The Masculinity Workbook for Teens: Cracking the Guy Code to Be Your Authentic Self
By Christopher S. Reigeluth, Ph.D.
Foreword by Michael G. Thompson
New Harbinger Publications (Instant Help Books), 2022
216 pages, $20.95
Teenage boys are under intense pressure to conform to society’s stereotypes of masculinity, even as more and more evidence reveals how conventional cultural messages to “man up” can be detrimental to their mental health. In The Masculinity Workbook for Teens, psychologist Chris Reigeluth provides sorely needed guidance to help teen boys chart an authentic, intentional, healthy course to develop wholesome masculine identities.
Limiting and restrictive gender stereotypes and social practices are pervasive across cultures, and research shows that strict adherence to the rules of the code—or extreme forms of “traditional” masculinity, such as suppressing your feelings, acting tough and “in control,” as well as objectifying girls and women—can lead to emotional issues, aggressive behavior, low self-esteem, risk-taking behaviors, misogyny, and homophobia. Negative health outcomes, like depression and anxiety, are also possible. Reigeluth designed his workbook to help young teen males to navigate these mixed messages.
The Masculinity Workbook for Teens uses a series of prompts and easy-to-follow worksheets to engage readers. It features three individually tailored letters that Reigeluth—noted for his expertise on teen masculinity—wrote to his anticipated readers: teen guys; their parents, caregivers, and mentors; and their psychotherapists, counselors, and other supporters.
The book also features activities designed to help young men understand their own views about manhood and masculinity. One way it does that is by listing attributes relating to physical appearance, interests, and emotional traits that teen males can use as a guide to identify as relating to either girls and women or guys. The workbook unpacks conventional thinking about masculinity and offers activities to help readers understand how the pressures of the “Guy Code” influence them.
Reigeluth reminds his teen readers that there are no hard and fast rules they must conform to, emphasizing that believing or rejecting gender stereotypes is a choice. Each of them, he says, gets to decide how to express his individual version of manhood.
Learning how society views masculinity— positively, negatively, or in flux—may be eye-opening for some readers. The tips and tools in this workbook will be useful in helping teen males to take a deeper look at their inner lives. Facing difficult thoughts and emotions with a guidebook like this on their bookshelf will likely mean more and more young men will successfully explore their inner lives and, as a consequence, will be better equipped to ask for help when they need it.
An Open Letter to Teen Guys From Chris
I’m so glad you’ve picked up The Masculinity Workbook for Teens and are giving it a shot. I decided to write this because when I was your age there was a lot of pressure to fit in, prove one’s self, and be “the man.” This pressure could be pretty intense and sometimes made it hard to relax, even around my friends. Lots of guys were trying to outdo one another and insults and teasing often flew around like pinballs. I know from talking with teen guys your age that there is still lots of pressure to fit in and prove yourself as a guy.
So, what is this constant teasing and pressure to prove ourselves as guys all about?
While I couldn’t have answered this question at your age, I now know that the constant pressure many guys experience to prove that they belong and are “man enough” comes from something called the Guy Code (coined by Michael Kimmel, a sociologist). Have you heard of it, or do you have any guesses as to what it might be?
Simply put, the Guy Code is the set of rules that society—and consequently many of the boys, men, and other people you’ll encounter—expects teen guys, like yourself, to follow to meet expectations and be accepted. We’ll get into the actual rules soon enough, and you may even notice some of them jumping into your head as you read these sentences.
At your age, I knew exactly what was expected of me to be the “right” type of guy, and you probably do too. My friends and other guys also frequently reminded me when I was failing to cut it. We all were! With few exceptions, it’s pretty much impossible to be a teen boy and not have your friends or other guys give you a hard time about all sorts of stuff. The insults and pressure can be about anything, from something stupid you did to messing up at sports to wearing the wrong shirt.
What I didn’t understand at the time is that I didn’t have to buy into all of these masculinity expectations and the constant pressure to perform and prove myself. I didn’t have to buy into society’s narrow recipe for how guys should be, nor take it so seriously when other guys and people told me how I needed to be as “a guy.” I could decide for myself and had options.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: easier said than done, Chris. Of course, you’re right about that. The teenage years are no joke with social pressure and changes, like puberty, that can make everyone feel insecure and unsure about themselves. Furthermore, guys can be pretty hard on one another, and who wants to draw additional negative attention by going against the group and doing their own thing? Not many guys, that’s for sure, including me when I was your age! So, we’ll spend some time exploring the challenges of taking a stand, possible repercussions, and different ways to stand up for yourself and others (for if and when that’s what feels right for you).
The other thing I didn’t understand as a teen, and that we’ll get into more, is that this Guy Code stuff isn’t always so helpful, and it can have pretty negative consequences for guys. Now, that’s not to say that it isn’t working out just fine for you. You’ll be able to assess the pros and cons of the Guy Code for yourself throughout this journey. Each of us is unique, and the ways that masculinity pressures impact each one of us will vary.
So, what am I getting at here? Well, I hope that all teen guys, like you, can be fully informed about what the Guy Code is, how it works, where it comes from, and, most importantly, how it influences them. With that understanding, you’ll be able to more easily decide for yourself, and on your own terms, what type of guy and person you want to be.
Once you’ve made your way through The Masculinity Workbook for Teens, you might decide, I’m good to go and not looking to make any changes. Or, you might conclude that making a few small adjustments, or even big ones, is what feels right. There is no “correct” outcome or end result for this journey. My only agenda is to provide you (and other teen guys) with a greater understanding of how the Guy Code works and what it’s all about, so you can be critical consumers and decide on your own terms who you are and how you want to be.
Let’s get started!
Christopher S. Reigeluth is a child and adolescent psychologist and an assistant professor in the clinical psychology division at Oregon Health and Science University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Guy Code and the Banana
I was not educated on gender when I was your age. My friends and I were taught that there is one way to be as a guy, and if you don’t do what’s expected then that will be a problem. Depending on the school you go to and what your parents or caregivers are like, perhaps you’ve been encouraged to think about what it means to be a guy, or perhaps your experience is similar to mine, and these topics haven’t been introduced.
For example, I can remember taking a sex education class in the eighth grade with Mr. Baldwin, who actually did a pretty decent job. And yes, the class awkwardly included Mr. Baldwin showing us 13- and 14-year-old guys how condoms worked using a banana, which was hilarious and awkward. Even though the class only had students in it who identified as guys, we were never taught about how the Guy Code works or encouraged to think about masculinity pressures for ourselves. Similarly, I don’t remember any of my “wellness classes” in high school exploring gender stuff at all—almost like an unwritten rule exists that one’s gender identity and society’s expectations about masculinity shouldn’t be questioned and explored. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Upholder or Resister
Because gender expectations are quite rigid and strict, it’s pretty much impossible for any boy or man to always follow the rules and stay inside the box. That would literally require being a robot. Let’s consider some of the ways boys and men can resist gender expectations. Niobe Way and colleagues explored this phenomenon in a 2014 article, “Paths of Resistance to Stereotypes Among Black Adolescent Males.” The table below offers examples of guys who challenge the Guy Code, known as “resisters,” or who go along with it, the “upholders.” Consider whether you’re more of a resister or an upholder in the given categories, and then provide an example of a way guys can resist masculinity expectations, whether you resist in this way or know someone who does.