been researching the development and behaviors of boys for years. Both Brown and Tappan are professors of education at Colby College in Waterville, and Lamb is a professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. So the trio decided to tackle the media pressures on boys in a book. The result was "Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes" (St. Martin's Press, $25.99), which came out in October. Brown took some time recently to answer questions about the book. (more...)

"The Kid Whimps Out" Ms. Magazine

by Allison Kimmichwimpykid Whimpy boys are bad for girls.  I can say this with confidence now that my daughter and I have read the first three installments of Jeff Kinney's graphic series for 9- to 12-year-olds, Diary of a Whimpy Kid (Amulet Books, 2007-2009).... "Books like Diary of a Whimpy Kid are so popular, in part, because boys get tired of fantasizing greatness and once in a while like to see their everydayness or mediocrity humorously reflected in literature," says Lyn Mikel Brown, coauthor (with Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan) of Packaging Boyhood.... But unfortunately, as Brown points out, the Whimpy Kid books also contain damaging messages for boys by featuring characters who dismiss schools and parents.  And the problem goes beyond just the themes, because "[t]he cartoon pictures and large print and the silly characters seem to suggest...that boys aren't very good readers." ..Sharon Lamb also points out that, in the face of Greg's slacker stereotype, girls become "complaining, super-studious, goody-goodies"--a set of female stereotypes that pose their own limitations and challenges for girls....

