Reading Gender Relations and Sexuality: Preteens Speak Out

Article excerpt

Recent research has documented the persistence of unequal gender relations and homophobia in young people's lives. Feminist post-structural theories of gender and socio-cultural theories of learning suggest educators need to understand students' constructions of gender relations, masculine/feminine desires, and sexuality if they hope to challenge these behaviors. In this article, we examine a diverse group of 47 preteens' constructions of gender relations, masculine/feminine desires, and sexuality, using a survey, a story from the popular comic Archie, and individual interviews. We round that although participants produced feminist and patriarchal constructions of gender relations, they constructed masculine and feminine sexuality as uniformly heterosexual.

Key words: popular culture, feminism, adolescents, discourse analysis

Des recherches recentes indiquent la persistance de relations inegales entre les hommes et les femmes et de l'homophobie chez les jeunes. Des theories d'apprentissage poststructuralistes feministes au sujet du genre ainsi que des theories socioculturelles donnent a penser que les pedagogues ont besoin de comprendre les constructions que se font les eleves des relations entre les sexes, des desirs masculins et feminins et de la sexualite s'ils esperent remettre en question ces comportements. Dans cet article, les auteures analysent, a l'aide d'un sondage, d'une histoire tiree de la bande dessinee Archie et d'entrevues individuelles, un eventail diversifie de 47 constructions que se font des preadolescents des relations entre les sexes, des desirs masculins et feminins et de la sexualite. Elles ont decouvert que les participants ont produit des constructions feministes et patriarcales des relations entre les sexes, mais heterosexuelles de la sexualite masculine et feminine.

Mots cles : culture populaire, feminisme, adolescents, analyse des discours

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Students throughout Australia, North America, and the United Kingdom report that unequal gender relations and homophobic harassment are a part of their daily lives inside and outside school. Research has documented these kinds of relations and abuses from elementary school through post-secondary school (Bochenek & Brown, 2001; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003; Murnen & Smolak, 2000; Pellegrini, 2002; Renold, 2002; Timmerman, 2003). Recent scholarship suggests that anti-oppression curricula/pedagogy will not effect any real change in terms of gender equity or the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer (GLBQ) people in the world unless educators begin with a clear understanding of young people's ideas about gender relations, masculine/feminine desires, and sexuality (Butler, 1990; Davies, 1993, 2000; Fenstermaker, West, & Zimmerman, 2002; Kelly, 1997; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Paechter, 2003a, 2003b; Walkerdine, 1987).

This study is part of a larger program of research that seeks to understand current relationships between literacy, identity, and power (Norton Peirce & Stein, 1995; Norton 2001, December/January, 2002, 2003; Norton & Vanderheyden, 2004). In this particular study, we examined a group of fifth, sixth, and seventh graders' engagement with the popular comic book series Archie. Elsewhere we have attempted to understand why students engage with texts like Archie (Norton, 2003); how texts like this might function as a means to promote social interaction between language learners and target language speakers (Norton & Vanderheyden, 2004); and how a feminist reading teacher might approach texts like Archie comics (Moffatt & Norton, 2005). In this article, we seek to use Archie comics as a vehicle to explore preteens' construc-tions of gender relations, masculine/feminine desires, and sexuality. We ask: What can young readers of Archie comics tell us about their constructions of gender relations, masculine/feminine desires, and sexuality?

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Feminist post-structural theories of gender and socio-cultural theories of learning suggest that current gender relations and attitudes towards homosexuality are by no means natural, inevitable, or static. …

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