In this podcast A Sociologist reveals his findings about masculinity and identity based on 5 months participant observation with students in a sixth form in the South of England. The podcast focuses on ideas about heterosexuality and homosexuality.
This is a nice 15 minute summary of a paper entitled ‘It’s just not acceptable any more: the erosion of homophobia and the softening of masculinity at and English sixth form by Mark McCormac and Eric Anderson. Below is a summary of some of the main findings –
Contemporary attitudes to homosexuality stand in contrast to the 1980s and 1990s when there was awareness of homosexuality but it was stigmatized –young men did not want to be associated with homosexuality and thus they would engage in displays of overtly masculine behavior such as fighting and be openly homophobic in order to demonstrate their heterosexuality – the theory was that they did so in order to reinforce their heterosexual, traditionally masculine identities.
In the latest research the researchers were surprised at the wide spread acceptance and tolerance of the notion that some people are gay, the condemnation of homophobic behavior and even criticism of the school for not doing enough to promote sexual equality –students were actually critical that there were no openly gay teachers at the school and about the lack of discussion of gay issues in lessons.
Another finding was that many of the male students seemed to be extremely comfortable with expressing more traditionally feminine aspects of their identities – even if not themselves gay – two such examples were the high degrees of physical contact between boys – sitting on each other’s laps, hugging and so on, and the attention paid to appearance – fake tan and moisturizer. However, most boys did engage in a practice that the researchers termed ‘heterosexual recuperation.’ In which they would jokingly make comments about fancying their friends – as a means of ironically asserting their heterosexuality.
This study is also interesting from a methodological point of view – involving 5 months of overt participant observation
As part of the research, the researchers took steps to gain the respondent’s confidence by dressing in similar ways and hanging about with them watching the same TV shows and it helped that they shared similar tastes in music – they also bought clothes from similar shops – an interesting case for selecting researchers who are close in characteristics to the people they are researching.
Ethics are also interesting – the researchers were prepared to openly discuss their sexualities – the feeling being that this would put them on an equal footing with the respondents.
One also has to ask how representative the study is – it was carried out in one middle class, secular school – however, McCormac says he repeated the research in a religious college and a ‘failing’ school… he said there were differences but the similarities were greater.
It might, however, be worth considering whether this tolerance of homosexual identities is found amongst younger boys – 13-15 year olds for example – but I guess child protection issues might preclude you from researching this.
There is also the possibility that the lads were playing up to the researchers, but the researcher denies this because of the length of stay in the institution – you can’t keep an act up for so long.
All in all this is an interesting study that shows that there is increasing tolerance of marginal sexual identities among older school children in the United Kingdom, which stand in contrast to previous research that found evidence of homophobic bullying in schools