|dc.description.abstract||This study investigates whether the school formal in New Zealand, like the prom in the United States, is a space where heteronormativity and normative gender codes are reproduced. I explore the gendered differences in the way a group of young people from three secondary schools in one South Island New Zealand urban centre prepare for the formal and perform their sexuality and gender on the night. I analyse the policies of the three participating schools in regard to same sex attracted students attending the formal with same sex partners. I also detail how the participants navigate societal discourses of youth and normative codes of sociability in a New Zealand context.
Queer theory and poststructural feminism are the theoretical frameworks guiding the research. Multiple methods of data collection including observations, researcher facilitated interviews (31 in total) and narratives are utilised in the project. Peer researchers at one participating school took photographs at the formal and discussed these in photo-elicitation interview. Researchers from the other two participating schools conducted interviews (18 in total) with their classmates.
My findings highlight how the school formal is an event where heteronormativity and normative gender codes are reproduced. The degree to which this occurs however, depends on a school’s policy on sexual diversity and the gendered make-up of students in the school. Heteronormativity and homophobic discourses were more pronounced at the participating boys’, compared with the participating girls’ and co-educational schools. Homophobic humour was prevalent at both the boys’ and co-educational school formals nonetheless. Emphasised femininity was more pronounced at the girls’, compared with the participating co-educational, school. Some young peoples’ behaviour on the night of the formal also referenced popular culture and media constructions of the event, as well as normative discourses of youth and socialisation, but other young people transgressed these constructions.
The study includes recommendations for researchers using photography as a data collection method, those working with young people in schools and how to do this in an ethical manner, as well as for future research on school formals. The study concludes with recommendations for how teachers can use the school formal to teach students about the social construction of gender and sexuality, as well as alerting students to social justice concerns.||