Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Performing Identities in Physical Education: (En)gendering Fluid Selves

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Performing Identities in Physical Education: (En)gendering Fluid Selves

Article excerpt

This paper shows how a group of young people and researchers, through their reading of images, performed "identity work" within discourses of the body and gender in physical education. To explore young people's identity narratives and physicality, the researchers used an ethnographic method using photo-elicitation. Findings in this study showed the complex ways girls and boys, picked up, resisted, and negotiated male and female body signifiers by "doing girl" and "doing boy" in the school context. Given these results, the researchers discuss several implications for educators and scholars to consider in working toward the new gender agenda in physical education.

Key words: body, gender, poststructuralism, school


This paper is an ethnographic text about the ways a group of young people, through their reading of visual culture, did "identity work" (Riessman, 2003) within the discourses of gender, the body, and physical activity. As Markula (2006)demonstrated, modes of writing ethnography as storytelling call for researchers' personal reflection. While creating a "cultural inventory" of "performing bodies"--a selection of images used in conversations with participants--the researchers in this study shared their own stories in open conversation with each other. (See Appendix A for descriptions of the photos used in this study.) As such, the first section of this paper presents the two researchers' stories of their physical activity experiences that marked their identity formation and physicality.

Researchers' Conversations: "Becoming" the Story We Tell

"We 'become' the stories through which we tell about our lives. Telling stories configures the 'self-that-I-might-be' and/or 'what I think might make me valued by others.'" (Riessman, 2003, p. 7).

Laura. This picture (n. 20) is so cool! It's so transgressive, I wonder if any of the kids will identify with this one?! I love this picture!

Adriana: How could you see this picture as transgressive, I really don't know. Don't you see how sexualized the girl's body is?! It's about race too! A black football player who is trying to catch a skinny white girl. Don't you see it? I think this one (n. 11), this is the one I really liked. I wish I could do this; I wish I had the strength and courage to climb like the girl in this picture. I always felt I was not good enough in sports and always scared that I would get hurt during P.E. or physical activity in school.

Laura: What do you mean? What were you afraid of?

Adriana: Oh, I was really afraid of the balls, that they would hit me and I would get hurt. When we played kickball during recess, I was always scared of catching the ball; and in P.E. I also hated sports that required catching the ball. Part of it was plain fear of getting hurt. I think part of it was because my mom would get worried that my sister and I would get hurt on school trips if we had to do "adventure-like" outdoor activities. But also part of it was that gifts were not supposed to nor were they expected to be good at sports in Mexico. Boys would play soccer on their own, and girls would play kickball with the boys during recess, but never on our own. I just wanted to do something where I felt less vulnerable, so when given the chance to choose a sport in seventh and eighth grades, I chose running.

Laura: Well, I still love this one (n. 20). This picture reminds me of the soccer games we used to organize in middle school at the Chiesa di Sant' Antonio (Church of Saint Anthony) soccer field. We were a group of girls who would try to challenge the boys by daring them to play against us. "Girls against boys" was what we called the game, and we would tell everyone in school about it. Now that I think about it, certainly, it was one of the most exciting, anticonformist events of the entire school year. Can you imagine? Playing soccer on a soccer field next to a church was not what we gifts were supposed to do--soccer was for boys only. …

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