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Dude you're a fag: masculinity and sexuality in high school

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Journal of Gender Studies
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Dude you're a fag: masculinity and
sexuality in high school
Lydia Namatende-Sakwa a
a Columbia University , New York , NY , USA
Published online: 07 May 2013.
To cite this article: Lydia Namatende-Sakwa (2013): Dude you're a fag: masculinity and sexuality in
high school, Journal of Gender Studies, DOI:10.1080/09589236.2013.794070
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Dude you’re a fag: masculinity and sexuality in high school
CHERI JO PASCOE, 2011 (second revised edition)
Berkeley: University of California Press
227 pp., ISBN 978-0520271487, £18.00 (paperback)
Through a picturesque ethnographic description, Pascoe’s Dude, you’re a fag: masculinity
and sexuality in high school gives a fly-on-the-wall experience of sexuality in high school.
Informed by an interactionist approach to gender, the book unveils taken-for-granted ways
in which masculinity is constructed through interactions, discourses and traditions like
prom, sports and drama. The study was conducted at River High, a high school in
California. I found the descriptions of setting, characters, discourses and events so
archetypical that I was reminded of my own high school experiences in an African context.
The setting is indeed a helpful case to think through contemporary constructions of
masculinity, sexuality and inequality.
The book explores five central themes regarding constructions of masculinity:
repudiation, confirmation, race, homophobia and girls’ gender strategies. Through
repudiation, Pascoe shows how boys reject femininity; confirmation rituals posit
masculinity as eroticised male dominance; masculinity is shown to vary with race;
homophobia is enacted through hetero-normative practices; girls’ gender strategies show
how girls deal with repudiation and confirmation rituals.
Pascoe’s greatest contribution is in contesting the idea invested by masculinity
theorists that masculinity is akin to male bodies. Her empirical work dislodges masculinity
from the male body, building on the ‘multiple masculinities’ model that views masculinity
as a socially constructed constellation of practices enacted by male and female. The book
is highly successful in the nuanced ways it engages with and merges theory and practice to
explore a broad spectrum of issues traversing masculinities.
Pascoe is critical of the role of schools in constructing hetero-normative masculinity
by rewarding hetero-normative practices enacted through school traditions, while policing
and punishing non-normative practices. Teachers are shown actively participating in
hetero-normative ways in which boys lay claim to masculinity. Except for the Black boy
suspended for calling another a ‘fag’, student sexist behaviour was ignored, in essence
normalising it as expected discourse.
However, using a pragmatic stance, I depart from Pascoe and contemporary queer
theorists’ emphasis on parody and play as central to social change in school (Butler
1990, Lugones 1990 as cited in Pascoe 2011). Pascoe foregrounds parody and play as
ways of constructing the social world to allow students to express gender fluidity,
challenge gendered power, highlight the importance of institutional spaces for gender
play and call into question the opposition of categories of gender. She cautions though
that playing with gender is not progressive in and of itself and could reinforce differences
in the sense that ‘boys who dress up as girls on Halloween ...don’t challenge the gender
order. Rather, they highlight exactly how much they are not girls’ (Pascoe 2011, p. 164).
Pascoe reaffirms that ‘playing with gender is an answer. But is not the answer’ (Pascoe
Journal of Gender Studies, 2013
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2011, pp. 164 165). This resonates with Butler’s (1990, p. 139) contention that ‘parody
by itself is not subversive’. Yet, Pascoe posits parody and play as central to social change
with regard to sexuality in school, which I find troubling. While I do not dispute its
potential role, I challenge its centrality given the potentially ambivalent effect on
I would propose a more pragmatic approach underscored by broader issues of
changing how people think about power and inequity. Therefore, rather than foreground
gender play, the agency of ‘deviant’ groups such as those who attempted to subvert hetero-
normativity should have been of primary focus. The basketball girls and gay straight
alliance (GSA) girls are examples from Pascoe’s work: they identified and were named by
others as ‘girls who act like guys’ (p. 115). Although the former were loud and popular, the
latter, who formed a support group for gay students, were socially marginalised and less
well known. Similarly, the agency of Black boys whose masculinity was precariously
defined by race and social structure would need reclaiming and redefining. Pascoe’s
recommendations should have grappled with how to buttress the strengths of groups
which had resisted hetero-normativity, as well as, with how to empower marginalised
groups to reclaim their subjectivity. As the women’s and civil rights’ movements have
shown, victims of hetero-normativity can do it for themselves through consciousness
Furthermore, while I concur that ‘schools ...can be places of intense homophobia
and sexism, they can also be places for anti-discriminatory responses to marginalization’
(Pascoe 2011, p. 167), I continue to question the locating of gender play as central to
averting hetero-normativity in schools: I draw on scholarship highlighting the key role of
teachers in gender socialisation in schools (Paechter 2007, Sanders 2000) to make a case
for teacher training to take centre stage in advancing social change sustainably in
Pascoe concludes the book advocating activism through practical steps to promote
equitable conditions in schools; examples include curriculum redesign, posters,
support for GSAs, counselling and reform of school traditions. However, given that
her findings highlight teachers as key players in perpetrating hetero-normativity, these
recommendations should have considered how teacher attitudes and behaviours can be
addressed. Tsvi-Mayer (1993 as cited in Tatar and Emmanuel 2001, p. 22) asserts that
‘teacher awareness is thought to be the most important anti-sexist intervention in
schools ... Change will not occur unless teachers take a strong interest in those
Apart from this point of dissent, I found the book captivating and humorous. It gives
invaluable insights into methodological, thematic and theoretical concerns around
sexuality in schooling. I highly recommend it for researchers, teachers, practitioners and
students interested in tackling the issues of sexuality.
