A1 Journal article (refereed)
Heteronormativity meets queering in physical education : the views of PE teachers and LGBTIQ+ students (2022)

Berg, P., & Kokkonen, M. (2022). Heteronormativity meets queering in physical education : the views of PE teachers and LGBTIQ+ students. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 27(4), 368-381. https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2021.1891213

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Berg, Päivi; Kokkonen, Marja

Journal or series: Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy

ISSN: 1740-8989

eISSN: 1742-5786

Publication year: 2022

Volume: 27

Issue number: 4

Pages range: 368-381

Publisher: Routledge

Publication country: United Kingdom

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2021.1891213

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Partially open access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX): https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/74431


Background and purpose: In school physical education (PE) lessons, gender is often produced heteronormatively. Lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, intersexual, and queer (LGBTIQ+) students have reported experiences of discrimination and obstacles to participation. This study analyzed Finnish PE teachers and LGBTIQ+ students’ talk about discrimination and problematic practices in PE and how equality in PE might be improved.

Theoretical background: We draw on the concepts of heteronormativity and habitus. Habitus provides insight on how gendered norms and inequalities become embodied and contested in different social fields. In the PE context, we define social on the one hand as the heteronormative ‘feel for the game’ and on the other as the queering of practices. We then demonstrate both the habitual elements of gender and sexuality and how expectations and categorizations are socially attached to bodies.

Methods: Thematic interviews were conducted with ten heterosexual and cisgender PE teachers and with ten LGBTIQ+ students aged 13–17. First, thematic analysis was conducted to identify each group’s perceptions on discrimination in PE lessons, on PE practices in relation to LGBTQI+ students, and on ways of promoting equality in PE. Second, applying the concepts of heteronormativity and habitus, we studied the identified themes to ascertain whether discrimination, practices, and equality were reproduced or challenged in the PE teachers’ and LGBTQI+ students’ perceptions.

Findings: The PE teachers’ perceptions, informed by the ethos of individuality, reduced LGBTQI+ students to ‘minorities’ whose practices diverged from the heteronorm. Hence, the non-heterosexuality and gender diversity of LGBTQI+ were constructed predominantly as ‘tolerated’ and even invisible in PE lessons. However, some teachers reported paying attention to diversity in gender and sexuality in their thinking, speaking, and practices, thereby challenging heteronormativity. While the teachers aimed to protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination, the majority also defended existing practices. Queering the status quo was considered challenging. In turn, the LGBTQI+ students focused more on lived power relations and structural discrimination and challenged existing practices by queering the status quo. For them, the best ways to promote equality in PE would be teacher familiarity with diversity in gender and sexuality, reduced gender stereotyping and the use of more inclusive language. The students also supported coeducational PE groups and unisex locker rooms or changing facilities for LGBTQI+ students.

Conclusions: PE teachers’ tendency to defend heteronormative practices creates a paradox of ‘tolerance’ which works to marginalize non-heterosexuality. The interviews with both groups indicate challenges in implementing the objectives of gender-awareness in school PE in Finland.

Keywords: physical education (upbringing); physical education (school subject); physical education teachers; gender sensitivity; equality (fundamental rights); heteronormativity; sexual minorities; gender minorities; social norms; habitus

Free keywords: habitus; heteronormativity; gender; physical education; sexuality

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Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2022

JUFO rating: 1

Last updated on 2023-30-08 at 09:13