Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist and star of The Big Bang Theory, thinks it’s time to change the way we talk about boys’ bodies.
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, she reveals the cover of her upcoming book Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant. She also discusses how the book delves into what it means to be male from a scientific perspective — and how we should be raising boys.
“It is not a biology book and it is not a psychology book,” says the 42-year-old mom of two sons, Miles, 12, and Frederick, 9, “It’s a little about the variations in our genetics, the variations in our hormones, and the variations in our lifestyles that lead to all of the decisions that we get to make. My hope is that for boys, or anyone who loves a boy or has a son, that this will be a way to open up conversations with children.”
Boying Up serves as a companion to Bialik’s previous book, Girling Up, which she created to answer the questions she had about her body and the sometimes difficult experiences of growing up (she’s a self-described “late bloomer”). For both books, Bialik says she had to find a balance as scientist and mother.
“That’s the story of the balance of my life. Obviously, I think like a scientist. That’s what happens when you spend 12 years at school getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience,” she says. “I write a lot about how my explanations for my kids need to be tempered by some non-scientific and more human aspects. But we also include voices from men throughout the book because obviously I can’t speak for men. I don’t know anything about shaving — that’s not my thing.”
She says she spoke with a range of men who have “gone through some sort of self-awareness or psychology in their life” so they could provide insight into the “heavier” topics of growing up male.
“The idea was to see some of the more vulnerable sides to them, which I think is missing from a lot of education for boys,” she says. “That notion of how important it is to be vulnerable.”
The book, out May 8, answers a wide range of issues boys face: why their voice cracks, how to handle a crush, how to build muscle, gender stereotypes. It even provides drawings of different penises so readers understand the different sizes and shapes. But Bialik admits that one of the most difficult chapters to write about was male culture.
“Boying Up got really special attention in terms of culture,” she says. “There wasn’t a similar equivalent in Girling Up. [In Boying Up I wrote about] frat culture and what happens when groups of men engage in what is being called ‘locker room talk.’
“What’s the impact of that? I also paid special attention to the ways boys are kind of enculturated with the images we see in media and … the way that they should treat women,” says Bialik.
The book educates readers about assault and makes clear what behavior is illegal. The actress says she has had multiple conversations with her sons about the way people should treat others — both female and male.
“My younger son had a really interesting question when we were talking about what assault means. He said, ‘Well, what about man on man assault, if it’s a gay couple?'” she says. “It made me realize what a different world they’re growing up in. They have an understanding and they know about the politics of how we interact. For those of us who were raised without this kind of consciousness, it was a lot more of learning on the fly.”
While neither of her sons have read Boying Up yet, they were thrilled to pose for the cover. They also love that she’s dedicated all of her books to them. But that’s where the glamour ends. For Miles and Frederick, this book is just their mom being “science mom.”
“They think I’m ridiculous in general. I’m just their mom. They really think of me as a scientist more than a celebrity mom, so I think for them [the book] just feels like an extension [of me] always wanting to explain things scientifically,” Bialik says. “I have a cold sore right now, which I get every couple of years. It’s grossing my children out, like they don’t want to look at it. ‘Can’t you cover it up with makeup?’ So I explained to them that the life cycle of a virus has to die by exploding on your face.”
She laughs and adds, “They don’t want science mom.”
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Bialik says that when her older son Miles read Girling Up, he got uncomfortable when he came across the sections on anatomy and dating. Boying Up also touches on female anatomy so that boys can have a better understanding of it — and that’s exactly the way Bialik wants it.
“[My editor and I] wanted to present a book that raises the kind of people we hope our children will be,” she says. “Meaning I want my boys to know about a girl’s body, to not be grossed out or weirded out or avoid talking about it. My sons don’t like talking about my ‘moon cycle’ as I call it, but it’s important for them to know that there’s nothing wrong with the female body. It’s not gross, it’s not weird. Sure it’s different.”
She adds: “It may not be pleasant for you to think about, but that’s really kind of the overarching principle of this book: What are the things that we would want boys to know about? That’s why [Boying Up] includes all of those things, even though my boys are like, ‘Eh, do we really have to look at that?'”
Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant hits shelves May 8.