Sexuality - answering back

jane kenway (
Sun, 15 Nov 1998 21:51:37 +1100 (EST)


Pat Thompson commented
>I'm interested in what discussion you might have had on how you would deal
>with sexulality - not as in what kind per se - but the fact that schools
>are highly sexualised places and school administrators spend a lot of time
>and energy trying to de-sexualise the institution ( well I think I did
>anyway). Much of sex based harassment is around sexuality and power and
>gender - boys trying to do a line on a girl and it going badly wrong
>because they do it sexually , girls harassing each other because one is
>perceived to be more sexually active/successful/ different...We call this
>health and try to confine it, cram it into a neat little place called
>relationships or sex education - but it wont stay there....

Interesting questions which throw into rather stark relief the ways in
which gender reform also actually marginalises questions of sexuality or,
until quite recently, builds them in around issues of homophobia. Even
earlier work about pregnant schoolgirls tended to ignore questions of their
sexuality as has much the the sexual harassment discourse. Of course, we
had a number of stories from kids about the 'odd' strategies their schools
used to repress 'dangerous' expressions of sexuality - cutting down the
trees on the oval was a favourite as was the principal who observed the
kids through his binoculars at lunchtime.

Like schooling more generally, gender reform tends to treat sexuality as a
problem or as unmentionable, particularly as regards girls. For example,
one of our schools (Riverside) held parallel conferences for girls and boys
which were supposed to be addressing the same issues. The girls complained
to us that the two conferences had different agendas 'the boys got to talk
about sexuality and violence and we just had to do gender equity'. Gender
equity being, of course, about careers and assertiveness training and
stereotyping rather than about sexuality and its relationship to gender.

When sexuality was discussed with girls it did tend to be within those
gender reform programmes which dealt with health and human relationships
and was conducted in single sex classes. Many girls were concerned that
boys learn to talk about issues of sexuality with girls without being

Our concerns, which we didn't develop in the book and plan to one day if
we ever get time, are about the naturalisation of sexuality. While gender
reformers were prepared to countenance the idea that gender is a social
construction the possibility that sexuality might also be was outside the
frame for both boys and girls. One might imagine that Foucault had never
written the three volume 'A History of Sexuality'. We think that Deborah
Britzman's latest book raises some very engaging questions about the
connections between sexuality and learning.

regards jane and sue

Associate Professor Jane Kenway (Dr)
Director Deakin Centre for Education and Change
Social and Cultural Studies in Education
Faculty of Education
Deakin Univesity

Ph: (03) 5227 1490

Fax: (03) 5227 2014


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