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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 10/12/2006 | 2 Comments

When I was in France a few months ago I was surprised to see two teenage boys kiss each other when they met up in the street. Of course, I am aware of this traditional greeting for older people but Iíd never thought about whether it was employed by teenage boys: it is.

I was surprised by this as it is so different from the ways boys, or men, interact with one another in Scottish culture. One of the most interesting conversations Iíve had this year was on this subject. I had met up with Dr Desmond Ryan who is a sociologist at Edinburgh University. Desmond has spent many years studying the interactions of young people, some of this time was spent in Italy and Spain. Desmond comes from England himself but has been living in Scotland for some time.

He argues that one of the most distinctive things about Scottish culture is very strong gender apartheid. He says that in most cultures it is common for boys and girls to play together both in and out of school: not so in Scotland. From an early age boys and girls in Scotland play predominantly with others of their own gender and there is not the same amount of interaction that is common in other cultures (even England, according to Professor Ryan).

Desmond Ryan argues that this gender segregation has huge implications for the development of masculinity in Scotland. He maintains that what is usual is for boys to develop their masculinity from spending time with girls. Socialising and playing with girls is what makes boys know that they are different. This is also carried into adulthood where it is menís associations with women which allows them to experience their own masculinity. However, in a culture like Scotland where there is more gender segregation itís not females who give boys their masculinity it is other males. And in such a culture, according to Ryan, you get a fragile, brittle masculinity. In other words, the type of masculinity which permanently separates men from boys. The killer question in such a culture is whether you are a man or wimp, or a Jessie as my 85 year old father would say. No wonder I was surprised to see French boys express affection for one another.
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Joined: 02/01/2007

Comment Posted: 02/01/2007 03:42
It's probably bad form to comment on one's own quoted comments, but here goes. Am impressed by how much Carol remembered from a casual conversation, but a couple of glosses may help keep the flames at bay. I speak from a cultural-sociological perspective, rather than a psychological one. My contribution aims to support Carol's general aims.

The key evidence on mixed boy-girl friendship groups comes from Roger Ingham's Dutch research collaborator on teenage pregnancy. In contrast to Roger's stuff on England (not so discrepant with Scotland in this regard), Dutch early teenagers generally formed mixed-sex friendship groups in school. As Roger points out, this means that these young people know each other as people as well as as representatives of the opposite sex. Having a number of friends of the other gender reduces the pressure to have physical sex in order to prove to your own-sex peer group that you are cool. Joyce Wilkinson and I found in our research on teenage pregnancy in Dundee that this wasn't just a boy's problem - girls too indulged in risky behaviours to 'show they were good enough for a shag'. Add too much alcohol and not enough fathering and you are some way to understanding how economically backwashed communities in UK post-industrial cities have T.P. rates as high as they do. South Bank University researchers found that when you are poor and on the edge of society, about the only thing you have to make a statement with is your body - given who they are being made to, inevitably such statements tend to be extreme.

Carol's observations on boys' nonchalance about physically expressing day-to-day affection for their friends can be confirmed by any casual visitor to Italy or Spain as well as France. There's a wonderful photo by Cartier-Bresson of two young men in Naples, one sitting on the knees of the other, face-to-face, and it's obvious from the photo that nothing sexual is going on - but the freedom from any fear of censure they exhibited must have impressed even Cartier-Bresson, since he thought it worth publishing the photo. Given that Mediterranean manliness is fostered by strong and somewhat uncritical approval of boys by all of the family's women, it is not without its down side. You can't have everything, it seems!

But this is a general question of bodily expression and its cultural rules. Since the early 16th century, the English at least (someone may have similar evidence for Scotland) moved from being the emotionally most outgoing of peoples (the Italians at the time being cast as the cold, calculating types) with a five hundred year reputation for its choral singing to being physically awkward and emotionally inhibited. There's a letter from Erasmus (c.1510) to a friend where he comments on the attractions of the English maidens who kiss you at every turn. With the mid-20th century thaw from Victorian values it looked as though young people in the Sixties were breaking back towards a norm for general physical contact that was both warmer and less gender-polarised; but the recent hyper-sexualisation of the young adult body at the same time as the moral panic about children and touch seems to me to make easy-going physicality most unlikely in our culture. When every contact must be negotiated, every impulse to reach out to another must be reviewed for its risk.

Gender rules do not only apply to contact with others that could be sexual. I am very impressed by the degree to which the current Irish Renaissance is not just about good schooling providing adept workers for the Celtic Tiger, but also about the expressive power of the Irish body: its music and singing, its dancing, its talking ('crack' etc.), its styles of dressing, even its eating and drinking - all have been successfully presented as sharing in the vitality and love of sociability of a young people who are going somewhere. When did you last hear an 'Irish joke'? Compare this with the student from the Central Belt at the Royal Ballet School (on TV over Christmas) who disguised his attendance at ballet class by becoming a black belt at Kung Fu or somesuch, because to his mates boys and ballet were just incompatible. Calling it 'Billy Elliot syndrome' makes clear that it is not a specifically Scottish problem; but it would be nice if the Brits could shake off this legacy of 'double-minus manliness', manliness as a negative: I'm not a woman, and I'm not a child, so I must be a man.
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Joined: 02/01/2007

Comment Posted: 14/01/2007 22:22
Coincidentally, here is an announcement of a programme on the Irish music revival shortly to be broadcast. More general issues concerning the irish and self-confidence may be addressed.

MUSIC: Folk Hibernia
On: BBC 4 (Freeview)
Date: Friday 19th January 2007
Time: 21:00 to 22:30 (1 hour and 30 minutes long)

Documentary which looks at the Irish folk revival of the last 20 or 30 years. 60 years ago virtually unheard abroad and largely unloved at home, Irish music has given the world a sense of Ireland and Ireland a sense of itself, as the country has risen from an impoverished post-colonial upstart to a modern European power. Contributors include Christy Moore, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners, Liam Clancy of The Clancy Brothers and Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.
Excerpt taken from DigiGuide - the world's best TV guide available from http://www.getdigiguide.com/?p=1&r=2693

Copyright (c) GipsyMedia Limited.
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