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Distribution of roles: Roles within the group

Each member in every group takes over or is assigned a specific role. These roles are sometimes predestined but can also copied or taken from adults. The following article deals with the distribution of roles within youth work groups of specific genders. It is meant for group discussions on the theme among members of staff or during training days.

Gender specific youth work

The goal of gender specific youth work

The goal of gender specific youth work cannot be to separate the sexes. Just as society cannot get away from co-education (Education in schools with mixed sex classes.

Goal: Both sexes should receive the best possible assistance. From a current point of view, the girls must be encouraged even more than the boys in lots of areas!). In youth work, the best possible assistance for both genders must also be strived for. Mixed gender youth groups must have attractive offers for both boys and girls. Doing things together is important, but should not be carried through at the expense of the relative genders. Good communication is important within a mixed team. In certain situations, it may be necessary to split the group into small single sex groups, so that a specific gender can be helped (for example, a group discussion on friendship etc.). In addition, it is the job of a good youth worker to recognise and work against problems within a mixed gender group e.g. the conversational behaviour of a group.

Literature on this subject: Nancy Chodrow, Carol Gilligan
They try to explain the ethics/morals of man and woman. In doing this, they have tested the play and group behaviour of boys and girls. These test and results can only show general tendencies.

Problem: The way to the goal

The scientific research of gender specific pedagogic is very new; there are very few real life studies and few good and correct ideas and concepts.

General: The allotment of a gender is the most socially engraved difference between humans. (Not like the age of a person for example: There are people who are just as agile at 40 as they were at 25, or those who are like a 45 year old with 30. Each person has a certain possibility to adapt his age to suit his own wishes). However adapting your gender is not so easy. A sex change is only recognised in “fringe groups" in society such as homosexuals or bisexuals. Therefore each individual must find their own role for their gender in society. This process takes a long time. Research believes that the process of identification with a gender is not completed until a person reaches 25 years.

An idea to discuss the different roles

The following problem is posed in youth work: The youth workers must be acquainted with the problem and have their own gender role fixed in position (or be in the preparation phase). This is required in order to think critically about the role of genders, without being effected comments such as “the skirts and the trousers” (the allocation of a gender is even present in language…). Only a youth worker who has been through this stage of development can lead a discussion on the subject.

The program:

  1. The workers must know the problems and have an opinion before the course begins (better for the group).

  2. The group can be split into single sex groups for a discussion on female and male roles, or discussional contributions by boys and girls in mixed or in single sex groups etc. Dependent upon the “opinion” of the leader und his “development”, mixed or single sex groups (male worker with boys, female worker with girls) can be formed. In a “mixed sex” group, the male or female worker should also present the counter arguments of his/her own gender and remain neutral and open for discussion.

  3. Afterwards a „Showpiece", possibly with technical assistance (Video), role plays with typical scenes – but short! Goal: Even if they want to, girls and boys cannot radically adapt their own gender roles.

Background: The position of girls and boys


  • Games

    The traditional games for girls are co-operationally structured games, so that the success of certain players does not necessarily mean the failure of other players. There are no hierarchical games, there are no leaders. Exceptions are Father-Mother-Child-Games, for example, however the dominant role changes constantly. Girls do not enjoy games where there are real winners and real losers. Girls usually play in pairs or in smaller groups. The main point of the game is „to do something together”. Girls define themselves with closeness to others ("ask others about the way").

  • Group time:

    Girls accept quieter contents in group time – crafts for example.

  • Language:

    The language of a girl is dialogue orientated ("let us", "should we not"), this signifies that a common conclusion is strived for. It is an attempt to find compromises. Verbal attacks hardly ever occur between girls, as this would usually be at the cost of the group and the group relationship.

  • Girl’s friendships:

    Female relationships are much more strongly built up with discussions than male relationships. They have no problems with talking about their problems, about themselves, their friends and relationships. Parallel stories are often told by listeners in conversations, in order to show solidarity toward the person who is telling a story.

  • Problem:

    Girl’s relationships are built on agreement and togetherness. This equality principle can lead to if is there is a difference of opinion. Girls cannot apply dominance or aggression because this would endanger the equality principle between them. (Nobody wants to play teacher and take control, no-one wants to destroy the community, and everyone wants to keep the group together). Therefore girls can learn to lead groups without being dominant, can accept other opinions and therefore avoid aggression and meanness. Should it ever come to a real dispute, girls tend to break off the friendship altogether and avoid the other person for months or years. (“Bitchy” girls refuse to speak ever again; they act bitchy toward boys and girls).


  • Games

    Boys tend to play in larger, hierarchically orientated groups. There is generally a dominant leader. Their inferiority can be felt among the boys. The hierarchy can change (for example, in games or in specific roles e.g. the group clown). In doing this, boys learn how to deal with harsh criticism. In the group structure, boys learn how to become the centre of attention. In doing this, they do not pushed down.

