Breaking the Stereotype That Reading isn’t Manly

Nicolas Gremion asserts that if we could make the culinary arts cool for men, then we can make reading cool, too.

You’ve just bought a new entertainment center. It’s going to require a bit of assembly, and though you’re ashamed to admit it, you suck with tools. Your lovely wife, however, reminds you that a set of instructions has been crammed into the package for you to follow. And what was the first thing you did when you opened that purchase?

Tossed the darn instructions.

We live in a society today where men figure things out for themselves, where men don’t need instructions, book clubs, or textbooks. It’s all for the same reason we don’t need directions when driving: We’re able to figure out the answers ourselves.

Today, “real men” are focused on life’s necessities: sports, beer, barbecues, and women. But while we men are plopped down on the couch, Budweiser in hand, watching the last quarter of the football game, women are busy filling universities and top job postings.

Reading has, unfortunately, been deemed unmanly in the public perception. Picture your average macho lumberjack. I’m guessing the setting didn’t include lounging on a picnic blanket, curled up with “50 Shades of Grey.”

Even worse, this has led to the idea that men don’t read, so publishers and editors tend to ignore the sex, leading to a lack of titles that specifically target the male reader.

Guys, let’s set down the remote and pick up a book. Don’t worry, though — there’s no need to set down the beer.

The Root of the Problem

The cycle starts when we’re kids. Every class has its cool kids — the guys who succeed in sports and the like — and its nerds, the ones who read.

Charles J. Sykes once said, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” And though all of us envy the level of success famous “nerds” (i.e., Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein) have enjoyed, this type of individual wasn’t our hero when we were younger. Rather, younger boys’ heroes are athletes, rap stars, and daredevils — in other words, the type of guys who would tell you that reading is for “suckas.”

Now that I’ve grown up, I read much, much more for pleasure than I did as a kid. I’m not embarrassed to pick up a book at the beach, but I’m still not going to call my buddy and ask if he can lend me the latest bestseller. Case in point: Guys don’t talk books.

The Next Step

Although the stereotypes concerning men and reading have been in place for quite some time (I don’t think it was any cooler for a guy to read when my folks were growing up than it is now), there’s still hope.

Here are a few ways we can move past these stereotypes and change the image of reading:

We need some reading “heroes.” Cooking was not manly, either. It was the domain of the “housewife.” Then, people like Guy Fieri came along. Tatted up and driving a muscle car, Fieri is a “cool” chef. We need some manly authors or avid readers — guys who read math textbooks and drive racecars at the same time.

Dads should use their influence. It’s your turn to step up to the plate, dads. My dad probably reads at least half a dozen books each month. He’s a reading machine. At the same time, he loves beer and plays contact hockey on a weekly basis. To me, he’s about as manly as you can get. Consequently, I never considered reading to be unmanly.

Assigned reading needs to be more inclusive. How about assigning books to kids in school that guys would actually enjoy reading? I would have been much more inclined to read the boxer’s story “The Professional” than “Wuthering Heights.” Studies have shown male readers are more interested in non-fiction (only 20 percent of the fiction market is made up of men), so find stories that will instill a love of the activity early on.

Get into publishing. The Digital Revolution has made the world of publishing much more accessible to all, kids included. Websites can guide people through the writing process and compile their completed work into a cohesive eBook. While it’s highly unlikely that kids will land big publishing contracts, there’s no denying that it’s pretty cool for them to be published authors.

Smartphone apps could make reading competitive. We’ve got apps that track our steps, our calories, and how much water we drink. Why isn’t there one that tracks how much we read? Or how fast we read? Or how much we can retain?

Incorporate gadgets. Reading instantly becomes exponentially cooler when it’s done on an iPad or some other gadget. As mobile devices find their way into more and more children’s hands, they present more opportunities to read. And hey, if another kid asks your kid what he’s doing on his iPad, he can pretend he’s checking sports scores.

Nothing Is Impossible!

If we could make the culinary arts cool, then we can make reading cool, too.

The solution lies with our youth. Once reading is established as nerdy in childhood, it’s a very difficult perception to change — but it’s not impossible. By incorporating some of the ideas I outlined above, we can one day live in a society where it’s not only cool to debate the merits of different beer brands, but where it’s even cooler to discuss the books we’ve read.

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