You can be anything. Be your own man…
When I first read ‘Love Your Body’ by Jessica Saunders, I felt so very grateful to be living in an age where my girls had access to a book like this. This week I have read her latest book ‘Be Your Own Man’ and this time I thought ‘my glory how far we have come and THANK GOODNESS for that’… then I ordered four extra copies for the young men in my life.
All you need to do is be your own boy so that you can become your own man.Jessica Saunders, ‘Be Your Own Man’
Saunders text in ‘Be Your Own Man’ is outstanding – there is quotable quote after quotable quote and the writing is sophisticated, nuanced and accessible all at once. The illustrations by Robbie Cathro have a vintage feel but are also very ‘now’ (how did he do that?!) and I love that this makes the book timeless – this is not a book just for 2020, this is a book for always.
You and your body are together for life, so always treat your body like you would your best friend.Jessica Saunders, ‘Be Your Own Man’
‘Be Your Own Man’ invites us all to put aside our outdated notions of what a ‘boy’ or a ‘man’ should and could be and instead go with the idea that we can all be anything and everything. I’ve read ‘Be Your Own Man’ with Prep – Year Five students at the single sex girls school I work at and had brilliant (and funny!) conversations with my students. This is a book for all…but please gift it to the young men in your life and read it often, leave it on the kitchen table, have grandparents, aunts and uncles read it and then buy more copies as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Thank you Jessica Saunders for this guest post.
Ever since I released my first book, ‘Love Your Body’, the number one question I’ve been asked is ‘when are you writing a book for boys?’. I’ve always wanted to work on a book for boys. I’m a passionate advocate for gender equality and I believe that to create a gender equal world we need to work with all people of all genders and experiences. Both girls and boys are restricted by gender stereotypes. However, their experiences of gender are of course different. Girls whilst often valued for their appearance first and foremost are widely encouraged to be strong and step into the masculine parts of themselves. However, we are far less comfortable with encouraging boys to express the feminine parts of themselves.
‘Be Your Own Man’ is a book for boys and those who identify as a boy. It’s targeted at an age group of 6-12 and encourages boys and men to embrace their vulnerability and put their hand up for help. When I was writing it I’d identified a lack of resources for young boys that not only normalised softer behaviours – such as emotional expression, creativity, asking for help and caring for others but that also celebrated them. When you think about it, the traits that are most important to the wellbeing of humans are classed as ‘feminine’. Love, empathy, connection, creativity, spirituality, vulnerability – all absolutely vital, and all are for some reason associated with girls and women. We do everyone a huge disservice when we see these ‘feminine’ behaviours as only being for women and as a weakness. In ‘Be Your Own Man’ I teach young people about the importance of feeling and releasing emotions. Not only for their wellbeing but for the benefit of others. When we share how we are feeling with others we permit them to do the same. This is how we create safe and supportive environments for all.
It is the rigid male stereotype that restricts, limits, and harms boys. A survey of 1,000 young Australian men aged 18 to 30 conducted by The Men’s Project found that young Australian men who believe in outdated masculine stereotypes such as ‘men don’t show emotions’ were themselves at higher risk of using violence, online bullying, and sexual harassment, engaging in risky drinking and reporting poorer levels of mental health. Redefining the male stereotype not only serves boys and men but the whole community. I do a lot of in-school workshops and when I ask boys about the strategies they use when they are feeling sad or lonely most tell me that they distract themselves until the feeling goes away. This is an unhealthy coping mechanism because feelings never truly go away. Repressed feelings can turn into unexplained bouts of sadness or anger. They can also surface as mental illness later in life.
When I wrote ‘Love Your Body’, I let myself imagine a world where every girl learned to love her body. When I wrote ‘Be Your Own Man’, I dared to dream of a world where every boy was free from the pressure of being a ‘real man’. Two different approaches, for two different experiences, both books tackling what I believed to be holding children back from achieving their full potential. I wonder, could you imagine a world free from toxic masculinity? How would the men around you be different? I imagine they would be happier, kinder, and softer. I feel that a lot of the negative behaviours that men exhibit are actually cries for help or projections of a troubled inner world. Feelings when we don’t respect them, when we don’t embrace them and when we don’t share them build inside of us until the weight of them becomes unbearable. I hope my next book ‘Be Your Own Man’ helps boys and men to share their emotions and embrace who they truly are. Because a world where everyone feels safe and free to be themselves is a better world for all.
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