Çevrim İçi Makaleler

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International Journal of Social Sciences, vol.3, n.1, 2008
Gendered Power Relations in the School:
Construction of Schoolgirl Femininities in a Turkish High School
Alev Ozkazanc, Fevziye Sayılan
Abstract: In this paper our aim is to explore the construction of schoolgirl femininities, drawing on
the results of an ethnographic study conducted in a high school in Ankara, Turkey. In this case study
which tries to explore the complexities of gender discourses, we were initially motivated by the
questions that have been put forward by critical and feminist literature on education which emphasize
the necessarily conflicting and partial nature of both reproduction and resistance and the importance of
gendered power relations in the school context. Drawing on this paradigm our research tries to address
to a more specific question: how are multiple schoolgirl femininities constructed within the context of
gendered school culture, and especially in relation to hegemonic masculinity? Our study reveals that
the general framework of multiple femininities is engendered by a tension between two inter-related
positions. The first one is different strategies of accommodation and resistance to the gender-related
problems of education. The second one is the school experience of girls which is conditioned by their
differential position vis-à-vis the masculine resistance culture that is dominant in the school.
Keywords: Femininity, gender relations, masculinity, school, education in Turkey
I. INTRODUCTION
In this paper our aim is to explore the construction of schoolgirl femininities, drawing on the results of
an ethnographic study conducted in a high school in Ankara, Turkey. In this school ethnography
which tries to search the complexities of gender discourses, we were initially motivated by the
questions that have been put forward by critical and feminist literature on education which emphasize
the necessarily conflicting and partial nature of both reproduction and resistance and the importance of
gendered power relations in the school context [1]-[2]-[3]-[4]-[5]. Drawing on this paradigm our
research tries to address to a more specific question: how are multiple schoolgirl femininities
constructed within the context of gendered school culture, and especially in relation to hegemonic
masculinity?
II. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND METHODOLOGY
Feminist literature on education is a rich collection of different paradigms and varied subjects of study.
Yet, it is possible to trace an apparent shift of paradigm from the reproduction approach of 1970’s to
the post-structuralist aura of our times. Thus, we see that the reproduction approach [6]-[7]-[8] which
had focused on the interaction between education and capitalism, class structure, state, and patriarchal
gender relations has been mostly replaced by the studies that concern the discursive construction of
gendered identities and in the school as a special terrain which has a particular ‘gender regime’[9]-
This post-structuralist turn in the literature reveals the complex, complicated, and contradictory nature
of gendered power relations, hence the conceptual impossibility of a simple reproduction of a unitary
system [2]-[3]-[10]-[11]. We generally share the concerns of this approach and conceptualize the
school not as a place which reproduce the gendered power relations constituted outside, but as a
hegemonic site where gender is reconstructed within the context of a peculiar gender regime. School
does not produce and impose unitary, standard female and male identity and\or sex roles within a
binary discourse. There are multiple and competing gender identities and gender discourses though
this is certainly not an endless game of differences [11]-[12]-[13]-[14]-[15]. Thus, it is important to
highlight the contingent limits to discursive formations. Among the multiplicity of gendered subject
positions some forms of masculinity appear as hegemonic, while determinate form of femininity is 2
emphasized [9]-[13]. But, as we try to mark in this study, talking of multiple gendered identities and
hegemonic masculinity is not satisfactory as long as we don’t relate it to the particular gender regime
of the school. This relation is of vital importance as we assume that school does not mirror the
hegemonic masculinity operating at the level of general society. Gendered nature of school as a
cultural institution has varied and complex dimensions [8]. However, from the point of view of this
paper which focuses on the construction of schoolgirl femininities, we find it necessary to underline
some determinate factors.
Firstly, we should address the problem of gender violence that seems to be the most important
constitutive part of the gender regime of school. Different aspects and manifestations of this problem
have been addressed in the rapidly growing literature [16]-[17]-[18]-[19]-[20]-[21]-[22]. Although
there is no clarity as to the definition of violence, we see that there has been a general tendency to
broaden the definition of the concept. As Osler [21] points out, most serious problems of schoolgirls
are directly related with the hidden and ‘normalized’ culture of aggression. This is the underlying
reason behind the academic failure and social and psychological withdrawal of many ‘problem’ girls
as well as those who are not even regarded as ‘problem’. Also, gender violence is constutive for the
construction of schoolgirl femininities. Our study reveals that the general framework which conditions
the construction of multiple femininities is engendered by the presence of a hegemonic masculine
culture. All feminine identities are affected differently by the culture of aggression and bullying and
the way different girls relate with this culture determines the central elements in their gender
discourses. We will also stress that the potency of masculine culture is realized mostly through its
effects on the relations between different groups of girl.
