Background: Research on PE indicates that the subject is marked by rather stable gendered patterns of behaviour and perceptions of the subject. This paper marks an attempt to outline a theoretical approach that makes it possible to interpret what is going on in the gym in a way that might challenge the reproduction of gender.
Purpose: to scrutinise the heteronormative character of the discourses and practices that, from the point of view of PE teaching, constitute gendered positions and subjectivities in PE and make them susceptible to change.
Participants, Setting and Research Design: Four schools in Stockholm, Sweden, each with different social-economic and ethnic composition, were selected for the study. In each school, six lessons in physical education were observed, and the five teachers of each class were interviewed. The observed lessons comprised different kinds of physical activities, ranging from dance to fitness training, and from cross-country running to ball games, allowing different ways of gender and body constructions to appear.
Data Collection: The observations focused on a) what physical activities and methods are selected, and b) what the teachers say to the pupils during the lessons (information, instructions, replies on questions etc.). The interviews revolved around a) the teachers themselves and their work; b) what the teachers see as the aim with the subject; c) the teachers’ view on gender and d) the teachers’ view on issues concerning the body and physical activity.
Data Analysis: First, a content analysis was carried out, focusing on the teachers’ reflections on action (interviews), and on the teachers’ work in action (observations). Based on this analysis, a discourse analysis was conducted, attempting to reconstruct the discourses that constituted on the one hand the teachers view on the subject, and on girls and boys in the subject, and on the other the observed lessons and the way gender was performed in the gym. The discourse analysis took insights from feminist post-structuralism and queer theory as its starting point.
Findings: The observed teaching was underpinned by essentialist and functionalist assumptions, exposed through a pragmatic approach to teaching. The teachers were aware of the dominance of (some of the) boys in the gym, but this dominance seemed to be regarded as something normal or natural, and something to be managed logistically rather than challenged. It seemed equally important for the PE teachers to manage the pupils in such a way that physical activity for the majority was promoted. In doing so, they leaned on traditional ideas about gender in relation to sport and physical activity, and avoided challenging gender stereotypes. These strategies, which we label benevolence towards girls and a tribute to masculinity, are successful insofar as the pupils adhere to the same traditional ideas and do not resist gender stereotypes that are called upon by the teachers.
Conclusions: The strategies of benevolence towards girls and making a tribute to masculinity among boys is, as we see it, different ways of reproducing ideas about the sexes as naturally different and attracted to each other. Based on our studies, it seems as if it is the queer pupils, however not necessarily the non-heterosexual pupils, that are positioned ‘at the margins’ in the gym. Any real attempt to challenge gender stereotypes in PE would then also be an attempt to challenge heteronormativity in the gym
2009. Vol. 14, no 1, 1-17 p.