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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Daniela Colannino, Education

Sexualized Representations of Female High School Teachers: Reflecting on Popular Television Portrayals and Teachers' Lived Experiences

Date & time
Friday, March 15, 2024
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W.
Room 5.345

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Popular representations of the teaching profession can affect the lives of real teachers. This qualitative study explores the implications of sexualized representations of female high school teachers. From the beginnings of the feminization of teaching at the start of the 19th century, female teachers have been consistently evaluated and defined by sexuality. As women are linked to the body in the mind/body split, female teacher bodies are surveilled in the classroom. Female teacher identities, such as the spinster teacher and seductress teacher, are linked to sexuality. In turn, popular representations of female high school teachers on television are often unrealistically sexualized; one common storyline is the teacher having a sexual relationship with a teenage male student. The first phase of this study, a text analysis, investigated the following: How is female teacher sexuality portrayed on television and how does this portrayal reinforce feminist backlash? Six television storylines depicting a sexual relationship between a female high school teacher and male student were analyzed through the lens of Susan Faludi’s (1991/2020) feminist backlash. It was found that these storylines perpetuate backlash myths by reinforcing traditional gender roles for women, by diminishing the teacher while enhancing the male student, by subjecting the teacher to excessive violence, and by unnecessarily casting women as abusers. Using focus groups and individual interviews with 10 participants, the second phase of the study investigated: What are female high school teachers’ lived experiences pertaining to the broader context of the sexualization of female teachers? The teachers responded to the six fictional representations and discussed the binaries concerning female teacher sexuality in reference to their own experiences in school. The fictional representations present problematic teacher-student power dynamics, normalize the sexualization of female teachers, and show inadequate consequences of the relationship. In discussing the binaries concerning female teacher sexuality, it was found that managing the body in the classroom is a daily conflict, that female teachers feel restricted when defined by sexuality, and that fictional representations are unrelatable and flawed. Findings from both phases show that sexualizing the female teacher degrades her and ignores the complexities and importance of the profession.

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