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Young people, identity, relationships and sexuality in turbulent times Janet Holland
Young people, sexuality, identity and relationships • rethinking through the WRAP project. What we thought then, what I think now. • impact of the WRAP on research into and understandings of young people’s sexuality and sexual practice • Studies of sexuality in schools: reproduction, production and resistance • Two more poststructuralist studies • Relationships in the Inventing Adulthoods study
Rethinking WRAP Different decade, same old shit ‘Young women may have access to more sexual information than any generation in the past, are probably more sexually experienced and are more likely to espouse sexually egalitarian ideas, but the vast majority are still trapped within the confines of heterosexual relations which privilege men’s desires and pleasures at their expense. ’ (Jackson, 1999: 31)
Rethinking WRAP definition of sexuality • sexual practices and identities, and the varied historical and cultural forms that these can take • sexual beliefs and desires and how these are socially negotiated, and constructed in social relationships • embodied in the sense that it entails bodily activity- physical, desire and reproduction. • But this is both material and social, since what is embodied and experienced is made meaningful through language, culture and values.
Rethinking WRAP We have no party line on feminism, and we have not always agreed with each other as a research team, but explaining ourselves to each other and arguing through our differences has been productive. (Holland et al. 1998: 4) The newer terminologies of materiality and materialization do not simply signal the displacement of the concept of the material by the cultural. They can induce feminist constructionism to work with a sociologically more adequate reconceptualization of the social as a more fully integrated realm of symbolic and material practices. (Rahman and Witz 2003: 253 What really matters is how these newer terminologies of ‘materiality’ and ‘materialization’ induce us to develop a fuller social ontology of gender and sexuality; one that weaves together social, cultural, experiential and embodied practices.
Rethinking WRAP We were concerned with the social construction of heterosexuality and saw heterosexual power as being constructed at a number of levels or layers: • the discursive - language, ideas, beliefs, norms, values, discourses and their effects • embodied – embodied practices, sexual experiences and their meanings • individual and relational – how people negotiate and produce their relationships involving agency and action • institutional – structured, institutionalised power relations between sexual partners, heterosexuality constructed as hierarchal - family, law, economy, state • historically specific and subject to change
Rethinking WRAP …the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman (Attwood 1993: 392) ‘We take the male-in-the-head to indicate the surveillance power of male-dominated and institutionalised heterosexuality, as distinct from the man-in-the-bed of everyday experience’ (p. 10).
Rethinking WRAP YW: . . well I think that I don’t enjoy sex for what it is right, when a fella is like going away, I’m not enjoying that, the actual intercourse. I like enjoyment from, I know it sounds like a typical woman statement, but them actually doing it and them enjoying themselves and – Q: What, you enjoy him enjoying himself, right, you get pleasure from his pleasure. A: And also, like eh, oral sex, right. Q: Right, so things that usually, that are sort of called foreplay that’s what you get pleasure out of? A: Yeah, the actual, I mean not a lot of women, I don’t think – I mean they’ve got to be very lucky to give you an orgasm, ‘ cos they’ve got to hit something quite a few times (Holland et al 1998/2004: 111)
Rethinking WRAP YM: I tend to ask some girlfriends what they prefer sort of thing, and try and do that to them Q: And what do you find they do prefer? A: A bit more caring and a bit more slowly, not just get undressed and do it and just sit there. They tend to like it a bit more caring and lovingly even thought I didn’t love them. I did try to keep them happy. (Holland et al 1993: 25)
Impact of WRAP ‘this tension between a static top-down view of male power, and power as something fluid, contestable and individually negotiated features throughout the book’ (Frith 2000: 117). taken up and replicated, or the ideas developed and expanded in e. g. UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Croatia, Finland, Spain an analytical approach into different areas of study in different countries eg violence against women, computing, beauty therapy, health promotion, contraceptive behaviour, sexual and other risk taking, and resistance to dominant discourses.
