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Miles Groth

Shakespeare was keenly affected by the lives of the boys who played the parts of women in his plays. Evidence for his understanding and compassion is found in the speeches of those characters who cross-dress female to male. By a double negation of his gender, the boy actor is given an opportunity to speak for himself as well for the female character he is portraying. The examples are Julia as Sebastian in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Portia as Balthazar and Nerissa as both the young lawyer’s clerk and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Viola as Cesario in Twelfth Night, Imogen as Fidele in Cymbeline, and especially Rosalind as Ganymede in As You Like It. I argue that what they were given to say by Shakespeare reveals the experience of being a boy, not only in early modern England or ancient Greece (where all parts were also played by males), but also in our time. I suggest the treatment of boys in the theatre is mirrored by the treatment of boys today. In those instances where doubled impersonation was written into Shakespeare’s plays, we have a unique opportunity to hear boys tell us about themselves. As with so much else that is timeless insight, the bard understood and articulated the experience of being a boy. Taken together, the utterances of his “boys” tell us how it is to be a boy.

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Niobe Way

Our longitudinal studies of boys over the past two decades have revealed that boys have and/or want intimate male friendships and that these relationships are critical for their mental health. Yet as they reach late adolescence, boys become wary of their male best friends even as they continue to want emotional intimacy with these peers. As the pressures of stereotypic manhood intensify, boys disconnect from the very relationships that support their mental health. The numerous challenges faced by boys in school and at home are in part a reflection of this disconnection.

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All the Boys Are Straight

Heteronormativity in Contemporary Books on Fathering and Raising Boys

Damien W. Riggs

Over the past decade a rapidly growing number of books have been published on fathering and raising boys. Whilst these books purport to simply describe boyhood, this article suggests that they are in fact actively engaged in constructing boyhood and in making available to boys particular gender and sexual identities. In an analysis of ten such books, the article demonstrates how they are informed by a range of heteronormative and homophobic assumptions about boys and masculinity. Particular focus is given to constructions of the “average boy,” the assumption that such boys are “naturally” attracted to girls, discourses of the “sissy” boy, and accounts of gay boys. The analysis provided suggests that constructions of the first two rely upon the negative constructions of the latter two. Implications for the ways in which we understand boys, fathering and families are drawn from the findings. Recommendations are made for research agendas that not only respect and include gay boys and their parents, but also celebrate the experiences of non-gender normative, non-heterosexual boys.

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Stiles X. Simmons and Karen M. Feathers

Critical literacy instruction has been offered as a means of improving the historically low reading achievement of African American boys. This study examined the impact of two strategies, disconnections and problem posing, on the critical literacy development of upper elementary African American boys. The boys were engaged in six instructional sessions using the strategies to foster discussion. Transcripts of the boys’ discussions across the sessions demonstrate that the strategies promoted the boys’ engagement in critical discussion, including comparing the text with their own life experiences, considering relationships between characters, and exploring the potential influence of the author’s gender on the story. In a short time period, the boys made substantial progress toward critical literacy.

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"Boys in Power"

Consent and Gendered Power Dynamics in Sex

Katrín Ólafsdottir and Jón Ingvar Kjaran

Sexual consent determines if sex is consensual, but the concept is under-researched globally. In this article, we focus on heterosexual young men and how they negotiate sex and consent. We draw on peer group interviews to understand how young men are constituted by the dominant discourses at play in shaping their realities. We have identified two different discourses that inform consent, the discourse of consent (based on legal, educational, and grassroots discourses), and the discourse of heterosexuality (based on the heterosexual script, porn, and gender roles) resulting in conflicting messages for boys. They are supposed to take responsibility for sex to be consensual as well as being gentle partners, but at the same time, the heterosexual discourse itself produces power imbalances in sex and dating.

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Cormac Ó Beaglaoich, Mark Kiss, Clíodhna Ní Bheaglaoich and Todd G. Morrison

Ó Beaglaoich and associates (2013, 2015a, 2015b) report that the Gender Role Conflict Scale for Adolescents (GRCS-A, Blazina et al. 2005) may not be suitable for use with Irish boys. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to develop a culturally appropriate measure of gender role conflict (GRC). The resultant 26-item scale was entitled the Gender Role Conflict Scale for Irish Adolescents (GRCS-IA). It had satisfactory scale score reliability and a unidimensional factor structure. Evidence of convergent validity was adduced through statistically significant correlations between participants’ gender role conflict and indices of psychological functioning (i.e., self-esteem and state as well as trait anxiety). The divergent validity of the GRCS-IA also was demonstrated (i.e., participants’ gender role conflict did not correlate significantly with their endorsement of masculine norms). Limitations of the current study are outlined and directions for future research are discussed.

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Suzan Hirsch

This paper reports on case studies spanning four consecutive years (2005-2008) focused on addressing and challenging Australian primary school boys’ disengagement with English, particularly reading, using an action research process informed by both quantitative and qualitative data. Primary participants were all male and ranged from 8 to 11 years of age. Boys were identified and selected for each case study based on the questionnaire and interview results from whole grade surveys of both males and females. The data results identified the boys with negative views of literacy and boys who identified reading as being a feminine activity, thereby narrowing their perceptions of masculinity. These boys were involved in a reading/mentoring program with high profile professional Rugby League players. The celebrity rugby league players were involved in ten weekly mentoring and reading sessions with male participants each year. These sessions focused on building positive male identity, shifting negative attitudes to reading and challenging negative stereotypes of both professional sportsmen and boys as readers. After each of the case studies, quantitative and qualitative data indicated a positive change in the participants’ attitudes towards reading as well as their perceived stereotypes of males as readers and increased involvement in voluntary reading.

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Heather Ellis

This introductory article explains the aims of the interdisciplinary conference “Masculinity and the Other” held at Balliol College, Oxford, August 29-30, 2007, at which all of the papers comprising this special issue of Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies were first presented. It points out the prominence which the notions of the “boy” and boyhood and the life-cycle enjoyed at the conference and seeks more generally to suggest the benefits a more fully integrated discussion of these topics might bring to the fields of masculinity and gender studies.

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Reproduction, Resistance and Hope

The Promise of Schooling for Boys

Michael C. Reichert and Joseph Nelson

Extended editorial introduction to a double special issue on boys and schooling. Adopting a developmental perspective on boyhood, the editors frame these special issues on boys' education by reviewing research on their experience of schooling. In particular, they endeavor to illuminate boys' agency and opportunities they can find in schools for resistance to restrictive masculine regimes.

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Picturing Boys

Found Photographs and the Transformation of Boyhood in 1950s America

John Ibson

Systematic scrutiny of everyday photographs of American boys together suggests that, as never before, homophobia became a barrier for boys in 1950s America. In a time of high anxiety regarding the possible implications of male togetherness in the United States, boys’ relationships in the 1950s, with fresh physical inhibitions, came to resemble relationships typical of older American males. Although cultural concern over homosexuality was decades-old in the 1950s and had long inhibited the various associations of older males, that anxiety may not have exacted its toll on boys together until the postwar period, establishing restrictions that continue to severely limit closeness among boys.