Parry, O. (1996) 'In One Ear and Out the Other: Unmasking Masculinities in the Caribbean Classroom', Sociological Research Online, vol. 1, no. 2, <>

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


In One Ear and Out the Other: Unmasking Masculinities in the Caribbean Classroom

by Odette Parry
Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Received: 28/2/96      Accepted: 17/5/96      Published: 2/7/96


Derived from qualitative data collected for a research project based at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, this paper explores classroom gendered responses of High School students in Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The account shows how teachers interpret gendered responses as confirmation of natural and necessary differences between male and female pupils. It is these perceived differences which they use to justify the case for single sex education, particularly for males. Conversely the paper argues that male gendered responses are informed by cultural expectations which translate into pedagogical relationships. These expectations reflect a version of masculinity (emerging from the historical experiences of white patriarchal chattel slavery in the West Indies) which equates education with the female side of a male/female dichotomy. The paper explores ways in which schools encourage this version of 'masculinity' at the same time as rendering it educationally inappropriate. In doing so the paper addresses issues which have been raised about male educational failure in recent British research.

Caribbean Education; Gender; Gender identity; Masculinities; Secondary Education


Taking as a starting point the educational under-achievement of Caribbean males this paper explores the gendered responses of Caribbean High School pupils. Through classroom observation and teachers' accounts of gender interaction the paper examines the relationship between teacher expectations, Caribbean masculinities and male underachievement. The research focused upon gender and educational performances in the English speaking Caribbean.

Methodologically the research was influenced by the principles of Naturalism which proposes that as far as possible the social world should be studied in it's natural state, undisturbed by the researcher. A key element of this approach is that the research is carried out in a way sensitive to the nature of the setting and that the researcher adopts an attitude of respect or appreciation towards the social world and it's participants (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983).

Data collection methods utilized were classroom observation of 4th form pupils (fourteen year olds) and ethnographic interviews with head teachers, guidance counselors and 4th form teachers of English language, biology and physics. The ethnographic interviews, although not totally unstructured (an aide memoir was used) sought to elicit respondents' own understandings of classroom interaction, rather than imposing the researcher's definition of events. The interviews were informal, arranged at the convenience of respondents and often resembled 'chats' or 'conversational encounters' rather than 'traditional' interviews. Furthermore, the use of a tape recorder was abandoned when it became apparent, early into the data collection, that this type of encounter was incompatible with the use of recording instruments. The very first respondents to agree to the tape recorder were visibly nervous about it's presence, clammed up over sensitive issues and requested that it be turned off at critical junctures in the interview. For this reason, plus the fact that interviews often took place in class rooms (during break times) and in equally noisy staff rooms, the instrument was rendered unsuitable. In the absence of the recorder notes were taken (verbatim as far as possible), and respondents appeared to accept this as an expected course.

Based on data from interviews carried out in fifteen High Schools, I have chosen to concentrate upon interview (over observation) material simply because the content of interviews were so highly influenced by observations in classrooms. Observation data was used to probe teachers' accounts and often particular incidents were raised as a means of focusing upon issues.

This leads to the issue of why I decided to rely upon teachers' (second hand) accounts when focusing upon gender responses of students. Quite simply, the initial objective of the research focused upon Caribbean curriculum and pedagogy. It was not until I became intrigued with classroom interaction and teachers' accounts of it, that gender identities emerged as the focus of this piece of research. A very positive aspect of the nature of ethnographic research is it's reflexivity and on this occasion the data informed the research direction almost entirely.

There were two reasons why I did not radically alter the research design upon changing the research focus. The first was practical in that the research focus change was not sudden and I had negotiated access and approval to approach teachers (on all three territories) before starting fieldwork. Secondly, I felt that being a European researcher, it would be extremely difficult for me to establish the necessary rapport with Caribbean students. I felt the combination of cultural and linguistic differences would mitigate against the research interests. It is interesting that I did not have those concerns, to the same extent, in respect of teachers.

In Jamaica I was fortunate to employ as a research assistant, a Jamaican woman (Florence) who I trained in observation and ethnographic interviewing techniques. Florence and I interviewed some respondents jointly and we found this very fruitful, particularly with head teachers. After several joint interviews we concluded that the dynamic of having Florence, an insider, and myself, an outsider, resolved some ambivalence experienced by respondents. Some respondents, or respondents on some issues, clearly found it easier to talk to an outsider, who they appeared to find quite unthreatening. However other respondents, and again respondents on certain issues, found it easier to address Florence, with whom they clearly shared cultural understandings from which I was excluded.

