Constructing and Deconstructing Masculinities through Critical Literacy
Davies’s (1997a) focus on critical literacy highlights the importance of equipping learners not simply with knowledge but with the tools
through which they can become their own knowledge producers. Davies is working within a poststructuralist framework and the research discussed here is based on observational data. Davies gives us the case of Mr Good, a teacher, who is not resistant to the idea of disrupting gender identities. Indeed, as Davies’s pseudonym indicates, Mr Good appears to engage in the essential strategies of deconstruction that might lead to the acquisition of new identities. Nevertheless, Davies argues that Mr Good’s pedagogic approach remains flawed.
Mr Good seeks to challenge stereotypes of macho masculinity by making it possible for boys to take themselves up as literate, oral beings. He does this in a number of ways. For example, Mr Good draws on his own personal interests and feelings to indicate that he is not a detached bystander to knowledge. He also challenges, in a supportive way, displays of macho masculinity when they are evidenced in the classroom. Indeed, through his various responses Mr Good suggests that there are many ways in which masculinity can be ‘done’. Much of this incorporates the notion of the ‘new man’ within traditional forms of masculinity. Thus, boys in Mr Good’s class were able to read poetry without feeling self-conscious. They were able to play football and to know about wars and planes. They were able to engage with philosophical and moral issues and speak about their feelings.
However, Davies argues that Mr Good does not go far enough. This is because Mr Good does not offer the children in his class ‘the kind of reflexive knowledge that would allow them to see what is happening and to critique the various discourses that are made available to them’ (ibid.: 25). Essentially, Mr Good does not hold in play the variety of meanings ascribed to masculinity. He does not explore the ways in which these meanings rely on each other. Nor does he explore the potential to create new meanings. In this, then, Mr Good does not give the children in his classroom the tools through which to become fully critically literate and thereby able to understand how their positioning could change through resisting dominant meanings or changing them. Here there are three pedagogic tasks that could be undertaken. First, there is a need to generate a level of critical literacy that enables learners to recognize multiple discourses. Second, there is a need to facilitate a critical awareness of the ways in which the self is contradictorily positioned as colonized and colonizer and as oppressed and oppressive within these discourses. Third, there is a need to embrace, as one’s own, the multiplicity of positions with which one wishes to identify.
196 KEY CONCEPTS IN FEMINIST THEORY AND RESEARCH Summary
I have indicated that central to conceptual contestation is a concern about the effects of meaning. Feminism’s relationship with becoming gives a particular weight to the political implications of the language and terms that we use to frame our theory and our research. Through the language of conceptual literacy this text has explored only one part of this. The effects of conceptual contestation are real as they produce what become acceptable ways of knowing, theorizing and doing. We are each caught up in, and actively take up, these webs of meaning. They are productive of our passions and commitments. As Moi (1999) wrestles to free herself from the intellectually learnt search for deep meaning, she demonstrates what is for me a central feminist ethic. This is the development of skills in:
catching language in the act of formation and in recognising and assessing the effects of that formation [through which] language is no longer a dead tool for the maintenance of old certainties, but a life-giving set of possibilities for shaping and reshaping a complex, rich, fluid social world.
A critically and socially [and conceptually] literate [personhood] would not be caught up, as some might fear, in a mindless, relativist spiral. Rather, in the very visibility and analysability of language, and its effects, lies the possibility of being open to a philosophical and moral critique of the many and multiple meanings and modes of being embedded in and created through different uses of language. (Davies, 1997a: 29)
I offer this text in that spirit.
Clearly, the work of Bronwyn Davies has been central to this chapter and I can only urge you to follow up the references here. More broadly, however, I would further suggest you consult first-hand all the texts cited in this book that are relevant to your own research. This way you will not be reliant on my own (mis)readings and (mis)interpretations!