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The Reason Why Men Don't Read Fun Books — It's Deeper Than You Think

Photo: Jonathon Borba / Pexels
man reading surrounded by books

Gendered stereotypes regarding how men and women are supposed to act seep into the smallest parts of our daily lives: The clothes we wear, the careers we pursue, and even the books we choose to read.

Content creator Madi Hart recently wondered aloud why every boy she knows seems to only read “some self-help book on time management and productivity,” or Salinger’s "Catcher In The Rye" — books that can be upheld as pinnacles of masculine identity.

Travel influencer Ben Keenan stitched Hart’s TikTok in which she asked, “Why are you guys against having fun when you read?” with a clear and concise answer.

According to Keenan, there’s a reason that men don’t read fun books, and it’s deeper than you think.

“Society,” he said. “The answer is society.”



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Keenan gave his qualifications for being the right person to discuss the issue of gender and reading, noting that 85% of his TikTok followers are women. He also shared, “This is a question that I’ve actually grappled with in my own life for years.”

“So, the question is, why don’t men read fun books? Why are they always reading a self-help book, or a sort of business memoir, or productivity book?” he asked.

Keenan offered his personal experience as an anecdotal answer, connecting the way we spend our time with how we’re seen by the world around us. 

“I grew up in… a generation where the worst thing that you could be called was gay,” he said. This experience was fairly common not so long ago, as Keenan explained, “Just look at how many men of Gen X or higher waited to come out of the closet until they were much older.”

“Growing up, a lot of little boys are taught that what they like is what society has deemed that little boys will like,” he continued. “We’re talking playing in the dirt, playing with cars and trucks, sports in general, guns, fighting, violence, war.”

The Reason Why Men Don't Read Fun BooksPhoto: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

He explained that, due to America's rigid approach to gender roles, today’s marketing of what boys should like hasn’t changed from 30 years ago. “This is society’s definition of masculinity," he added.

Keenan detailed how his own childhood interests differed from what he was told to like. He liked coloring, music, and “putting on shows for my family with my little sister.”

“I’m very lucky that my family let me grow up doing what I enjoy doing," Keenan shared. "Society on the other side, people I went to school with, my friends — There were always constant conversations about, ‘Oh well, Ben, he’s gay.' This started in 7th grade… No one knew what gay was.”

“The reason this conversation kept coming up is because of the things I was interested in,” he said. Keenan explained that while he played sports, he also had other interests, which were deemed “too feminine to be a straight man’s interest” by society at large. 

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America’s rigid gender roles and general misogynist vibes affect the way boys are viewed, including who girls are taught to be romantically interested in.

The media markets a very specific type of guy to teen girls: “The quarterback on the football team, the boy who works on his family’s farm… The bad boy who’s out behind the gymnasium blowing up stuff with firecrackers.”

“Girls are taught from a young age that the boy you are interested in, the boy that will make a good partner for you, is the one with all of these masculine interests,” Keenan exclaimed. “Therefore, boys in high school are taught that in order to get the girl, you have to be interested in these things, that the girls have been told they are interested in by society.”

The cyclical, snake-eating-its-own-tail nature of the situation is remarkable. It shows how much work is left to untangle the gendered stereotypes that hurt us all.

Keenan claimed that artsy guys, guys who are interested in science, guys who are in the school musical, “are not the guys that are being marketed to these girls.” As a result, young men shift their identities, turning themselves into the kind of Alpha Male who gets the girl. Keenan maintained that putting hyper-masculinity on a pedestal is harmful, as it doesn’t allow for men to have nuanced, complex identities. 

He brought his argument back around to the original question of why men don’t read fun books, stating, “Society has told them they don’t have the time or the privilege to read fun books ... No woman will want you.”

The Reason Why Men Don't Read Fun BooksPhoto: Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

When men’s masculinity is constantly being questioned, they’re not given the freedom to explore the pastimes that they’re told are “too feminine.”

“I have sat with this idea of hypermasculinity for a very long time,” he continued. “I have become somebody who’s very interested in the arts, somebody who’s interested in travel and culture and food, over the years, and has dealt with the fact that no matter what I do, those are perceived as feminine traits.”

“I like to read the fun books. I like to go do the things that I like to do, regardless of what they’re seen as by the eyes of society,” he said, before asking something of his viewers.

“So, my call to action… Stop it,” he proclaimed. “This is gonna be a dual call to action. Men: Allow your male friends to like what they like, and encourage them to like what they like. Accept them for liking what they like and doing what they do.”

He implored the women of the world to “Encourage your male friends in your life to do the exact same thing.”



In the caption of his video, Keenan further explained why letting men be their fullest selves is so important, writing, “Check on the men in your life, ask how they’re doing, give them a hug. Allow them to be vulnerable and interested in things. Allow men to be complex. Encourage creativity and fun. It shouldn’t be hard to do.”

Often, it feels like the overarching misogynist mindset of our country is too huge to tackle, too twisted to even begin to untie. Yet Keenan makes a valuable point — In recognizing the inherent complexities of all people, men and women, we provide space for people to be their most authentic selves, which is how our world will heal. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers social issues, pop culture and all things to do with the entertainment industry.