For the Barbados fieldwork I was unable to recruit a Barbadian research assistant for the period required. Here I employed a Canadian teacher (Nicky), a Barbados resident who had experience of teaching High School in both Canada and the Caribbean and who I also trained in observation and interviewing techniques. In combined interviews we also found a (albeit different) type of dynamic occurring. As a teacher, respondents related to Nicky in a way which they could not to me. At the same time as an outsider, on some issues, respondents appeared to find it less threatening to address me. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for administrative and financial reasons, I carried out the field work unassisted.

Both research assistants, who provided invaluable assistance, left the project after data collection. Nicky remained in Barbados and Florence, upon developing an interest in gender issues through the research, resigned to take up a place on the Gender and Development Master's course at the University of the West Indies. Whilst acknowledging the very useful contribution (and friendship) of both Florence and Nicky during data collection I am presenting this account in the first person because I take full responsibility for the subsequent analysis.

Eight of the 15 participating schools were in Jamaica, four were in Barbados and three in St. Vincent. Supplementary data were also collected from two schools in the Grenadines. The participating institutions included rural and urban schools, single sex and coeducational schools. Of the eight Jamaican schools which took part in the research, two were boys' schools, two were girls' schools and four were coeducational. In Barbados all government schools are coeducational; three of the four we visited had previously been boys' schools and one had previously been a girls' school. In St. Vincent one boys' school, one girls' school and one coeducational school participated in the research. Both schools in the Grenadines were coeducational.

In total 110 interviews were carried out. These comprised 17 heads, 13 guidance counselors and 82 teachers. Of the teachers, 34 taught English, 21 biology and 20 physics. The remainder taught other arts, integrated science and vocational subjects.

Men constituted 29.5% of all teachers interviewed, the lowest percentage of male teachers interviewed was in Jamaica (24%). Of the seventeen head teachers, ten were male whereas 12 of the 13 guidance counselors were female. In the Caribbean female teachers outnumber male teachers and our 'sample' broadly reflects the gender ratio of teachers.

The majority of teachers interviewed were observed teaching 4th form pupils prior to the interview taking place. Field notes recorded during observation were analyzed and used to inform areas which were explored with teachers during interviews. Areas probed in the interviews included background information on teachers (length and type of experience), aspects of classroom behaviour, motivation and performance and pupil/teacher relationships.

Given that all the schools which were selected to participate in the research were High Schools, and that High School acceptance depends upon success at the first level of educational testing, the presence of upper and lower middle class students in classrooms visited was proportionally higher than in the general populations. On the questionnaires students were asked to give the occupations of male and female parents/guardians. Overall 59.4% of respondents described male guardians/parents and 54% of respondents described the female guardians/parents occupations as 'white collar' or professional. However these figures are based upon self reported responses which were very difficult to classify and should be interpreted with caution.

In the Caribbean another indicator of social class is skin colour. In classrooms visited, the majority of students were either brown (mixed race) or black (negro); classrooms contained very few (if any) white students. Furthermore, with the exception of a small number of expatriates and white Jamaicans the majority of teachers, heads and counselors were either brown or black.

In addition to observation and interviews questionnaires were completed by pupils from one 4th form at each of the 15 schools which made up the main 'sample'. In total 668 questionnaire schedules were completed. The schedules provided some demographic data about students and focused upon their educational choices, future occupational plans and what they saw as major influencing factors in their lives. Data analysis of questionnaire responses is currently in it's early stages, although I have used responses to some questions to highlight issues raised in this account.


This research is theoretically associated with symbolic interactionism and thus sees classroom interaction not as a given but as the outcome of interaction, interpretation and negotiation. At the same time it recognizes that classroom interaction does not occur in a vacuum but is informed among other things by constraints of history, ethnicity, biology, socio-economics and environment. In locating classroom interaction in the context of schools, cultural expectations and wider societal structures which operate as mediators of power and social control (Bernstein, 1977) the account refuses to hold teachers solely responsible for the production and reproduction of gender divisions. Conversely I agree with Stanworth (1983) who suggests that classroom interaction should be explored as an indicator or reflection of the much wider societal experiences and expectations in which it is embedded.

It is compatible with an interactionist tradition that gender identities are not interpreted as the manifestation of inner essences but are socially constructed as well as historically shifting (Kimmel, 1996). Furthermore there are multiple competing masculinities, only one of which achieves ascendancy at any particular historical junction. Connell (1995) (borrowing Antonio Gramsci's use of hegemony from his analysis of class relations) describes the ascendant masculinity as hegemonic masculinity. For both Gramsci and Connell, hegemony refers to a cultural dynamic by which a group claims and sustains a leading position in social relationships.

Hegemony, however natural in appearance, is arrived at via the social processes of competition, domination, subordination and resistance. From within this struggle hegemonic masculinity emerges as the configuration of gender practice which legitimates patriarchy and guarantees a dominant position for men alongside the subordination of women.

