07 SES 08 A, Gender Identities and Education
Aim and research question
Science education has been pointed out as fact-based and built on reliable knowledge. Nevertheless, there are areas that include other aspects. Sexual education is, according to the Swedish syllabi, such an example and it involves aspects as love, sexuality and relations. These aspects suggest a possible tension between the biological and well-established definition of sex and later non-dichotomized perspectives. Teachers need to take both of these aspects into account as they work. Equality work aiming at providing equality for people that could be seen as not being part of the prevalent norms for doing gender and sexuality, is another endeavour to teachers in science education. To be able to study prevalent norms a queer perspective is useful. The hetero norm is defined in that perspective in this study and it is explained as the expectation that everybody is heterosexual and wishes to live in hetero pair-ship. The heteronormativity also involves the doing of man and woman in specific ways and not having these two categories interfere with each other. The different ways to approach sex and sexuality is the research object of this study and the research question is formulated as follows:
How can queer theory be used to visualize and explain the construction of hetero norm as well as occasions to challenge the same norm?
In this paper the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and wants to live in heterosexual partnership is defined as hetero norm. Warner (1993) describes the hetero norm as the heterosexual culture’s ability to think of itself as “the very elemental form of human association, as the very means of reproduction (p. xxi).” Ambjörnsson (2006) stresses that the hetero norm refers to different aspects of society’s values and expectations related to the construction of sexuality and gender. In order to provide education that engages and relates to all students, a critical perspective on the heterosexual norm is important. Queer ideas provide a critical perspective of the hetero norm, and also of the prevalent ways people regard gender. Luhmann (1998) summarised these critical ideas as, “queer aims to spoil and transgress coherent (and essential) gender configurations and the desire for a neat arrangement of dichotomous sexual and gendered difference central to bothheterosexual and homosexual identities.“ (italics by author, p. 145).
Science education involves hetero norms that might promote othering. Letts (2001) describes such structures as hegemonic, heterosexual masculinity and gives examples of conversations between teachers and students in which giving the correct answer is encouraged, whereas reasoning and use of evidence is not prioritized. Letts describes these conditions as “a masculinist notion of objectivity, where the goal is to see what 'truths' are revealed... “ (p. 266). Connell (2005) claims that school provides a normalised way of regarding masculinity. A stereotypic picture of masculinity achieves a hierarchy among boys. If a boy that breaks the masculinity norm, for example by expressing homosexuality, he may be marginalised (Connell 2005). Nordberg (2006) describes the construction of masculinity and the mechanisms that strengthen the norm using doorkeepers to indicate mechanisms that exclude or point out the other. Labels such as “fag” and “sissy”, function as doorkeepers to point out behaviours that “deviate” from masculine normality. Students may use the masculinity norm in their biological definition of sex. The femininity norm can be associated with stereotypic views of women that is not only hierarchical among women, but that is also hierarchal in relation to men.
Ambjörnsson, F. (2006). Vad är queer. [What is queer] Stockholm: Natur och kultur. Connell, R. W. (2005). Att undervisa pojkar. [Teaching boys] In M. Nordberg (Ed.) Manlighet i fokus. [Masculinity in focus] (pp. 161-189) Stockholm: Liber. Letts, W. (2001). When science is strangely alluring. Gender and Education, 13, 261-274. Luhmann, S. (1998). Queering/querying pedagogy? Or pedagogy is a pretty queer thing. In W. F. Pinar (Ed.) Queer theory in education. (pp. 141 -156) New Jersey: Mahwah. Lundin, M. (2011). Building a framework to study the hetero norm in praxis. International Journal of Educational Research, 50(5-6), 301-306. Nordberg, M. (2006). Barns och ungas livsvillkor och identitetsskapande. In Forskarbilaga till Könsskillnader i måluppfyllelse och utbildningsval. Skolverket rapport nr 287. Retrieved Febraury 16, 2009 from http://www.skolverket.se. Warner, M. (1993). Fear of a queer planet. Queer politics and social theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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