Black African adolescents' experiences of gender identity exploration from a hegemonic masculinity perspective
In this study, the gender identity of black African adolescents residing in the Manguang district in central South Africa is explored. Transformation in the political, socioeconomic and social spheres of South Africa continues to influence the identity development of adolescents living in collectivistic and marginalised contexts. Adolescence is regarded as a complex and significant life stage in the human lifespan during which individuals explore and commit to identity-defining roles, values and norms in search of an authentic sense of self. In light of an ever-changing environment, adolescents may experience an array of opportunities and challenges as they pertain to exploring gender identity. The theoretical framework for the research study is the lifespan perspective. Gender identity has been conceptualised differently by several theorists. Some theorists are of the opinion that gender identity should be understood from a biological stance, while others are in support of gender identity being conceptualised as a psychosocial construct. From a biological base, gender identity is described in terms of essentialist and binary theories, and from a psychosocial base, it is explained in terms of socialisation processes and gender continuum theories. The psychosocial base of gender identity is valued and prioritised in this research. An additional perspective, namely ‘hegemonic masculinity’, is utilised in this study to indicate how some forms of gendered behaviour are favoured over others. The social constructivist paradigm governed the study, and the researcher approached the study in a qualitative manner. The researcher followed exploratory and descriptive research designs. The population group of interest consisted of both male and female black adolescents, as increased exploration processes characterise the developmental stage of adolescence. Including vulnerable individuals that occupy a turbulent life stage was important to the researcher as the research offered them the opportunity to voice their personal experiences that were regarded as worthy to the researcher. In order to recruit the participants from the secondary school in Mangaung for the study, the researcher employed purposive sampling. Both inclusion and exclusion criteria were utilised to select the participants. Four focus group discussions were conducted (two with male participants and two with female participants) to collect data for the research study. The data were analysed by following Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six phases of thematic analysis. In this study, the researcher employed a hybrid approach to data analysis, which consisted of both inductive and deductive methodologies. Four themes emerged from the thematic analysis, namely (a) Traditional views on what it means to be a boy or girl; (b) Exploring who I am: Balancing social context with personal agency; (c) Exploring gender identity in a changing environment; and (d) The complexity in exploring gender identity. The results indicated that the participants regard their gender identity exploration to be multidimensional in nature, consisting of biological, psychological and social dimensions. The exploration of gender identity was deemed to be not only personal and sensitive but also importantly influenced by the sociocultural environment. While the influences of culture, family, school and peers were deemed to contribute towards gender identity exploration processes, adolescents were also regarded to exercise personal agency in their striving for exploration. The social construction of gender identity exploration makes it a perplexing and complex task. Adding to these complexities was the fact that adolescents explore their gender identity in relation to culturally valued masculine ideologies. While increasing Westernisation influences gender roles and identity constructs, adolescents continue to be influenced by the deeply entrenched hegemonic structures in society, such as heteronormativity and the hegemonic form of masculinity. Especially in black African cultures, these are viewed as normative and, therefore, respected, which makes the exploration of alternative gender roles a challenging task for developing adolescents. By conducting this study, novel contributions were made to the scientific knowledge base on gender identity development and exploratory processes during adolescence.