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Boys to men: exploring masculinity in child and youth care

Smith, M. (2003) Boys to men: exploring masculinity in child and youth care. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 16 (4). pp. 12-21. ISSN 0840-982X

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Work on issues of masculinity needs to start where boys and men are at. Discourses which focus exclusively on male aggression and violence (Mills 2001) risk blaming boys and men for what they are rather than what they do. Indeed, constantly to challenge and vilify when the literature points towards a fragility in masculine identity may merely further entrench those very behaviours which reformers seek to change. It may also inhibit the exploration of other ways of being a man. In many respects Child and Youth Care workers are in an ideal position to engage productively with issues of gender, for to do so fits in with some of the profession’s central tenets. As a profession we are charged to be concerned with individual differences (Maier 1979). This concern needs to extend to differences that exist on account of gender. We cannot pass these off as the product of faulty socialisation or operate from a basis that girls and boys should be treated the same. To do so encourages a culture of androgyny, which flies in the face of biology and indeed wider processes of socialisation. And of course Child and Youth Care workers are also transition workers (Maier 1979). They need therefore to consider how they might facilitate the transition of boys to men. Obviously the ways in which they do so has to be more diffuse and sophisticated than erstwhile initiation ceremonies, but some account needs to be given to how they might go about this. Attaching some importance to ideas around rites of passage, workers need to build opportunities through which these can be marked into the programme. Life events such as an adolescent boy’s first shave for instance can be glossed over in a matter-of- fact way — “Here’s a razor, this is how you do it.” However, if approached with sensitivity, imagination and humour, such situations can be afforded a significance on his road to manhood.