Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by Pascoe


The text of this paper consists of the review of C.J. Pascoe’s 2007 book Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, and the critique of what appears to be the book’s major weaknesses. In particular, the author is being criticized on account of her inability to have a broader understanding of the discussed subject matter. The paper suggests that the concerned book is not quite as insightful as the author believes it to be the case.

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Nowadays, it became very popular among American sociologists to concern themselves with the exploration of different gender-related matters as a way of proving their “progressiveness” and receiving additional academic credits without having to apply much of an effort. The 2007 book Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School by C. J. Pascoe illustrates the validity of this suggestion. In it, the author strived to enlighten readers on what accounts for the discursive and technical aspects of how students (both male and female) in River High middle-class high school (California) are being encouraged to adopt a strongly patriarchal (male-chauvinistic, masculine) outlook on the relationship between the representatives of two opposite genders.

As the author pointed out, “I ask how heteronormative and homophobic discourses, practices, and interactions in an American high school produce masculine identities” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 4). The book’s format is best defined as a “sociological narrative”, in which the findings that Pascoe obtained while researching the subject matter in the field serve as a discursive ground for her to come up with a number of revelatory insights into what are the main specifics of the manifestation of masculinity in the domain of public education in America. In her book, the author also outlines the socially constructed discursive preconditions for the so-called “masculine virtues” to continue having a strong effect on how men and women in American tend to perceive the surrounding social reality and their place in it.

Analytical part


Structurally speaking, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School consists of six chapters. In Chapter One, Pascoe expounds on different heterosexuality-reinforcing traditions at River High, such as the one concerned with the male students using derogative words (“fag”, “faggot”) while referring to their younger/effeminate peers. According to the author, this state of affairs is indicative of the ‘artificial’ essence of heterosexuality, in general, and ‘masculine values’, in particular, “Masculinity is not a homogeneous category that any boy possesses by virtue of being male… (it) is a configuration of practices and discourses that different youths (boys and girls) may embody in different ways and to different degrees” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 4).

Throughout the Chapter, Pascoe also identifies four ways in which masculinity extrapolates itself: Hegemonic, Complicit, Subordinated, and Marginalized. The author refers to Hegemonic masculinity as being reflective of one’s preoccupation with trying to attain a dominant status within a particular societal niche (such as River High). Complicit and Subordinated masculinities refer to the affiliated person’s willingness to conform to the patriarchal conventions, as the way of proving himself/herself socially fit. Finally, Marginalized masculinity is ascribed to the representatives of racial minorities (most commonly African-Americans) that are being stereotyped as “manly” (even females) but not exactly super bright.

The Chapter Two in Pascoe’s book is dedicated to exposing what the author considers the implicit tactics for making students emotionally comfortable with the assumption that the proper functioning of the society can only be ensured for as long as men and women are willing to adhere to the traditional conceptualization of the inter-gender relationship. In this respect, Pascoe makes reference to the Mr. Cougar competition (taking place at River High on an annual basis), during which students (and their parents) are encouraged to act in a manner that stereotypes “manly” and “womanly” behavioral modes as mutually inconsistent – something that contributes rather substantially towards underscoring the “superiority” of masculinity. As the author pointed out, “School rituals such as Mr. Cougar are a prime site for the affirmation and definition of normative sexual and gender identities” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 27). According to her, such a state of affairs is strongly inappropriate.

In Chapter Three, Pascoe continues to expose the subtle mechanics of how students are being made emotionally comfortable with the notion of normative sexuality and its discursive connotations. Specifically, the author discusses the practice of referring to the physically weaker and effeminate looking boys as “fags”, on the part of their domination-seeking classmates. What is particularly interesting, in this regard, is that the contextual aspects of how this term is being used by students at River High are not always sexually explicit. Quite to the contrary – as the author noted, “A boy could get called a fag for exhibiting any sort of behavior defined as unmasculine: being stupid or incompetent, dancing, caring too much about clothing, being too emotional” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 57). This prompted her to conclude this chapter by suggesting that there are many phenomenological subtleties to the discussed topic.

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In Chapter Four, the author aimed at refuting what she refers to as the “myth of compulsive heterosexuality”, while promoting the idea that the hormone of testosterone plays a minor role within the context of how male students at River High go about embracing masculinity as an integral part of their sense of self-identity. Even though this Chapter contains numerous indirect indications as to the fact that such an idea cannot possibly stand much of a ground, Pascoe (2007) continued to argue that the behavioral extrapolations of masculinity are environmentally rather than biologically predetermined, “A close examination indicates that the rituals of ‘getting girls’… reaffirmed a sexualized inequality central to the gender order at River High” (p. 93). This suggests that Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School are affected by the author’s own perceptual biases to a much higher extent than she would be willing to admit.

In Chapter Five, Pascoe discusses the implications of the presence of strongly defined behavioral masculinity in female students at River High. Probably the most important of them has to do with the fact that, as opposed to what it is the case with feminine boys, masculine “tomboy” girls are capable of taking practical advantage of being considered deviant, as something that allows them to attain higher status within the affiliated group of classmates. However, as it emerges from this particular Chapter, the specifics of self-positioning, on the part of “tomboy” girls, have very little to do with the concerned female students’ domination-seeking aspirations. Rather, the phenomenon in question is caused by the intrinsic qualities of these girls’ “brain wiring”. As Pascoe (2007) pointed out, “Identifying as a tomboy aligns a girl with a romanticized history of masculine identification before she encountered more restricting femininity” (Pascoe, p. 117). According to the author, this signifies that there is nothing truly pathological about one’s tendency to act in a sexually non-normative manner.

