How Not To Be A Boy – Robert Webb

34661984Webb, speaking at his book promo event at the Ulster Museum last month, admitted that he didn’t consider himself anywhere near famous enough to simply write a book about his life and expect people to buy it. He was probably right; what drew me to the book was his decision to address what ‘masculinity’ is –how boys and men are supposed to behave- and the damage that this causes.

The book is funny. Laugh out loud funny at times, but there is substance beneath his detailed recall of growing up in the seventies and eighties. Webb recognised early on that he was different, he didn’t seem to have the same interests as most of the boys around him, or enjoy the same sports, or make the same amount of racket, preferring instead to create his own worlds, often populated by imaginary friends.

The energy of this theme was beginning to run low by the middle of the book, before it moved into documenting a period of time commencing with a sudden loss in Webb’s immediate family. This was a deeply moving episode, both in terms of his loss, and Webb’s take on coming to terms with it ‘as a man should.’

The narrative lightens as Webb’s ability to write and perform comedy is honed at Cambridge, and then beyond, but he maintains his theme right to the end and how being masculine or feminine has affected his marriage and approach to parenting. For someone like me who has seen these issues at play both personally, at home and in the classroom, it’s an enjoyable and refreshing book to read, with plenty of moments where Webb managed to capture succinctly stray thoughts that had been drifting around my head. I’ll leave you with an extract from the book’s closing:

“Men will struggle to treat women as equals if we haven’t learned to look after ourselves; to recognise our feelings and take responsibility for our actions. We should remember what we knew all along: that we are allowed to be fully human, fully compassionate, fully alive in the moment and fully committed to friendship and love. Self-respect and kindness to others: that’s it. That’s how we restore freedom to the galaxy…”