Caribbean historian Hilary Beckles (1996) describes the historical dimension of black Caribbean masculinities by locating them within the hegemonic white patriarchal institution of chattel slavery. Beckles suggests that hegemonic white masculinity in the West Indies is associated with the possession of power, profits, glory and pleasure, all of which articulated as core elements of a white masculine ideology in which historically black masculinity was negated and relegated to 'otherness'.

In the quest for control over masculinity white slave owners employed two key strategies; the denial of black men to the right of patriarchal status, and the sexual appropriation of black females. Both strategies, exercised through violent regimes, effectively deprived black males of domestic authority as either husbands or fathers.

In relegating black males to a state of 'otherness', Beckles notes that in slave owner literature, infantilization linked closely with feminization in the conceptualization of both black slaves and white and black women. The black man by virtue of being denied masculine roles or access to institutionalized support systems on which to construct counter-concepts was conceived to have degenerated into pre-consciousness, a condition which Beckles associates with nothingness, innocence and femininity.

The historical impact of white hegemonic masculinity of slave owners has implications for the importance which Caribbean males attach to the exercise of power and control over women (Johnson, 1996). Very recent ethnographic research carried out in Jamaican, Dominican and Guyanese communities suggests that 'manhood' is attested by sexual prowess, usually measured in terms of numbers of serial or concurrent female sexual partners. Secondary proof of 'manhood' resides in numbers of offspring whether inside or outside of a steady relationship. Furthermore the women's liberation movement (as well as harsh economic realities and foreign media) are seen as contributors to the erosion of man's authority in the home and to power struggles between men and women. These struggles, apparent in group discussions in all the communities researched, seemed related most often to the growing economic independence of women (Brown, 1995).

The shift in occupational roles and the capacity of women to be providers and breadwinners have challenged notions of Caribbean masculinity (Mohammed, 1996), while allowing women to extend concepts of femininity. That is perhaps at the root of male fear that they are losing ground and privilege, that their manhood is threatened when they cannot fulfill what they see as the 'God given and natural role of men'.

This fear is the source of Caribbean black male marginalization described by Miller (1987, 1989, 1992). Miller's work on the marginalization of the black male has resonances with the emasculation thesis in which men are again victims of the dominant colonial order. The problem with this is that Miller works within a paradigm of male dominance, assuming that this ideology is a natural one which must be obtained in society. He places the burden once again on the backs of women for emasculating men (Mohammed, 1996). Supporters of the maginalizaton thesis understand male educational failure and female educational success as two sides of the same equation and interpret the former as a function of latter. Miller's ideas have attracted considerable interest and sympathy in the Caribbean and I have argued elsewhere (Parry 1995, 1996a) how they underlay discriminatory educational policies.

While Miller accurately observes that Jamaican women have taken advantage of educational opportunities and achieved greater mobility than men (Mohammed, 1996), unfortunately he does not question the notion of manhood itself and the way in which this may be at variance with the requirements of the changing education system. Lewis (1996) similarly argues how male marginalization, which is mediated by factors of race, class, age and sexual orientation, is the product of changing socio-economic and political considerations and not a willful attempt (by women) to penalize men.

Ironically it is the issue of male marginalization which initiated this current research (and funding opportunities). I say ironically because the level of concern in the West Indies about the educational underachievement of Caribbean males has never in the past been extended to the educational performances of, or opportunities for, Caribbean females. The current concern has become highlighted by examination results which show Caribbean females are now largely out performing their male peers.

In the Caribbean, females are currently outperforming males at both primary and secondary levels of schooling (World Bank, 1993). Gender differences in performance are most noticeable at the first level of testing, the Common Entrance Examination (CEE), where females are gaining the largest proportion of High School places even where assessment policies have attempted to redress the gender imbalance by discriminating in favour of males (Parry, 1996b).

World Bank figures show the majority of Caribbean Examination passes (GCSE/O'Level equivalent) are claimed by females, although subject choices still follow a traditional pattern with girls highly visible in arts and boys in science (Whitely, 1994). In 1993, 54.3% of the entries for all subjects in Jamaica were from females and 45.7% were males. Of the total grade one results, 36.4% went to males and 54.3% went to females. Comparing English to physics grade results, 81.4% of the grade one results were taken by females and 60.7% of the grade one physics went to males.

Figures available for Barbados and St. Vincent show similar trends. In Barbados 59.6% of passes in English language went to females as did 63.9% of the passes in biology. In Physics males did marginally better than the females taking 55.5% of passes. In St. Vincent 58.1% of English language passes went to females and 58.7% of passes in biology. In physics gender differences in performance were negligible with males claiming 50.7% of the passes. Overall in Barbados, for all subjects, females secured 60.4% of the passes and in St. Vincent 61.1%.