Secondly, the fact that the school is the very place where the discursive construction of the tension
between femininity and academic success and/or intelligence takes place makes it a special site for the
construction of femininities. As it is emphasized by several studies, the main contradiction that
schoolgirls is confronted with is the expectation that they should be both ‘feminine’ and ‘successful’ at
the same time [23]-[24]-[25]. Confronted with this contradictory demand, most schoolgirls resort to
the strategy of feminine-ization of academic success, while some marjinals go for the postfeminisization of success [25]. But as long as being clever and intelligent is seen as a masculine trait,
schoolgirls can not escape the destructive effects of this paradoxical expectation [23]-[26].
Thirdly, we should cite another gendered aspect of school which has special importance for the
construction of (contradictory) gender subjectivities. The official culture of school pretends to be
sex\gender neutral, but is in fact characterized by the omnipresence of gender [17]-[27]. This places
schoolgirls in another contradictory position whereby they are expected to be both sexual and nonsexual at the same time. Young women must present a desirable heterosexual femininity or risk
marginalization, yet bear responsibility for negative attention afforded to their embodied femininity.
As Aapola, Gonick and Harris state “young women must submit to the male gaze and yet exhibit
responsibility in avoiding unwanted male attention” [28, p.140]. Thus, school culture reproduces the
good girl -bad girl distinction, causing a lot of trouble and discomfort between different groups of girls
[29].
Lastly, we think that the question as to the gender regime of school should be considered in direct
relation to neo-liberal transformations of our times. This transformation has many effects on the
gendered power relations in the school [30]-[31]. For our purpose here one certain effect is of special
importance, and that is the fascination with the problem of ‘failing boys’. The decisive shift of
attention form girls’ problems to boys’ problems is extensively criticized in the literature. [32]-[33].
Girls are increasingly seen as successful and ‘compliant’, while boys are seen as the ‘problem’ in
education. As boys’ problems (particularly the violence in schools) are gaining a hyper-visibility, the
specific gender-related problems of girls are rendered invisible. The most likely result of this new turn
is the underestimation of specific mechanisms of withdrawal and manifestations of distress of female
students [21]. In this study, we argue that in Turkey, the main impact of neo-liberal transformation on
the gendered power relations in schools is realized through the reinforcement of a masculine resistance 3
culture which led to specific problems for girls. We also will try to show that such specific mechanism
and manifestations are the constructive part of the schoolgirl femininities.
Methodology
Our theoretical position led us methodologically to design a case study according to the maxims of
critical ethnography [34]-[35]. Critical ethnography involves keeping alert to structural factors while
probing meanings and asks how these meanings relate to wider cultural and ideological forms [34,
p.205]. Following the insights of this approach, we tried to explore both the authority structures of a
concrete school environment and the competing gender discourses from the students’ point of view.
Besides the insights of critical ethnography, our feminist standpoint in educational research also
enabled us to place the subjectivities in the context of gendered power relations [35]. Consequently,
we did five months fieldwork in a public high school in Ankara and conducted 55 in-depth
interviews with 40 students (20 girls, 20 boys) and 15 teachers (12 women, 3 men) and all of the
administrators (three women). We also carried out participant and non-participant observations in
school areas such as the Counseling Service, the Teachers’ room, classrooms, the canteen, the
school yard, during which we engaged in many non-structured and semi-structured interviews with
both students and teachers. Lastly, we did a research on the official documents of the Board of
Discipline and the Counseling Service.
The high school at which we conducted our research was selected for several reasons. It is a public
school in the center of Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. The school is situated in a neighborhood
where all of the major social transformations are densely intermingled, and this peculiarity enabled
us to elucidate the multifarious problems related to the changing meaning of education. An old and
very restricted area of squatter houses and recently developed middle-class residential areas are
mixed in this particular locality. So, the majority of students come from families with low incomes.
Yet, this neighborhood is not an example of urban wreck, populated by working class or underclass
but a lower-middle class area where even the remaining squatter houses are in a rather proper
condition. Therefore we did not observe a dominant ‘culture of poverty’ there. Neither did we
observe the dominance of an Islamic/conservative culture. Regardless of its middle class and
‘secular’ culture, the neighborhood is still under the impact of neo-liberal transformations such as
unemployment, growing poverty, the growing power of ethnic communities and informal even
Mafioso relationships. In the end, trapped in a web of unemployment and poverty, the local youth
culture is based on multifarious manifestations of masculine power.
