Growing up as Girls: The Discursive Work of Feminine Sexualities
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The shifting cultural landscape of human sexuality has undergone significant movement over the last 50 years. This thesis addresses an important gap within this landscape: the work that is involved in the construction of femininities. The study navigates the complex human capacities of female sexuality by deploying critical theory relative to the ways that understandings of sexuality have changed in modern social and intellectual history. Twenty heterosexual and lesbian-identified women were interviewed and their narratives form the basis of this thesis. It is evident from these narratives that, through upbringing, experience and education, discourses are socially mediated in complex ways to generate our individual worlds. The thesis tells the stories of the women who participated in the study and reveals their experiences of growing up as girls against the backdrops of time, context, and social interaction. This research utilises Foucault’s work on technologies of the self, and connects this to the practical features of Goffman’s performance and Butler’s more theoretical performativity to explore the consequences of self-discipline in relation to femininities. The overarching approach to this critique is feminist with the aim of understanding gendered social inequalities through the exploration of cultural roles and the lived experiences of the women who took part in this research. Postmodern theory informs the research, particularly in terms of how traditional ideas and practices affect the construction and use of knowledge. How we know about sexualities is important because it opens up to question ways of knowing differently or otherwise through counter-narrative and counter-knowledges to the prevailing dominant discourses. Social constructionism, utilising symbolic interactionist and critical feminist perspectives, is deployed to focus on the way participants interpret and attribute meaning to their sexual experiences and the trajectory of intimate relationships. This includes how they engage and work with the very concepts of sexuality, desire and sex, reinterpreting and reconstructing them experimentally, testing them or abandoning them according to how they rewrite their biographies.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science
Item Access Status
Construction of femininities