What About the Boys? ‘Packaging Boyhood’ Authors Respond

packaging boyhoodOct. 12, 2009 Tomorrow Shaping Youth advisors and authors of Packaging Boyhood launch their sequel book to my favorite media literacy teaching tool on the ‘pink think’ stereotypes front, Packaging Girlhood.

For years I’ve been asking the ‘what about the boys’ question in my work, because frankly, boys are getting just as hammered with negative cues about what ‘real men’ should be, as media and marketing define kids before they can define themselves.

Granted, boys haven’t been reduced to being amped up human playing cards in a “Pepsi iPhone app” (24 kinds of women and and how to ‘score’ with them) but they ARE being served the “Amp Up Before You Score” cues that they should be ‘into’ this jolly good fun. See what I’m sayin’?

And just like Pepsi’s “Amp” has objectified women as a marketing opportunity for males on the prowl eager to catch a “cougar,  sorority girl, treehugger, military chick” and a woman labeled “married”  to add a new level of sleaze, BOYS are being trivialized into “players” going after them.

Other narrowcast stereotypes revealed in the pages of Packaging Boyhood include:  Slacker. Thug. Tough-n-Buff. Wild Child. Party Animal. Womanizer. Player. Gangstah. Goofball. Superhero. I think I saw most of these portrayals in this ONE “man cave” digital experience for Klondike ice cream bars!


Just for fun, I sent the Klondike digital man cave to the authors for their take on it from a “Packaging Boyhood” standpoint…

It has all of the usual sitcom humor elements of satire and what it means to be male, and could be a gender case study for my media literacy uses with kids…(one of our Shaping Youth interns, Noelle is leading a peer to peer gender studies high school session, so this one’s a keeper for her, too!)

Sharon Lamb mentioned it’s ‘same ol’ same ol’ in terms of how males are portrayed as wanting to play video games and regress as the wife and kids prevent it…

Lyn Mikel Brown equated it to the man cave and beer ad series they’d explored in their book “that space away from anything feminine but yet a space where the feminine can be obectified,” and added some thoughtful ‘why to buy’ questions that reminded me of my days of creative branding briefs:

“Are men/boys not buying Klondike bars? Is there a similar ad campaign for girls/women? Is this a way of using a little masculine anxiety to target and invite men/boys in, why or why not?” Granted, it’s got some funny, irreverent bits and is brimming with the usual over the top humor. With 55,000 fans on their Facebook page alone, there’s some serious tapping of the ‘male marketing juggernaut.’

Lyn noted the requisite element of ‘gross’ —(or meant to be gross in that masculine spoof-punked-absurd kind of way) sophomoric silliness, for example:

“What would you do for a Klondike?  I’d ride a pedicar naked in NYC, I’d kiss the next girl that comes out of a gym full on the mouth, even tho she’s old and frumpy; I’d dress up as a drag queen, I’d moon passers by, etc. ” –ad infinitum…

You may be thinking so what?

“Twas ever thus,” we all grew up with stereotypes and labels of cliques and tribes, right?

At least BOYS aren’t getting physically and mentally tweaked by media/marketing messages the same way thinspiration’ and dieting ideals and  objectification is trashing girls psyches, right?

Not so fast…

Over the next month or so, Shaping Youth will be doing a weekly chat with the authors talking about what’s different ‘then and now’ with excerpts on different topics from their new book, and how the ‘always on’ surround sound of boys’ media/marketing cues being delivered are impacting them…backed up with some surprising new research and reverb on how it’s all landing on boys. What can boys (and men) do about it? Arm themselves with awareness like a human shield for starters…

We’ll look at current campaigns appealing to boys and men, as well as new products in development like boy kiddie cologne, and other KGOY cues (kids getting older younger) as well as videogames, porn, dating drama, male friendship factor and relational aggression via always on mobile and digital venues.

We’ll also look at the impact on VERY young boys and tweens/teens due to ‘aspirational’ marketing of everything from Axe and Pussycat Dolls to “20 sexist iPhone apps for men” (make that 21 with this one:)

Sharon & Lyn will talk about boy’s vulnerability around sex, sports rises and falls (giving tips on how to talk to a son when their hero lets them down) violence in videogames and how all of the behavioral cues are translating into a trickle down impact of what ‘manhood’ means in today’s media and marketing cultural zeitgeist with everything ‘amped’ to ‘X-treme’…

What are boys learning about gender roles, interactions and how to treat women?

Is it possible to raise a ‘True Child’ in this cultural bombardment? We’ll be exploring these issues once a week through the remainder of the year with the authors…

Next up? Packaging Boyhood offers 5 Tips for Raising Media Savvy Sons, and then we’ll give the Halloween costume hoopla with GIRLS a rest and focus on the BOYS for a change. Stay tuned…Meanwhile, here’s more about the authors, the site, and the book itself!

To give you a snapshot from the authors:

“Boys are besieged by images in the media that encourage slacking over studying, competition over teamwork, power over empowerment, and being cool over being yourself.  From cartoons to videogames and movies, boys are bombarded with stereotypes about what it means to be a boy. Marketers, too, paint a picture of boys and men that is demeaning and alarming, including messages about violence, risk-taking, and perfecting an image of indifference.”

Packaging Boyhood explores how media and marketing target boys as they grow up and how media messages and stereotypes affect boys’ identities, choices, and expectations about what it means to be a boy and a man.