These trends are mirrored by educational performances in developed countries to the extent that the 'problem' of male under achievement is now being conceived as an international phenomenon (Stockard and Wood, 1984; Klein, 1985). Females are achieving equally, or surpassing, males (Klein, 1985; Stockard and Wood, 1984; Mickleson, 1992; Saltzman, 1994) despite the fact that they continue to face unequal opportunities in the occupational structure upon leaving school (Mickleson, 1992).

While it is difficult to make comparisons between the developed and developing countries, of particular interest here is British research highlighting the way in which black female students are out performing black male students (Mirza, 1992). As Weekes et al. (1996) point out, research on the educational underachievement of Afro-Caribbean males in Britain has (with notable exceptions) concerned itself with issues like the relationship between white teachers and black pupils. In the Caribbean this kind of explanation is clearly inappropriate.

This account explores some of the ways in which the Caribbean classroom offers male students an arena in which to develop and demonstrate masculinity through their educational responses. British research has suggested (Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Haywood and Mac an Ghaill, 1996; Weekes et al., 1996) a mismatch in the orientation of education and the way in which masculinities are perceived and this may have serious implications for male educational achievement in the developing as well as the developed world.

Educational Contexts

The paper focuses upon classroom contexts in which gendered responses arise. Areas to be explored here include classroom behaviour, responses to verbal discipline and participation in class work.

Teachers, heads and guidance counselors described differences between the classroom behaviour of male and female pupils and these descriptions were supported my own observations in classrooms. In coeducation classrooms, where students were allowed to choose their own seats, invariably male students grouped together at the rear of the class. Male students, electing to sit at the front of the class, demonstrated either a particular interest in the subject, or lesson, or were as one Jamaican teacher aptly said 'making a point'. Making a point was strategy by which 'inattentive' or 'bad boys' voluntarily atoned to teachers for past classroom misdemeanours which had provoked censure. Occasionally towards the end of a lesson where a male student had been particularly inattentive or disruptive, he would get up and take a seat at the front of the class in order to catch up on what had been missed and copy from the blackboard.

I have argued elsewhere (Parry 1996a, 1996b) how male and female teachers in Jamaica use adjectives like 'attentive', 'applied', 'serious' and 'encouraging' to describe female pupils and 'lazy', 'disruptive', 'noisy' and 'rude' to describe males. Although this is a generalization, certainly male misbehaviour was more extreme. I routinely witnessed males slumped asleep across their desks, wandering aimless around at the rear of the class, hanging on to window bars and, on one occasion, swaying rhythmically to (imagined?) music.

Although in all three territories, teachers reported gender differences in class behaviour, the gender differences were most marked (from observation and teachers' accounts) in Jamaica. In Barbados and St. Vincent descriptions of male classroom behaviour were less extreme than in Jamaica and I did not witness the level of male unpunctuality, temporary absenteeism from class, noise and unrest which characterized the Jamaican fieldnotes.

Backed again by observations, female pupils (in the coeducational High School classrooms) were described by respondents as more attentive and participatory in class than their male peers. Unlike male students, females appeared to ask more questions, put their hands up and routinely volunteer answers. In contrast to female pupils, males appeared less responsive and less inclined to join in classroom interaction than females and this was backed up by the teachers' accounts:

Boys aren't very responsive whereas the girls are very verbal and want to show you how much they know. Boys prefer to ask each other (or the girls) to make sure before they say anything. It's quite different once they gain confidence, when they show their inner selves. (Female teacher: Barbados )
I also found that there were differences between single sex male and female classrooms. Generally single sex female classrooms were noticeably cleaner and quieter than single sex male ones. Noise, in particular, is a key difference and as one Jamaican teacher told me, 'the girls' noise is different to the boys' noise'. The former is directed towards classwork (asking a question or seeking clarification) whereas the latter can often be disruptive. Male students, outside of actual lesson work, appear more rowdy and use physical objects (such as desks and chairs) to produce loud and disruptive noise to a greater extent.

The main reason which respondents volunteered for the comparatively low level of male student participation in the coeducational class was fear of failure. Most teachers felt that males disliked being 'shown up' as wrong, and particularly 'in front of the girls'. Related to this I found that poor participation of males in classwork was used, by respondents, to justify principles of segregation. In other words teachers cited classroom interaction when arguing advantages of single sex education over coeducation for males in particular. The underlying rationale for this argument being that if males and females respond differently in class then they require different treatment.