III. MASCULINE RESISTANCE CULTURE
The most general result of our research is that the neo-liberal transformation of Turkey within last
twenty years resulted in a structural crisis of education whereby public schools have been reduced to
function as a ‘correction house’ aiming to tame ‘unruly’ young people. This constitutes the root cause
of the acute crisis of authority and the rampant resistance practices in high schools today. As we
concluded from the research, this resistance culture is mainly of masculine character. The main reason
to the crisis of school authority is that authority is seen by most students as marginalizing, degrading,
discriminating, arbitrary, helpless, careless and fearful. At the forefront of the widespread instances of
oppositional acts come the behavior that aims to sabotage the classroom order and the resistance
practices that try to break the rules regulating time, space and body on the whole school terrain. The
critical reactions against the school authority are widely held by all the different groups of students,
but in differentiated ways. However, and notwithstanding this ‘differentiated’ dissatisfaction, we can
identify a dominant resistance culture that functions as a powerful counter-authority over the pupils.
Our research supports the arguments as to the importance of the adolescent peer group, particularly for
the construction of distinctive status hierarchies based on social power or popularity [36]. In our
research we also observed the hegemonic power of that masculine resistance culture over the student
community as a whole. Thus, the school culture is primarily determined by the extremely intricate 4
dynamics of the conflict between these two ‘authorities’. This culture embraces and/or excludes all
different groups of students in different ways. Against the teachers’ authority, it also functions as a
counter-hegemonic force undermining their ‘taming/civilizing’ mission. Deriving its ‘potency’ chiefly
from the ‘neighborhood-based’ identities of the majority of students, this culture is based on a
vigorous masculine assertion of power. In line with Jackson [37] we can describe this culture as the
failing boys’ compensatory culture of ‘aggressive laddism’. Many students from the lower classes are
compelled to strive for ‘power’ in their own ways in a ruthless world where only the powerful
dominates. So, these ‘powerless’ young people try to acquire ‘power’ through the only alternative left
to them: masculinity which is construed as the ultimate power. Despite the fact that there are many
students who are not of the same neighborhood and who try to stay outside of this masculine culture
(mostly the girls), this ‘culture of masculine power’ takes its hegemonic force from its being the only
available tool at hand to oppose the ‘taming/civilizing’ school authority.
IV. CONSTRUCTION OF MULTIPLE FEMINITIES
Gendered power relations are more complicated than any simplistic binary discourse of the girls
versus boys suggests [12, p.153]. Thus, in line with many theoretical and empirical studies our study
highlights the multiplicity of competing gender discourses that girls draw on [12]-[15]-[24].
Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that some of these discourses have more power and potency
than others for particular groups of girls and “conformist discourses continue to exert more power than
transgrassive and transformative ones” [12, p.156]. Our study reveals that the general framework of
multiple femininities is engendered by a tension between two inter-related positions. The first one is
the educational expectations of girls which significantly differ from that of boys. Education is seen as
the most important and effective means for personal empowerment against the possible restrictions
that a would-be husband will possibly exert on the woman/female party in the marriage.
Unfortunately, the high expectations of girls remain unmet by the gender regime of school and
different subject positions emerge from the different accommodation and resistance strategies to the
gender-mediated problems. Secondly, the school experience of girls is determined by their differential
position vis-à-vis the masculine resistance culture that is dominant in the school. Here we see that the
main line dividing the girls among themselves is the one between those who are inside and those who
are outside the masculine resistance culture. In the following section, we want to analyze these two
positions and the resulting femininities in detail.
A. Strategies of accommodation and resistance
For female pupils the meaning of education is strictly related to a strong sense of gender equality.
