Re-thinking discourses of heterosexuality in single-sex girls’ education

Year: 2004

Author: Charles, Claire

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This study explores representations of sexualities, power and identity in school girls' lives. The research participants attend a prestigious independent girls' college in Melbourne, which aims to prepare its students for tertiary education and the professional workforce. This model of female 'power' requires a particular 'feminine' appearance, enforced through a school dress code, which extends to hair, face and accessories. The code differs significantly from some popular cultural representations of 'feminine' appearance. Popular music artists such as Madonna wear tight clothing, which accentuates body shape and reveals skin, excessive makeup, and tousled hair. Camera work frequently emphasises the eyes, lips and breasts. These images promote an active sexuality, a form of power that departs significantly from the model of female power promoted by the participants' school. Research participants will discuss and write about their experiences of negotiating these models of feminine power in their own lives. Previous explorations of normative heterosexuality note a common idea that women who appear sexually 'provocative' are down-playing any 'real' power they might have, such as intellectual ability, and rendering themselves vulnerable to male sexuality (Weedon, Fine, Albury). Theoretical strategies for the detection and destabilisation of normative heterosexuality (Foucault, Butler) will illuminate this exploration. It is expected that the study will provide a rich insight into the complex meaning of different models of 'feminine power' in a school characterised by aspirations towards 'mainstream cultural power' (Albury 2002).