In Chapter Six (Conclusion), the author goes a great length discussing the possible implications of her findings, with respect to the book’s subject matter. In particular, she suggests that the informal glorification of masculinity at River High has a strong homophobic quality and that as such it can hardly be deemed appropriate – especially given the fact that the functioning of America’s system of education is supposed to be closely observant of the provisions of political correctness. Pascoe also expresses her belief that there should be more institutional support provided to sexually non-normative students.


There can be only a few doubts that Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School do contain a number of valuable insights into how the surrounding social environment affects one’s attitudes towards sexuality, in general, and the specifics of his or her sexual self-positioning, in particular – something that makes it persuasive (and even interesting) to an extent. Nevertheless, many of the book’s axiomatic premises appear outright fallacious, if not to say intentionally misleading. The book’s main weakness (gap) has to do with the fact that it never occurred to the author that, contrary to how she sees it, there is an inseparable link between the environmental and biological factors of influence, within the context of how one goes about forming its attitude towards the concepts of masculinity and femininity. For example, according to Pascoe the “masculinization” of the educational domain in the US (as illustrated with the example of River High) is the socially predetermined phenomenon.

Therefore, the reason why many students (both male and female) at River High choose in favor of “manliness” as an integral part of their existential mode is that despite the efforts of the hawks of political correctness (such as the author herself), American society continues to remain strongly patriarchal – something that alone predetermines the continual popularity of the idea that it is thoroughly natural for men to dominate women. Hence, the foremost idea promoted by the author throughout the book’s entirety, “I argue that adolescent masculinity is understood in this setting as a form of dominance usually expressed through sexualized discourses” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 5). However, even though such Pascoe’s claim does make much sense, it fails to recognize that along with the societal, there is also a biological sounding to the interrelationship between the notions of masculinity and dominance. After all, there has never been observed even a single exemption from the following rule – in the society of primates (such as ours) males always dominate over females, solely because the former happened to be physically stronger – pure and simple.

The literary fables about “Amazon women” (who supposedly kept men in submission) and the long-ago-refuted myth of “Matriarchy” do not count. The reason for this is apparent for just about anyone who has taken a biology class in school – the Darwinian laws of natural selection presuppose domination (along with sexual reproduction and gaining access to nutrients) to be the main objective of just about every living organism on this earth, with the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species (“hairless apes”) being no exemption. Therefore, those who do have what it takes to aspire for domination will necessarily be doing it – regardless of what may be the qualitative subtleties of the currently dominant public discourse on domination. Consequently, this means that contrary to what it is being suggested by Pascoe, applying a continual effort into raising public awareness about the sheer “evils” of domination-aimed masculinity is predestined to prove a waste of time and money. That is, of course, if we do not assess this activity from the perspective of those ‘social activists’ who expect to receive substantial monetary grants from the government, in exchange for their willingness to act the advocates of “gender equality”.

There is, however, even a bigger problem with Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School – in her book, Pascoe has gone as far as promoting the idea that “non-normative sexuality” (homosexuality, lesbianism) is perfectly normal, whereas heterosexuality is abnormal. Given the fact that Pascoe is a hard-core lesbian, there is indeed a certain logic to such a point of view, on her part. However, it is highly doubtful whether the book’s implicit promotion of this idea can be considered thoroughly appropriate, in the societal sense of this word. Apparently, it never occurred to the author to assess the validity of the “celebration of sexual diversity” practice in conjunction with what accounts for the main demographic trend in today’s America – the population’s rapid aging. As Barbieri and Ouellette (2012) noted, “In 2010 in the United States, the population aged under 15 stood at 61.3 million, the population aged 15-64 at 207.6 million, and the population aged 65 and over at 40.4 million.

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Since 1980, this last group has increased by 35%, clearly illustrating the ongoing aging process” (p. 236). What this means is that as time goes on, there will be less and less fully employed people in this country taking care of the exponentially growing population of elderly citizens – something that will provide yet additional momentum to the ongoing economic recession. As it appears from the quoted article, this trend is directly concerned with the sharp decline in the popularity of marriage (especially amongst Whites), as the “childbearing” format of the relationship between men and women (Bridges, 2007). In its turn, this is the direct consequence of the ongoing propaganda of asexuality (one’s strong affiliation with either masculinity or femininity is considered “politically incorrect”) in this country – Pascoe’s book is nothing but a part of it.

Obviously enough, it never occurred to the author that sex is the second priority for most people – one can hardly think of sex while experiencing a strong sense of hunger. And, if individuals like Pascoe are allowed to proceed promoting sexual/behavioral deviations as something entirely normal, the number of hungry citizens in this country will increase in the exponential progression to the flow of time. No strongly defined sexual differentiation between men and women – no marriage. No marriage – no children. No children – no taxpayers. No taxpayers – the eventual collapse of the economy. Therefore, there is a good reason for the masculinization/feminization-inducing practices at River High to remain as they are. Being a typical White degenerate who has never experienced any serious hardship, Pascoe is simply in no position to be lending her “valuable” views on the matters that she could not possibly comprehend.


Barbieri, M., & Ouellette, N. (2012). The demography of Canada and the United States from the 1980s to the 2000s: A summary of changes and a statistical assessment. Population, 67(2), 177-280.

Bridges, T. S. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school (Review). Gender & Society, 21(5), 776-778.

Pascoe, C. J. (2007). Dude, you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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