Mayo, Disputing the Subject of Sex: Sexuality and Public School Controversies

By Bailey, Lucy E. | Vitae Scholasticae, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Mayo, Disputing the Subject of Sex: Sexuality and Public School Controversies


Bailey, Lucy E., Vitae Scholasticae


Cris Mayo. Disputing the Subject of Sex: Sexuality and Public School Controversies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. ISBN 0-7425-2658-5. 176 pages.

In Disputing the Subject of Sex, Cris Mayo utilizes poststructuralist and social constructionist theories to critique how youth are subjected to, and can become Subjects in, discourses and practices that constitute contemporary sex education. She grounds her analysis in case studies of HIV/AIDS education and multicultural curriculum during the late 1980s and early 1990s in which conceptions of "community membership, schooling and sexuality collided" (xiii), and in the process, highlights the complex forces shaping citizens' battles over what constitutes appropriate sex education for American youth. As critical scholars have noted, funding, state policy, school boards and local communities in a given setting profoundly shape the education, practices, and identities available to its youth. The context in which Mayo situates her analysis is curricular debates in New York State, yet the usefulness of her poststructuralist animation of power relations in sex education and identification of spaces of resistance in schools extend well beyond the local controversies under study. To Mayo, citizenship rights are at stake in youth's access to a "broader understanding of sexual meaning, practices and identities" (xiv) that can aid them in becoming the Subjects of their own sexual lives.

Mayo's theoretically-rich scrutiny of discourses, curricula, and practices enriches scholarship intended to advance more socially just visions of sex education. Her analysis is grounded in substantive critiques of conventional approaches to sex education: its mechanistic preoccupation with abstinence, disease and risk; its disconnection from the lived experiences of contemporary youth; its gendered silences that construct females as passive subjects rather than sexual agents; and its staunch and constitutive hetero-normative orientation that privileges heterosexuality, renders sexual minorities invisible, and concretizes static understandings of sexual identities and practices. Just as Pillow argues that pregnant and mothering teens don't "fit" in contemporary educational spaces, (1) Mayo demonstrates that schools and standard curricula offer few spaces for diverse sexual identities, meanings, and practices to flourish. What curriculum too often "neglects to consider," Mayo insists, is, "how adolescents themselves arrange and understand their own sexual lives" (xix).

In Part I of her text, "Identity, Sexuality and Theory," Mayo details the rationale for her theoretical allegiances. She acknowledges sexual minorities' "debt" (4) to liberal and communitarian theories, yet she suggests liberalism's dependence on a stable subject and focus on individual rights in the private sphere is insufficient for the public issue of sex education. More useful to Mayo is the poststructuralist focus on the constitution of particular identities and practices through power relations and its destabilizing of the notion of a unified subject or "natural" or "authentic" sexualities. To Mayo, Foucault and Butler's theories of the subject as contingent, partial and fluid create spaces of resistance in schools that tend to "demarcat[e] proper from improper identity" and to "inscrib[e] boundaries around particular identities and activities" (28). Students, she cautions, must take care in "how they understand themselves through categories" (28) because embracing such essences can normalize rather than liberate.

Similarly, Mayo provides significant support for her argument that communitarian theories' privileging of commonalities can foreclose diversity, difference, and disputes within communities, thereby silencing minority interests. In Part II, she analyzes "Curricular Definitions of 'Community' and 'Sex'" in HIV/AIDS curriculum in NewYork State that limit identities, practices, and meanings.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Mayo, Disputing the Subject of Sex: Sexuality and Public School Controversies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.