Knowing Your Place

The In Crowd

(c) Niels Linneberg

It would be unwise to assume that the ‘dirty look’ is somehow gender specific. This site takes it as a given that the capacity to give someone a dirty look, as it were, is not an exclusively female phenomenon. Nor is it the preserve of any particular age group or social class. We’re all at it, most of the time not even aware we’re doing it. But this does not make its power any less potent.

True, the ability to use a judgemental look to ostracise, embarrass, humiliate and to mark personal territory does tend to be associated with teenage girls (they are, to be fair, masters of the art). What is sometimes forgotten is how good boys are at the same thing. The emotional travails of boys and their desire to belong may not be a mainstay of mainstream movies and TV dramas.  But to take this as a reflection of reality is, once again, to confuse fact with fiction.

The research of people like Judy Chu provides ample evidence of such a reality during male adolescence. Her work on teenage boys’ friendships and peer group culture is a stirring account of how their social world is imbued with a ‘constant sense of being judged’, a social world controlled by forms of ‘policing and punishing’.  Chu describes how boys constantly carry with them a

sense of being watched and scrutinized, always with the possibility of being attacked, and the subsequent need to protect oneself… Although these adolescent boys outwardly denied that they cared what other people think, they also described ways in which they modified their behaviours and styles of relating to avoid being ridiculed, criticised, and rejected by their peers.   

The fear of rejection by peers, male or female, is a powerful force in adolescence. Gender doesn’t come into it. The other mistake people make is to think that this fear tends to dissipate when adulthood arrives. It doesn’t. The ‘he said, she said’ of adolescence is really just the beginning.

By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.