chapter  6
25 Pages

Understanding masculinities: young men, heterosexuality and embodiment

This chapter builds upon themes introduced in the previous chapter and explores further the relationship between heterosexuality and masculinities in educational establishments. The focus of this chapter is upon the ways in which young men in school constitute and consolidate heterosexual masculine identities. The chapter draws upon interviews with young men in an all-boys secondary school (see Introduction for details of the school and its location), many of which were conducted as group discussions. The material drawn upon in this chapter is based upon one such discussion where the ethnicity of the boys involved was mainly African Caribbean and mixed parentage; two of the boys were white British and there was one male of south Asian descent. This chapter is concerned with developing ways of understanding masculinities and suggests that school processes produce sites for the enactment of heterosexual masculinities. Furthermore, I argue that these enactments demonstrate both the normative power of heterosexuality and the fragility of sex-gender categories. In the lives of young men in school, heterosexuality is understood as a practice involving a set of social performances in relation to young women and other males. Among the young men I spoke with there was little understanding of heterosexuality as an institutional arrangement for the support and maintenance of a particular sex-gender order. Rather, heterosexual relations were viewed as a way of demonstrating a particular masculinity that could be utilised to command respect and confer status on some males while devaluing others. One theme of the chapter is an exploration of issues of embodiment as expressed by the young men. In these exchanges there is an emphasis on the physicality of the body, often articulated in terms of activity and performance, where the physical sense of maleness is constantly recuperated as ‘doing’ heterosexuality. The following section considers ways of conceptualising issues of embodiment from the perspective of different theorists in this field. In particular the work of Foucault, Guillaumin and Connell is discussed to provide an analytic framework for the empirical material that follows.