Almost every girl we interviewed perceived education as the only and most important means to
empowerment in a patriarchal society. Most of them learned this lesson mainly through positive or
negative life stories of women in their family as well as from the admonitions given by them. Such
admonitions propose that girls must absolutely have a good education and a profession in order not to
depend on a husband in marriage. In short, girls differ from boys in the sense that for the former,
education still remains as the principal means of personal empowerment. Compared to boys, girls
seem to be more ‘hardworking’ and ‘compliant’ if not necessarily the more ‘successful’ students. But,
we must pause at this point in order to look deeply at the concept of ‘compliance’. Industrious
working, ‘compliant’ behavior and the resulting ‘success’ are sought not only because it is seen as an
handfold against a would-be husband, but also as means to protect and isolate themselves from the
effects of masculine culture in the school. In addition, ‘hard-working’ is also a practical way to escape
from the time-consuming chores at home and thus from a traditional women’s role imposed by the
family. Thus, the seemingly complaint attitude of girls at school is developed as a strategy against the
masculine culture at school and patriarchal roles at wider society.
Unfortunately the seemingly compliant attitude of girls leads to the assumption that girls do not have
any problems at all. Therefore, the high educational expectations of girls remain unmet by the gender
regime of the school. ‘Gender regime’ of the school [9] creates many specific gender-mediated
problems for girls. Firstly, in contrast to the ‘hyper-visibility of boys’ and their problems, girls are 5
usually assumed not to have problems [33]-[38]. Teachers are often able to ignore the types of
behavior commonly exhibited by girls in difficulty, which may disrupt an individual’s learning but are
likely to have a lesser impact on class discipline than physical aggression such as withdrawal from
participation in class, truancy and self-harm [20, p.574]-[21]. Students who experience problems with
the curriculum tend to engage in gender-related behaviors, which make boys particularly vulnerable to
disciplinary exclusion and which among girls may lead to self-exclusion. As we will specify in the
following sections, self-exclusionary type of behavior also differs according to the different
femininities. The girls who are attracted by the masculine culture are confronted with a high risk of
disciplinary action, and withdrawal from participation in class, truancy and self-harm is also
widespread among them. Those girls who are not involved in this culture mostly experience a high
degree of isolation as well as suffer from the lack of teachers’ attention, resulting in serious degree of
withdrawal from class participation. Another specific problem occurs for the ones who reject the forms
of femininity and popularity conferred by the masculine culture and aspires for high academic
achievement. Renold explores the status and contradictions of high-achieving girls who are labeled as
‘square’. As she notes although it was an acceptable and legitimate feminine subject position,
officially regulated and produced by the pedagogic discourses within the school, rejecting popular peer
culture and achieving in high academic terms marked these girls as ‘different’ and often resulted in
teasing and exclusion [24].
B. Girls vis a vis the masculine culture
In our research we saw that schoolgirls were being categorized, labeled and stigmatized by the
masculine culture. The presence of the masculine culture means different things for different groups of
girls and every group develops different strategies of reaction and accommodation. Yet, we also saw
that girls’ reactions were mostly “contained within and rarely challenge the existing structures and …
girls were trapped in the very contradictions they would transcend” [12, p.164]. The masculine culture
and the hegemonic masculinity it promotes create a paradoxical situation to which girls strive to adjust
in different and intricate ways. The difficulties resulting from the contradictory construction of female
sexuality as both passive and potentially dangerous are thoroughly analyzed in the literature [24]-[28]-
[39]-[40]. Thus, it is pointed out that young women must present a desirable heterosexual femininity
or risk marginalization, yet bear responsibility for negative attention afforded to their embodied
femininity [28]. Drawing on this literature, our research also discloses the delicate ways schoolgirls
endeavor to cope with this dilemma.
We see that the dominant masculine culture in the school has an irresistible appeal because it appears
as a conducive instrument that might contribute to the emotional and physical interaction between
boys and girls. However it also frightens many girls because of its oppressive and harassing character.
As Lahelma argues there is a fine line between playing with is just fun and behavior that is
experienced as harassing [18]. Hence, romantic involvements and sexuality which are experienced
within the parameters of masculine culture involve many serious risks and dangers for girls. That is
why most girls we interviewed are too circumspect about sexuality and many have clear cut
convictions about the ‘legitimate’ limits to teenager sex. Against the backdrop of a powerful virginity
taboo, the ‘legitimate’ limits stop at the door of kissing and holding hands. Those girls who dare to
transgress the limits confront the risk of being stigmatized as ‘whores’.
We can say that most of the girls we interviewed were generally very skeptical and circumspect in
their relations with boys. However, there are real differences of attitude between those inside the game
and outside the game. For those inside the game, there are dense and intimate relations with the boys,
while for the others there is but minimum interaction with boys. This means that the degree and
density of fear felt by those outside the masculine culture is much higher. Also we see that there is a
serious tension between those inside and those outside of the masculine culture. This tension is mainly
played out through sexuality and is directly related with the good girls-bad girls dichotomy [15]-[23].