"This Halloween, boys are all beefcake" Philadelphia Inquirer

dm1costume27-dBy Lini S. Kadaba Halloween costumes for boys have gone all He-Man - big, brawny, and bulky. Batman shows off his ripped six-pack abs. G.I. Joe Snake Eyes reveals bulging biceps and toned torso. Stormtroopers look like Paul Bunyans - on steroids. "Every little boy wants to be big and buff," said Annsley Wight, assistant manager at the Halloween Adventure store at the King of Prussia mall, where she says G.I. Joe, Transformers, and superheroes are big sellers. "The smaller they are, the more they like muscles." For years, cultural critics have lamented the body image bombarded at girls. On Halloween, sexy outfits like pirate wenches and sultry vamps are aimed at children as young as 4 years old. But what about boys? They're hit with different but just as damaging media and marketing messages, say youth experts now watching the male body image promoted in pop culture. The Y chromosome is all about muscles, firepower, and dominance - and one of the most blatant examples, researchers say, is the increasing number of supersized Halloween costumes this year, many with ab, pec, and bicep foam pads sewn into bodysuits for added bulk. Such beefy images - bountiful not only during Halloween but daily in movies, magazines, billboards, and toy stores - are thought to add to body dissatisfaction among boys, even increased steroid use among some adolescents. Call it the "Super Scary Special Forces Ninja Bounty Hunter Fighter World Saving Man." That's how the stereotypical image blitzed at boys is described in the new book Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes. "Halloween is about the stark commercialization of gender," said Lyn Mikel Brown, a professor of education at Colby College and one of the authors of Packaging Boyhood who earlier cowrote Packaging Girlhood. "You can hardly find a costume now that doesn't have this padding," she said. "It's about that look and that idealized male body." (more...) "Packaging Boyhood: An interview with Sharon Lamb" Gifted Exchange While I've never been particularly girly, I'm sure that my childhood was shaped by my gender. That's something I'm thinking about now as I find myself raising a household of boys. What can I expect? What will be different? What influences boys and affects their character? We're still in the Elmo and Thomas the Train stage in my house, but I know that tough pop culture messages seep in more quickly than parents often realize. So I was intrigued when I received a copy of Drs. Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan's Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes. The book documents "the narrow version of boyhood that is sold to our sons"-- a version that involves violence, being aloof and non-emotional, not caring about academic achievement, and often disrespecting women, or at least not seeing them as partners in this adventure called life. I had interviewed Lamb, a professor of mental health at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, about girls and media in the past because she previously co-authored a book called Packaging Girlhood. She agreed to join us here at Gifted Exchange for a short Q&A.sharonretouched Gifted Exchange: You (well, 2 of 3 of you...) wrote Packaging Girlhood before Packaging Boyhood. Is it tougher to raise girls or boys these days, or is that the wrong question to be asking? Lamb: Thanks for mentioning that it might be the wrong answer. We are so trying to get away from 'battle of the sexes' and even though you're not really going down that lane, it's close enough. It's hard to raise kids and I find raising boys has particular challenges related to the kinds of stuff being thrown at them about what it means to be a boy or man in this society. (more.,,) "The Making of Machismo" Colby Magazine By Ruth Jacobs It has become well-known dilemma: Women and girls are bombarded by thousands of media messages daily. These messages, often intended to sell products, limit girls and create feelings of inadequacy. Girls are up against a lot. But what about boys?lynMarkBoyhood With increasing attention paid toward boys´ lagging performance in school, that question became a familiar refrain when Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown spoke about her 2006 book, Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers´ Schemes. Boys, too, are bombarded by media messages that perpetuate stereotypes to sell goods. These stereotypes damage boys, albeit in different ways. Brown found that, although people were hungry for critique, what existed was about the obvious—overtly violent video games, for example. Enter Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes (St. Martin´s Press, 2009), by Brown, her partner, Professor of Education Mark Tappan, and psychologist Sharon Lamb. Everywhere indeed. Books. Television. Toys. Music. Games. Movies. And it starts early, says Brown: “As soon as they´re watching TV or engaging with media in any way.” Children quickly move from educational television shows like Sesame Street to cartoons that glorify rudeness (“farting dogs” and “stinky boys,” says Brown) and include “bumbling and stupid” parents, especially fathers. The subtle, underlying message, she says, is that parents are irrelevant in boys´ lives. Another theme is the lack of meaningful relationships among boys. Friendships tend to be shallow and are not mutual but involve a strong character and a weaker sidekick. Boys don´t show emotions, don´t communicate well with girls, and if they do they compromise their masculinity—“you´re weak if you show feelings. You´re a girl, you´re a pussy, or whatever,” said Brown. (more...) "Packaging Boyhood: An interview with Lyn Brown and Mark Tappan" In your previous book, Packaging Girlhood, one thing that stunned me was the part about how children's games show — by a huge margin — the boy winning or playing an active role with the girl as a passive observer rooting for the boys. Tell me one of the things that you were really surprised to discover in your research for Packaging Boyhood. Lyn: With this book, after a while, we just felt like it was all too much. We started thinking of it as this frantic, desperate need to impose this on boys. I was thinking of all the little boys in their little bodies confronted with this all the time and the experience that they have to somehow live up to all of this in the guise of fun and action. It has to feed a kind of anxiety.interview Mark: Certainly for marketers, that's the technique: you increase someone's anxiety about not being pretty or smart or strong enough and then you sell them a product that will make them feel better. You tie that into the cultural anxiety about masculinity. One of the examples of that is, strangely enough, energy drinks. You start to listen to all those names — Full Throttle, No Fear, Monster, Tiger, Rock Star — it's that again and again, this desperate sense of you're big enough, you're strong enough, you're man enough, you're hyper enough to prove something. (more...) "Saving your kids from media, marketers, and Halloween" 400x236-2In their new book, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, authors Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mark Tappan address the various ways culture and the media bombard boys with idealized images they’re never likely to live up to. In this exclusive excerpt from the book, they analyze the limited — and highly gender-divided — range of choices in Halloween costumes and advise that you talk to your sons about being able to be themselves, even while wearing the standard ultra-violent and superhuman outfits. Click here for Lamb and Brown’s chapter on Halloween costumes for girls from their previous title Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketer’s Schemes. Special Forces Jungle Fighter Child Surf the web, flip through the many catalogs, or walk through department stores beginning in early September to look for a Halloween costume and Boyhood (that’s with a capital B) will assault you at every turn. Take him to any big box store like Walmart or Target and your little boy can pour over a dizzying array of costumes. When boiled down, his choices include scary characters, fighters, and heroes — either in super form, like Spiderman or Batman, or the real life version, like police officers, military personnel, or sports stars. For the youngest boys there’s the occasional Pooh Bear or SpongeBob, even a cute puppy or lion, but they are buried in an avalanche of ninjas, special Delta force soldiers, and Transformers. (more...)