- Troubling Gender in Education
The seminal tome Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler, was published in 1990, and it revolutionized feminism and social science research by challenging the universality of gender categories based on biological characteristics. Twenty years later, Jo-Anne Dillabough, Julie McLeod, and Martin Mills have compiled eight essays to carry on Butler’s legacy, specifically tailored to current topics and debates in education. Troubling Gender in Education is a collection displaying the range and style of contemporary developments in the field of gender and education, and engages diverse social and cultural theories and research methodologies to generate insights for improving educational policy and practice. The topics include popular culture, school violence, sexuality, citizenship, pedagogy, race, national identity, and novel forms of masculinity and femininity. The variety of subjects, theories, and methodologies means that there is a piece to interest nearly every student of gender and education, and the analytically rich discussion will benefit readers across a wide range of academic disciplines.
One of the major strengths of the work is that the authors expertly question and deconstruct taken-for-granted social concepts of space, time, sexuality, and relationships as they intersect with notions of gender, thereby substantially enriching research methodologies and interdisciplinary investigations. Scholars like Mary Jane Kehily and Anoop Nayak, as well as Hannah Tavares, interrogate ideas of locality and its role in forming gendered identities and perceptions of sociocultural and racial differences. In their chapter, Kehily and Nayak explore the consumption of global popular culture by British girls in four working-class communities. The authors find that girls differentially consume, negotiate, and adapt messages from television, film, music, dance, and electronic media to fit with their understandings of femininities developed in local contexts. By reflecting on findings generated by their British study alongside ethnographies in other settings, including Slovenia, the Netherlands, Trinidad, China, Iran, Northern Ireland, and the United States, the authors illustrate how the comparative ethnographical method can provide analytical insights [End Page 183] into global phenomena without sacrificing the depth and descriptive details of place-based studies that exemplify the anthropological tradition. In describing her experiences as a “local” Asian woman professor, Tavares demonstrates the complicated effects of postcolonial power hierarchies of race, class, gender, and origin in a Hawaiian college classroom. She examines how faculty members’ and students’ perceptions of embodied differences shape social interactions and characterizations of teaching styles. By exploring disparate notions of the local in Hawaiian history, Tavares exposes the “fiction of the essential subject” and challenges foundational underpinnings of feminist, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic theories of the unified self (77).
While Tavares’s critique is embedded in debates about geographical representations, she also delves into temporal issues, as do Shelia Cavanagh and Wayne Martino and Goli Rezai-Rashti. In her chapter, Cavanagh successfully challenges notions of time, space, human development, amorous relationships, and sexuality in her examination of lesbian-teacher sex scandals in Canada. In the early 1990s, two women came forward regarding sexual encounters they had had with their teachers when they were teenagers in the 1970s. At the time, the encounters were seen as expressions of love and affection by the participants, but upon examination twenty years later, the teachers’ behavior in the encounters was viewed as deviant and criminal by the student participants and public judiciary. Cavanagh suggests that this occurred because queer conceptions of time develop in opposition to heteronormative understandings of life stages and human development, along with the institutions of marriage and family. She notes the temporal slippages in the media’s representation of the scandals, in which the teenage girls are transmogrified into children and “remoulded as passive, innocent, and guileless” (93). She argues that ignoring student desire and agency is detrimental to their sexual and emotional health and well-being. While not condoning abusive interactions between teachers and students, Cavanagh contends that the public outcry had more to do with fears about proliferating queer identities in school, rather than interests in protecting the welfare of children.
In their discussion of veiling and...