Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education and the Reinforcement of Heterosexuality

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education and the Reinforcement of Heterosexuality

Article excerpt


This essay will explore alternative discourses surrounding homophobia and heterosexism in relation to outdoor education. This process will involve placing heterosexuality tinder the microscope rather than homosexuality. It will introduce heteronormativity and discuss the impact this has on all individuals participating in the outdoors. I close with introducing the notion of abnormalising the normal and challenging outdoor educators to deconstruct their role in the reinforcement of heterosexuality as the norm.


This paper sets out to convince readers that outdoor education plays a part in perpetuating the notion of heterosexuality as the norm and the superior form of desire and describes the impact of this role for everyone involved in the outdoors. Furthermore it outlines why this is a pertinent issue for outdoor educators to consider. Addressing the need to account for the diversity of individuals that form any group in the outdoors requires outdoor educators (and others) to look for alternative discourses surrounding issues of heteronormativity. This essay will focus on the support and reinforcement of heterosexuality as the normative mode of sexuality within the outdoors and the issues related to the consequent problematisation of homosexuality.

Homophobia or Heteronormativity?

The fact that homophobia, defined as "an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals", exists within most spheres of western society is of little doubt (Pearsall, 1999, p. 681). The relatively small amount of research conducted into issues of homophobia in sport, education and the workplace concur as to the prevalence of the unjust treatment of those who desire same sex relationships (Hawes, 2001; Nairn & Smith, 2000).

While the notion of outdoor education as being the great social leveller may still exist, only the most myopic could suggest that neither leaders nor participants are able to step outside of their social conditioning when they step into the outdoors. Thus I suggest that the field of outdoor education and recreation is far from being free from homophobia and in many cases actively supports and encourages heteronormativity.

Heteronormativity is a term used to "describe the process of normalising sexuality through discourses that render lesbian, gay and bisexuality as deviant" (Quinlivan, 1999, p. 52). Kathleen Quinlivan, a New Zealand researcher, notes "I am increasingly finding the conceptual frame-works that underpin the notion of heteronormativity more useful than equity discourses such as heterosexism and homophobia" (Quinlivan, 1999, p. 52). Equity discourses utilise notions of tolerance and normalising of gays and lesbians rather than disrupting the notion of a heterosexual norm. The prevalence of these equity discourses could be evidenced by analysis of the rhetoric surrounding outdoor education in New Zealand. In her historical investigation into outdoor education in New Zealand, Pip Lynch describes the push for young people to "fit in and get on" (Lynch, 2000,p.33). The emphasis on the notion of socially "fitting in", to the outdoor environment makes heterosexual behaviour 'obligatory'. So while the historic and current rhetoric might support the 'right' for all people to be treated equally, in reality this means all people who conform to the heterosexual ideal.

So why the shift away from terms such as homophobia and towards the notion of heteronormativity? Sandy Hinson notes that unlike sexism and racism, homophobia as a term, "implies the assumption of fear as an in-built individual-focused explanation and excuse for bigotry and violence" (Hinson cited in Nairn & Smith 2000, p. 2). Hence the term homophobia insinuates that the phobia is beyond the control of the person therefore not their responsibility to attempt change.

Recent New Zealand research into the experience of lesbian, gay and bisexuals in education has been undertaken by Town and Quinlivan (1999). …

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