There are five main chapters in the book:

What boys watch; What they wear; What they read; What they hear; and What they do. (ahem, marketers are gonna love this research-AJ)

“Since we want parents to help their sons critique media images and messages, we also offer a final chapter with a good bit of at-home media literacy advice that encourages conversations between you and your son.”


Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., is a Shaping Youth advisory board member, Professor of Education at Colby College, and the author of Girlfighting and Raising Their Voices. She is co-creator of the nonprofit, Hardy Girls Healthy Women.

Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., is also a Shaping Youth advisory board member, distinguished Professor of Mental Health at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Professor of Psychology at Saint Michael’s College, is the author of The Secret Lives of Girls and Sex, Therapy, and Kids. She has a private practice in Vermont where she sees both boys and girls in therapy.

Mark Tappan, Ed.D., Professor of Education at Colby College, writes about boys’ development and education, and conducts workshops for parents and teachers on the impact of media on boys. He is a founding member of the Maine Boys’ Network.

Stay tuned for more…good luck with the Packaging Boyhood Book Launch tomorrow!



  1. I truly enjoyed this post, as I strongly believe that effect media has on young men is a critical topic. While I do not mean to lessen the importance of the impressionability of young women and the negative stereo types being slung at them, you bring up an excellent point that boys are receiving “cues that they should be ‘into’ this jolly good fun” which I think is the much scarier concern. You provide such a wide array of examples of marketing towards men that I was appalled to see just how frequently products construct these negative cues. The most surprising to me was Klondike’s digital man cave. Since when is an ice cream bar a men’s product? No where in the Klondike website is there a pitch for why women should eat Klondikes. When You click on the fish tank in the “man cave” the caption reads, “fish are beautiful and soothing: but you’re really just waiting for them to eat each other.” Not only do I find it impossible to draw the connection of watching fish eat each other to ice cream, this also suggests that men cannot appreciate beauty. What an outrage! It was truly a treat to read what the authors of Packaging Boyhood had to say about the website. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming chats with the authors over this topic.

    Lastly, research shows that boys view more television content than girls at a younger age. Why then do you think media and marketing influence on young boys is so grossly over looked? Why is it that so much attention is directed to the effects on girls? Is it perhaps due to the notion that women are more open to sharing emotions, or are masculinity stereotypes so deeply engrained in our society that they go unnoticed? With in the last century the role of women in the world has drastically changed with the feminist movement, forcing us to critically think about the way women are seen and contribute to society. Sure feminism has forced the discussion of how men ought to treat women in this newly reformed social order, but not many have discussed the negative stereotypes surrounding men because there has not been a large movement challenging these stereotypes. For this reason I am so happy to see books like Packing Boyhood published because they are greatly needed.

  2. Bryn, I couldn’t agree MORE and appreciate your thoughtful commentary…It’s been a big point of differentiation for me, with Shaping Youth, because most of the other nonprofits are ‘girl empowerment’ driven versus looking at ALL sides of the equation in terms of socioemotional impact on kids in general.

    I really think boys are the understudied ‘data set’ here in many more ways too…I tried doing a piece on early access to porn and the impact of objectification on dating relationships and mind/body/healthy sexuality issues and found pretty much squat when it came to research academically other than the great work of Gail Dines…

    I also think the ‘prompts’ and cues from media/mktg. behaviorally for boys are getting more toxic (and statistically this is reflected in the depression/preteen body image issues/identity grappling, never ‘enough’ etc.) so have been waiting for this book to uncover some of the watch worthy elements we should all be aware of…I know Dr. Jenn (Honor the Girl) has interviewed hundreds of boys on her MySpace page (60,000+ teen ‘friends’) which prompted her to write her book about how some of those expectations are landing on teens, as the amazon descriptor says,

    “Guys claim that girls are under-dressed, over-sexed, and untrustworthy. Girls claim that the culture tells them to be girls gone wild. Moms claim that with the media, cell phones, the internet, and an anything goes world who’s to blame that teenage girls look for love in all the wrong places!”…etc.

    She blends a clinical neurophysiological and behaviorism POV w/street smarts/sex talk directly w/kids to find out where their heads are…and it hurts mine just thinking about all the conflicting ‘shoulds’ swirling in their worlds.

    And yes, particularly the fact that BOYS are struggling w/striking a balance btwn perception/reality & stereotypes are flinging about from slovenly sophomoric jerks to predatory er…p..eople. Add in a dash of ‘Twilight’ style obsession/allure/forbidden desire/romance and you’ve got a heckuva mashup mess…without even uncorking the rest of the masculinity/violence baggage.

    In fact, I was ‘tweeting’ w/ @ileducprof tonight on this subject looking for fresh data on the impact of violent media on boys and she sent me this 30 pp pdf from her collegiate access library: “Violent media effects, based on gender, class, household makeup http://bit.ly/14Q88i” Take a peek…

    I think you’ll agree the Packaging Boyhood book is looooong overdue! 🙂 Looking forward to our weekly author chats too, and actually, I’ll be doing a couple of book ‘giveaways’ too, so stay tuned! (I’ll try to post weekly about them on Tuesdays, for planning purposes)

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment here!

    And oh! I almost forgot…re: the Pepsi app? Today it came tumblin’ down! (CNN tried to contact me last week to chat about it evidently, and it got buried in my inbox, oh well…sounds like I’m not the only one sounding off and crying foul on that one!)

    Here’s more from Ad Age about it:
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Josh in a Box: Helpful Advice For Parents of Teens! =-.

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