I am an unmarried, childless female who has worked in the nonprofit sector for almost 10 years-all of my adult life and then some-, am currently earning a higher education degree in Child and Youth Care and, upon graduation I plan to – you guessed it – work with kids. Insert all the touchy feely emotions here. Typical, right? Bleeding heart lady who just wants to “do good” and play with kittens and look how high her head is in the clouds with all this talk of peace and love and fairness.
In a field that seems overwhelmingly female, it feels (there I go feeling again) as if the words Love, Touch, Sensitive, and Intuitive need to be carefully monitored, if not avoided altogether. We avoid admitting the Love that is so inherently a part of the work that we do with youth, for fear of it being misinterpreted, misplaced, or, perhaps, thought of as less than. As weak, and an invalid reason to pursue a career, a life’s work. To be perceived as, dare I say – feminine.
In a field that is overwhelmingly female, it seems as if the words Love, Touch, Sensitive, and Intuitive need to be monitored, if not avoided.
Side Bar: Why are love and sensitivity necessarily feminine? And, even if they are, why would we try to de-feminize a field that so desperately needs the care? And what does that even mean, to de-feminize? Do we take Love out of the equation because Love is feminine? And how in the world do you take Love out of a profession that is literally all about caring for other humans? What would a love-less job in youth work even be?
The last two weeks alone give me ample ammunition for making a case for Love. Is that language use inappropriate? Yet really.
(Paris. Colorado Springs. Syria.)
And pause. Because this isn’t a post on global affairs. And what about the kids?! Of course – I’ll get there.
In fact, let me lay out the plan for the rest of the post, in reverse order. Ending back on the concept of Love as a priority of our work, I’m going to step through the ideas of relationships, control, and feminism.
Aw, no. She said the f-word.
[Take a deep breath, and watch this video. Emma Watson (yes, the Harry Potter girl) does a brilliant job of deconstructing the word “Feminism,” relating just how the social system we currently have is toxic not just to women, but also to men. If you don’t have the full 13:15 minutes, skip ahead to 6:55, where she quite eloquently lays out how gender inequality is disrupting the lives of men, as well as women. (Though I recommend watching it all – it’s an oldie, but a goodie.)]
Okay, are you back?
So. Why is this a gender equality issue? Because Child and Youth Care workers are primarily female. Because Child and Youth Care workers earn less than other fields of work. Because Child and Youth Care is viewed as a touchy feely, womanly and Love-y career path. Because Love is viewed as a woman thing.
But it’s more than that, even.
In reality, it’s all tied together. Sensitivity, the Paris attacks, misogyny, racism, the refugees, Robert Lewis Dear, Love: it’s all related.
We can know it’s related, when this article exists, explaining a “feminine” approach to terrorist attacks. We can know it’s related, when it took a photo of a drowned child to pull on the heartstrings of the world. We can know it’s related, when this guy feels it’s his right as a white man to kill for his beliefs; and, too, when he is considered a national “hero” by some of his countrymen – not a domestic terrorist – even as they spew out the other side of their mouths that Syrian refugees won’t be welcomed because they are terrorists… it’s all related.
It is related, because these all exist within the system that we have created. And, within that system, we keep responding in the same ways. More fear, more hate, more people mad enough to kill, to keep people out of their country, to blame and shame and identify a new they.
The truth is, these situations are going to keep happening. Again and again and again, adding their headlines to the long list of eventual global history. And with each and every one, we have a choice as to how we respond. If there is only thing that I know to be true, it is this: I do not have control over people’s actions; I do have control over how I respond to those actions. I have control of my response. Always.
I have no control of other’ actions; I only have control of my response.
So then. I promised feminism, then control, now relationships.
Child and Youth Care, as a field and a school of thought, was founded on the revolutionary idea that it’s all about relationships. That, at the end of the day, the only thing that is going to make an actual, transformational difference in the lives of anyone-children, youth, adults, whomever-is relationships.
The classic example of this is that youth in government residential care would be better “reached” through playing basketball outside with their caseworkers than by sitting around a table inside, discussing their progress. This is the heart of the CYC school of thought: that it is the relationships that are transformational—not the analysis, metrics, or tools used.
And the global situation being what it is, I would say that idea of relationships as revolutionary, of love as transformational, of human care as human right… is it. Paramount, imperative, overdue. It is the thing that has any chance of doing anything, at this point. In the broken system, more factions and fights and Others aren’t going to be solving problems anytime soon – keeping people out isn’t working.
If there was ever a time when relationships were important, now is it.
And perhaps, with the hopeful thought that since children are the leaders of tomorrow (well, a few tomorrows from now), our field may have a chance at influencing the future, we could actually make a difference by what and how we do within our work as Child and Youth Care workers.
And so if all of this work is built on the distinct premise that our difference is to be made in the relationships that we develop with the children and youth with whom we work, with what do we approach those relationships? Those mutually-benefitting, actual relationships?
Typically, I tend to enter my relationships with love.
I enter with vulnerability, with openness, with the knowledge that I can and will be changed by the other person. I acknowledge myself and the other human as creators, and the space between us as the canvas on which we can create. I enter with passion, with purpose, with the sense that whatever “we” create is better than what I can do.
Child and Youth Care is about honest relationships with Youth.
And so I enter Child and Youth Care.
Not because I am woman.
Not because I want to control.
I enter, because I intend to be, and to become, in relationship.
I enter, because I love.
*This post deeply inspired by, but not once referencing, the work of Hans and Kathy Skott-Myrhe, specifically their 2015 article “Revolutionary Love: CYC and the Importance of Reclaiming our Desire,” from the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 6(4), 581-594.