A curriculum of manhood: Challenging ‘toxic’ masculinities in Health and Physical Education

Year: 2019

Author: O'Brien, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research has highlighted the lack of explicit discussion of masculinity and sexuality in schools. This paper presents findings from research in an elite boys’ school where these discussions were becoming more commonplace with units on masculinity and sexuality featuring within Personal Development, Health, and Physical Education (PDHPE). Teachers made concerted efforts to design a curriculum and lessons where boys were encouraged to appreciate diverse masculinities and challenge ‘toxic’ and stereotypical masculinities, a project that arguably has the potential for producing more equitable gender relations in schools. Although there were many opportunities to discuss gender and sexuality at the school, attempts to instil a more critical and diverse understanding of masculinity and sexuality were ultimately impacted by the broader gender regimes. These findings suggest that schools should consider the ways that the hidden curriculum of manhood operates in each particular schooling context. Speaking with the boys themselves provided insight into the processes and practices which disrupted attempts to produce more egalitarian, diverse masculinities.

This paper discusses student’s capacity to problematise some of the everyday practices of schooling life in an elite school which presented a hidden ‘curriculum of manhood’. While the official Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum suggested that boys’ could be whatever type of men they wanted to be, and all versions of masculinity were equally valued, participants (and the school) reinforced ideals of the businessman, gentleman, and sportsman. Students felt that, although the school suggested they most valued honest, ethical, respectful men, in reality they praised the rugby player or rower who represented heterosexual, muscular masculinity. Positive messages of gender equality and diverse masculinities, then, seemed to be interrupted by the hidden curriculum of masculinity in the elite school, suggesting further consideration for the implementation of a masculinities curriculum in HPE is required. If schools are incriminated in the production of ‘toxic’ masculinities then they also should be able to produce more egalitarian, positive masculinities. This paper will suggest ways forward for thinking about educating boys about gender and sexualities in schools.