As Youdell notes constant policing of each other creates a lot of anxiety among girls [15]. 6
We have argued that there are multiplicity of competing gender discourses and varied femininities in
the school. In the following sections of the article we want to analyze the resistance and adaptation
strategies of different groups of girls and to explore the state of being stuck between educational
expectations and masculine school culture. We will mention four different types of feminine subject
positions, namely ‘tough girls’, ‘whores’, ‘teacher’s pets’ and ‘the rest’.
C. Inside the ‘masculine culture’: ‘tough girls’ and ‘whores’
‘Tough girls’
These are the ones who are enjoy the popularity and femininity conferred by the masculine resistance
culture. For this reason, they are considered as bad girls or difficult girls. As Robinson says about
‘difficult girls’, they are generally more assertive, confronting, loud, aggressive and uncontrollable
(p.278) [41]. As it is frequently indicated in the literature, girls’ assertive or disruptive behavior is seen
as anti-feminine and tends to be interpreted more negatively than boys [12]-[29]-[41]. Therefore, they
can easily “get caught in this reputation cycle” [41, p.280]. While they are seen as anti-feminine, this
reputation also implies many things about their ‘precocious’ femininity. Walkerdine describes how
playful and assertive girls come to be understood as over-mature and too precocious [29]. As she
points out, while it is certainly a space in which they can be exploited, it provides a space of power,
although one which is subject to discourses of denigration. Similarly Reay, in talking about ‘spice
girls’ asserts that “their espousal of girl power… allowed them to make bids for social power” [12,
p.160]. Similarly, we can say that ‘tough girls’ appear to transgress prevailing gender rules while also
active in constructing traditional heterosexuality [12].
The school experience of girls inside the ‘masculine culture’ is shaped in accordance with the
masculine power culture and it derives mainly from the sexual tension between the two sexes. There
are intense and intimate relations of friendship and love as well as harassment between those girls and
boys. The admission of these girls into the masculine culture is conditioned by their class position as
well as their character and looks. The most common trait of the girls we classified as ‘tough girls’ is
being ‘jaunty’, ‘free’ in their manners and outfit and highly self-confident
As to the educational expectations of these girls, we can say that lower-middle class girls within this
category really want to ‘succeed’ and to have a profession although they do not consider themselves
‘successful’ or ‘promising’. The school experience of most of them has been very unstable and
interrupted for various reasons. Most of them have either been expelled from school before or then
returned, repeated the classes or currently under the threat of being expelled. Nevertheless, they feel a
strong sense of commitment and affection for the school, because they are among the ones who shape
the school culture. As is apparent in expressions such as ‘everybody knows us’, ‘I know everybody
here’, ‘we have a wide circle’, they step forward as ‘big sisters’, in other words as the leaders of girl
gangs.
Aysun was a typical example of a tough girl. Here is her account as to her ‘transformation’.
“When my father enrolled me to this school, I cried for a week. The people I know who
graduated from this school used to tell us about nasty things… about drinking alcohol,
smoking, fights etc.. .. I myself had to adjust to this culture though half-heartedly. We
did the same things we saw here. We have become like them. But now I love the
school”.
Then, what is the story of this transformation? How come these girls got involved into the masculine
power game so outrightly? The quotation from Aysun clarifies the intricate ways in which girls are
compelled to enter into the game. We want to draw attention to the point that in this discourse,
‘oppression’ mostly signifies the physical/verbal assaults to chastity. 7
“But I don’t like the social surroundings of this school. The people of this neighborhood
are very bizarre. They like to oppress people just for fame, they say “I’m here, I’m the
father of this school, I command, I repress, etc” … here, even smoking is seen as an
asset, the social environment here is very bad, something like a Mafia, they don’t come
here to learn, they do everything to make a ‘name’ here … when I first arrived in the
school, they tried to oppress me as well. They said “you are colt/rookie”, I waited
patiently for a long time. Then I showed myself too. I said “who do you think you are,
you cannot oppress me”. And when I resisted in this way, I was stigmatized”.
Intense interaction between girls and boys within the masculine power game enables pleasurable
relations but it also points to the existence of a serious sexist oppression. Boys’ treatment of girls
reflects a strong male supremacy that classifies girls as those ‘to be loved’ and ‘those to be abused’.
