Familiar and expected gender patterns help us to understand boys but often constrict our understanding of any given boy. Writing in a wonderfully robust and engaging voice, Ken Corbett argues for a new psychology of masculinity, one that is not strictly dependent on normative expectation. As he writes in his introduction, “no two boys, no two boyhoods are the same.” In Boy Hoods Corbett seeks to release boys from the grip of expectation as Mary Pipher did for girls in Reviving Ophelia.
Corbett grounds his understanding of masculinity in his clinical practice and in a dynamic reading of feminist and queer theories. New social ideals are being articulated. New possibilities for recognition are in play. How is a boy made between the body, the family, and the culture? Does a boy grow by identifying with his father, or by separating from his mother? Can we continue to presume that masculinity is made at home? Corbett uses case studies to defy stereotypes, depicting masculinity as various and complex. He examines the roles that parental and cultural anxiety play in development, and he argues for a more nuanced approach to cross-gendered fantasy and experience, one that does not mistake social consensus for well-being. Corbett challenges us at last to a fresh consideration of gender, with profound implications for understanding all boys.
Based in his extensive work with nontraditional families (including same-gender couples raising children) and years of research into non-normative gender behaviors, practicing psychoanalyst Corbett outlines an elastic psychoanalytical model for examining male desire, while confronting society's reliance on traditional masculinity narratives. Corbett isn't afraid of questioning any existing school of thought: Does a strict, heterosexual reading of the oedipal triangle still functions in modern analysis? Should boyhood femininity be suppressed in favor of the gender binary? Can aggression be a productive, even healthy, quality among men? Corbett's frank discussion of the emotional and sexual fluidity of boyhood play, as well as his honest assessment of himself as both a gay man and a professional, go a long way toward expanding the boundaries and methodology for understanding boyhood. Practitioners facing what Corbett calls a "category crisis" with their patients will find this most useful, but a wider audience should get caught up in Corbett's social, cultural, psychological, and biological critique. More case studies would produced a richer experience, especially for concerned men, but Borbett's praise-worthy challenge to still-persistent myths of masculinity is an absorbing read that pushes psychoanalysis into the 21st century.