Interestingly I found this argument most popular among the Barbadian respondents who demonstrate ambivalence towards a government coeducation regime which replaced all government single sex schooling in Barbados in the early 1980's. Despite the fact that no government single sex schools remain, respondents talked about their current experiences of 'girls going to boys' schools' and conversely 'boys going to girls' schools'.

Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the single sex versus coeducation debate it is important to note the unwillingness of respondents to acknowledge how their own expectations might inform gender responses. This is supported by recent research actually carried out in Barbados (Carrington, 1993) which focused upon one school prior to, during and after the amalgamation of two single sex schools. The study explored relationships between sex composition, examination scores, socio-economic status and sex of pupils. It also included data from questionnaires and interviews with teachers and pupils.

Overall, Carrington's study found no significant differences between achievements in the single sex and coeducational setting for males. However it did highlight the very negative expectations held by teachers about the effects of coeducation on males. Furthermore, male pupils in the study who had experienced the amalgamation clearly felt that coeducation impacted negatively upon the way in which they were treated by teachers.

Another aspect of gender differentiated behaviour which I initially explored in the Jamaican context was the way in which males and females responded to verbal discipline in the classroom (Parry, 1996a). Even though females are better behaved, more motivated and perform to a higher standard than males, female teachers in Jamaica overwhelmingly said they preferred to teach males. The reason they gave for this was because males responded to verbal chastisement like 'water off a duck's back'. In comparison, female pupils responded to verbal discipline by 'sulking', 'bearing grudges' and 'giving you a look'. Whilst unlike their Jamaican colleagues, Barbados and St. Vincent teachers did not use adjectives like 'bitchy' and 'vindictive' to describe females in this respect, they did describe differences in the way that males and females responded to discipline:

If you tell a boy off he will have forgotten about it the next day. If you tell a girl off she may remind you about it four years on when she's left school. (Teacher: St. Vincent)
Teachers emphasized how different responses of males and females in the classroom undermined their attempts to treat them equally and in the long term rendered males easier to cope with:

If you've had bad words with a boy he may say angry things to you but the next day it's as if nothing has happened. Nothing has changed between you. In one ear and out the other. (Female teacher: St. Vincent)
Initially I found these particular gender differences difficult to recognize as an observer. It was actually when female teachers talked (as many of them did) about preferring to teach males that I started looking for gendered reactions around verbal discipline. In most cases teachers had not made the link between these responses and the strategies of verbal chastisement which prompted them. Once I made this link then the responses appeared clearer.

Previous research suggests that sarcasm and ridicule as a disciplinary strategy in the classroom can be extremely counter- productive and provoke all kinds of student retaliation (Woods, 1975; Ritchie & Ritchie, 1981; Wilson, 1982). Indeed it mitigates against academic effectiveness in a number of ways (Woods, 1975). It can provoke resentment among pupils and a desire for revenge as well as dislike for the teacher, the subject and maybe school in general. It may in the long term reinforce anti- teacher peer group attitudes and contribute to a climate of tension and hostility in the classroom (Woods, 1975; Lewis & Lovegrove, 1987). There are numerous studies supporting these views (Gaskell, 1960; Galwey, 1970; Raven, 1976; Furlong, 1977) including research carried out in secondary schools in Barbados (Payne, 1988). In a questionnaire survey of students Payne found that verbal ridicule was rejected as vehemently as corporal punishment and led to a lack of trust and disrespect for teachers involved.

Gender responses to verbal discipline were most graphically described by the Jamaican respondents. The data suggests that this may be related to the use of sarcasm and ridicule which may be more widespread in Jamaica. Certainly the Jamaican teachers were the least trained of the respondents from all three territories: 39.6% had no teaching qualification, although the majority of these non-trained teachers (91%) were graduates; 22.4% were non-graduate, teacher trained; and 36.9% were graduates with a teaching qualification. Two teachers were High School graduates. In comparison the Barbadian teachers were the most highly trained. All the trained teachers (82.1% of the 'sample') were graduates and 17.9% were non teacher trained graduates. The St. Vincent teachers fell somewhere in between the two: 55.5% were teacher trained and 75% of these teachers were also graduates; 37% were non-teacher trained graduates and the remaining two teachers were High School graduates. Given that gender differentiated responses to verbal discipline were most extreme in Jamaica it seems likely that training has implications for teacher pupil interaction in this respect.

The fieldnotes suggested that female teachers resorted to sarcasm and ridicule more readily than male teachers, who rarely appeared to use either sarcasm or ridicule as a strategy for disciplining (particularly) female students. Interestingly male respondents from all three territories did not appear to experience the responses from female pupils that their female colleagues reported. Many said they preferred to teach females because they were 'more motivated and less disruptive', than their male peers. Furthermore, male respondents were critical of the way in which female teachers treated female students. Some felt, for example, that their female colleagues were 'too hard on the girls', set 'very high standards for the girls', and that they were 'very strict, particularly with female students'.

