Review of “Seventeen Ultimate Guide to GUYS” by Ann Shoket & The Editors of Seventeen

When I was younger, I spent hours pouring over Seventeen Magazine trying to figure out how to get a boyfriend, because I was led to believe (by my hormones as well as by outside sources) this would establish my self-worth. Much of the advice dispensed by Seventeen way back then was of two sorts: how to dress (which invariably involved much more money than I could obtain) and how to cater to the interests of boys, who obviously were the superior gender.

Even much later and despite years of indoctrination in feminist literature, I still found myself observing those early guidelines learned from Seventeen. On my first date with Jim, for example, in an effort to bring up conversation “interesting to guys,” I asked him how batteries work. He told me. I thought he was the most boring guy I ever met, and he thought I was the weirdest person he ever met. (We were both right.)

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I am happy to say that Seventeen has evolved with the times (even if I never did). This “Ultimate Guide to Guys” (a much better title than, say, “Dating for Dummies”) gives you all the low-down, featuring advice from real guys (most of whom are identified as ages 20 or 21) who tell you what they “actually” think about different situations.

Most of the sections cover very basic topics such as how to let a guy know you like him, or figure out if he likes you. There is a lot on kissing expertise, with ideas like putting an ice cube in your mouth first and – more objectionably as far as I’m concerned – using a blindfold. There are great-to-hear quotes from males about things girls stress out about but that don’t bother them as much as you might think, such as how much you eat, or whether or not you wear make-up. There are good ideas for where to go on dates, and guidelines for what to say (and no, not one suggestion to ask guys how batteries work). And there are some bizarre but unfortunately still important-to-girls sections like “Sneaky Ways To Make Him Worship You” (without any discussion of whether or not “worship” is a goal worth pursuing, or why it needs to be done with subterfuge).

But, critically, there is hardly anything about going farther than “French” kissing. Personally I would have liked to see more on the issue of “consent” and the right to say no in spite of huge amounts of pressure. There is, in fact, nothing about any “controversial” issues like sex, sexting, drinking or drugs, or birth control. And yet, in the real world, these are also situations teens will face, and it would be helpful to see some guidance. (There’s a lot of talk about “hooking up” but according to this book, that means kissing.)

According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, each year there are over 237,000 victims of reported sexual assault (it is estimated that 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police), and some 44% of the victims are under age 18. Pressure not to report is intense, for reasons ranging from the widespread tendency to blame the victim to social ostracizing to shame. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And of course, this doesn’t even count instances of “consensual” sex that may result from girls not feeling able to say no, whether because of lack of self-esteem or courage or even just not knowing what to say or how safely to disengage.

As for sexting, it continues to be problematic. In fact, the FBI reports that sexting (defined as an act of sending sexually explicit materials via text, photo, or video through mobile phones) is increasing in frequency:

“A recent study found that 20 percent of high school age teens (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online. Another survey indicated that nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.”

DoSomething.org, a not-for-profit for young people and social change, notes that among 14- to 24-year-olds who admit to sexting, 29 percent send these messages to people they have never met, but “know” from the Internet. And importantly:

“…while nearly 70 percent of teen boys and girls who sext do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend, 61 percent of all sexters who have sent nude images admit that they were pressured to do it at least once.”

This book does not talk about pressure. It does include a few negatives under warnings about boys to avoid: “He doesn’t apologize” “He won’t commit” “He wants an instant hookup” (remember, “hooking up” is defined as “kissing”) but nothing of a more serious nature.

There is also no mention in this book about the portrayal of females in media and other popular culture as sex objects, and the strong expectations that accompany these images, such as the equation of sexual availability with desirability and worth. Seventeen missed a great opportunity here to offer a different message – one which, however, would probably not have gone over well with its advertisers.

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Evaluation: I wish there had been books like this when I was at my most hormonally-intense stage in life. It has a lot of advice that is reassuring, and great suggestions about things you might be too embarrassed to ask an adult. It is worthwhile for what it contains. But it omits a lot too that is even more essential to know for the dating process. As author Anne Ursu wrote in her excellent article about the movement to sanitize books for young people, “we’re completely denying the realities of teenager’s lives.” That does no favor to either them or us – not if we really want to help and protect them. In 2013, Desmond Tutu, Jacob Lief, and Sohaila Abdulali wrote about rape:

It seems daunting. But which is more painful: talking sensibly with young people about this issue, the same way we might talk with them about drugs, guns or bullying, or waiting for something terrible to happen so close to home that you have to address it in a time of turmoil?”

Rating: 3/5

Published by Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2013

Note: This book is directed to heterosexuals only.

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8 Responses to Review of “Seventeen Ultimate Guide to GUYS” by Ann Shoket & The Editors of Seventeen

  1. sandynawrot says:

    I actually had a good laugh that you were reviewing this book. I’d love to actually hear your verbal comments as you were reading it! LOL! and yes, my BFF and I studied those magazines as well. I didn’t have much of a tough time “hooking up” or getting guys interested…I was always pretty outgoing and could talk to a brick wall if I had to. But I could have used advice on those more difficult situations, like you mentioned. Seventeen never talks about that. It is all flirting, and clothes, and crap like that.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    Reading this makes me very thankful for the parents I had growing up. I liked boys and wanted a boyfriend but wasn’t obsessed with them so I never read those magazines. I think the key thing for me was that my dad talked to us a lot about boys and dating and self worth, so I was getting the male perspective from someone who loved me.

  3. Ugh, I got down to the note that this book is for heterosexuals only and said out loud OH OF COURSE IT IS. Hrmph.

    I do not know how batteries work (I’m fine with that), and your story made me laugh.

  4. Athira says:

    Ah yes, I remember those how-to-get-a-boyfriend days. I agree that the books directed to that question have definitely evolved. I also remember feeling irritation at advises such as “Boys don’t dictate your value” or “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have a boyfriend”. The truth is that teens do still measure their self-worth that way. And books that address the issue while still being aware of what teens consider important for themselves is what we need. I’ve changed loads since those teen-angst days and now laugh at those days, but I know it used to be a big thing for me at that time. Looks like this book does address it well enough though like you mention, there is probably still a lot that could be covered.

  5. Trish says:

    I had to laugh out loud at your courting conversation. What a hoot!!!

    But now my stomach is in a ball of anxiety because BEING A MOTHER TO TWO TEENAGER DAUGHTERS OMG. I am grateful that I did not grow up in the age of social media (though I did get onto chat groups in high school and met a few guys that I met online) but now this all seems TERRIFYING. Ok…I’ve got to go search for rainbows and unicorns before I make myself sick… 😉

  6. Beth F says:

    Since I had only brothers and no sisters, guys were no mystery to me … so I never needed advise on how to relate to them or figure out what they were *really* thinking. Nor did I think I needed them to give me self-worth. But I still read Seventeen because I didn’t have sisters and there was no one to tell me about stuff like makeup and style — not that there was much to either in hippie days.

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    I don’t know how yoiu can write a book and NOT cover the important things you mentioned. I preferred Tiger Beat myself.
    Now, the battery conversation is quite an admission. If I ever asked such a silly question my mind has blessedly let me forget it 😉

  8. amymckie says:

    That story is hilarious, and the book sounds… interesting 😉 I’m sure lots of funny moments while reading it. I also read Seventeen whenever I could afford it / convince my parents to let me buy it… so not often, but often enough! Always hilarious advice.

    That is really too bad, but sadly not so surprising, that they don’t tackle any of the big topics. I don’t know why people seem to think that kids don’t deal with this stuff…

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