Social Work - Theses

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    Young men speak: a study of mid-adolescence and masculinity
    This study investigated the effect of dominant notions of masculinity in the lives of mid-adolescent males. A qualitative research design, based on the analysis of transcripts of in-depth interviews with eight sixteen and seventeen year-old young men, confirmed the existence of a harsh masculine culture that impinged significantly on their behaviour and attitudes. The findings are identified a possible turning point in young men’s lives, where they begin to develop highly valued close relationships with a small group of friends or mates, with whom they share and emotional bond, and around whom they feel less pressure to prove their manliness. While they described the possibility of sharing thoughts, and feelings and experiences, there were nevertheless limits to what was allowed to be spoken even between the closest of friends. These restrictions were attributable to the sanctions that operated to maintain an environment significantly influenced by dominant notion of masculinity, and in which these friendship groups were embedded. The young men conformed to the tacit restrictions on intimacy, from fear of exposing themselves as weak or poorly skilled. Nevertheless, participants demonstrated a developmental readiness for intimacy, and were beginning to experience emotional engagement with male or female peers. The study suggests the need for a new concept that values and acknowledges a sense of emotional connectedness in the absence of sharing verbalised thoughts and feelings. With intimacy constrained, and little discussion of personal issues, young men had inadequate knowledge of the complexity of problems that might confront them, and few models of coping strategies. Consequently, they risked feeling isolated and unresourced in times of stress. Similarly, while they recognised signs of stress in others, they had few helping skills. In any case, dominant masculinity required that young men handle their own problems, without showing any vulnerability. Counselling was seen as an ultimate failure of manliness. There were indications of intergender rivalry, and despite attempts to be fair and equitable, an underlying belief that men should be in control in families and relationships. Rock music was clearly a potent positive element in the lives of young men, and served a variety of purposes. Alcohol gave individual and group release from the debilitating restrictions of masculinity, removing the need for self-control and allowing greater intimacy. The young men showed they were able to discriminate between “real life” and media or sporting images of masculinity, and had independently identified personal role models from within their own family or friendships circles. This study has shown the importance of understanding the adolescent male world from his own perspective. In particular, it demonstrates the degree to which masculinity impacts on the adolescent behaviour and attitudes, and highlights the necessity for Social Work practitioners to factor the masculine code of behaviour into case and programme planning. Moreover, it is suggested that Social Workers take a proactive approach to teaching young men the language and skills to understand masculinity, and to pursue identity formation and the establishment of positive relationships despite its impact on their lives.