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Kenneth B. Kidd's Making
American Boys is a carefully researched yet uneven discussion of the role
of the "American Boy" in US culture over the past century.† His work
is best considered as a collection of chapters on specific subjects, some of
which are more successful than others.† The work as a whole does not really
function as an overview, and it will mainly be of interest to scholars who
share the author's interest in gender theory.
Certain chapters of Kidd's work stand out.† I found
his discussion of Father Flannigan's Boy's Town fascinating, although his
frequent references to Newt Gingrich made the chapter seem somewhat dated.†
"Farming for Boys" is another chapter of interest to the general
reader.† Here Kidd discusses the ideal of rural boyhood and the ways it
influenced urban youth mentoring programs such as the YMCA.
†The most serious problem with
Kidd's work as a whole is its vague theoretical nature, which is not surprising
in a work that attempts to mix psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, and postmodern
perspectives.† It is often very difficult to discover the point that Kidd is
trying to make.† The author has much to say about legends of feral children,
but I did not feel that he made a strong connection between the feral tale and
American boy work and ideals.
†In the final chapter the author
gives some interesting and pointed criticism to modern parenting literature on
boys.† I was surprised and disappointed not to hear Kidd's thoughts on the
extremely conservative and influential boy books by James Dobson, which seem to
have flown under the academic radar.† Dobson's reactionary concern with raising
heterosexual, stereotypically masculine boys is much more obviously in the
tradition of the early boy-rearing movements than are the therapeutic ideals of
authors like Gurian and Thompson.† Considering Kidd's gender-theory approach, I
was surprised that he did not give a more substantial history and critique of
the long-standing concern of boy experts with preventing "effeminacy"
In his conclusion, Kidd confesses
that he finds the whole idea of boy work unappealing.† Kidd seems to dislike
the idea of any form of institutionalized gender identity, and finds the more
benign forms of youth programs biased towards particular social classes.†
Kidd's dislike for his subject probably explains the dry, cynical tone that makes
his work difficult to enjoy.† Kidd's notes are extensive, and his references
are often quite interesting.† Specialists will find this work worth
investigating, although I do not recommend it to the general reader.
© 2006 David A. Flory
is a writer and musician with a long-term interest in clinical psychology. He
has a B.S. in math from the University of Texas, and he lives in Texas.
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