Author Spotlight: 'Packaging Boyhood' By Mark Tappan, Lyn Brown & Sharon Lamb

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.  From the Packaging Boyhood website:

Boys are besieged by images and messages from marketers and the media that encourage slacking over studying; competition over teamwork; power over empowerment; and being cool over being oneself. In Packaging Boyhood, we scrutinize cartoons, videogames, movies, and more for stereotypes that marketers and the media sell boys about what it means to be a boy. We also offer advice to parents about how to talk with their sons about these troubling images, and provide parents with tools to help their sons resist these messages and have more choice about how to live their lives.

By reinforcing this vote for empowerment with the survey responses of 600 boys from across the country, Mark, Lyn and Sharon send a clear message to marketers and parents alike that the time has come to challenge and rectify the mold for boys.

Packaging Boyhood is out in bookstores now, but we’re giving away free copies to the first three commenters who share a fictional male role model they admire and why.

Packaging BoyhoodYP: 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.

YP: What makes these messages harmful to boys, girls and our culture on the whole?

PB: The over-top-destruction, violence, aggression (look at what Nerf has become!) gives a message to boys that masculinity and violence are closely connected. The slacker image gives boys a way out of feeling inferior or of working hard to achieve. A big part of masculinity too, is seeing girls as sex objects, desiring the hot girl—we see that even in animated movies and TV for young boys. What’s equally harmful is what’s missing—a range of emotions, genuine, equal relationships with girls, self-reflection, vulnerability. Those qualities and emotions in media get boys teased or called gay.

YP: We hear about the “boy crisis” a lot when it comes to reading. How would you describe the situation in the wake of “Harry Potter’ and what message would you want to send to publishers?

PB: If Harry Potter told us anything, it’s that boys do read and they read long books with complex storylines if the books interest them. Harry Potter’s great—it doesn’t play into what boys are “supposed to like.” They’re supposed to like farts, burps, yucky things, explosions, violence, and action action action. We’d like publishers to have more faith in boys, to give them storylines that include their vulnerability and fear as human emotions and not reasons to be bullied, to include more older mentors and close friendships with girls, include more lead characters of various ethnicities, to highlight that some boys like school, that some boys are artists and singers and like to please people and like cats as well as dogs and love their moms and dads… we can go on and on.

YP: Are there any steps parents can take to help their sons combat the barrage of media reinforcing the aggressive or disinterested male model? Is there something that can be done in the classroom?

PB: Again, you need to separate these two a bit… the disinterested/slacker male is a different character… still damaging. And we tell parents to co-view, listen, talk and help their kids be critics of what they hear watch and do. Teach them media strategies and remind them what’s unique about them that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. Parents should also actively remind them what’s unique about them that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. Parents should also actively look for nonstereotypical media options—they’re out there but not always the ones promoted incessantly.

YP: Who should read Packaging Boyhood?

PB: Parents of boys and girls, publishers, teachers, guidance counselors, therapists, screenplay writers, TV producers… Hey, we had a really nice talk with one of the writers of “The Simpsons” who also wrote “The Fantastic Four: The Legend of the Silver Surfer.” It would be great if we could have more conversations like this (unfortunately the writer of “Iron Man,” who lives a couple of miles from Sharon, didn’t return her call.. and he has two sons!!!)

For more coverage of the tween space, check out the Ypulse Tweens Channel.


  1. Angela

    Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.  He is the personificiation of justice and how to pursue it in non-violent ways. Though few (if any) people are that perfect, he’s a wonderful ideal to imagine working toward.

  2. Kathy H

    I asked my teenage son this question, and his instant response was, “Jack Bauer, from 24.” At first I thought this played exactly into the stereotypes the book wants to question, but when we went through the list, it stands up fine. Jack’s true to himself and can be a solo player, but he can also be a team player willing to lay down his life for a friend, co-worker or relative. He’s definitely no slacker. He’s full of power, but he also empowers others, such as Chloe. So I’ll agree with my son: Jack Bauer.

    As a side note, my poor guy is home with a broken leg. I’m trying to distract him from video games and Facebook (ugh, more media), so a little while ago I handed him the book, “Do Hard Things” and said it would be a good time to read it. Hopefully he’ll learn from it!

  3. becca

    Yea, Angela, another Atticus fan! My second would have to be Forest Gump. Overcoming adversity while remaining ever kind, compassionate, friendly and understanding are good traits for anyone!

  4. alaina

    I always admired the eldest brother in the Chronicles of Narnia—Peter.  He kept a levelhead and guided his siblings.  I wish I had a brother like that.  :)

  5. Sara

    I’ve been thinking hard for a positive teen role model. For some reason, the only one that comes to mind is Michael Cera’s character in Superbad. He’s a little wimpy, but he’s not exactly a “lovable loser” either. He’s smart and focused enough to get into an Ivy League school, and he’s respectful of the girl he’s pursuing by carrying around condoms and not taking advantage of her when she’s drunk.

    If Michael Cera’s not positive enough, there’s always the fictional Bill Cosby in the Cosby Show. Funny, smart, respectful and caring, he’s a great dad and husband.

  6. Amy

    Arnold in “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”.  Arnold spends the early part of his life being tormented by his community for not being tough enough - an easy target. When he leaves his reservation to attend school in a nearby town he is still an outcast because he is Native American. Despite being an outcast in both his home and school, Arnold does not give up. Arnold lives through the death of his grandmother, the murder of his father’s best friend, and the tragic death of his sister. He uses his anger about the violence, tragedy, and social injustice surrounding him to motivate himself to keep working toward the better future he wants for himself.

  7. Rosepixie

    Taran from The Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander because we get to see the arc from his childhood dreams of wanting to be a hero to his adult understanding of what that means and him actually becoming one.

  8. Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

    I’m gonna go light and show my age with “MacGuyver” just for fun.

    Resourcefulness as a life skill has come in handy for me…plus for boys action heroes he’s got a laid back vibe, prefers non-violent conflict resolution wherever possible, uses his brain over brawn, and refuses to carry or use a gun.

    I’d love to hear even MORE fictional role models for boys and induce further dialog, so am matching the three copies of Packaging Boyhood over on Shaping Youth where we’re covering the topic every Tuesday through year’s end.

    Here’s last week’s post which Ypulse was kind enough to link to for ‘essentials’ on Packaging Boyhood:

    I should have our PB Tuesday post up later in the aft, as I’ll be springboarding off of THIS one, to further the ‘role model’ dialog you’ve started! Bravo, and thx for supporting the author’s important work :-)

    p.s. Love the Atticus Finch ref, my daughter’s reading it right now as part of her frosh language arts curriculum so it’s VERY top of mind. Good pick!

  9. Angela

    To Amy and Becca—thanks for the Atticus props!

    And to Amy, YES about MacGuyver - such fond memories!  :)

  10. ‘Packaging Boyhood’ « antoniaks

    [...] Spotlight: ‘Packaging Boyhood” By Mark Tappan, Lyn Brown, & Sharon Lamb” (2009) YPulse     March 1, 2011  aksmith11 Categories: print, Professional Readings [...]

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