“That’s a ‘girl book!’” I used to hear this more often when I taught Middle School boys. No doubt, some high school boys feel this way even if they don’t say it. I have the privilege of teaching Emma most years to our seniors. It is a blast. I often start our discussion of Emma by pointing out that Jane Austen (maybe more than any other modern author) has books that will be read 500 years from now. If these books are so good, why do some really good students react so negatively to them? “Girl books” is the answer. Some boys, good boys, don’t want to read books about girls and relationships. While it is important to think through the right time to read these books, we must encourage our young men to read these “girl books.” Often, reading and enjoying these books can be one thing that God uses to help men grow into emotional maturity, become the leaders they are going to need to be, and to better, although certainly not fully, understand women. Here are three important reasons why young men have to read “girl books”:
1. It increases their emotional intelligence and leaders desperately need emotional intelligence.
There is, of course, a danger in stereotyping, but if you have taught Logic and Rhetoric aged students you know why stereotypes exist. Often teachers find young men who are not aware of how their words and actions impact others. Sadly, many young men do not outgrow this emotional tone-deafness. They end up becoming leaders who fail to lead wisely. This can harm their marriages, their careers, and their eventual relationships with their own children. Men—especially young men—too often overestimate their own opinion of their wisdom.
Reading “girl books,” like Austen, can give young men more emotional insight and wisdom. They can see what foolishness looks like without having to see themselves as fools. They can also see the impact that fools and good men have on women. This can be one crucial way that they helped to develop emotional intelligence.
2. It helps them communicate more effective because they learn to read between the lines.
One of the most challenging aspects of great “girl” books is that so much is communicated by inference and through what is omitted rather than what is said. In Emma, the episode of Emma’s painting of Harriet is an example of this. Mr. Elton praises the painting. This leads Emma to believe that he is praising the subject of the painting. She infers incorrectly because he is actually praising the painter (i.e., Emma).
Guys and girls can get sideways in communication. Being the kind a man who gains an ability to understand a bit of the inference that is happening around him will serve young men well and might help them be a better husband someday.
3. It Trains them to Find the Right Kind of Woman and Be the Right Kind of Man
“Girl” books discuss one of the most important and most befuddling topics for young men: girls. Often, young men are perplexed by young women and I don’t want to over promise. Reading about women will not lift the veil and reveal all the mystery that women will always have for the young man. It can, however, help a young man know the difference, to borrow characters from Pride and Prejudice, between an “Elizabeth” and a “Lydia.” If it helps in this way, it is worth so much.
This is crucially important because when young men fall in love, they don’t think rationally. Therefore, it is best to train their tastes before cupid’s arrow arrives.
It follows from the fact that young women are mysterious to young men that the way that young women look at young men is also a mystery. Sometimes it can really help young men see how different sorts of women look at and react to different sorts of men. In Sense and Sensibility Marianne falls for Willoughby and in Pride and Prejudice everyone almost falls for the deceptive Wickham. What causes women to make the wrong decision about the wrong sorts of guys? These books also help young men see what attracts women like Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse to the men that they eventually love. Knowing these sorts of reactions can help young men be the right kind of men who will eventually be ready for the right woman.
In light of all of this, we must encourage young men to read and enjoy books that could be labeled “girl books.” These books grow them up to be men and to be right sort of man when the right woman comes along.
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