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Young children, gender and the heterosexual matrix

Paechter, Carrie F.. 2015. Young children, gender and the heterosexual matrix. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, ISSN 0159-6306 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In this paper I consider the adult focus of current mainstream gender theory. I relate this to how the concept of the
heterosexual matrix originates in a social contract which excludes children from civil society. I argue that this exclusion is problematic both for theoretical reasons and from the perspective of children themselves. I start by discussing the nature of the heterosexual matrix and its foundations. I consider the implications for participation which arise from being named as a child, how that affects children’s attempts to claim participation in civil society, and how this is related to children’s naming of themselves as gendered. I then briefly consider the possibility that, because of their exclusion, children might also be considered to be exempt from the heterosexual matrix. However, I argue, there is considerable evidence that children are actively sexual beings who also work hard to claim inclusion in local practices of heterosexuality. I end by suggesting that there are three key reasons for this: that the discourses of normative sexuality provide children with a language to express sexual feelings; that self-insertion in the heterosexual matrix is a way for children to claim rights to participation; and that taking up heterosexual formations is a means whereby children can experience the power of naming themselves as part of the social world.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Gender, Butler, Wittig, social contract, heterosexual matrix, young children

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


30 October 2015Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

08 Jan 2016 16:17

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 09:38

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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