Starbucks and therapy: why women work with girls.

Lately, I have been thinking about some of the work I do with young women and thought I’d share a few things!  This post looks at some of my thoughts with regard to ‘why women choose to work with young women’ and I plan to do a follow-up looking at ‘how we go about work with young women’.  These are my own reflections from practice, they have no empirical evidence and come as the result of sleep deprivation and currently, as I type, red wine!

Anecdotally it appears to me that a growing trend in Christian youth work is single-sex work.  Particularly I have noted the increase in woman who go into youthwork looking to work with young women.  The draw of days on end in Starbucks, solving issues to do with ‘self-esteem’ is massive it seems.  I am not averse to this particular way of working.  I love cafes as much as the next person and see the value in working one-to-one and in small groups looking at issues.  I am concerned however that this trend is indicative of a deficit in the training and development of those going into work with young people (especially women), rather than a deep-seated, planned, needs-led approach to informal education. 

Being involved in delivering youthwork training for a variety of people and groups I’ve noted that very often work with young people attracts those who a)are looking to work out an ongoing issue for themselves vicariously through their work with others b) are looking for a safe place to continue on being an adolescent themselves c) are looking for an excuse to delay meeting the real world.  There are obviously lots of others who are going into youth work to see young people supported to become more, and all that.  And it would be naive to think that nobody goes into working with people to fulfil something in themselves – in fact that can be appropriate if acknowledged and handled in a transparent way.  But my concern is that if those working with young women are looking to solve something in their own lives they could project their own issues onto unsuspecting others. 

It seems to be a thread in conversations I have that many Christian women feel they lack a wealth of female role-models.  Who are the apostolic leaders?  Who are the pioneers?  Who are the really good reflective practitioners?  My concern is that rather than seeing this as a provocation to be those people to succeeding generations, many women going into youth work are looking to fill the need for affirmation, security and worth through some pseudo-therapy in starbucks.  Their meetings with young women are more to do with themselves and their issues than the development of those they meet.  I guess I’m treading a thin line here!  I am not alleging this is what happens in all mentoring sessions.  I am not alleging this is what happens in any one-to-one work, but I guess it could be.  You see sometimes I think we are very quick to ‘buy into’ stuff in Christendom.  We want to be doing the ‘latest’ kind of thing.  We want that funky youth cafe, or that edgy worship event, without necessarily reflecting on the fundamental issue of ‘need’ and the appropriateness of each approach to help facilitate a meeting of that said need.  The ‘coffee shop’ thing is really valuable, but I worry that it may just become the ‘thing to do’ without a reflection on why and how?  Or worse it is something that those going into work with young people need and because they have not had that need met – the need for real relationship; the need for challenge; the need for reflective space – they are seeking to quench that with a saturation of lattes and ‘how do you feel?’ chats. 

I have to declare that all these thoughts are a challenge to me as much as a challenge to others.  I know that I am still a work-in-progress and my own motives and approach need to be reflected upon.  I guess I am just asking whether we need to be doing more as community to try to help people work through things in appropriate spaces, so as to avoid them seeking means that may be inappropriate and damaging.  A 15-year-old can not solve my deep-seated issues about my body –  only I can do that – with the support of God and others around me.  I worry that we are setting up those going into youthwork to fail.  We have been short-changed and now we are seeking to deal with that deficit through our work with vulnerable and impressionable others – treating them almost as vessels to be used to our own means.  I hope I am way off mark with this.  I hope I have just reached the sleep-deprived insanity thing.  I hope the short-changing of generations of women can begin to be addressed in our work with young women.  I hope….



Mr Bossy?

Today I met with an amazing woman who is doing some brilliant work with young people locally.  She is great, inspirational and focused, so I was surprised today to find her perplexed and down.  We chatted, she told me about some feedback she had received from someone at the college at which she is studying.  One of the comments that had upset her, was one stating she was ‘bossy’. Bossy?!  Bossy?!  Where to start!  She is certainly assertive, she is certainly able to articulate her own view-point, she is certainly able to delegate responsibility to others in an appropriate manner, but I really take issue with the idea that she is bossy.

It got me thinking ‘how many men have I heard referred to as ‘bossy”? Silence for a moment…..sigh….uh none!  The word ‘bossy’ is so ugly and speaks to me of ugly things.  It is also a label I only see attached to women.  A man is ‘assertive’ or ‘directive’ – positive attributes- a woman ‘bossy’.  To me the label speaks volumes of a societal idea of how women should behave.  Women should be demure, passive and unsure.  Women should be indecisive, a little ignorant and placid.  Men should be decisive and assertive.

It’s troubling when I work with young women who are practicing being grown-ups and role-playing what they think that means by doing that passive, ‘I couldn’t possibly make a decision’, ‘I just couldn’t say no to him’ thing.  Heaven forbid they make a choice, say what they think or say ‘no thanks’ to giving a boy a blow-job in the public toilets!  They don’t want to be weird – they want to fit in, and fitting in means aligning themselves to these stereotypes of what they think it means to be a woman.  Key attributes celebrated in women seem to increasingly be returning to passivity and naivety.

With Tinie Tempah spewing lyrics which include ‘I just want to have…I’m on a mission, I don’t even want to kiss her, I mean I won’t even miss ya, When I’m done with ya’ (Frisky) is it any wonder that young women are seen as objects to be used, abused and discarded.  And the voice of the woman? Silent.  And the role of the woman? Compliant.  It is so difficult to try to enable young women to make more informed life choices,to  flourish and reach potential, when the messages bombarding them are squeezing them into ill-fitting, abusive moulds.  Even the voices coming out of some of the church are, in my opinion, in this same vein of stifling stereotypes and inappropriate expectations.  Women are to fulfil some 50s housewife image in order to succeed in what it means to be a ‘biblical women’ and to honour God. 

With the seeming revival of all things princess, one who tends to be a damsel-in-distress wanting desperately to be liberated by an assertive, directive man, I hold my head in my hands (metaphorically you understand – I tried to type in this position but it proved clumsy!).  I know bossy is one word.  I know I probably think a little too hard.  I know a messy quickie in the toilets is a bit of a leap from someone being called bossy, but I can see the links – views of women, roles of women, expectations of women.  It is not until people become more at ease with women being able to be decisive, offer direction and be assertive, that we will be able to see young women practicing being grown-up in a healthy and free way.  So I’m advocating the expulsion of ‘Little Miss Bossy’  and she can take that placid pappy princess with her!.