Butler, J., 1990. Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
Paechter, C.F., 2007. Being boys, being girls: learning masculinities and femininities. Maidenhead:
Open University Press.
Pascoe, C.J., 2011. Dude, you’re a fag: masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
Sanders, J., 2000. Fairness at the source: assessing gender equity in teacher education for colleges
and universities. Seattle, WA: Washington Research Institute.
2Book Review
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Tatar, M. and Emmanuel, G., 2001. Teachers’ perceptions of their students’ gender roles. Journal of
educational research, 94 (4), 215 224.
Lydia Namatende-Sakwa
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
q2013, Lydia Namatende-Sakwa
Book Review 3
Downloaded by [Columbia University] at 10:35 07 May 2013
... A growing body of evidence articulates the breadth of violence experienced by transgender women and the ways in which structural issues, such as race/ ethnicity, gender, discrimination, and stigma, influence violence and its impacts. The term hetero-cis-normativity has been used to describe a system of oppression in which members of sexual and gender minority groups face disproportionately high rates of violence because they do not conform to a heteronormative, hegemonic view of sex and gender as a binary construct (DeCrescenzo & Mallon, 2000;Markman, 2011;Namatende-Sakwa, 2013;Sawyer et al., 2016;Worthen, 2016). Non-conformance further results in transgender persons facing discrimination, stigmatization, and social rejection in response to a transphobic perception that their gender expression does not match their expected gender identity based upon their sex assigned at birth (Bradford et al., 2013;Lanham et al., 2019). ...
... Among our 16 study participants, many noted that violence from strangers in response to their transgender identity expression led them to try and pass as cisgender, referred to as "passing." This finding exemplifies the pressures of existing within a society in which structural forces and institutions perpetuate and reinforce transphobic, heteronormative, and cisgender dominated norms (termed hetero-cis-normativity [Worthen, 2016]), whereby those who do not identify within the gender binary feel pressured to be perceived as though they do in order to minimize risks of harm by others (Markman, 2011;Namatende-Sakwa, 2013;Pascoe, 2010). The concept of "passing" is complex and multifaceted: research has demonstrated that some transgender individuals view the ability to conform to cisgender-based gender standards as an indication of success (Gagné & Tewksbury, 1998). ...
Within the United States, transgender women face a disproportionate burden of violence, experiencing increased rates of multiple forms of violence compared with cisgender women and other sexual/gender minority groups. Among transgender women, further racial/ethnic disparities in experiences of violence exist. Resilience has been shown to be protective against the adverse impacts of violence on mental and physical health outcomes, yet little is known about unique sources of resilience, coping, and strength among transgender women. Sixteen in-depth interviews were conducted with a racially diverse sample of transgender women between May and July, 2020 in Los Angeles. Participants were between the ages of 23 and 67 years. Four participants identified as African American/Black, four as Latina, four as White, two as Asian, and two as Native American. Participants were recruited from a local social service organization. Interview questions assessed social network characteristics, experiences of violence, coping mechanisms, and sources of resilience in response to violence. Deductive and inductive coding schemes were used to identify common themes, and data analysis focused upon experiences of violence and sources of resilience/coping. Violence was common among members of the sample, with every participant reporting a history of multiple forms of violence. Violence perpetration came from many sources, including cisgender male strangers, family members, intimate partners, and other transgender women. Women also reported multiple sources of strength and coping, including engaging in self-care and leisure activities, behavioral adaptations, mentorship/support from other transgender women, and striving to “pass” as cisgender. Despite having faced extensive violence, the participants in this sample were resilient, demonstrating many internal and external coping mechanisms and sources of strength. These findings can inform programs and services that target transgender women, providing participants with opportunities to build resilience and other coping mechanisms to buffer the harmful mental and physical health impacts of exposure to violence.
