Investigating the influence of sport and the media on perceptions of acceptable masculinity in different education contexts

Year: 2018

Author: Cruickshank, Vaughan, Reid, Donald, Palmer, Catherine, Drummond, Murray

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research investigated the influence of sport and the media on perceptions of acceptable masculinity in different education contexts, particularly primary schools. We built on our previous research, which focused on the challenges faced by male primary teachers and the coping strategies they use to deal with them.
Perceptions of particular kinds of men – as teachers and more broadly – can shape understandings of the role of male primary school teachers. This research is timely as the percentage of Australian primary school teachers who are male has decreased from 30% in 1983 to 18% in 2017. This decrease has concerned key stakeholders such as parents and principals who believe that more men are required in primary schools to act as role models and father figures. A strong caveat for this belief is that these men must be the ‘right kind’ of man. Research has noted being ‘sporty’ is an important aspect of displaying this ‘right kind’ of masculinity. However, less focus has been placed on the influence of the media in this nexus. More specifically, the extent to which wider media portrayals of men, particularly high profile sportsmen, influences perceptions of acceptable masculinity in different education contexts, and consequently, male teachers’ educative practice. We used a combination of qualitative data and media discourse analysis to investigate this gap.
Two key contradictions emerged that appeared to shape the nexus between men, sport and education:

Male primary teachers felt that being involved in sport was a positive pursuit because they believed it led to others viewing them as a ‘real’ man and consequently a good role model. However, this scenario contrasts with numerous professional sportsman who are not good role models.
Fear and uncertainty surrounding physical contact is a major challenge for male primary teachers. These men felt it was not acceptable for them to make physical contact in their profession because they perceived double standards surrounding appropriate physical contact for different genders. Yet, physical contact sports such as Australian Rules Football and Rugby are closely aligned with traditional hegemonic masculinity. Making physical contact in this context is an expected part of the profession and not sexualized.

This research specifically focused on perceptions of acceptable masculinity in educational contexts, and the influence of media portrayals on male primary teachers and men in sport. Consequently, the project intended to identify strategies to assist with the retention of male primary teachers.