'I don't want to be a freak!' An Interrogation of the Negotiation of Masculinities in Two Aotearoa New Zealand Primary Schools. (2014)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury. School of Educational Studies and Leadership
AuthorsFerguson, Graeme Williamshow all
Increasingly since the 1990s those of us who are interested in gender issues in education have heard the question: What about the boys? A discourse has emerged in New Zealand, as in other countries including Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, that attention spent on addressing issues related to the educational needs of girls has resulted in the neglect of boys and problems related to their schooling. Positioned within this discourse, boys are depicted as disadvantaged, victims of feminism, underachieving or failing within the alienating feminised schooling environment and their struggles at school are seen as a symptom of a wider ‘crisis of masculinity'. This anxiety about boys has generated much debate and a number of explanations for the school performance of boys. One concern, that has remained largely unexamined in the Aotearoa New Zealand context, is that the dominant discourse of masculinity is characterised by a restless physicality, anti-intellectualism, misbehaviour and opposition to authority all of which are construed as antithetical to success at school. This thesis explores how masculinities are played out in the schooling experiences of a small group of 5, 6 and 7 year old boys in two New Zealand primary schools as they construct, embody and enact their gendered subjectivities both as boys and as pupils. This study of how the lived realities of schooling for these boys are discursively constituted is informed by feminist poststructuralism, aspects of queer theory and, in particular, draws on the works of Michel Foucault. The research design involved employing an innovative mix of data generating strategies. The discursive analysis of the data generated in focus group discussions, classroom and playground observations, children’s drawings and video and audio recording of the normal classroom literacy programmes is initially organised around these sites of learning in order to explore how gender is produced discursively, embodied and enacted as children go about their work and their play. The research shows that although considerable diversity was apparent as the boys fashioned their masculinities in these different sites, ‘doing boy’ is not inimical to ‘doing schoolboy’ as all the boys, when required to, were able to constitute themselves as ‘intelligible’ pupils (Youdell, 2006). The research findings challenge the notion of school as a feminised and alienating environment for them. In particular, instances of some of the boys disrupting the established classroom norms, as recorded by feminist researchers more than two decades ago, are documented. Concerns then, that “classroom practices reinforced a notion of male importance and superiority while diminishing the interests and status of girls” (Allen, 2009, p. 124) appear to still be relevant, and the postfeminist discourse “that gender equity has now been achieved for girls and women in education” (Ringrose, 2013, p. 1) is called into question. Amid the greater emphasis on measuring easily quantifiable aspects of pupils’ educational achievement, what this analysis does is to recognize the processes of schooling as highly complex and to offer a more nuanced response to the question of boys and their schooling than that offered by, for example, men’s rights advocates. It suggests that if we are committed to improving education for all children, the question needs to be re/framed so as not to lose sight of educational issues related to girls and needs to ask just which particular groups of boys and which particular groups of girls are currently being disadvantaged in our schools.