... Las complejidades que conlleva este hallazgo son reforzadas por la literatura, que señala que los procesos educativos que no activan un cuestionamiento sobre las nociones de género tradicionales no interrumpen la socialización recibida por la familia, los medios de comunicación y los grupos de pares, y refuerzan las nociones de género dominantes en la cultura nacional y local (Araya-Umaña, 2004; Azúa, 2016;Browne, 2001;Martino, 2016;Moreno, 2010;Namatende-Sakwa, 2013;Pascoe, 2011). ...
Full-text available
Este artículo presenta los resultados de una investigación sobre brecha de género en 10 establecimientos mixtos de enseñanza secundaria en Chile. Su objetivo es analizar los factores que permitieron mejorar los resultados de aprendizaje de lenguaje y lectura de los estudiantes varones y reducir la brecha de género. Se utilizó metodología cualitativa, estudio de casos múltiples y análisis integrado del conjunto de casos, con el fin de destacar similitudes y diferencias. Un hallazgo central es que tanto en los establecimientos en que se redujo la brecha, como en los que se mantuvo o aumentó, los resultados no se pueden atribuir a una decisión institucional de incorporar políticas y prácticas que afecten el orden de género y las brechas; los establecimientos que lograron reducirla reafirman dicho orden en sus prácticas, al estimular la competencia entre los estudiantes varones y al inculcar el respeto por las disposiciones escolares y familiares.
Full-text available
This chapter responds to the construction of teen boys and masculinity as predatory and hypersexualized in implicitly classed and racialized ways in the popular press and reporting on ‘sexting’ (Karaian, 2013). We argue that the practices of sexual communication that are often mobilized in debates about ‘sexting’ need to be understood as part of wider social practices of identity formation that work in relation to local norms of gender, race and class and wider popular cultural representations of ideal masculinities (e.g. pop music, advertising). We examine these practices in our empirical data, which explores young people’s negotiation of digital sexual cultures and new economies of self-representation on social networking platforms. While the young people in our study did not use the term ‘sexting’, our research found a range of different communication practices that could fall under this umbrella term (see Ringrose et al., 2012). In this chapter we examine the production, circulation, tagging and commenting upon images via Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and Facebook by working with and building on Paechter’s (2010) notion of culturally specific ideals of masculinity(ies), Skegg’s (2001, 2004) analysis of value and recognition, and Butler’s (1993) framework on performativity. Drawing these tools together we explore how teen boys develop practices of sexualized, raced and classed recognition through performances of masculinities via digital display and commenting online.
Full-text available
This paper presents snapshots of a qualitative study that investigated how Year 8 boys in an ethnocentric community school configured their constructions of masculinity. Fifteen boys participated in focus group discussions that extended over a six-week period. For one focus group, the boys were invited to bring a ‘totem’, which was an embodiment of their masculinity. The findings from the focus groups revealed both collective and individual constructions and enactments of masculinities that were talked into existence and transmitted through hegemonic discourses. Yet the findings also revealed the boys’ individual agency to engage with other ways of doing and being a boy. Key recommendations emerging from the study include the need for boys to have opportunities to talk more openly among themselves about their gendered identities and for access to the thinking and experiences of how masculinity might be conceived within a wider community of practice.
High school and the difficult terrain of sexuality and gender identity are brilliantly explored in this smart, incisive ethnography. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse working-class high school, Dude, You're a Fag sheds new light on masculinity both as a field of meaning and as a set of social practices. C. J. Pascoe's unorthodox approach analyzes masculinity as not only a gendered process but also a sexual one. She demonstrates how the "specter of the fag" becomes a disciplinary mechanism for regulating heterosexual as well as homosexual boys and how the "fag discourse" is as much tied to gender as it is to sexuality.
Attitudes and perceptions of teacher behavior regarding students' gender roles were investigated. A questionnaire was administered to 221 Israeli teachers and responses were analyzed according to gender and education setting. Results indicate no extreme egalitarian or chauvinistic responses. In general, elementary school and female teachers gave more gender egalitarian responses to questionnaire items in comparison with male and secondary school teachers. Only 15% of teachers in this sample had attended courses on gender equality. Over 50% of teachers did not respond to the question concerning their school's gender policy. Those findings may reflect a relative lack of teacher awareness concerning the in-depth nature of gender stereotypes and their overall influences. Results may indicate compulsory courses and seminars on gender self-awareness during teacher training.
Being boys, being girls: learning masculinities and femininities Dude, you're a fag: masculinity and sexuality in high school
  • C F Paechter
Paechter, C.F., 2007. Being boys, being girls: learning masculinities and femininities. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Pascoe, C.J., 2011. Dude, you're a fag: masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Fairness at the source: assessing gender equity in teacher education for colleges and universities
  • J Sanders
Sanders, J., 2000. Fairness at the source: assessing gender equity in teacher education for colleges and universities. Seattle, WA: Washington Research Institute.