Private girls and public worlds: producing femininities in the primary school

Kehily, Mary Jane; Mac An Ghaill, Martin; Epstein, Debbie and Redman, Peter (2001). Private girls and public worlds: producing femininities in the primary school. Discourse, 23(2) pp. 167–177.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0159630022000000750

Abstract

This article draws upon data gathered from a research project entitled 'Children's Relationship Cultures in Years 5 and 6'. The project aims to explore the ways in which primary school age children understand emotional, caring and family relationships. This paper will focus upon the role of friendship in the cultures of girls, aged 9-10, in a primary school classroom. An ethnographic approach is adopted to illustrate the variety of interactions in which friendship is spoken, displayed and enacted within pupil cultures. Analysis of these exchanges suggests that notions of friendship and patterns of friendship are constitutive of sexual-gender identities. The paper argues that being friends/breaking friends is a technique utilised for the regulation and negotiation of femininities and the production of differentiated sex-gender hierarchies. The paper will focus upon the activities of the 'diary group'--a self-styled network of eight girls who met in the school playground to discuss issues that interested and excited them. Recurrent themes in diary group discussions are identified as: puberty/periods; erotic attachments; and imagined futures. The paper suggests that the diary group can be seen as a site for identity production and asks the question: what kind of identities are being produced when these girls meet and talk? Finally, the paper seeks to explore the ways in which members of the diary group create a 'private' space within the public domain of the school and, through talk, produce themselves as feminine subjects.

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