  • Language:

    They learn how to be the centre of attention by using their language (jokes, telling stories etc.). Boys generally know how to act and how to behave as the speaker and as the listener. The "audience" does not support the speaker attentively like the girl’s group; the boy who is the centre of attention at the time is quizzed and made the butt of jokes. Boys therefore learn to assert themselves in front of a competitive audience and learn to deal with strong criticism. The boys know that comments from the audience (for example, if someone in the audience shouts “fatty”), are not specifically directed at them, rather that the heckler wants to throw himself into the limelight.

  • Boyl’s friendships:

    Boys react more boisterously. Arguments are sometimes a way for boys to make contact with others, verbal attacks are seen to be normal in groups of boys. Youths are constantly trying test their hierarchical level with arguments. Boys are not shy to give out commands (“we are going to play this game now!”). Sporty boys are usually have a high position on the hierarchical scale, unfit and less attractive boys usually have to take a lower position, which can seriously damage a boys self confidence.

  • Conversational behaviour:

    Verbal attacks are normal within groups of boys. Subjects which are easy to discuss with girls are more embarrassing for boys (belief, love, and friendship, for example). Their vulnerability can go on for days and if there is a danger to their reputation, other boys might use this to better their own position (opposite to the girls: see definition of closeness). Boys do not generally talk about emotions, feelings and personal things because this could make them more vulnerable.

  • Problems:

    Keeping quiet about their own problems is a boy’s weakness. Problems are not discussed so openly like a group of girls. Boy’s friendships are not as close as girls.

General problems:

In role play or drama shows, boys who play the “weaker” roles are often criticised. They play the role either 1. not convincingly or 2. even if they play the role well, they are not seen to be a good actor. In the first case, the actor can not step out of the ”strong” masculine role and therefore is not convincing in a weaker role. In the second case, the actor plays the role well, but the audience cannot really understand the achievement. They expect a “strong” man, they don’t get it and therefore criticise the actor. The same behaviour is true of strong female roles. Either the actress cannot fulfil the role or is not recognised by the audience. However, the solution is not to fill all of the weak roles with girls and the strong roles with boys. Maybe you should consider a role play with a group of girls or group of boys, not mixed, or if the audience should only be made up with males or females (however, negative example: the “man o man” show)


Boys and girls, men and women cannot simply radically break out of their given roles in society. If they do this, it can lead to problem situations which can also occur in a youth group.

Impression of boys and girls

On one hand due to parents or adults, boys and girls between five and fifteen years old (the main socialising phase) spend the majority of their time in single sex groups. Due to this, boys and girls learn themselves how to socialise and learn about their own roles as adults. Both boys and girls copy the behaviour of their parents and bring an extreme form of this behaviour into the group.

Program process

Distribute the questionnaire one day beforehand!

  • 17.00 group room (approx. 10 min): Introduction: "The story about Peter, who wanted to be a real boy"
  • Small groups: (total of two hours, one hour before the evening meal): Division: one group of boys, one group of girls, one mixed group.
  • 1. Discussion about the results of the first questionnaire.
  • Further possibilities (if the discussion dries up): Discussion on subjects raised by the second questionnaire.
  • Further possibilities: Discussion about the comment: “Men think logically, women think reasonably!"
  • 21.00 group room (approx 1. hour) Presentation of the results and afterwards an „Auction game".

First block of questionnaires

I am: Boy Girl
Which is ... ... masculine ... feminine
Sleeps for a long time    
Chatting on the phone    
Practising sport    
To apologise    
Talk about sex    
Drive a car    
Satisfies themselves    
Take time for their appearance    
Go for a stroll    
Work hard    
Have fear    
Be brave    
Be sporty    
Be lovely    
Be good/well-behaved    
Be prepared to help    
Be nice    
Be rowdy    
Be brutal    
Be unforgiving    
Think logically    
Buyer/spend money    
Be cold    
Neat and tidy    
Think reasonably    

Second block of questionnaires

I am: male female
My age:    
  Yes No
A woman’s family is more important than her career.    
It is difficult for a man to be faithful.    
A man is strong.    
Tenderness is more important to a woman than    
Sexual intercourse.    
A woman thinks with her heart.    
A man must think about his career.    
A woman has no technical understanding.    
The nature of a woman is nice, soft and understanding.    
A man has a strong sex drive.    
A man deals deliberately and planned.    
A man does not cry.    
Only a woman has faithfulness in her nature.    
A man must not look nice.    
A man is responsible for the family.    

Different roles in the group:

The shy one
The quiet one
The peaceful one
Teacher’s pet
Mummy’s boy
The sleepy one
The good one
The follower
The weakling
The spoiler
The ruffian
The interested one
The uninterested one

The youth leader can apply every person positively according to his own talents. For example, the clown should given a job such as propaganda minister so that he is kept busy. He might have the job of introducing the next game or explaining the rules, for example.

Throwing difficult youths out of the room should be avoided; the group time should be broken off earlier. Everyone wants to experience recognition. You should however only recognise what has been earned. Everyone has a specific role. You should make sure that the role is practised positively. You should not peg the role onto someone but encourage him to bring his qualities to the fore. Work with the strengths of an individual. Make his strengths positive for the whole group.

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