Why don’t more men write children’s book reviews?
Apparently I am one of a tiny minority. Only 2% of my fellow reviewers on Toppsta are men. It’s like having green eyes or a double jointed shoulder blade. We might need to be put on an endangered list.
Actually I’m pretty happy about it. Middle aged men are generally desperate for some small cache in our otherwise identikit lives. It turns out I’ve got one. I’m saved from the ignominy of having not one single interesting thing to say in response to the question ‘So what do you do?’ nervously delivered by someone whose face betrays that they are bracing themselves for the answer ‘I’m an accountant’. As that particular response happens to be true for me I am very much looking forward to now saying ‘Actually I write children’s book reviews which given I am a man makes me one of the more unusual people on the planet’.
But anyway that is not the point, Georgina, Toppsta’s founder wants me to explain why. Why do so few of us log on and post? Are we all illiterate? Do we not care about our children? Or are we just too busy guzzling beer and watching Match of the Day?
Obviously it would be preferable to answer this question having done a post doctorate thesis incorporating rigorous research methodologies, but since I went to university I am trained in never letting a lack of knowledge get in the way of a strongly held opinion. So here goes!
My first theory is that there is fundamental difference in the psychology of being a father and that of being a mother. I need to tread very carefully here. If I put a foot wrong I could end up with a horde of enraged mothers on my tail and that is a very scary prospect indeed.
For whatever reason women have been assigned this role of main carer for our children. In fact it may be that the father is the main carer but no matter - there is a deep cultural bias that we presume it is the mother. I’m sure that works well for some mothers and is highly irritating to others, but it just seems to be the way it is.
So being a good mother is closely linked with being a caring mother and that means it is much more unacceptable for a woman to demonstrate a lack of care about their children than it is for men. I am not, I hasten to add, saying that men don’t care about their children - of course they do. But ignoring your children is far more socially acceptable as a man whilst the tendency will always be for mothers to need to and want to prove their caring motherliness.
And what better way to show your credentials as a mother than reading bedtime stories to your children? It’s educational, it conjures up images of soft lit bedrooms and well behaved children cuddling up in their duvets. I dare say some could get competitive about it.
For men there is an equal and opposite vanity at play. If you want to show off your parenting as a man, you proudly demonstrate your lack of caring. It is utterly ridiculous because in my experience men love their children just as much but that is not the point. We prove ourselves to our peers by appearing not to be interested or making our children toughen up by forcing them on wet windy walks or into terrifying field games where bones might be broken or perhaps even by telling them we don’t share their taste in literature.
My second observation is that it can be quite daunting to enter into the world of caring motherliness as a man. I wonder how many men post on Mum’s Net. I wouldn’t dare. As I articulated earlier, there is a fear of provoking the massed rage of a group of women pumped up with the belief that you threaten their children.
Is it safe to be rude about some of the very lovely but utterly dull titles on offer? Will I get accused of being a heartless brute?
Maybe it is this sense of danger that attracts me to the whole pursuit, however illogical and ill founded that fear is.
I’d like to think it is not the only thing. I have found I have surprisingly strong opinions on children’s books, born, I hope, from loving them. And I have realised they offer so many more facets to a review than adult literature. There is the fact that there are two readers - child and adult. There is the interaction between the readers and the insight into family life. There is the interaction between the illustration and the text. It is much richer all round.
And in a way I suppose I do think it is important to have this other perspective on parenting that comes more easily to men. The perspective that values danger and risk. I know it is faintly ridiculous to think that the posts have any effect on family life but somehow it does seem important that someone occasionally sticks one in the jugular when things get too trite.
Certainly as I read back through my reviews this theme of the importance of tension and risk emerges. It can’t all be cuddly and lovely.
It’s either that or I just want to have something interesting to say to people at parties!