Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dear god, only one more selection to power through on this here Folklore list. As I’ve hinted in other posts, my next list will be about 50% bloggable and 50%……let’s say……less so. As I’ve also hinted in other posts, I have a good sense of the question/range of questions that the Folklore list might generate, allowing for some pretty efficient reading. The Race, Gender and Symbolic Power list, on the other hand, is something of a mystery slash clusterfuck. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll handle a) not needing/wanting to take substantial notes on some of “my” selections and b) not really knowing how and where to direct my analytic energies. I figure I’ll post entries on the selections I’ll be able to use in my real life, and will just take margin notes in/on the selections I’ll never think about again after the exam process is over. After all come September, and after completing the written portion of the exam, I’ll be tested inquisition-style on both lists by both examiners. So even if a selection bores me to tears, and even if I’m not able to integrate it into my written response, I still need to know what’s being argued so I can rattle off details while I’m sitting in the hot seat. In conclusion, the process is about to get a lot less fun.

That said, here’s this book! Dude You’re a Fag! Which is an ethnographic account of masculinity, sexuality, and masculine sexuality (-ities) at an “All-American High School” somewhere in Central California. I suspect Davis-area? The main point of the book is that definitions of masculinity/masculinities focused exclusively on, and inhering exclusively in, the biological male body, are inadequate to explain the hows and whys of this crazy little thing called heteronormativity. Presenting itself as an alternative schema, Pascoe’s study explores the ways in which gender and sexual identities are engendered by social institutions and their “unofficial sexuality curriculum” (37). In other words, it’s not just having a dick that makes you a dick. People become heterosexist monsters for all kinds of reasons, biology notwithstanding!

In a nutshell: Pascoe’s argument unpacks the heterosexist expectations inherent to various school events, including rallies and dances, and speculates that these events, as neutral/unmarked as they may profess to be, are actually bastions for homophobic and sexist attitudes; frames the so-called “fag discourse” as a disciplinary mechanism designed to repudiate “feminized” (read: “less manly”) attitudes and behaviors, thereby reifying what it means to be a “real” man; discusses the ways in which teenage boys’ sexual talk and behavior represents an internalization of the desire for male dominion/superiority and consequently, female subordination; explores how the “gender maneuvering” of masculine/non-normative women both challenges and re-inscribes gender norms; argues for a combination of deep play (individual level) and institutional change (structural level) that recognizes and seeks to dislodge compulsive heteronormativity.

All in all, this is a good show. In terms of the Folklore question, I suspect the most relevant section will be the one dealing with resistance — per Pasco, genderfuck is kinda counter-hegemonic and kinda not, since although such resistance undermines clear gender binaries it also runs the risk of ventriloquism. So like, girls acting like boys is great, but at the same time if boys are sexist assholes, then what real difference does it make if the assholery is enacted by a vagina instead of a penis. Which Pasco argues is probably better than the alternative? That is to say, strict gender and sexual difference? But at the same time might further reify the same binaries such resistance purports to subvert?  The $64,000 question. The same $64,000 question that haunts my shit no matter what I’m reading. God! Why can’t there just be answers. 

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