For those ‘to be loved’ there are strict limits to behavior. Aysun clarifies the limits as:
“We have been dating for nine months. We are kissing, hugging at most. He loves me,
so he would not want anything bad to happen to me. He would not do anything bad to
me even if he wanted to. I have a family, so he would not defame me”.
There is a real dilemma for those girls ‘inside’ the masculine culture: On the one hand, they are
expected to meet the demands of boys for friendship and love on the other hand, they are faced with
the risk of being labeled as ‘whore’ / ‘whore’ when the vague borders are violated. Thus, the tension
stemming from swearing, harassment, gossiping, defamation and labeling concerning the
chastity/honour of girls appear to be the main stimulus behind the fights among girls. In the end, girls
are driven to protect their ‘name’ by doing exactly the same things as boys. Their sub-culture is also
organized around the same motto: ‘You should be powerful in order not to be oppressed’.
‘Whores’
It is important to stress that the attribution ‘whore’ refers to the instant possibility of stigmatization
which is valid for every girl inside the power game rather than designate a distinctive category of
particular girls. Our observations about this ‘category’ of girls are in line with Youdell who points to
the centrality of virgin/whore dichotomy for the constitution of valorized heterosexual femininities in
school cultures [15]. It is not the ‘fact’ of being or not being a virgin that is crucial. Rather it is the
constutive force of a discourse of virginity and the ways in which the deployment of this constrains the
possibilities for intelligible hetero-femininities, that is significant within the students’ discursive
practices [12, p.262]. Discourses of this feminine morality also entail the necessity for this (im-)
morality to be policed. The fact that female sexuality is pathologized in many ways is frequently
indicated in the related literature [15]-[24]-[29]. Female sexuality is often constructed as potentially
dangerous and girls as the object of male desire. The dominant gender discourse leads to a damaging
culture of verbal harassment among girls and self-exclusion occurs as a result o bullying. The ‘whores’
are the ones who are most exposed to the damaging effects of the harassment culture.
Being a ‘desiring’ girl who violates the vague borders of masculine culture suffices to be stigmatized
as ‘whore’. In every school culture, there are such girls representing this demonic sexuality. We have
seen the discursive construction of this demonic sexuality properly in the case of Asya who revealed
us her tragic story. It was the family environment with a heavy sexist oppression where Asya faced the
stigma of ‘whore’ for the first time. Among the girls we interviewed, it was only Asya whose family
did not support her educational ambitions and tried to convince her to get married instead of going to
high school. But Asya wanted to continue her studies and to have a profession to make a living, just
because she observed in her close family circle the “misery of women who get married at an early age
and who have problems with their husbands”. Unfortunately, the school experience of Asya ended
with a great trauma. When we met her, she was a school failure who had been estranged from school
and was on the verge of making up her mind as to whether she would drop the school or not. The
quotation below shows the sources of her desperate situation. 8
“We ran off from school with my friends several times with friends. I used to run off
quite often when I’m got bored with classes. I did not want to come to school because
I’m not happy here. This year I have many problems with my friends. All of them are
boring me. I don’t have any good friends. All boys are ill-intentioned in their approach
towards me, because my looks are nice. They verbally harass me, hold me, and try to
fondle me. For example, I like a boy from my class. When he comes and sits next to me,
puts his arm around my shoulders, other boys come and say “it is our turn”. He can not
do anything to them because they are his close friends. All of them want to abuse me
because I don’t fool around with them. They easily use that word, “whore”, into my
face. I cannot make complaints about them to teachers, because it is their usual attitude.
I usually don’t talk to them. I hate the men in my class. Anyway, I will leave the school
next year. It is not because of school but because of my classmates. My mother also
wants me to go to a school in my neighborhood so that I will not be able to go to the city
center. Sometimes we go to city center with friends, we go to cafes etc. I go home late at
night, so my mother does not like it”.
Asya does not only have problem with her classmates. Teachers actively contribute to her
stigmatization process as well, making things worse for her.
“The main problem is men, these pervert men. Then come teachers. When I wear a skirt
or put on some make up, I dread the teachers. For example, in my first days in school
Miss. Ayten used to talk to me very often. I was thinking to leave the school just because
of her. Maybe she does the same thing to others, I don’t know, but I felt as if she was
messing only with me. She used to say “why are you coming to school”, “you are not
coming to school to learn”. She clearly meant that “you are coming here to fool around
with boys’. She said many hurting words like “I do not want to waste my time with you;
I want to spend my time on the good students”.