The observation and interview data suggests that male teachers avoid some of the problems which female colleagues experience with female pupils by treating them differently than male students. In this respect some male respondents said that they attempted to 'avoid upsetting the girls' by 'not talking to them or treating them in the same way'. Others simply said they 'smile at them a lot more'. Conversely the female respondents were largely adamant that they treated male and female students equally despite their perception that 'if you treat girls and boys in an identical way then they will still react differently' (female teacher: Barbados).

To reiterate, one of the main points to emerge from the data is that gender differences in classroom responses are in many cases interpreted by teachers as confirmation that male and female students are different. A second point, leading on from this, is that this difference is seen to justify a need to provide males and females with different educational contexts. This is felt to be especially pertinent for males. Males were perceived, by the majority of respondents, to require an educational context made up exclusively of other (both students and teachers) males, and I shall return to this point later.

This account however does not interpret gendered student responses as either natural or necessary. Conversely it sees them largely as a function of cultural expectations which are translated into pedagogic relationships. Male students in the Caribbean classroom are expected by both their peers and teachers to exhibit particular responses and furthermore these responses are informed by a version of masculinity which has implications for educational performance in a number of ways. In the Caribbean, cultural expectations of male behaviour are informed by an extremely hard, macho, masculine sex/gender identity which is associated with maleness. Anything which is seen as not male is relegated to the realms of femaleness and devalued as 'nurdish', 'sissyish' and 'effeminate'.

One aspect of this version of 'masculinity' is the rigidness with which it defines appropriate sexual identity and an intolerance of (particularly male) non-heterosexual identities. Many of our respondents expressed homophobic attitudes. Males (both heads and teachers) in particular were quick to assert their opinions about homosexuality and often, like the head of an urban boys' school, made extremely forceful statements such as:

(My father) thought that homosexuals should be lined up in front of a firing squad. I feel the same way.
Clearly respondents differentiated between homosexual men and lesbians, rarely in fact mentioning the latter except to draw the following kinds of comparisons:

I don't feel the same about lesbians but it's more difficult to tell with a woman. After all, women can hold hands and it's acceptable. but can you imagine if two men walked down the road here holding hands, they would be dead.
One way in which issues of homosexuality materialized in the data was around the recruitment of male teachers. Heads and teachers alike repeatedly voiced the opinion that 'there are too many women teachers', 'males are sick of seeing women teachers' and 'boys need more male teachers as role models' (Parry, 1996b). At the same time however teaching is not seen as appropriate work for males. In other words heads simultaneously expressed a concern their male members of staff might not be 'real men' and the very fact they had chosen to teach was seen as just cause for suspicion.

This supports Connell's (1985) argument that conventional constructions of masculinity and the role of teacher are fundamentally incompatible. Whereas masculinity is associated with attributes like physical strength and authority, many attributes commonly associated with teaching are traditionally associated with femininity. For example emotional involvement and caring, which are an integral part of the teaching role, are usually felt to reside within the female domain. Because of this male teachers in the Caribbean cannot be real men and they become the focus of concern and suspicion of their colleagues.

In many Caribbean territories (particularly Jamaica) teaching is unpopular among males because of the extremely poor level of remuneration and, not unrelated to this, the fact that it is primarily seen as 'women's work'. However It was interesting that the 'feminization' of teaching was not uniformly offered across all three territories as a reason for male underachievement. In St. Vincent, teaching is more popular among males for two reasons. Teachers are classified as civil servants and they have been relatively occupationally mobile within the wider civil service. That there are opportunities to move both vertically and horizontally in the occupational structure of the civil service attracts males, particularly in the early stages of their careers. Also many of the St. Vincent respondents had, or were in the process of, obtaining higher qualifications through government assisted funding. It was not unusual for teachers to have received their teaching qualifications and university degrees since entering teaching. Teaching, for St. Vincentians, is therefore a vehicle for occupational mobility and as such is utilized by both males and females. In this context teaching avoids the level of ambiguity about gender roles which was reflected in data from Barbados and particularly Jamaica.

Homophobia also has implication for student responses. On the questionnaires, pupils were asked whether they would prefer to be taught in a single sex or a coeducational classroom. 14% percent said single sex and 86% percent said coed. There was little difference in responses from males and females on this question (50 of those who said coed were females and 49% were males).

