The Literary Horizon: Deep Secrets

Deep Secrets by Niobe Way

“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.

via the publisher’s website

My nephew is still a baby, but I have to admit, I’m worried for my little wolfboy. As a woman who managed to internalize some very damaging femmephobia as a kid that took me ages to get over, I can only imagine what it’s like for boys in American society. As a feminist and an aunt, then, I’m very keen to pass feminism onto my nephew, hence my desire to read Deep Secrets before he’s walking around, let alone talking.

Maya at Feministing found it enlightening, especially appreciating how Way includes traditionally marginalized groups. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review. Bradley Winterton at the Taipei Times thoroughly enjoyed it, pointing out how Way compares modern American male friendships to male friendships in Asia, Africa, and even the past. Deborah Cameron at Times Higher Education may disagree with Way on some points, but finds the book very necessary.

Deep Secrets was published on March 15, 2011.

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