“Everybody’s looking at you!”: Girls negotiating the “femininity deficit” they incur in physical education


There is a growing awareness of the complex and largely negative attitudes many girls in the UK hold towards physical activity in general and Physical Education (PE) in particular. This research in the UK involves a qualitative study of six Year 9 girls’ experiences and motivations in PE.

Reflexive interpretation and biographical analysis of in-depth interviews are utilized to explore the themes of the relationship between “sportiness” and heterosexual desirability; and the polarized images of “tomboy” and “girlie.” Work by Connell [Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and power. Cambridge: Polity Press.] on the gender order, and theories arising from the cultural analysis tradition on teenage girls’ subcultures and identity formation are drawn on in order to make sense of the girls’ narratives.

The findings of this research reveal that images of teenage girls and young women being physically active are non-congruous with the traditional ideologies of acceptable femininity. This paper describes how these girls negotiate the contradictions and the tensions caused by the “femininity deficit” incurred in PE by creating “double identities” and living “split lives.”


ClaudiaCockburn, GillClarke

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