Manliness: The next generation

A British books teaches boys how to do fun bad stuff. So what are we girls, chopped liver?


Rebecca Traister
June 20, 2006 7:25PM (UTC)

We all surely remember that little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails and that girls are made of sugar and spice, right? Apparently, U.K. publishers are still buying this line, and have published what sounds like a super-fun celebration of bad and often frowned-upon stuff to do if you'd rather not play XBox all day -- but it's just for boys!

The book, evocatively titled "The Dangerous Book for Boys" -- come on, it already sounds like the kind of fun that's destined to make American parents quake in their campers -- has become a surprise summer sensation, and as of Monday was sitting pretty at No. 1 on Amazon.co.uk. Published by HarperCollins in the U.K. and sadly not out in the U.S. yet, "The Dangerous Book" is an olde-fashioned-y manual on how to do things like make and shoot bows and arrows, decipher enemy code, build a pinhole camera, juggle, train your dog to do tricks, skip stones and create catapults from sticks and old bicycle tires. Awesome. It also includes some light sports and military history, along with chapters called "Dinosaurs," "Spies," "Astronomy," "The Golden Age of Piracy," "Secret Inks," "Making a Periscope" and "Artillery."

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Another chapter heading is "Girls," and according to the multitudinous British media reports about the book, the word on the female species goes like this: "Treat girls with respect ... Remember that they are as nervous around you as you are around them ... They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long rugby locker room." Whoa, little men. That respect stuff is fine advice, but unless things have radically changed since my own dangerous backyard days, I wouldn't recommend swallowing that whole chapter as gospel. "They're as scared of you as you are of them" is wisdom best applied to backyard amphibians, and while, yes, girls may in fact act rather differently than boys in some regards, boys should not be taken by surprise when those differences fail to kick in during the manufacture and deployment of bows and arrows.

I can just about guarantee that I am not the only female member of the Broadsheet community who could tell you how to whittle an arrow with a penknife and stretch string between the notches in a bendy piece of wood to make what is perhaps not the deadliest piece of weaponry on the block, but that works just fine, thank you very much. Most every girl I knew played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians, soccer and kickball, and knew her way around a compass. And let's just do away with the "tomboy" classification. None of my childhood friends engaged in full-time Scout Finch-y boycotts of traditional femininity, at least not until the Seventeen-bots came to outfit us with small useless purses to carry around the junior high. No, many girls were active combatants in acorn wars while also fitting in some ballet classes. Me, I kept a pristine dollhouse and read a lot of Madeline L'Engle. But I was also a champion stone skipper, had perpetually skinned elbows and knees, and pored over the story of John F. Kennedy's adventures after the 1943 sinking of his PT-109 boat. (Thank you, Landmark books.)

So all this is to suggest simply that when and if HarperCollins gets around to publishing "The Dangerous Book for Boys" here in the U.S. -- and I hope it does -- maybe it'll consider stamping a new name on it. I don't need "The Dangerous Book for Girls," or "for Young Women" or even the neutered "for Kids." But boy oh boy (so to speak), I would love to get my mitts on "The Dangerous Book for Boys and Girls."


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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