Under such heavy sexist pressure, Asya’s perception of man, love, sexuality and virginity begins to get
blurred and she turns to an object open to abuse or even to rape because of her ‘desires’. On the one
hand she does not trust men and says that she “wants to have a man without feeling any affection
or/and love to him and leave him once she conquered him”. On the other hand she seems very
submissive towards men when she says that “what do men exist for? He should be possessive, be the
father to our children, so that you will not go astray, he should be a bit macho”.
D. Outside the masculine culture: ‘teacher’s pets and ‘the rest’
Teacher’s pets
There are other girls who stay outside the masculine resistance culture but certainly not immune from
its effects. Generally girls in this category are the most better behaved and compliant students in
school. They are very respectful of the teacher’s authority and never violate school rules. Our research
tries to illuminate varied dimensions of this contradictory subject position, some of which have been
widely analyzed in the literature. [23]-[24]-[25]-[26]-[33]-[41]. Some writers underline the paradoxes
of being ‘clever’ and ‘feminine’ at the same time. Although being ‘square’ was a particularly
‘feminine’ position to occupy, it also de-feminised girls who occupied this position because of their
rejection of (active) heterosexual practices and desires, so embedded in the normalization and
regulation of ‘normal’ girls [24, p.580]. Other writers spotlight other kind of problems related with
being a ‘quasi-teacher’ [24]-[33]-[41]. Perceived to be passive and controllable, the ‘good girl’ image
was used by teachers as a standard measurement of good student behavior. Nevertheless, this quasiteacher subjectivity is not valued properly and become a disadvantage for these girls.
We want to add to the valuable insights of the literature the further complexities the ‘idealized’ girls
are faced with due to the presence of a masculine resistance culture. This is the group of girls who are
outside of this masculine resistance culture and ‘closer’ to the teacher’s authority. These are 9
‘successful’ girls with a middle class background, with whom the ‘unruly’ boys experience the most
severe sexual tension. For ‘unruly’ boys, to ignore and harass the so-called ‘teacher’s pets’ also means
resisting to the teachers’ authority. Thus these girls experience a deep feeling of estrangement from the
school culture in general and are supporting more authoritarian practices.
We have seen the most extreme example of a ‘teacher’s pet’ in the case of Cemile. Cemile is one of
the most successful and extremely compliant girls in the school and attracts the hostility of many of
her classmates. She is also labeled as a militant ‘feminist’ (in the sense of being a man-hater) by most
boys and girls. The long quotation below shows perfectly the intensity of tension Cemile experiences
with the masculine culture at school.
“Our class is full of those who failed in the previous years, who are unsuccessful; they
discourage the ones who are trying to succeed in classes. I don’t like my classmates at
all. All the students in the class are against me. … One of them insulted me, he said
things like “animal, idiot”. In response, I said “don’t address me in this way, you poor
soul, that is all, but the class still holds me responsible for everything. They are jealous
of my success. If you treat them in a friendly manner, then they will abuse you. So, I
don’t want their friendship. In our circle, there is no one I can talk to, about the war for
example … the only thing they [the girls in my class] do is crying and lamenting for
boys… And the boys regard girls as sex objects. Some girls are pleased with it. It is
fortunate that our grandmothers, who carried ammunition to the fronts during the
Turkish national war, did not see this situation”.
Her scathing criticism is directed against the masculine culture and the image of ‘popular’ girl. She
concluded from what she has observed in her class that girls as well as boys are degenerated. She
particularly hates boys. She tries not to establish any kind of relation with them. Against boys who
taunt her for being a feminist, she advocates feminism as follows:
“I do not discriminate between boys and girls but I observe many things in my
surroundings. When I see those women who are battered by her husbands, I decide not
to marry. It is for sure that there are good men, but I don’t see them around”.
Cemile also directs heavy criticisms at girls and the culture of girls around her. She thinks that “they
come to school for purposes other than education”, “they are under the influence of magazine culture
radiated by television”, “and they develop wrong type of relations with men under the pretext of love”
etc. Against them she constructs herself as a “Turkish girl following the line of Atatürk the Founder”.
When we look at from Cemile’s point of view, we notice the bullying and harassing character of this
culture. But on the other hand, when we look at other students’ eyes, we also notice her frightening
estrangement and her demeaning attitude towards other pupils. In other words, Cemile seems wild and
cruel too. We can conclude that Cemile as the ‘ideal student’ appears as one of the weirdest figures in
school.
