American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Performing Gender and Authority: Juvenile Corrections Officers' Self-Perceptions and Strategies at Work

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Jorge Chavez (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Vikki Krane (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kara Joyner (Other)


This dissertation examines juvenile corrections officers' (JCOs) self-perceptions of their gendered authority performances. Qualitative interviews with six men and four women JCOs at a boys' facility uncovered the attitudes and behaviors they find effective and sources of stress. Responses were situated within data from interviews with three supervisors revealing facility culture and training. This study has a theoretical foundation informed by gender performance theory, leadership theories, expectation states theory, and discursive coping theories. A grounded theory analytic strategy revealed gendered themes and general job themes within the roles and qualities JCOs identified as central to their position.

Compared to adult corrections, juvenile corrections provide a unique context because women officers work in larger numbers and there is a longer history of women's involvement. Commonly perceived as occupying a masculine work position, JCOs undertake a blend of custody and rehabilitation responsibilities, including feminized caring. For this reason, I questioned how both men and women understand their experiences, neglected in previous research that normalized men's experiences.

Findings show that across gender, the JCO position is viewed as a multi-faceted undertaking of several roles with limited resources, and benefits from being consistent, giving respect, and building rapport. Facility constraints on authority and challenges from resistant youth were common across gender, reflecting workplace conditions. Regarding gender-specific stressors, men JCOs avoid aggressive approaches so they do not increase physical confrontations from teenage boy clients looking to assert their masculinity. Women JCOs were challenged by sexualized disrespect and assumptions about their physical weakness; they reacted by emphasizing their masculine qualities or work strengths and using stern and positive temperament traits to not appear vulnerable. The strict use of boundaries, control over youth interaction, and a caring spirit showed the delicate balance women JCOs try to keep within their gendered work performances, especially within the mentorship role. JCOs largely rely on gender hegemony in their discursive coping strategies used to navigate the masculinized position that involves masculine and feminine qualities, although a few examples from the data illuminated alternative discourses that did not promote clear-cut gender lines and that described men and women with similar standards.