Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

PE Is Not for Me: When Boys' Masculinities Are Threatened

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

PE Is Not for Me: When Boys' Masculinities Are Threatened

Article excerpt

This study used hegemonic masculinity theory to examine the intersection of masculinities and school physical education from the perspectives of boos who embodied masculinities that were marginalized. Over a 13-week period using present- focused, student-centered, qualitative methodological approaches, we observed, interviewed, and worked in small groups with 5 middle school boos from two schools. We identified three significant themes that merge the stories and experiences of masculinity hierarchies in sport-based physical education. First, we found that four social practices (content, pedagogies, teacher-student relationships, and peer cultures) in these physical education settings privileged some masculinities over others. Second, we examined the role that embodiment played, both in how the boos wore their oppression and in how their bodies resisted marginalizing situations. Third, we describe the contrasts these boos drew between physical activities experienced in sport-based physical education and physical activity experiences in other areas of their lives. We used Connell and Messerschmidt's (2005) reconceptualization of the theory of hegemonic masculinity for understanding how competitive sport-based physical education functioned to oppress boys with masculinities that were deemed abnormal. Additionally, we introduce feminist poststructuralism as a possible theoretical lens for interpreting boys' bodies as also being active agents in social practices rather than being only passive objects who are oppressed and dominated.

Key words: gender, hegemonic, physical education, social practices


Masculinity refers to the way boys enact boy. Gard (2006) described masculinity as the "process of becoming and being male" (p. 784). We encountered a small group of boys with a story about not fitting in, which left them feeling marginalized and ashamed of who they were and the masculinities they embodied. Awareness of the disturbing day-to-day experiences they endured as a result of not performing boy right may help us understand what it is like for boys who embody marginalized masculinities in school physical education and the dire need to craft more inclusive pedagogies.

A pioneer of masculinity theory and research, Connell (1995) developed the theory of hegemonic masculinity, which over the last 20 years has served as the dominant theoretical framework for studying masculinity, garnering both support and critique. Recently, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) undertook a critical reexamination of hegemonic masculinity to identify core components that have either stood the test of time or those that might be reformulated to make the framework more useful, theoretically precise, and comprehensive. In our reading of their reexamination, we identified five core ideas that specifically influenced our study.

First, there is not one way of being a boy (i.e., a singular masculinity). Researchers have explained that multiple masculinities operate within any given social context (Connell, 1995; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005; Gard, 2006; Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Parker, 1996), and that masculinity is not something a boy either has or does not have, nor is it something that increases and decreases. Although hegemonic masculinity implies the existence of multiple masculinities, some masculinities often go unnoticed. Connell (2008) stated:

   The existence of a hegemonic masculinity is one reason for the
   illusion that there is only one kind of masculinity. If people
   focus on the dominant pattern, or the dominant definition of
   masculinity, they can fail to see the alternative patterns that
   also exist. (p. 133)

Second, hierarchies of masculinities emerge through social practice. In most social contexts, one form of masculinity attains prominence over others. Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) stated, "It is a widespread research finding that certain masculinities are more socially central, or more associated with authority and social power than others" (p. …

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