Dr Bonny Hartley: how masculinity norms contribute to boys' underachievement at school

by Dr Bonny Hartley

15 May 2017

Bonny Hartley

My subject:


About me:

My name is Bonny Hartley and I am a Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Counselling at the University of Greenwich.

What is my research project?

I was awarded £233,574 in 2016 for a three-year British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship to explore whether and how masculinity norms contribute to boys’ underachievement at school, and the effectiveness of intervening on these norms to improve boys’ achievement. This project draws on and extends my doctoral research (2009-2012) which showed that boys were held back by the self-fulfilling power of stereotypes that cast them as less academic than girls. Now I am examining the role of prescriptive beliefs that they should not be as academic. 

Although boys and men still enjoy many social and economic advantages relative to girls and women, they lag behind throughout their schooling across many developed countries. My research explores how boys may fall foul of ‘masculinity norms’ which construct boys as potentially competent, but boisterous and troublesome. Since masculinity norms are motivated to protect male dominance, boys who are conscientious about school work and comply with teachers may represent a threat to the appearance of male superiority if their academic success appears to be an outcome of their effort, rather than raw talent. Further, boys who work hard but do not achieve, actively disconfirm stereotypes of inherent male competence. I am currently examining the age at which these masculinity norms surrounding effort and achievement develop, and will then assess their quantitative impact on boys’ achievement and develop new ways to counteract their adverse effects.

It is great to be engaging with the children, teachers, parents, and academics that will be impacted by this work. I am looking forward to disseminating outcomes of this research to educational practitioners, the scientific community, education policy makers, and the general public via journal publications, conference presentations and the media. The Postdoctoral Fellowship has given me the opportunity to return to the area of research which I am most passionate about and delve deeper into this important educational challenge. I strongly believe this PDF will be the stepping stone that enables me to pursue my research further with a career in academia. 

How my British Academy award helped me

Before being awarded the Postdoctoral Fellowship, I felt somewhat stuck on a post-PhD cycle of temporary fixed-term research contracts at different universities, with permanent academic positions feeling just out of reach.  Whilst I gained much experience in these varied positions, it often felt like I was moving sideways rather than forward. The funding from the British Academy enables me to develop a significant programme of research and gain experience teaching at University level. I have also taken advantage of several excellent training workshops and events laid on by the BA. These have been brilliant opportunities to meet my fellow award holders, develop vital skills, and grow my networks. 

As well as growing academically, the British Academy has been very supportive of my plans for starting a family. I am expecting my first child at the end of my first year and I am so grateful that the Academy’s policy on maternity leave and flexible working ensures that family does not come at the expense of career or vice versa.  

Something that struck me early on about the British Academy is the feeling that you are very much part of a community, a community that is committed to supporting you beyond your specific project, and providing opportunities to connect with others and advance. I am proud to be the first PDF from the University of Greenwich and I feel very privileged to be part of such a prestigious and inclusive scheme that invests in ideas and individuals above anything else.

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