When Boys Become Boys

Development, Relationships, and Masculinity

242 pages

June, 2014

ISBN: 9780814764800



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Judy Y. Chu is Affiliated Faculty in the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University.

All books by Judy Y. Chu

Carol Gilligan is University Professor of Applied Psychology and the Humanities at New York University. She is the author or editor of many books, including In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development and Joining the Resistance.

All books by Carol Gilligan

Based on a two-year study that followed boys from pre-kindergarten through first grade, When Boys Become Boys offers a new way of thinking about boys’ development. Through focusing on a critical moment of transition in boys’ lives, Judy Y. Chu reveals boys’ early ability to be emotionally perceptive, articulate, and responsive in their relationships, and how these “feminine” qualities become less apparent as boys learn to prove that they are boys primarily by showing that they are not girls.

Chu finds that behaviors typically viewed as “natural” for boys reflect an adaptation to cultures that require boys to be stoic, competitive, and aggressive if they are to be accepted as “real boys.” Yet even as boys begin to reap the social benefits of aligning with norms of masculine behavior, they pay a psychological and relational price for renouncing parts of their humanity.

Chu documents boys’ perceptions of the obstacles they face and the pressures they feel to conform, showing that compliance with rules of masculinity is neither automatic nor inevitable. This accessible and engaging book provides insight into ways in which adults can foster boys’ healthy resistance and help them to access a broader range of options as they seek to connect with others while remaining true to themselves.


  • “Chu presents an engaging observational study, taking as her subjects six preschool boys, much in the tradition of Vivian Paley's Superheroes in the Doll Corner (CH, Jan '85). A foreword by Carol Gilligan, who sponsored the original research, sets the tone of this study as an investigation of the ways boys establish the social and emotional habits that allow them to navigate the world of the boy group and later the world of men. The critical focus is on how boys understand the relational world in the preschool years, and how they maintain their relational capacities while learning gender roles. The text is full of delicately observed descriptions and verbatim discussions between Chu and the boys. . . . Depth is added by inclusion of interviews with parents and by the contributions of teachers, giving some background to the children's views of gender. Helpful notes add value. This volume will be excellent supplemental classroom reading and a helpful guide for observational projects, and the style and topic extend the book's audience beyond the academy. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”


  • “To what extent are ‘masculine’ qualities innate?  This is just one of the questions that Judy Y. Chu sets out to answer in her book When Boys Become Boys, based on a two-year study in which she observed a group of six boys from pre-kindergarten to grade one (age four to six) at a US school. . . . Ultimately, When Boys Become Boys is not a critique of prevailing masculine ideals but a plea for adults to help boys resist societal pressures so that they do not feel compelled to censor, distort or misrepresent themselves in order to accommodate these externally imposed standards.”

    The Psychologist

  • "Chu has produced an exceptionally accessible addition to the literature on the topic and a well-written argument that encourages us to think deeply and differently about how family and peer relationships affect young boys' gender development and performances of masculinity."


  • "Chu writes in a manner that is easy to understand and as she bases her research on relational theory, she often comes back to and describe the ways in which relationships become the basis for the boys in her study. Parents will also find this book valuable as they navigate early childhood with their child or children."


  • "Reading When Boys Become Boys has significantly altered my thinking about what it means to be a boy."


  • "[H]er book offers an insightful portrait of group interactions and hierarchy in boys. She convincingly makes the case that, being human, boys share with girls the capacity to relate."

    Library Journal

  • "In this provocative and beautifully written book, Judy Chu reveals that we have been telling ourselves a false story about boys and their development. Boys, she finds, don’t start off being the emotionally disconnected stereotype that our culture projects onto them. They become those stereotypes via cultural socialization. Yet boys also resist, and maintain their humanity despite living in a culture that denies it to them. A must read for anyone interested in boys."

    —Niobe Way, author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection

  • "Chu possesses three rare gifts: she gets boys to open up to her and describe their lives in gorgeous detail; she listens with extraordinary compassion, and she analyzes their experiences with the meticulous care of both finely tuned head and heart.  In so doing, she gives us a single gift both rare and precious: a look inside the world of boys, wriggling between demands about performing for others, and eager to be who they really are."

    —Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men