Shaping up to womanhood: A study of the relationship between gender and girls' physical education in a city-based Local Education Authority

Scraton, Sheila J. (1989). Shaping up to womanhood: A study of the relationship between gender and girls' physical education in a city-based Local Education Authority. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis examines how images of 'femininity' and the construction of gender-appropriate behaviour are reinforced and potentially challenged by the structure, content and teaching of girls' physical education in secondary schooling. The research involves both historical and contemporary investigation.. The qualitative methodology used for the contemporary research focuses on an in-depth case study cf an inner city local education authority. Open-ended interviews were conducted with advisory staff, teaching staff and education committee members involved in secondary school reorganization. This was followed by close observation in four selected case study schools. The research techniques were grounded in a feminist methodology

The historical analysis identifies gender ideologies relating to physical ability/capacity, motherhood! domesticity and sexuality which underpinned the development of girls' physical education. The contemporary research concludes that images of femininity continue to find expression in the assumptions of women physical education staff although they are specific to their particular historical location in the 1980s. The case study observations provide evidence cu f the institutionalization of gender ideologies in the policies, priorities and practices of girls' physical education.

Three central issues emerge from the research: the significance of ideologies of the physical and the politics of sexuality; the relationship between young women's subcultures, leisure and physical education; the debates surrounding mixed versus single-sex organization. These issues are critically analysed in relation to relevant literature, evidence from the research material and current feminist theoretical debates.

The thesis concludes by suggesting future directions for girls' physical education and future research in related areas. The research points to the need for a feminist analysis and approach to girls' physical education in order to initiate debate and anti-sexist policy innovation and also to contribute to wider feminist theoretical analysis particularly in relation to an understanding of physicality, sexuality and patriarchal power relations.

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