A hilarious and touching look at the impact of masculine stereotypes on boys.

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I want to start this book review with absolute honesty.

I love Robert Webb.

I’ve been in love with Robert Webb for some time. I adore all his offerings, from That Mitchell and Webb Look to Peep Show (and who can forget that flashdance dance??), and would rate him as one of my favourite comedians.

I was, therefore, very excited and very ready to love Robert’s offering How not to be a Boy.

I want to assure you though that my feelings for Robert have in no way influenced my review, and I will present as truthful and balanced a review of How not to be a Boy as possible.

Ok, disclaimer over. Let’s get stuck in!

What is How not to be a Boy about?

How not to be a Boy is essentially an autobiography focusing on the childhood and early adult years of Robert Webb. The focus is on the family dynamics and the educational experiences he had at school and university, but the book is much more than a simple chronological replay of Robert’s life.

Each chapter is designed to highlight a particular aspect of masculine culture and subsequently break it down, by simultaneously showing the impact it has on a sensitive boy who fails to live up to the perceived ideals of ‘what a real man’ does and the wider impact on society of expecting, and even encouraging, certain behaviour from boys/men.

The book also helps to highlight the impact that schooling can have on a young person’s development. Robert grew up at a time of 11+ exams and was able to go to the local grammar school (unlike his two older brothers). The differing experiences and expectations provided by the two-tier schooling system throws up some crucial questions about how we should educate children.

The highly irreverent look at Cambridge university also makes for interesting reading. Lifting the curtain that hangs in front of this institution, Robert shows how ‘who you know’ as opposed to ‘what you know’ is still a driving force of the British establishment.

Highlights of How not to be a Boy

I very rarely read books that make me laugh out loud-but this is one of them! Conversely, the book also made me cry in places. Robert has a genuine talent for translating real-life emotions onto the page. He is incredibly open about his experiences and his emotional states throughout the various stages of his life.

He is also not shy about critiquing the rigid stereotypes imposed upon both boys and girls as they are growing up. There is a insightful interpretation of these cultural expectations, which, if I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting from a male writer.

The book does not lament the state of masculinity in the modern day or present a self-indulgent ‘men have it so hard’ perspective of the world. Instead, it looks at masculine stereotypes through the eyes of a boy (and man) who can clearly see all the flaws inherent in the system but feels powerless to change them.

Why should a teacher read How not to be a Boy?

This book shines a light on the way we treat boys and girls differently in our society. We might think we have come a long way, but in reality there are still some very fixed expectations of how boys and girls are supposed to act and what counts as acceptable behaviour for boys and girls.

Boys don’t cry, boys aren’t sensitive, boys don’t like school, boys only fancy girls etc.

Confronting these damaging stereotypes head on, and through the eyes of a man who has experienced them, illustrates exactly the sort of damage they can do, not only for men but also for women.

Educators should be at the forefront of breaking down gender stereotypes. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be a man (or a woman) and there is no such thing as ‘boy behaviour’ and ‘girl behaviour’. By creating a space where both boys and girls can be free to be themselves, and not feel they have to limit themselves to a narrow set of gender stereotypes, we can help to create a society where men are no longer judged on a set of regressive, masculine expectations.

The best part of How not to be a Boy

Robert’s Zorro costume (Rob, if you read this-I personally loved the yellow elastic).

Where can I buy How not to be a Boy?

Most good bookshops and of course Amazon.


I hope you enjoyed this brief look at How not to be a Boy. Be sure to leave your thoughts on the book in the comments below and remember to share this post to help other people!

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