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9 Books and Movies That Teach About Toxic Masculinity

November 25, 2020 By Angela Bickford

As a parent or teacher navigating the waters of teaching today’s young children about toxic masculinity, using the right materials is important. From books to movies, what is available today is much different than even 10 years ago. Gone are the days of making sure boys are tough and don’t cry. Creators have begun producing engaging content that teaches young children how to reject behaviors related to toxic masculinity. The change in these patterns follows research that shows that the former way of thinking is more damaging than anyone realized. Here is a list of the top books and movies you can use to help the children in your life learn more about toxic masculinity.

1. Tough Guys Have Feelings Too

Credit: Flying Eye Books

This superhero-themed book by Keith Negley appeals to younger kids with bold illustrations and vibrant colors, but it’s the powerful message that makes it great for teaching about toxic masculinity. Every boy – and girl – should know it’s ok to show their emotions and have bad days, and yes, cry. The New York Times credits the book as appealing and says it “makes the timely decision to hold the conversation about male emotions while everyone involved is in costume, performing some iconically macho role.” School Library News adds that it is “a short and straightforward story that challenges the traditional notion that men shouldn’t express their emotions.”

Get it here.

2. Real Cowboys

Credit: HMH Books for Young Readers

Author Kate Hoefler turns the tables on what cowboys and cowgirls are thought to be and shows the softer side of the work. From compassion to gentleness to a different kind of strength, she challenges the reader’s thinking of what a real cowboy is. Reviewers loved this author’s take on the cowboy, with one calling it “an eloquent response to anyone with a simplistic picture of the cowboy as a rough, tough working man and nothing else.” (Kirkus)

Get it here.

3. Feminism is for Boys

Credit: Mascot Books

In Elizabeth Rhodes’ book, she shows that feminism is more than equal rights; it’s also about being allowed to be who you are. If a boy wants to play with dolls, he should be allowed to, and this book works to eradicate gendered stereotypes so that everyone can be their true selves. 

Get it here.

4. Dear Boy

Credit: HarperCollins

Instead of focusing on what not to be, this book points out traits that boys should have that help them grow to be honest, nurturing, kind people and teaches things like ‘no means no.’ It’s a more subtle take on toxic masculinity, but it works. Each page has a lesson that can be expanded upon to tackle topics related to toxic masculinity. The companion book Dear Girl is also great for empowering girls and promoting equality. 

Get it here.

5. Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons

Credit: Running Press Kids

In this book, geared towards middle-school boys, readers learn about real-life examples of positive role models that helped expand the gender-role conversation and show that masculinity can mean many things. Reviewers loved that it had a diverse selection of accomplished boys and men, with one saying that “they’re unique, varied, and don’t all fit into the prescribed roles that are put on boys by society.” Others warned of darker subject material in some of the stories. 

Get it here.

6. Big Bob, Little Bob

Credit: Candlewick

James Howe shows how two boys who like different things can still be friends. It may seem like a simple premise, but when one of the boys likes things described as girly by society, the other boy learns to accept him for who he is, which helps normalize this for others and shows that friendships can overcome gender norms. 

Get it here.

7. Harry Potter

In the Harry Potter books and movies, Remus Lupin is a character that defines what masculinity could look like when not bound by stereotypes. The Hogwarts professor shows how to be a hero using your heart and is not only an educator but becomes a father figure and good friend to those around him. He is one of the more emotionally mature men of the series despite having a tough life and is willing to work through his troubles rather than put on a gruff front.

8. Beauty and the Beast

If ever there was a movie that showcased what toxic masculinity looked like, it’s Beauty and the Beast. Between manly-man Gaston and a borderline emotionally abusive Beast, the movie provides plenty of examples of what NOT to do. The toxic masculinity is so thick that it often overshadows the rest of the movie.

9. Frozen 2

If it’s possible to love an animated movie character, Kristoff wins points for sure. The song he sings about Anna puts his vulnerability on full display. His growth over the two movies shows that toxic masculinity can be unlearned. He goes from wanting to save the day to realizing Anna doesn’t need saving and is capable all on her own. Yay for empowering women, double yay for creating a sensitive male character that can learn from a situation and better himself.

Whether a book or movie shows you what toxic masculinity looks like or how to avoid it, sharing these examples with children can help mold them into someone who carries on the goal of teaching that masculinity comes in all forms.