This post summarises my book chapter Hill, J. (2013) Rejecting the weak Asian body: Boys visualising strong masculinities, in Pedagogies, physical culture and visual methods, edited by L. Azzarito and D. Kirk, Routledge.
This chapter explored how Asian boys negotiated dominant and local constructions of masculinities in relation to their own embodied experiences in PE.
PE is a key site where boys learn what a masculine body is and how it relates to ability and status in sporting bodies. The continuing predominance of multi activity sports technique based curricula in PE can be seen as centralising proficient sporting performance. Ability and status tends also to be awarded to particular body shapes and to strength or muscularity. There can be big consequences for boys who do not perform or embody these ideals, which can affect their learning and engagement in PE.
However, the work of Connell has shown that masculinity is not a singular set of characteristics. Boys give different meanings to masculinities on different places; it is a fluid concept. The masculinities that gain dominant status in any space might look different or be related to different body shapes. Not only has sporting status been associates with masculinity, but with whiteness, or at other times blackness, so that Asian and “other” bodies are marginalised. Asian boys might be considered frail and uninterested in PE unless it’s cricket. Among boys’ localised physical cultures, however, they may be able to find ways to construct valued masculinities that relate to their own experiences. As researchers, teacher educators and teachers, can we support alternative and diverse meanings for boys’ positive engagement in PE? How do Asian boys make sense of their own bodies among dominant valuing of strength, muscularity and whiteness?
This chapter uses visual and verbal narratives from four Asian boys, one black boy and one white-Asian boy to explore this. Creating photos in and out of school, the boys pictured valued masculinities as strong muscular bodies, more often than technical competence in sport. The pressure to be muscular or big was felt by some, who related this body shape to ability to scored in football, or to become team captain. The boys who achieved these were, at this school, black or Asian.
Some noted that it was hard for Asian boys to be successful in sports because of institutional racism among, for instance, scouts. They found spaces in which to be successful, spaces that were defined by Asian communities. Boxing was a notable example.
Although the boys said that developing a strong body was important, some were aware that bodies showing signs of fighting were difficult, at the intersections of race and class. It can be hard especially for Asian or black boys to gain employment if they are read as fighters.
There reminded pressure for these boys to embody valued masculinities, but they were able to relate valued masculinities to Asian and black bodies and sport engagement. This may have been because they were in a school with a predominant Asian population. Discourses about boys’ bodies might be recognised by most boys but deployed in different ways. Asian boys’ opportunities to be involved in sport are still mediated by their positions at the margins in broader social contexts. The boundaries of respectable or ideal masculinity intersect with race and class. Strength was still the marker of valued masculinity, but the boys made sense of it in relation to themselves. They resisted notions that Asian boys’ bodies are weak.