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Masculinities and whiteness: the shaping of adolescent male students' subjectivities in an Australian boys' school

Hatchell, Helen (2003) Masculinities and whiteness: the shaping of adolescent male students' subjectivities in an Australian boys' school. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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In my thesis I explore way in which adolescent male students negotiate and interrogate discursive ideologies relating to hegemonic masculinities and to the normality of whiteness, specifically within one English classroom in an Australian private single sex boys' school in Perth, Western Australia. A feminist poststructuralist theoretical framework is employed to explore how gendered and racialized positions available to adolescent males contribute to the shaping of their subjectivities, and how the social constructions of masculinities and femininities contribute to the ways in which adolescent males represent themselves. A quantitative approach, which included individual classroom observations, questionnaires and interviews, provided me with tools essential for examining the complexities of the effects of social constructs such as gender, sexuality and ethnicity on masculinist positionings at school. The study reveals the complexities surrounding discourses of hegemonic heterosexual masculinities and privileges of whiteness on the situationally specific formation and negotiation of subjectivities in adolescent males' lives in one school.

Central findings of the study show that adolescent males in this single sex boys' school easily maintained socially constructed ideas surrounding the feminisation of females and masculinization of males, with notions of homophobia embedded in discourses of hegemonic masculinities. A resistance to alternative masculine discourses shows the impact and maintenance of hegemonic heterosexual masculinities for adolescent males. However, through the use of particular texts, female teachers in the all boys' classroom were able to open up spaces for male students to interrogate hegemonic forms of masculinities, to interrogate power relationships, and to access alternative masculinities. Ina similar vein, my findings show how easy it is for students to ignore social injustices in relation to racism and stereotyping of Indigenous Australians, and to retain notions that reinforce these injustices.

A major conclusion of the study is that social injustices are easily maintained through educational institutions as active agents of reinforcing ideas and ideologies, particularly when changes mean disruption of privileges, such as privileges associated with hegemonic masculinity or with whiteness. Although this study was conducted within a middle class milieu, and thus the students were from an advantaged position in life, this does not justify their ignorance of issues of social justice. Indeed, the findings highlight the importance of this kind of critical approach with middle class boys in single sex schools. Important implications of this study are that findings contribute to the discovery of ways of changing deeply ingrained ideologies such as perceived gender dichotomies, the masculinization of males and the feminisation of females. My findings also contribute to ways in which privileges, such as whiteness, can be deconstructed and interrogated by those in privileged positions. My findings have potential significant implications for pedagogical practices. Education provides a means by which tools can be utilized to deconstruct and interrogate notices which maintain privileges, and in the study particularly white male privileges. Within the educational systems, an understanding relating to how subjectivities are shaped within a classroom setting will also lead to greater educational insights into how specific texts and classroom interactions affect students' self representation and understanding. Thus a gender equity and social justice curriculum committed to interrogating the ways in which male students subscribe, invest and negotiate hegemonic masculinities in advocated and has particular relevance to those males already in privileged class positions in terms of working towards a more socially just society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Martino, Wayne
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