A little while ago we had a visit from local children’s book author Scott Stuart, whose picture books on modern masculinity are our new go-to for parents wishing to deconstruct the gender binary with their young people in a fun and meaningful way. Scott Stuart does a ton of advocacy across his social media channels on the importance of radical acceptance and allowing kids to fully express who they are, particularly boys who are challenging traditional definitions of manhood. We sat down with Scott for a chat about his book and his parenting philosophy. Read on!
Your latest picture book, How to Be a Real Man, has just been released. What does being a ‘real man’ mean to you, and how might this differ from conventional ideas of masculinity?
Being a “real man” is generally characterised as there being only a few certain behaviours and activities that you should engage in, and anything outside of those is simply unacceptable. I believe, and I offer this in the book, that the definition of masculinity needs to be expanded. That boys can love Star Wars and Spiderman, but they can ALSO love Elsa and princesses. That those things don’t detract from their masculinity, and instead are things we should celebrate. I think if everyone stopped thinking about raising “real men”, and instead focused on raising “good men”, we’d be in a lot better place.
Both How to be a Real Man and your previous book My Shadow is Pink unpack gender stereotypes for young readers. How important is it to have these conversations with the young folk in our lives? Have you received any feedback regarding the impact of your books?
I believe it’s extremely important. There’s an amazing study which compares boys growing up in “traditional” beliefs around masculinity, vs those growing up in a more expanded definition of it, and the rates of bullying, depression, violence, loneliness, all are slashed dramatically. Unfortunately, for young men, there is an echo chamber that reinforces toxic belief systems, even when it’s hurting them. So, having some kind of media that allows us to open up these conversations with our sons (and daughters) is extremely important. I have received a lot of feedback around My Shadow is Pink, and how it is being used as a conversation starter for topics like masculinity, identity and self-confidence, and the idea of having a shadow self that you may be too scared to reveal to the world has been really effective with young kids at helping them open up about the things they feel.
In some recent interviews you’ve mentioned how your dance career introduced you to a more empathetic world than you’d been exposed to before. Can you talk a little bit about this?
When my brother first asked me to go to a ballroom dance class with him, I refused, simply because “dancing is for girls”. It took him over a year of convincing for me to go along, and immediately I fell in love with the entire scene. Having grown up in an environment with very rigid gender expectations and an enormous amount of judgement, to see men challenging those norms (and loving every second of it), it really opened my eyes to a world where you can do the thing you love, and not be judged for it. It taught me so much about self-confidence, self-love, bravery, expression, authenticity – all things that I wasn’t learning about while playing rugby, and things that I believe are vital to a human growing up in the modern world.
You’re really active on social media – on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook – discussing parenting, fatherhood, toxic masculinity, and raising a child that breaks gender stereotypes. What has your experience been as a public figure bringing these conversations to the fore? Has it been mostly positive, or do you find yourself negotiating a lot of challenging conversations?
Mostly, it has been an incredibly positive experience. I get hundreds of messages every day from parents with kids who break gender stereotypes, or who are struggling with empowering or accepting their kids. Now that I have a larger audience, I’ve definitely started being exposed to audiences who don’t agree with my viewpoints (including a couple of book boycotts by conservative groups!), and sometimes it can be easy for that 1 negative message to drown out the 1,000 positive ones, but I am so grateful for the community that has grown around our family, and the love we get from all over the world.
What are some of your top tips for parents starting to have conversations with their small humans about gender, identity, and self-worth?
The biggest tip would be to focus your time on creating a space where your kids actually feel comfortable and safe expressing their own authentic selves, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to start sharing your own vulnerabilities and stories with your kids. We started doing a regular activity called “Ask Dad Anything” where I would share stories and struggles of my own life, and then he has the space to ask me literally anything. Often it’s a question like “why are clouds white?”, but every now and then, he dives into something really vulnerable which we would usually never have the space to go into. And the second tip is probably the hardest – examine your own preconceived cultural belief systems.
Your Shadow is Pink is currently being adapted into an animated film. Congratulations! What are your hopes for the film? Do you think the film will reach audiences the books might not have tapped into yet?
Thank you! Yes, I know that film has a significantly broader reach than a book does – So many amazing films are based on kids books that many people have never even heard of (I never even knew Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon were from books!) – and, film has a much broader age range than a picture book does. I know plenty of adults who love to watch “kids” movies, but very very few who will pick up a picture book for themselves. Besides the broader audience, moving the book into film allows us to focus on different parts of the story that haven’t been touched on in the book, so I’m REALLY excited to share the finished version once it is ready!
Lastly, is there another book in the works, and, if so, can you give us any hints regarding what it’s about?
Yes! There’s 2 more books coming out later this year (around September/October) – one is called The Very First You, and is a celebration of all the things that make you unique. And the second is called One Goose is a Goose, and is a really really funny take on collective nouns, narrated by one very frustrated goose! Besides those 2, there are quite a few books in the works (but I’d better not talk about them until I’m allowed to!).