Raising Boys Who Respect Girls
Upending Locker Room Mentality, Blind Spots, and Unintended Sexism
By Dave Willis
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
Dave Willis is a brave soul. He is willing to take on (and push back against) the sexualized culture in which his four boys are being raised; and he is writing a book about how to do it successfully before he knows whether his strategies will work!
Willis is a long-time friend of mine, and I am glad to review his book. He is an articulate, informed, and winsome advocate of Christian virtues that shape healthy marriages and flourishing families. He is in the middle of all that now, with four boys under the age of 14—which means he has a lot of stormy sea to navigate before he is able to say to his equally attractive and influential wife Ashley, “We did it!”
The White Evangelical world is where Willis and Willis circulate and for whom they wrote this book. Of the 17 persons whose endorsements adorn the first pages of this book, I know exactly none (and, of course, I am sure none of them know me!). And this primary audience prevents him from placing his crusade against sexism in the wider landscape that it demands: equality, opportunity, employment, compensation, even ordination. It is exceedingly hard to advocate for the dignity of women and limit the scope to just social and sexual relationships.
But certainly this is true: teaching your boys to treat girls and women with respect and not reduce them to sexual objects is one urgently needed task for parents today. And I applaud the Willis tandem for their efforts with their boys and for this effort for the parents of boys everywhere. This would have helped me thirty years ago when I was raising my two boys and one girl.
Willis does not hesitate to address a host of practical issues, including pornography (especially accessed through cell phones), masculinity, masturbation, and sexual discovery and development. He pushes back against the type of he-man strutting often associated with locker room culture; in its place he offers a definition of manhood that focuses on courage, responsibility, hard work, self-discipline, respect for others, integrity in all things, and, of course, trust in God.
Not only parents but also youth group leaders will find this book helpful, perhaps most importantly, to incite conversation between parents and their children or among boys and girls in a church or club setting. Scattered throughout the book are quotes from adults and kids about these sexual issues; and in some places, they are the most powerful and pertinent element of the book.
In his chapter on pornography, Willis buttressed his case with the type of data that is increasingly available through social science research—but not so much elsewhere: when he discusses masturbation, for example, he offers no research on its causes and effects. He does discuss his own experience, however, intending that as a powerful antidote; but I suspect it functions exactly opposite of what he intends: if his own habit did not prevent him from become the healthy and holy adult he seems to be, how are we to realistically assess the impact of this practice and how are we to address it with our own growing boys (if at all)?
But here again, Willis is trapped in his own religious world. His vision of healthy sexuality is: virgin boy meets virgin girl, marry for life, and raise boys and girls to start the cycle again. But we know this is not the real world for which the four Willis boys are being formed. It is highly likely that the parents who will read this book will be called upon to help their children face their homosexuality, suffer through one or more destructive marriages and/or divorces, or live uncoupled/unmarried for some or all of life. Nothing in the book—or in its wider understanding of human sexuality—helps parents navigate these turbulent waters; and all the research and all our experience demonstrates that these are the sexual seas some of our boys will sail.
I end my review of this well-written treatise by commending Willis for the end-of-book (chapter nine), age-appropriate suggestions for how to develop and maintain conversation with your children. So many of his ideas are right on target, especially his encouragement for families to establish attractive “rites of passage” as children age. His own version of that is found on pages 77-78 and will serve, I hope, as wonderful incentive for parents to design these very special experiences for and with their children.
God bless Dave and Ashley Willis. God bless the four boys growing up in their home. God bless all the people who will read and put into practice the things Willis describes and advocates. The world will be a better place, indeed!
Read other book reviews at themeetinghouse.net/books