And ‘the rest’
The girls from the poorest strata seem to have the least contact with the masculine culture. The reason
why we call them as ‘the rest’ is that these girls are not cared for by neither other students or by the
teachers. They think they are treated as if they don’t exist in school. We see that they are made totally
‘invisible’ by the gender regime of the school. Not confronted with the risk of disciplinary action,
these girls are the ones who are most likely to express self-exclusionary types of behavior [21]. We
also see that these girls are mostly neglected not only by the school culture, but by the literature as
well. As to their femininity, we can say that they do not rise even to the level of ‘good girls’, although
their self-identity is mostly constructed against the ‘bad girls’. Educational life of these girls has been
very problematic from the very beginning. Their families are and/or cannot be supportive enough for
them. Like all other girls we interviewed they also believe in education as the most powerful way to 10
empowerment for women. At the limit case, going to school and getting married are constructed as
alternative options in life. The school experience of these girls is shaped both by their resentment
against teachers and by their class and gender animosity against the masculine culture. Thus, the girls
develop a serious indifference towards the school environment and isolate themselves from other
students.
Meral is a typical example of these girls. She comes from a very poor family where the father died at a
very early stage of her childhood. She also had to cope with a serious illness from early age on, so her
education has been frequently interrupted from the very beginning. Meral’s narrations represent the
typical themes that are dominant in the gender discourse of these girls. These can be stated as follows:
extreme importance placed on education, strong sense of responsibility towards family, fear of
authority, demonizing the ‘spoiled’ students as the main sources of all troubles in school, regarding
herself superior over all other students in terms of maturity, strong awareness and acceptance of her
own social class position, a perceivable humanitarian concern for existent inequalities in the society.
The quotation below shows clearly how these themes are intricately articulated in her discourse.
“Teaching is a sacred profession … They try to do their best to us teach something. The
spoiled students do not appreciate the chance they have been given. Teachers say that
“we don’t want anybody to fail” but the students don’t care and in the end they lose…
Here, I can not make any friends. The way they think is entirely incompatible with mine.
They laugh at things that mean a lot to me. They make fun of many things. For example,
they make fun of poor people who line up for cheap bread, sick people, and
handicapped children. I too can be regarded as a half-handicapped person. I learnt
many things when I was in hospital, I have known the people. So, I see myself as more
mature person”.
In these girls’ narration ‘spoiled’ behavior designates those which express self-expression, selfconfidence and disobedience to authority. Such attitudes present a threat not only in class terms but
also in gender terms. They are afraid of boys not only because they see them as the main bearers of
‘spoiled’ culture but also as a sexual threat. Here are another girl’s words:
“My elder sister says “draw lessons from the films you have seen, you must remember,
they (men) can take you somewhere, they can put a sleeping pill in your tea cup, and
then they can treat you as they please’, so, I’m afraid of men, I don’t trust them … They
are staring at girls, looking at their bottoms, they are molesting, so I conclude that they
can do harm”.
These girls stay away not only from the boys but from the ‘popular’ girls as well. Their identity is
constructed against them. In their narration about such girls, gender and class dimensions are
intermingled. Here is an exemplary view:
“The so-called popular girls don’t come near us, they are very haughty, they are too
selfish, they dress up and put on make-up, they go to the private courses, they are spoilt,
frankly speaking, they enjoy to be involved with men”.
Consequently, these girls implement a peculiar kind of isolation strategy against the masculine school
culture. We see that their typical reaction towards this culture is one of ‘not getting involved’. They
believe that if “you do not get involved, they would not harm you any way”. They try to cope with the
threatening reality by ignoring it. But in order to avoid being involved, they have to exert a strict
control over themselves.
V. CONCLUSION 11
The most general conclusion of this article is that the multiple femininities of schoolgirls are
conditioned by the tension between two interrelated positions. The first one is the educational
expectations of girls which significantly differ from that of boys. Education is seen as the most
important and effective means for personal empowerment against the possible restrictions that a
would-be husband will possibly exert on the woman/female party in the marriage. Unfortunately, the
high expectations of girls remain unmet by the gender regime of school, and different subject positions
emerge from the different accommodation and resistance strategies to the gender-mediated problems.
Secondly, different types of feminine subjectivities are determined by their differential position vis-à-
vis the masculine resistance culture that is dominant in the school. However, regardless of one’s
position vis-à-vis the hegemonic power game, masculine culture creates a serious tension for every
group of girl.
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