Will any boys be reading Robert Webb’s “How Not to be a Boy?”

Part memoir, part call to arms for all men and boys against toxic masculinity, could this be the perfect partner in crime, the male equivalent, for Clementine Ford’s “Fight Like a Girl?” The title had me sold. The words inside were quite good also.


Not quite a fan of “Peep Show” myself, I was formerly unaware of Webb’s existence in the British celebrity sphere. I was recommend the book by a friend. She’s also the one who slid “Fight Like a Girl” in my direction. What can I say? The girl knows me. So, as a bit of a disclaimer; I ain’t no fan girl. I even tried to getting into “Peep Show” again after reading this book and I just couldn’t do it ya’ll. It’s so cringe. Even for me. Good news: you don’t need to like the show to love the actor’s book. Who woulda thunk it?


This book should be at the top of every compulsory reading list for all boys.  I just might send a strongly yet politely worded email to every all-boys school I can find on the first page of a Google search, softly demanding that they do just that. #doyourbit.

Not only is it freakin’ hilarious, “How Not to be a Boy” gives us an important and vital message on the calamitous effects of toxic masculinity on both men and women. Using his family’s as well as his own history, Webb walks us through how misogyny is subtly engrained into boys from a young age, and how that “mind map” may obnoxiously rear it’s ugly head into adulthood.

The biggest elephant in the room, and the biggest irony, is that boys are not encouraged to read. So under what circumstances would they be reading this book? As a punishment? A chore? It’s a start, yes, but by no means a good one. Webb actually does touch on this common restraint that is put on boys when it comes to picking up a novel. He is yet to bring forward a strategy or solution, but I get that funny feeling that this would be a non-issue if we brought up our girls and boys the same way. It’s that crazy little thing called equality.


One idea that has truly clung itself to my brains and sunk in its tentacles was Webb’s comparison between how girls and boys deal with academic success. When girls come top of the class, they tend to be proud of how all their hard work has paid off. Boys on the other hand are likely to lay low; trying to keep the whole affair quiet. A girl might gladly wield the fact that she studied hard for weeks. A boy might shrug of the incident with “it was a total fluke, I just crammed the night before.” Why is this? If we are labelling intelligence, diligence and erudition as characteristically feminine, whilst simultaneously lumping all girls and women together as second class citizens, are we devaluing these traits? Is the bigger picture a war on knowledge, self worth and self discipline?

I can just viscerally feel someone piping up with, “but not all boys!” Yes, yes, I know. We KNOW. #notallmen. Sound familiar? If you’re a man and you don’t recognise yourself (or say, perhaps, your son) in the behaviour described then I am very happy for you. Keep on keepin’ on. Let’s not derail the important conversation. No one was making any claims about “all boys” in the first place. I shouldn’t have to say this.


Just as we should do with our girls, we should celebrate our boys for the right reasons. Their well-earned achievements rather than, say, their sporting abilities, their determination when chasing girls, or their partaking in occasionally cleaning the toilet should always take the cake. Our enthusiasm to learn rather than our indifference to it should be paramount. Let’s start with making reading cool again.


Featured image by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

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