Exploring the Relationship Between Education and Masculinities


Education and Masculinity: Social, Cultural, and Global Transformation, by Chris Haywood
Reviewed by Brendan Wright, New York University
No. 6, May 2015, Global Studies Literature Review

In this timely work, Haywood and Mac an Ghaill (2013) deliver an effective critique of both education and our understanding of gender through socialization. While this topic may not strike all audiences as new, since issues of masculinity have come to the forefront in recent years, the nuanced critiques offered by the authors along with their inclusion of global perspectives contribute to making this work significant.

Grounding their critiques in the theories of Judith Halberstam and R.W. Connell, who argue that masculinity should be disconnected from the male body and that multiple forms of masculinity exist, Haywood and Mac an Ghaill probe important aspects of culture globally. They examine the role media plays in shaping our ideas of gender, while also touching upon subjects of masculinity in the context of violence and school shootings. The authors are intentional about shaping their dialogue, which not only presents differing opinions or insights from multiple perspectives, but also approaches critical issues, such as the perception of boys falling behind in education sectors, in ways that showcase an informed awareness of our current social and cultural terrain.

One of the most valuable aspects of this work is the dedication to presenting a diverse range of global perspectives on masculinity or the male experience. Instead of simply comparing the "laddish" cultures of the United Kingdom and those of boys in the United States to garner a global understanding of masculinity, multiple chapters offer insight into masculinity within other countries by discussing narratives from Indian students, African students, and students of Asian descent. Through the inclusion of these perspectives, readers and educators can find a deeper understanding of how the identities of student populations can differ greatly in regards to their relationships or thinking about performances of masculinity.

In this same vein, Haywood and Mac an Ghaill include references to many different research studies, including one conducted by Michael Reichert and Sharon Ravitch on Jewish boys and masculinity, which provide valuable support for topics they engage with throughout their writing. Particularly for international educators, the key concept to understand is that masculinity serves as a means of both conceptualizing and creating power dynamics. When students from diverse backgrounds are brought together, there is potential for a dominant (hegemonic) form of masculinity to establish hierarchies of power. Research findings point to the importance of educators taking an active stance against homophobia, for example, which in turn establishes a peer culture where respect and maturity are central to norms of masculinity as opposed to the need to dominate and subordinate other populations, especially other boys.

In the final chapter, readers are encouraged to uncouple their understandings of gender from their understandings of masculinity. As the authors explain, "Halberstam's position is focused on understanding the process whereby women and girls can take on female masculinities. In this way masculinity becomes disconnected from the male body and works as a stylized production that can be operationalized in the context of diverse sexed bodies" (p. 116). This is particularly striking because it focuses our attention on how masculinity is truly central to prevailing understandings of male students, tomboys, and other student populations in the context of educational spaces. Being able to remove masculinity from this place of centrality opens up a wide range of possibilities for how gender can be expressed. Additionally, it removes the dichotomy of boys versus girls which, as the authors reflect, has led to much conflict over how classrooms globally are organized, and which teaching practices are intended to benefit certain populations of students. Further, when thinking about establishing classroom dynamics, the authors highlight the importance of creating spaces where no style of masculinity is allowed to define norms or values especially as it relates to being male. Instead, teaching in an internationally grounded approach can promote recognition of difference while fostering respect and tolerance in cultural diversity. Fostering such an environment actively works to reject preconceptions of masculinity mapped onto individuals through social and cultural factors that often shape many harmful conceptions of masculinity.

By engaging with Education and Masculinities: Social, Cultural, and Global Transformation, those invested in a deeper understanding of complex gender issues, especially those striving to consider the impact these issues have on education globally, will find a work that takes a critical and thought provoking perspective on popular topics. As the text informs readers, exploring gender in the context of education often points to masculinity as a main concept that defines gender relations. By thinking critically about this subject, international educators can reflect upon the environments their own classrooms establish and move toward the creation of more inclusive spaces where students can flourish and form a sense of identity outside of the limitations imposed by hegemonic masculinity. Such practices could potentially have a valuable impact outside of the classroom setting as well, providing students with the tools to foster more inclusive peer cultures and a greater understanding of diverse identities.

Haywood, Chris, and Mairtin Mac an Ghaill. 2013. Education and Masculinity: Social, Cultural, and Global Transformation. London: Routledge.