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Gender and Sexualities in Education

A Reader


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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18. Tomboys, Sissies, and “That’s So Gay”: Exploring Gender and Sexuality Diversity in Early Childhood and Elementary Education



Chapter 18

Tomboys, Sissies, and “That’s So Gay”

Exploring Gender and Sexuality Diversity in Early Childhood and Elementary Education

Jennifer Bryan

Elementary school boy: ‘Usually, a tomboy is a girl that is tougher than a usual girl, or acts more like a boy, but a tomgirl doesn’t really exist, because if you’re a tomgirl, then it is just considered gay’. (Pillsbury, Westheimer, & Brodsky, 2011)

Parents and teachers can also take a more direct approach, by actively challenging the gender rules in American society that promote the idea that how we enact our gender—and the degree to which we approximate someone else’s idea of the “right kind” of boy or girl—somehow determines our worth as human beings. (Roffman, 2012, p. 87)

Academic scholars, ethnographic researchers, social advocacy organizations, and legislators continue to debate the role of gender and sexuality in schools. The practical and pedagogical needs of PreK–6 educators, however, are often lost in these debates. This chapter will present a contemporary construct for understanding sex, gender, and sexuality—Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD)—to clarify the ways these essential aspects of human identity are manifest in schools every day. By addressing GSD within this proposed educational framework, elementary educators can challenge heteronormative bias, and promote developmentally appropriate practices and policies.

The goal of this chapter is to first, define the concept of heteronormativity, and second, offer readers examples of the ways gender...

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