The cool, the bad, the ugly, and the powerful: identity struggles in schoolboy peer culture
Drawing upon a one-year-long ethnography of boys’ constructions of their gender and sexual identities in one South African high school, this paper seeks to empirically explore and theorise how 58 grade 10 and grade 11 working-class boys create and seek out spaces among their male peers from which to cultivate their masculinities through heterosexual discourses, including being ‘at risk’ of getting AIDS. In this study, boys’ daily struggles of trying to straddle the divide between hypersexual versus homosexual/effeminate versions of masculinity both subverted and reinforced hegemonic gender/sexual relations in the school context. Being caught up in this restrictive grip of heteronormativity meant that there were few spaces in male peer culture to resist hegemonic masculinity. The ‘responsible male/controlled’ position is indicative of one such space in which boys attempted to resist forms of hyper-sexuality. While this position cannot really be viewed as progressive, it nevertheless allowed boys to re-position themselves as moral agents through an assertion of control over their sexuality. Given the presence of these identity struggles, this paper, in general, suggests that interventions with boys need to cautiously explore these tensions/contradictions in identity making as opportunities to cultivate more gender sensitive and less violent discourses on masculinity.