This article draws on qualitative data from observations, interviews, and focus-group discussions at seven secondary schools in the Wakiso district of the central region of Uganda. It shows that constructions of gender within the school environment include both overt and covert discourses on the interaction of sexual and gendered identities and behaviors that create a climate in which students are constructed simultaneously as “learners free of gendered and sexual identities” and as “girls/boys” deeply embedded within heterosexual trajectories. The study reveals a hierarchically ordered range of masculinities and femininities that constitute the students’ informal world (that is, an unregulated space for students’ natural, relaxed, casual, and informal gatherings) with activities organized around gendered notions of sexuality. Within this world, sexuality becomes a domain of control causing complex tensions and contradictions that are often reflected in the ubiquitous “sexualization” and “desexualization” of school events. Students interact through gendered sexual expectations and power imbalances, negotiating the lack of female sexual autonomy, compulsory heterosexuality, and the norms that locate girls as objects of male sexual desires. The article concludes that complex gendered sexual experiences position boys and girls differently, often causing gender inequalities reflected in girls’ limited participation in schooling.


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pp. 135-152
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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