Project 1 - Sexualities and Diversities in Schools

In her PhD research, Willemijn Krebbekx explores how young people produce differences and similarities in relation to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social class and age. To understand these processes she conducted ethnographic fieldwork in secondary schools in the Netherlands.

Discussions about youth sexual behaviour often end up with focusing on the school as the preferred place for intervention. Quantitative research on sexuality and schools shows that sex education is an important source of information about sexuality for youth (De Graaf 2005). Sex education focuses mainly on the prevention of sexual problems like STIs and unwanted pregnancies (Krebbekx 2011). Some attention has been paid to whether gay youth feel safe and comfortable in schools, showing that school climate in secondary schools is not very inclusive (Krebbekx, 2011). Such quantitative research does not provide insights in the way adolescents develop their sexuality and sexual identity more generally. Therefore, this research approaches school as a space where (sexual) knowledge is produced, (sexual) identities formed, (sexual) behaviour shaped and future opportunities for successful adult (sexual) life are created (Holland 2004; Liu 2006).

Whereas for youth, sexuality is a range of exciting possibilities to dream about, try out, act upon by engaging one’s body through dress and behaviour, schools are mostly engaged with the minds of students instead of their bodies. Schools aim to separate the two neatly (Mellor & Epstein 2006) and to relegate sexuality to the sex education curriculum. However, it is important to underline that sexualities are never completely hidden or absent from educational contexts (Mellor & Epstein 2006). In fact, this study investigates how sexual identities are developed in the school environment as it is a major meeting place for adolescents. It focuses on the differences and similarities (re)produced as youth explore and develop ways of being young, sexy or modest, feminine or masculine in a variety of ways.

Schools are important sites for the constitution of masculine and feminine identities and practices (Holland et al. 2004; Martino & Meyenn 2001): a vast body of research has indicated the pervasiveness of heteronormativity in schools (e.g. Mellor & Epstein 2006; Kehily 2001, Rommes 2010 or Naezer 2006). Although heteronormativity is increasingly challenged and resisted (Allen 2003), young people define themselves in relation to the dominant heterosexual norm. But there are other norms at stake, such as being a good Christian or Muslim. Willemijn Krebbekx is interested in how gender norms and notions of belonging to an ethnic, class or other social group co-produce sexual identity. Rather than focusing on the prescriptive aspects of norms, she aims to analyse in practice how they are met, subverted, changed or ignored.

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