Character Education – About the Boys

“I’m a glorified MENimist”: Making sense of a ‘curriculum of manhood’
Ms Rachel O’Brien

This mini-keynote is focussed on findings from a six-month ethnographic study in an independent boys’ school in Sydney, Australia. The research investigated how boys make sense of day-to-day practices in their school and how masculinities are intentionally and unintentionally taught. It considers the school’s ‘curriculum of manhood’ and how it shapes boys’ own beliefs and experiences of being and becoming men.

Although the privileged, classed and gendered practices in this school were, at times, invisible to students, they shared critical perspectives that illuminated principles and practices inherent to the school’s culture. Findings suggest that regimes of gendered power and privilege disrupted the positive messages of gender equality and acceptance, salient concepts within their ‘curriculum of manhood’. Boys’ perceptions on this discrepancy were varied, with some making sense through adopting an anti-feminist or menimist stance. Also evident was the problematising of practices that continued to glorify the rugby player or rower regardless of their adherence to the official ‘curriculum of manhood’.

“There’s the Kingston Man* we talk about in the assemblies but then there’s the actual Kingston Man; there’s the one that everyone knows is the real one, the footy player, the rower…” (James*)

Participants shared experiences of masculine norms being ‘policed’ within the school as well as moments where their implicit masculine beliefs were challenged to include greater diversity. In this session, Rachel will offer practical considerations for the implementation of gendered curriculum particularly in the context of health and physical education.

*pseudonyms used to maintain anonymity of school and students


Rachel O’Brien is a PhD candidate in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. With a BEd (Secondary: Human Movement & Health Education) [1st Class Hons], Rachel has since worked as a tutor at The University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, and the University of Wollongong. She has taught PDHPE in a boys’ school in Sydney. Now in the latter stages of completing her PhD, Rachel hopes to submit early 2018.