Adventure for all

The Dangerous Book for Boys, now on British, Australian and U.S. bestseller lists, revives the idea that only boys are adventurous, while girls are sissies, complains Cathy Young in Reason.

Many see it as a welcome antidote not only to the narrow and sedentary interests of the digital age but to the safety-obsessed, anti-competitive mindset of “politically correct” schooling and to feminist scorn for all things male.

The book is winning praise for its assumption that boys will be boys and girls will be different, Young writes. There’s been little feminist backlash, despite the implication that girls are the weaker sex.

In one grating passage, boys are encouraged to carry a handkerchief, among other things, for “offering one to a girl when she cries.” Boys are reminded not to make a girl feel stupid if she needs help, but nothing is said about the possibility of accepting help from a girl, or losing gracefully if bested by a girl at some “boy” activity.

Young worries that The Dangerous Book for Boys is “being treated as a restoration of old-fashioned wisdom about boys and girls.”

The “free to be you and me” message of 1970s feminism was often naïve in its assumption that all differences between the sexes were the result of social conditioning. But it also had a liberating message of celebrating individuality.

HarperCollins will publish The Daring Book for Girls in November.

I just read the first three Fairy Chronicles books, which are written for young girls. They imagine that ordinary girls discover they’re fairies who must rescue the feather of hope, restore the web of dreams, etc. The stories are very girly while including some mild adventure. I wish the girls were different from the norm, insecure and lonely and then learned they were special. There’s more zing to it that way. And surely a girl’s relationship to her friends and rivals changes when she learns how to fly.

Update: A British father writes about how hard it is to sit back and let his son and friend use The Dangerous Book on their own.

When they began stripping the bark off with a big, shiny, sharp-bladed Swiss Army knife, I had to dig down deep in order to ignore the parental risk-ometer readings that were going off the scale, accompanied by vivid flash-forwards of the inevitable long, bloodstained-bandaged hours ahead in casualty

It’s even harder when the boys ignore their father’s help to build their own imperfect catapult.

About Joanne


  1. BadaBing says:

    A culture that has specific gender roles will still be going long after the gender-confused culture has bit the dust.

  2. In quite a few species the male, particularly the young male, is expendable. We get used to explore new places, duke it out with the neighbors, do the more dangerous hunting and various other, risky enterprises which unaccountably seem attractive when you’re nineteen but lose their luster if you survive.

    If you’re supposed to “go where no man has gone before” its best to have a sense of personal indestructibility. Jane Goodall would understand.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Viva la difference.

  4. Nels Nelson says:

    I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t cite specific examples, but the (very short) chapter on girls is clearly supposed to be humorous.

    What Young briefly mentions was actually my first reaction to reading the book, its implication that to be a true boy one must be interested in compasses, guns, and saws.

  5. Concerning gender: There are really two points being made by the book and by the many articles and posts I’ve read about it, and they’re not necessarily conntected. The first is that all children need more freedom and adventure, less supervision, more chances to be bored and make their own fun, etc. And my experience as a young girl (plus that of the many other young girls in my family and neighborhood) bears that out. Long days exploring the woods (in mixed-gender groups), long bike rides when we simply had to be home by dinner, pick-up baseball games that involved both genders and all ages from 6 to 18, and on and on. The second is that boys have a greater propensity to create fun that involves weapons, fighting, conquest, etc. I don’t see any conflict between these two ideas — they’re both clearly true.