The past couple of weeks, we’ve been reading CJ Pascoe’s book Dude, You’re a Fag. I believe that it’s the first book I’ve read to date that detailed the research of a sociological investigation. At first, I was skeptical that I would be able to get through it, but eventually I found it to be a pretty quick and insightful read.
I think what I found most intriguing, as well as what I heard from other students in class, is how relatable the material was. I’m an incredibly retrospective person, and I found myself constantly reading the scenarios of River High and thinking back (whether I wanted to or not) about my own experiences at Hickman High School. Although there were many differences between the high school Pascoe observed and the one I graduated from a mere three years ago, there was also plenty of correlation in how the educational institution helped to form and perpetuate gendered identities.
The introductory scenario of the Mr. Cougar competitions instantly brought me back to the all-school assemblies held in the gym and auditoriums. School dances and these kinds of popularity competitions are such a huge part of American high school and dates back to so long ago. At my high school, Homecoming was a huge tradition and Courtwarming, the male counterpart during the basketball season, was making headway in the past couple of years. These clear separations of gendered activities enforced a dichotomy of men and women as completely separate in the expectations of their general appearance and behavior.
During Homecoming, a “gender bending” activity that we would do as part of the celebration was gathering the student body for one afternoon to watch the Powder Puff Game. Groups of senior girls would take to the field and play a game of flag football. Senior boys would be on the sidelines wearing skirts and tight tube tops to entertain the crowds. Usually, their feminine dress and antics created more laughs and reaction than the actual playing on the field itself. This is just one of the many examples of how a feminine man is more “problematic” than masculine women.
During my junior year, the homecoming queen candidates caused quite a stir. One of the girls who was elected by the rock music enthusiast club was the first queen escorted by another woman, her girlfriend. She didn’t win, but their progressive act was publicized in local papers and media. For the most part, people were inspired and OK with the couple’s embrace of representing their relationship honestly, but I have a feeling that a gay male student wouldn’t receive the same amount of acceptance if he was escorted by his boyfriend at the Courtwarming event in winter.
I even remember these kinds of separation of gender perpetuations back in junior high which, for me, was the most awful time of my adolescence and educational experiences. I remember kids I had gone to school with since elementary school constantly changing how they would manufacture their appearances to the rest of the junior high community. At that point, maintaining a status to fit into a certain category was an elusive and changing battle every day.
I also thought of high school cliques as soon as I read Pascoe’s passage about the label “fag” being a temporary identity that male students have to work to avoid. However, the double standard between male and female reputations is reinforced when the “fag” label is something that is generally salient while the terms “slut” or “whore” generally define a girl’s reputation for much longer periods of time.
Overall, although I really enjoyed reading about Pascoe’s findings, I was a bit disheartened about how relatable these experiences were for many classmates and friends I spoke with. I appreciate Pascoe’s proposals to enforce a more inclusive environment within the public school institution on a legislative and school enforcement level. However, this kind of problem goes so much deeper into the cultural environment that tolerates and perpetuates the emasculation of men based on standards of heteronormativity. A deeper problem still is the stigma against femininity as the inherently weaker form of conduct. Women, who embody feminine traits, are therefore inferior to the masculine male. This is most clearly shown in the book when men use their domination of other women to enforce their sense of entitlement, power and masculinity.
This kind of awareness is necessary in the homes of young children before they even enter the schooling institution. And even these interactions within the family are based on values in the collective society in which they live. It’s a challenging task, but the root of the problem that must be addressed.
On a side note, I had the book out on my night table while I was talking with my roommate the other day. She is an elementary education major and said she was considering reading the book. I gave a wholehearted recommendation, if only to reiterate the necessity of keeping this dialogue open, especially among the teachers of future generations.