Students were then asked to explain the reasons for their response to this question. In Jamaica, 17% of males said they preferred coeducation because they didn't want to be seen as homosexual. The question was open ended and provoked answers such as 'I'm not gay', and 'I don't love a man' . None of the female pupils gave homosexuality as a reason for preferring coeducation. The Jamaican responses to this question were more marked than in either of the other two territories. In Barbados 5.6% and in St. Vincent 2.6% of males cited denial of homosexuality as their reason for preferring coeducation over single-sex schools. Interestingly in interviews with 185 Barbadian males (Dann, 1987), 69.8% said they felt homosexuality was totally wrong and a further 11% said it was wrong but inevitable.

Homophobic attitudes also had clear implications for the behaviour of male students. Kimmel (1996) suggests that homophobia, more than simply dread of gay men, symbolizes a male terror of being exposed as something other than heterosexual. This prompts a 'homosocial' enactment which is driven by the fear of being exposed as 'not a real male' by one's peers.

The enactment involves classroom behaviour, motivation and educational performance. I have argued elsewhere (Parry, 1995, 1996a, 1996b) that whilst male gendered responses are encouraged in the Caribbean classroom they often run contrary to the academic ethos of schooling. The enactment of male sex/sex gender identity in this respect relegates many aspects of education to the female side of the male/female dichotomy and consequently educational efforts and achievements are devalued.

Over and over again respondents described an 'anti-academic' ethos of masculinity, which is captured below by a female teacher from St. Vincent:

The boys don't utilize education in the same way. Much of it has to do with image: they don't want to be seen as a nerd and a nerd is someone who works hard at school. They are extremely image conscious, that's not to say the girls aren't. They are sophisticated, stylish and well turned out but the image important to them is not detrimental to their education.
Where males do school work, it is often invisible to the critical gaze of their peers:

They also prefer to be seen not to work. It's not popular to be male and studious. It's not macho. So some work on the sly. when they do work and apply themselves they will perform very well at tests and in exams and do better than the girls. (Female teacher: Barbados)
At school these attitudes are reinforced in a number of ways. First teachers clearly differentiate subject areas along gender lines, and in some cases curriculums still channel males and females into distinctive subject 'choices'. For example while heads were quick to assure that males and females had equal access to all subjects, this rarely included woodwork or home nutrition which were strictly organized along gender lines. I was told that 'the girls aren't encouraged to go into the workshops' and asked 'well why would a boy want to do food and nutrition?'. Subjects like technical drawing were felt to be 'inappropriate' for female pupils despite the fact that the skills acquired in technical drawing advantaged students entering physics. Furthermore certain skills were described by respondents as more feminine than others. English language and literature in particular clearly fell into this category. Consequently reading and writing are dismissed by male students as 'girlish', 'nerdish' and 'effeminate'.

Certainly some of the respondents were aware of the debilitating effects of these attitudes on the performance of males in other subjects. For example, science teachers expressed great concern about the inability of male students to present their work in acceptable English; a shortcoming for which they are penalized in examinations.

Second teachers hold clear expectations of gender appropriate behaviour in the classroom. Male students are openly acknowledged as 'rougher' and 'more boisterous' than their female peers. Males who disregard these expectations are policed both by peers, who label them 'nerds', and in some cases teachers who admonish 'sissyish behaviour of boys'.

In many respects gendered responses were most noticeable in Jamaica. Respondents clearly identified Jamaica as the 'home' or 'leader' of the 'macho West Indian male' image. Respondents from both Barbados and St. Vincent talked about how adolescent males were increasingly influenced by the music and dance-hall scene emanating from Jamaica in this respect:

Everything has to be Jamaican. Videos, the music and D.J.s and Dance- Hall. It's becoming more and more popular and it's definitely having an affect on our young males. (Female teacher: St. Vincent)
The hard macho masculine identity has implications for teacher pupil interaction. In this environment it is to be expected that male students will conceal or suppress responses to verbal chastisement and sarcasm. Indeed two of the respondents felt that teachers misread male students' reaction to disciplining strategies. In the following account a female teacher in Barbados describes how male students are expected to be insensitive:

Teachers do treat girls and boys differently and there is a definite tendency to treat boys as if they have no feelings whatsoever. Boys do hurt, can be hurt by words and actions of a teacher. (Female teacher: Barbados)
The St. Vincent teacher cited below, demonstrates a level of insight into disciplining strategy which was rare among the respondents:

I am aware that before I did my degree I used sarcasm as one form of discipline control. I never do that now I think it is particularly damaging. Too many teachers assume that children can take it, especially the boys but I think it hurts them just the same. I see it with my own sons. Boys appear tougher because they are taught not to show their feelings or express emotions. Boys don't cry, they learn this from an early age.
Many more of the respondents failed to recognize how male responses to verbal chastisement, and sarcasm in particular, may be less a function of the level of male tolerance and insensitivity and more a function of affirmation of masculine sex/gender identity.

