“People still think it’s wrong to be friends with people of the opposite gender”: primary students’ perspectives on building positive relationships across genders.

Year: 2019

Author: Shlezinger, Keren, Cahill, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper looks at the ways in which dominant heterosexual norms problematise interactions between boys and girls from a young age, and lead students to increasingly self-segregate by gender from middle primary school. We then look at qualitative, focus group data with primary students which highlights how asimple interaction with a peer of ‘the opposite gender’ can render students vulnerable to (hetero-)sexualised teasing and leads them to actively avoid learning and playing in mixed gender groups. These everyday gender performances that normalise boys and girls ‘not liking’ each other are frequently passed over by staff and students as natural, thereby normalising the belief that boys and girls ‘just don’t get along’. We suggest that this segregation perpetuates a mutually reinforcing cycle of gendered forms of interaction that positions boys as dominant/physical and girls as submissive/verbal, and therefore limits the opportunities of all children to form a broad range of socio-relational skills. Drawing on student perspectives on the impact of explicit social and emotional learning on their capacity to ‘get along,’ we then proposeseveral strategies that teachers can use to support, normalise and naturalise positive boy/girl relations in the classroom, and discuss implications for teacher training.