How Not to be a Boy by Robert Webb
Opening sentence: “‘If I get this right, Tess Rampling will definitely want to have sex with me.'”
Not that I’m usually too swayed by gushing book cover quotes, but when said quote is from J.K Rowling (‘I (genuinely) cried. I (genuinely) laughed out loud. Profound, touching, personal yet universal… I loved it’), it’s more than a little enticing. I know actor and comedian Robert Webb for playing Jeremy Usborne in the brilliant Peep Show, but as much as I love the show, I wouldn’t normally be that fussed about reading his biography. However, this is a bio with a difference.
Webb has looked back over his life and identified that ridiculous gender stereotypes men and women are – from birth – almost conditioned to adhere to, have been detrimental to him in so many ways. He spent much of his youth feeling that he didn’t fit into the typical male stereotype, then sometimes tried to fit in with it and didn’t like that version of himself either. So, in this book, he not only points out how damaging the whole concept of masculinity actually is, but shares how he’s doing something about it: ‘Reimagining masculinity is worth doing for its own sake, but in my case I know Ezzie and Dory (his daughters) are watching me.’
Each chapter title is one of the ‘rules’ boys and men unwittingly follow: Boys Are Brave, Boys Don’t Cry – he takes the stereotype and tells his story by showing how he didn’t fit into this mould of masculinity. He discusses his complex relationship with his dad, how he copes (or doesn’t really cope) with his mother’s death as a teenager, his sheer tenacity to get himself into Cambridge University, his bisexual past and he is very open about his failings (which he’s working on) as a husband and father.
As a mum of two small boys, How Not to be a Boy has definitely made me think about all these ridiculous ‘rules’ that society might assume them to play by just because they are boys (the same, of course, applies to girls.) Robert Webb is already educating his young children on this, ‘The Trick’ is the family code-word for the incoming tide of gender bullshit that Ezzie, Dory and their friends (including the boys) will spend their lives wading through.’ It’s a great take away from the book – let’s teach our kids to ignore gender stereotypes, be who they want to be and not feel they have to act a certain way just because they happened to be born a girl or a boy.
How Not to be a Boy is a hilarious, super enjoyable read that effortlessly tells Robert’s story while eloquently making an important point about masculinity and gender roles, it’s a truly brilliant memoir, pop it on your TBR list!