Boys and the Stories They Tell

One of Renae’s friends recently gave her a copy of It’s a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons, a collection of essays by women on the topic of raising and dealing with boys. I’ve been slowly making my way through it, and I’m enjoying it so far.

I’ll admit, I especially chuckle at the stories in which the more ardently feminist writers, who often have very clear ideas on gender roles and politics before they have a boy, find themselves confounded and even disturbed by their sons and their aggressive and oftentimes violent sense of play, the preoccupation with guns, sports, and fart jokes, etc.

But so far, my favorite story has been “You’ve Got Male!” by Jody Mace. In this excerpt, she details the very different storytelling tendencies of boys and girls:

I did a writing project with the kids, in which they dictated stories for me to write down and then illustrated them.

This was a typical story from a girl:

“The little star was high up in the sky. At dark the little star was happy and he made friends. Then they played. The little star was having fun. They played tag. The little star had lots of friends. Then all of his friends and the little star went to school. They ate marshmallows.”

Whereas the boys’ stories generally were like this one:

“The monster tore down their house. And then tore down their head. And then the monster was sleeping in the bed. And then he broke the fountain. And then he cut off their legs. And then the monster bumped into a skeleton and he threw the skeleton out the door. And then he cut off their eyes. And the skeleton punched off their heads. They punched their arms off and bited their arms off. And then somebody else moved in. And then the skeleton tore down the other house. And then bited off their ears. Then they punched their mouth off. Then they punched their neck off. Then the monster stepped on the guy and shmushed him. And then a strong wrestler came. And then he threw the monster out the door and he went outside and he shmushed him and punched his head. The End.”

It was all blood and guts, monsters, death, and destruction. And they were four! I didn’t know how to react to such aggressive images in their writing and artwork. The strangest thing to me was that their parents were uniformly delighted with their young sons’ creations. I didn’t get it.

I laugh, because I wrote my fair share of stories like that when I was a kid. I drew pictures of fighter jets armed to the teeth with bombs and missiles; I loved watching nature films in which the mean ol’ lion, shark, or wolf mercilessly stalked and killed its cute, defenseless prey; and I spent all of my time at recess running around as a G.I. Joe, a Transformer, or whatever other super-destructive killing machine I’d seen the previous Saturday morning.

And so, I can’t wait to walk into school and see Simon’s creative writing projects, to see his drawings all full of skeletons, big wrestlers, shmushed monsters, and folks without arms and eyes — regardless of how aghast his teacher or the other parents might be. I know he’s following a fine legacy.