When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity

When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity

When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity

When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity


Based on a two-year study that followed boys from pre-kindergarten through first grade, When Boys Become Boys offers a new way of thinking about boys' development. Through focusing on a critical moment of transition in boys' lives, Judy Y. Chu reveals boys' early ability to be emotionally perceptive, articulate, and responsive in their relationships, and how these "feminine" qualities become less apparent as boys learn to prove that they are boys primarily by showing that they are not girls.

Chu finds that behaviors typically viewed as "natural" for boys reflect an adaptation to cultures that require boys to be stoic, competitive, and aggressive if they are to be accepted as "real boys." Yet even as boys begin to reap the social benefits of aligning with norms of masculine behavior, they pay a psychological and relational price for renouncing parts of their humanity.

Chu documents boys' perceptions of the obstacles they face and the pressures they feel to conform, showing that compliance with rules of masculinity is neither automatic nor inevitable. This accessible and engaging book provides insight into ways in which adults can foster boys' healthy resistance and help them to access a broader range of options as they seek to connect with others while remaining true to themselves.



In the epilogue to Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Man, the psychoanalyst Donald Moss tells the following story. When he was in first grade, they learned a new song every week and were told that at the end of the year, they would each have a chance to lead the class in singing their favorite, which they were to keep a secret. For Moss, the choice was clear: “The only song I loved was the lullaby ‘When at night I go to sleep, thirteen angels watch do keep …’ from Hansel and Gretel.” Every night he would sing it to himself, and as the song said, the angels came, saving him from his night terror and enabling him to fall asleep. It “was, and would always be, the most beautiful song I had ever heard.”

The first-graders had learned the song in early autumn and in late spring when Moss’s turn came, he stood at the front of the class. The teacher asked what song he had chosen. Moss remembers,

I began to tell her, “It’s the lullaby …” But immediately, out of the corner
of my eye, I saw the reaction of the boys in the front row. Their faces were
lighting up in shock… I knew, knew in a way that was immediate, clear
and certain, that what I was about to do, the song I was about to choose,
the declaration that I was about to make, represented an enormous, irre
vocable error … What the boys were teaching me was that I was to know
now, and to always have known, that “When at night I go to sleep” could
not be my favorite song, that a lullaby had no place here, that something
else was called for. In a flash, in an act of gratitude, not to my angels but
to my boys, I changed my selection. I smiled at the teacher, told her I was
just kidding, told her I would now lead the class in singing the “Marines’
Hymn”: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shore of Tripoli…”

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