Academic journal article Thymos

Boys at Gender-Play Inside the Muscular Christian Ideal

Academic journal article Thymos

Boys at Gender-Play Inside the Muscular Christian Ideal

Article excerpt

In elite boys' schools there is a level of anxiety about the perceived place of the curricular subject drama and how it might interact or interfere with the ironclad essentialist and homogenous masculinity promoted by elite all-boys' schools. The feminization of the drama and the suspicion of males who "do drama" create a duplicitous tension for boys who take the subject as they walk the gendered tightrope between the expected public display of the "muscular Christian" and the tantalizing "drama faggot." This paper offers some reflections about observations on and interviews with boys who "do drama" inside the male-only worlds of the Great Public School (GPS) of Brisbane, Australia. In these schools I observed masculinities were constantly disrupted (perhaps uniquely) in the drama classroom and explored by male drama teachers who provided a space in which to playfully interrogate the "muscular Christian ideal" of a boys' school.

Keywords: drama, elite boys' schools, colonial masculinity, performativity, masculinized, feminized, school curricula, muscular Christian

In the mid 1990s, I was a drama teacher at a prestigious inner-city Great Public School (GPS) for boys in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Drama is its own curricular subject in secondary schools in Queensland and my classes had larger numbers of boys than those I had taught in state high schools. The dominant masculine hegemony of the school tended to feminize subjects like drama, however, especially for boys in middle school years where they were ready to fight any perceived sleight on their "boyness." I remember clearly the day young Jake entered my Grade Nine drama class late with a make-shift ice-pack on his hand (crushed lemonade ice-block in a plastic bag) while recounting the details of how he had "decked" another ninth-grader who had dared to call him a "drama faggot" in front of his mates. Undoubtedly sore, but not sorry, Jake boasted of his performance as a "manly drama fag" before re-enacting the incident for our pleasure in the classroom.

This incident sent me headlong into a doctoral research project to study how the palpable hegemonic masculinity found in elite all-boys' schools interfaces with a subject like drama that has a long history in the education of boys yet also a precarious and suspicious existence within its context. I set my research field outside of my own teaching experiences and became particularly interested in the how male drama teachers (still fairly rare in all-boys' schools) might work in this context. I introduced myself as an observer/researcher into the drama classrooms and boy cultures of three GPS for three months in 1998. The research, which combined the methods of critical ethnography with Erickson's interpreti vism, allowed me to observe action in the drama classrooms and then interview students and staff about their actions. The research entailed an interpretive ethnography that resulted in my obtaining rich and complex data about attitudes toward gender and drama in a GPS .

The theoretical lenses of masculine gender, class and colonialism in the school institution were used to investigate the potential for drama as disruptive of the hegemonic masculinity of the schools. All participants were given pseudonyms, they and their parents signed consent letters, and I provided signed assurances of confidentiality. The research met the conditions of the ethical clearance policy used by Arizona State University.

Performing the Muscular Christian

Very few schools in Brisbane other than the GPS are boarding schools. The culture of boys sharing every aspect of their lives with each other is a uniquely GPS phenomenon in Brisbane. GPS 's in Brisbane are most like the original nine GBS 's of England (Eton 1440, Winchester 1387, St. Paul's 1512, Shrewsbury 1551, Westminster 1560, Merchant Taylors' 1561, Rugby 1567, Harrow 1571, and Charterhouse 1611). The collective elitism that emanates from these schools is unmatched in any other capital city in Australia. …

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