This thesis explores the multiple and complex ways that masculinities are constructed within an elite boys’ school in Sydney, Australia. Elite boys’ schools in Australia were founded on the model of British Public Schooling, where a focus on educating the ‘whole man’ included sport and physical education as a key pillar. Health and physical education subjects and sport remain an active site in the construction and reconstruction of masculinities in many of these schools. Based on a 6-month critical ethnography in one school, this thesis explores how two groups of 15 and 16 year olds and their teachers engage with and respond to curriculum aimed at ‘softening’ or ‘reshaping’ elite schools’ masculine traditions.
The thesis contributes to men and masculinities studies and the field of health and physical education, in particular knowledge about masculinities and sexualities education. It does this through a rich, in-depth account of adolescent boys’ experiences of ‘becoming men’ in an elite school context. In addition, the thesis explores the relatively recent inclusion of discussions of masculinity, sexuality, and gender equality in HPE curriculum in elite boys’ schools and provides a platform for capturing how teachers engage with the possibilities of enacting a critical pedagogy of masculinities and sexualities education.
The thesis demonstrates how a critical ethnographic methodology can engage young people and teachers in opportunities to make visible routine practices of masculinity, such as the continued privileging of particular ideal masculinities: the businessman, the gentleman and the sportsman. Overall, the thesis finds that this elite school, despite its efforts to disrupt masculine traditions, engaged in a project of ‘gentrifying masculinities’ through a ‘curriculum of manhood’ reminiscent of the historical ‘whole man’ of elite boys’ education.