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Gender and Sexualities in Education

A Reader

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Edited By Elizabeth J. Meyer and Dennis Carlson

This volume is about the education of gender and sexualities, which is to say it explores how gender and sexuality identities and differences get constructed through the process of education and «schooling». Wittingly or not, educational institutions and educators play an important role in «normalizing» gender and sexuality differences by disciplining, regulating, and producing differences in ways that are «intelligible» within the dominant or hegemonic culture. To make gender and sexuality identities and differences intelligible through education is to understand them through the logic of separable binary oppositions (man-woman, straight-gay), and to valorize and privilege one normalized identity within each binary (man, straight) and simultaneously stigmatize and marginalize the «other» identity (woman, gay). Educational institutions have been set up to normalize the construction of gender and sexual identities in these ways, and this is both the overt and the «hidden» curriculum of schooling. At the same time, the «postmodern» times in which we live are characterized by a proliferating of differences so that the binary oppositional borders that have been maintained and policed through schooling, and that are central to maintaining highly inequitable power relations and rigid gender roles, are being challenged, resisted, and in other ways profoundly destabilized by young people today.
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5. The Heterotopic Washroom in School Space: Binary Gender Confirmed, or No Place of One’s Own?

The School Washroom as Gendered Space

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Chapter 5

The Heterotopic Washroom in School Space

Binary Gender Confirmed, or No Place of One’s Own?

Jennifer C. Ingrey

How does the washroom tell us about gender? This question derived from my research with secondary school students, asking about their understandings of gender identity and gender expression. During a focus-group talk, I noted how the students drew a connection between the iconography of the toilet and gender itself, as if gender could be reduced to or limited by the stick figures denoting sexed bodies on the doors of public washrooms. Upon further reading in transgender studies, I learned of the trouble this space can evoke for certain bodies, namely those that do not conform to gender standards. I began to think about this space, fraught with ambiguity, and wanted to investigate it more thoroughly, especially in terms of its ability to impact our understandings of gender. Probably because of its ambiguity, and its complexity, I turned to a framework from Foucault (Foucault & Miskowiec, 1986) on space, the heterotopia, to allow me to scaffold my thinking about this troubled space of the washroom in schools. In his research, Foucault did not want to study liminal spaces only to become a specialist in the marginal or the historical, but to show how disciplinary power in these spaces is translated and transposed upon other contemporary contexts.

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