“Boys are emotionally illiterate and don’t want intimate friendships.” In this empirically grounded challenge to our stereotypes about boys and men, Niobe Way reveals the intense intimacy among teenage boys especially during early and middle adolescence. Boys not only share their deepest secrets and feelings with their closest male friends, they claim that without them they would go “wacko.” Yet as boys become men, they become distrustful, lose these friendships, and feel isolated and alone.
Drawing from hundreds of interviews conducted throughout adolescence with black, Latino, white, and Asian American boys, Deep Secrets reveals the ways in which we have been telling ourselves a false story about boys, friendships, and human nature. Boys’ descriptions of their male friendships sound more like “something out of Love Story than Lord of the Flies.” Yet in late adolescence, boys feel they have to “man up” by becoming stoic and independent. Vulnerable emotions and intimate friendships are for girls and gay men. “No homo” becomes their mantra.
These findings are alarming, given what we know about links between friendships and health, and even longevity. Rather than a “boy crisis,” Way argues that boys are experiencing a “crisis of connection” because they live in a culture where human needs and capacities are given a sex (female) and a sexuality (gay), and thus discouraged for those who are neither. Way argues that the solution lies with exposing the inaccuracies of our gender stereotypes and fostering these critical relationships and fundamental human skills.
[Deep Secrets] offers a surprising glimpse into the hearts of American boys, revealing a group of lonely young men who crave acceptance and belonging and deeply miss the friendships of their childhood...Compulsively readable...Way recounts the hundreds of interviews her team conducted in American high schools. The voices present are heartbreakingly authentic in revealing a pattern, a gradual drift away from "emotionally intimate same-sex friendships" with other boys and toward a destructive stereotype of manliness that perpetuate the false notion that "boys are only interested in one thing."
The stories that Way and her research team have persuaded boys to tell are a welcome corrective to the stereotyping of males as essentially unfeeling and/or incapable of communicating their feelings, which has been such a striking (and offensive) feature of recent discourse on gender differences. Way deserves our gratitude for bringing to the surface what seems lately to have become the deepest secret of all: that the needs, desires and feelings of boys and girls, or men and women, are at bottom far more similar than different.
Way's book should provide encouragement to parents wondering whether they are setting their children, especially their sons, up for abuse by encouraging closeness and defiance of gender stereotypes, particularly those concerning close same-sex friends. Way asserts that the need and ability for connection is as keen in boys as it is in girls, and she backs up her assertion with plenty of data and close reading of the literature. Connection is not something one needs to teach, as the author so eloquently demonstrates; it is something one needs to foster. The text is beautifully written, and the boys' stories are interspersed with explanations and discussion substantiated by the literature. A truly approachable piece of work for a wide audience.
Deep Secrets tells a story of American teenagers in baggy jeans and T-shirts, with a basketball under the arm, expressing extraordinary sensitivity and tenderness about their same-sex friends, and expecting the same in return. The disappearance of this gentle world, it seems, scars them for life, and appears to do extensive damage to the culture at large... In short, this is an extremely important book, a revelation in a way, and one of the most absorbing academic publications I've ever had the privilege of reading.
In Way's groundbreaking Deep Secrets, boys who have long been obscured by cultural myths come alive and let us all in on their most promising, most human dimensions. This is a book that should start educators and parents rethinking how we support our sons' lives.
The book that changes the discussion about boys. Let the secret out!
Deep Secrets is a much needed and insightful book. Niobe Way rescues us from the simplistic view that 'boys will be boys' to reveal the depth of boys' emotional lives. From her careful and extensive research over two decades comes a compelling and memorable portrait of real boys' lives.
Way's moving analysis of the intimate lives of boys challenges the reader to reconsider many of the widely held assumptions about what it means to grow up male in America today. By sharing their stories of loss, their fears of rejection, their hopes and dreams of connection, Way introduces us to the world of adolescent males so that we can see them as they are and not as we may have imagined.
- Harvard University Press
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