Dude, you’re a Fag High school, the best years of your life with everyday shaping and molding you from a feminine boy to becoming a respectable masculine adult, in truth its surviving everyday without being called a fag. In C. J. Pascoe’s ethnography she examines the dynamics of masculinity carefully exploring gender conformity that’s extracted from a collection of humiliations, fears and anxieties among high school boys. Within the eighteen months that Pascoe tediously studied the students of River High, she opened my mind to reminisce about my high school years at El Capitan.
From the pep rallies in the gym to the weight room discussions, however, Pascoe’s research expressed a deeper meaning to the formation of gender identities in high school. Using Pascoe’s analytic methods along with D’emilio, freedman and weeks methodology and terminology I will compare my high school to River High that Pascoe analyzes in this ethnography. Throughout reading Pascoe’s book I found myself constantly replacing the names of the students at River High with the names of the students at my high school almost matching everyone perfectly.
El Capitan also being a racially diverse working-class high school in California I found it compelling to relate to that of River High. However, there were some definite on the surface differences such as our schools great devotion to our agriculture department and cowboy heritage with seasonal Rodeos. Using Pascoe’s analysis of the word fag used in high school I instantly related it to the cowboys at our school, who wore button down t shirts, cowboy hats and tight jeans.
Even though our school was prided for its cowboy background, using Jeffrey Weeks cultures of resistance or a history of opposition and resistance to moral codes it finally made sense why they were constantly the target for this demeaning attempt to weaken their masculinity(9). I never understood this because at River High the African Americans got away with the cool pose because their hip-hop culture. At El Capitan our small town culture was based on old fashioned cowboys, who were very masculine and rough around the edges.
So in fact by rebelling against the schools moral stance about a cowboy it created a sense of greater masculinity for the boys at my school. It wasn’t until after reading this book that I realized how much the word fag was tossed around in high school. In Pascoe’s analysis of the word fag she interviews many boys at River High and most of them had the same response, that a boy could be called fag for exhibiting any sort of behavior defined as unmasculine such as being stupid or incompetent, to caring too much about something, or being too emotional(57).
With this I analyzed the situation I always got stuck in and constantly was under fire for the word fag. At River High having a girlfriend “both protected boys from the specter of the fag and bolstered their masculinity” in certain cases (90). At El Capitan I was the guy who always had a girlfriend but I never dated girls from the same school. Even though I was adored by other girls at the school for expressing my love interest to this other girl. The guys constantly threw the word fag at me for being emotionally attached to a girl.
So I was intrigued and happy to hear that in Pascoe’s one on one interviews the guys who would be calling me a fag were actually in the same situation as me but just too scared to admit their feelings publicly. All because of the social organization as Weeks explains that the peer influences within the high school put out a negative image that girls in high school are only for sexual encounters not intimate relationships idolizing the lifestyle of a man whore/ pimp (6).
Which never made sense to me because I was more sexually active then everyone trying to weaken my masculinity by being in a relationship; however I was not a man whore/ pimp because it was the same girl. Even though your peers have a large influence because of social organization another influence is the administration of the school. The administration of a school is what creates the tone for social regulation. From the janitor to the principal of the high school these adults control not only a high school but almost like a close knit community.
It all depends where they draw the line from what you can wear to school daily to how you can dance at occasional festivities it all creates a strong social regulation that influences that students within the school. As weeks states “Laws designed to control the behavior of certain groups of people can actually give rise to an enhanced sense of identity and cohesion amongst them” (8). Within the high school these are enforced with such customary patterns of public shaming.
In example at El Capitan if you violated the dress code you had to wear an oversized neon green shirt, displaying “Property of El Capitan” in bold writing. These methods were used to reinforce the norms of the community or high school campus (8). Whether people rebelled or not the administration is what set the standards having a large influence on the masculinity and sexuality of the students. From elementary school administration have forced the heterosexualizing process upon students.
Just like River Highs school rituals almost every high school including El Capitan enforces this heterosexualizing process. From an institutional level through disciplinary practices, student teacher relationships and school events, defining a very black and white perspective of men as masculine and women as feminine (27). Not only does it come from the administration it also comes from the families of the students. Like the example of one of the lesbians moms forcing her to wear a dress to the dance instead of a tuxedo, all because her mother didn’t want her daughter to be seen in society wearing a tuxedo.
Even though almost all of these agents that form a persons gender identity are meticulously hidden throughout a persons high school life I found that Pascoe’s ethnography shed a new light on masculinity creating a whole new perspective on how one looks at their high school days. With the use of Pascoe’s analytic methods along with D’emilio, freedman and week’s methodology and terminology I was able compare my high school to River High that Pascoe analyzes.
Giving me a better understanding of why gender identities are created not just the black and white perspective of heterosexuality but the grey area of everything between. I too believe that it is up to adults to configure spaces that support all varieties of gender and sexual expressions. At both the institutional and individual level we need to make “safer places for all students: masculine girls, feminine boys and all those in between” (174).
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