To reiterate, many respondents felt that behaviour and participation in classwork of male students was influenced by the presence of female students. Heads, teachers and counselors stressed how male students were unwilling to be 'shown up' or 'wrong' in front of female peers. Respondents also felt that male students were unwilling to compete with female students due to fear of failure. This fear had, according to teachers, implications for the level of class participation in which male students were prepared to engage.

This account distances itself from explanations which locate male responses solely in the context of female audiences. On the contrary the data suggests that the audience for whom 'masculinities' were enacted was primarily male. For example the hard, macho, masculine sex/gender identity which informed behaviour in the coeducational classrooms, was also apparent in the male single sex schools. In other words there was no evidence in the study to suggest that males are less concerned about being 'shown up' in front of other males than they are concerned about being 'shown up' in front of females.

It was equally interesting how female teachers in the male schools were no less adamant, than those in coeducational schools, about their preference for teaching male students. Teachers in the single sex setting felt, like their coeducation colleagues, that male students were 'more resilient', 'straightforward' and, as a result, 'easier to teach than females'. This even held true for female teachers who had no experience of teaching females.

To this extent the data endorses the position of Kimmel (1996) who argues that masculinity is the renunciation of femininity or the fear of being seen as sensitive, fragile or frail by male peers. If maleness or manhood is primarily demonstrated through the approval and endorsement of other men then it's underlying concern derives from the fear of being exposed or unmasked as a fraud by other males. The hard, macho masculine behaviour observed in the Caribbean classroom represents what Kimmel describes as a 'homosocial' enactment which masks the concern of males that they may not measure up among their peers (Kaufman, 1996). As Pleck (1989) argues, this horror of being exposed, unmasked and emasculated is accompanied by stress and strain which arises due to fear of failure. This fear of failure, or inability to convince, involves the constant public rejection or negation of anything which is identified as unmasculine.


By exploring issues of gendered classroom responses in the context of the cultural expectations of participants; this paper has sought to distance itself from accounts which take gender differences and educational outcome as given.

That version of Caribbean masculinity which currently informs educational practices and performances, which has emerged through the historical experience of white male patriarchy, has been fashioned in relation to overall structures of power. Implicit in these power structures is the subordination of women to men and a celebration of the general symbolism of difference (the opposition of femininity to masculinity) (Connell, 1995).

This opposition is evident in the research data which forms the basis of this paper and reflects similar dichotomies to those apparent in the British data. Like their Caribbean counterparts, Mac an Ghaill's (1994) male students at Parnell and Willis's (1977) lads, associate academic work with an inferior effeminacy. In common they share a view of education as inappropriate for men and contribute towards an ethos in which the academic/non-academic couplet becomes associated with a female/male division. In this account I have argued how education is decried as effeminate, sissyish and nurdish, which culminates in an anti- academic ethos celebrated by the version of masculinity which informs classroom responses.

Furthermore within the teaching profession masculinities become particularly problematic in a context which equates teaching as 'women's work' (Haywood and Mac An Ghaill, 1996). Whereas for both Mac an Ghaill's (1994) and Beynon's (1989) British teachers, style of delivery and discipline were central to masculinities, this account suggests how in some Caribbean systems of education male teachers are not seen as 'real males'. The account demonstrates a fundamental contradiction in that while heads say on one hand that male students need male teachers as role models, on the other hand male teachers cannot qualify as role models as they do not qualify as 'real men'.

The account also suggests how gendered responses are interpreted as reflecting natural differences between male and female students. These perceived differences are used to justify an argument for single sex education. These beliefs were shown to be particularly pertinent for males who were felt to need an exclusively male educational context. Here the data suggests that male performances are enacted primarily for male audiences and claims that females are responsible for classroom responses of male students should be treated with caution.

Finally the British data highlights a mismatch in the masculinized orientation of education (which promotes qualities like competitiveness and differentiation) and the way in which certain masculinities are valued (Weekes et al. 1996). This mismatch is evident in Caribbean data which suggests that Caribbean masculinity informing classroom responses is at variance with the requirements of the education system. Furthermore Caribbean systems of education themselves have a precarious relationship with (in an age of structural adjustment) the changing socio-economic and political climates of developing countries. Among other changes the growing economic independence of Caribbean females has rendered the core claims to Caribbean masculinity (control over women and their economic subordination within the family) both inappropriate and unrealizable. This is certainly an area in which further research would be welcomed.


This paper is derived from data collected between September 1994 and December 1995 for a U.N.I.C.E.F. funded research project based at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Jamaica.


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