Robert Webb – How Not to be a Boy: WORD Christchurch

On Tuesday evening I attended the WORD Christchurch event where the English comedian and author, Robert Webb, conversed with Michele A’Court about his book How Not to be a Boy.  A’Court suggested How not to be a boy is a “feminist memoir written by a man”. Webb demurred at that description and joked that the “F word” would ruin his chances of sales success.

Webb said that all throughout his life he had thought about gender and the way it defines roles and sets up certain expectations. So when he came to write a memoir, it seemed natural to use gender and its constrictions as a unifying theme.

As a boy, Webb discovered he did not seem to meet the expectations of what a boy should be. He was quiet and shy and not good at sports. Also, he was terrified of his father whom he describes as a violent, philandering, Lincolnshire woodcutter who didn’t really know how to bring up a young family.

Webb’s parents divorced when he was five, and he was brought up by his mother with whom he had a close relationship. Webb described how he felt most at ease in his mother’s company and he recalled fondly how he and his Mum would often sing along loudly with the stereo in the car. When Webb’s mother died of cancer when he was seventeen, he was devastated.

CoverThis experience served to illustrate to Webb that the “boys don’t cry” emotional repression that society seems to expect of males is a toxic expectation that does nobody any good. After his mother’s death, he moved back in with his father, had to retake his O Levels and eventually made it to Cambridge University where, because he had not processed his grief, he fell apart. He sought therapy at Cambridge which he found very helpful. Although not talking about one’s feelings was another trait society expected of males, Webb found talking about his feelings was exactly what he needed in order to heal emotionally.

During the evening, Webb read a couple of excerpts from his book. One was an account of his early teens where a male classmate who was pinching all the girls’ bottoms was challenged by another boy who received a smack in the mouth for his trouble. When the harasser was chastised in class by the teacher, Webb felt a sense of shame that he had been a silent enabler and not a “gentleman” like the boy who stood up to the harasser.

Another excerpt concerned the plethora of books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus which Webb saw as letting men off the hook when it came to dealing with their relationships.

Although Webb realised his book appealed to middle-aged feminists, he secretly hoped copies of the book might be passed around in juvenile detention centres and boarding schools. He said he didn’t claim to be any kind of expert and that is why he had employed a tone of self-mockery. He hoped that by using jokes and describing the many things he has done wrong, he could present some serious ideas about gender roles to a male readership and get them thinking about how gender expectations might be limiting their own lives.

More Webb

Robert Webb is appearing at Auckland Writers Festival. Catch him there.

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가족들이 곁에 있어서 행복합니다

올 5월에 Upper Riccarton Library Korean Book Club 이 두 살이 되었습니다.

hands reaching for Korean books

항상 그렇듯 시작은 미미했으나, 이제는 자리를 잡고 많은 분들이 책을 나누고 서로의 이야기에 귀를 기울이며 세상을 읽고 있습니다. Korean Book Club 은 여러분 모두를 환영합니다. 매 달 Korean Book Club List 가 회원님들에 의해 만들어지고 있습니다. 함께하시고 북 리뷰도 달아보세요.

이달의 소개할 책들입니다.

Korean books and party hats

마지막으로 사랑한다고 말해본 지가 언제인가요? 힘들다며 울어본 지는 얼마나 됐나요? 많은 사람이 자신의 이야기를 하거나 속에 있는 감정을 표현하는 걸 힘들어합니다. 저도 그랬습니다………..감정을 표현하는 일은 생각보다 힘들지 않다고 말하고 싶었습니다. 혹시 힘들더라도 감정과 마주하는 일은 꼭 필요하다고 말하고 싶었습니다. 비밀편지, 저자의 말 중에서.

소소한 일상을 사랑하는 작가 박근호님의 ‘비밀편지’입니다. 이 가을에 잘 어울리는 책이라 소개해 드립니다.

이미경 작가의 ‘택배왔어요’, 공지영 작가의 ‘할머니는 죽지않는다’ 그리고 일본 아사히 신분사에서 주최한 천개의 바람개비 프로젝트에 참가한 편지를 모아 펴낸 책 ‘천개의 바람이 된 당신에게 보내는 편지’ 도 추천합니다.

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