Impact of WRAP • high impact on sex education in the UK • important contributions to HIV/AIDS research in • moving away from a focus on high risk groups and problematizing conventional heterosexual relations; • by moving away from attempts to quantify sexual practice to a qualitative exploration of social and cultural meanings; • by revealing ‘the power of heterosexuality as masculine’ and showing ‘the relevance of this power to young people’s management of sexual safety’ (Frith 2000)
Impact of WRAP Brazil • ‘the subject positions made available to the girls in public discourses of risk, conflict with those available in gender discourses’ • ‘sexual initiative is not a real option for girls. Under dominant gender regimes ‘initiative’ and ‘action’ are masculine roles. A girl showing sexual initiative may be seen as having sexual knowledge and expertise, which itself would be seen as a sign of previous and multiple sexual experiences. This does not fit into the prevalent conventional model of feminine passivity/masculine activity’ (de Oliveira 2002).
Impact of WRAP Australia • lack of what she calls affirmative feminine sexuality and sexual pleasure; masculine sexuality was constructed as a biological drive by both sexes, and there was a high level of sexual coercion and pressure on the young women. • But young women were keen to present themselves as equal to young men, having agency in their relationships. • A narrative where they are the agents of relationship management, knowledgeable about men’s behaviour, active subjects in the relationship. But problematic when they experience violence • conceptual framework of WRAP helps to explain how both men and women can have little empathy with or sympathy for women who are victims of domestic violence, it enables them to minimise the violence and to continue to privilege the importance of the relationship.
Impact of WRAP Louisa Allen (2003) in New Zealand, and Fiona Stewart (1999) in Australia were both interested in resistance to dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality, possible shifts in definitions and practices of femininity for young women’s experience of heterosex. Louisa Allen’s title ‘Girls want sex, boys want love’, was a comment from a participant talking about how sexuality is gendered: ‘I mean you have got your stereotypical, women want commitment and love, and guys just want a fling, but I think that girls are pretty much like that as well (laugh)’ (Rosalind, 17) I was called a slut when I cheated on someone and I was called a slut…but a slut is supposed to be someone who sleeps around, I don’t sleep around (Anna, 17)
Impact of WRAP The young women in Fiona Stewart’s study show a critical consciousness, and adopt alternative femininities that challenge the norms of heterosex in a number of ways. • they take a proactive approach and initiate sexual contact, • they own their sexual desire, • they seek and engage in other forms of sexual practice than penetration • there was a transition from relative powerlessness in relationships, to one of control and direction.
Methodological comments The male model of empowerment Angela: I just get carried away. I believe in equality, like a woman has a need as much as a man, and I think at the time, ‘Oh yes, sod it’. A fellow is allowed to get a pat on the back and a drink bought them. • Her assertiveness can be conceived of as intellectual empowerment, but she experienced it in a contradictory way • The dynamics of her strategy of empowerment characterise the accounts of other young women in the sample, whose words and behaviour, while actively resisting conventional femininity, ultimately seem to reinscribe the conventions of heterosexuality. • This reinscription of normativity is a strand that runs through the findings of work on gender and sexuality from Angela Mc. Robbie in 1976. to Sinikka Aapola and her colleagues in 2005
Methodological comments intellectual empowerment was expressed through the young women’s intentions and expectations about having their needs and desires met in a relationship and their assertiveness in stating these needs; experiential empowerment referred to the degree to which they were able to put these plans and desires into practice from their own report. Raises the issue of interpretation. In coding and analysing the transcripts we drew on three levels of meaning: 1. The language and meanings used by the young people and explicit in the language of the interview transcripts; 2. team discussion, interpretation and coding of the data, in the light of feminist and sociological theories 3. explanation of any differences between these first two levels.
Education and institutionalised heterosexuality • in contrast to the focus on the part played by schools in reproducing hierarchical relations of gender, class, and race, recent work on sexuality has turned to contemplate and investigate schools as productive of sexuality, and of gendered/sexualised identities, within a framework of normative heterosexuality. • range of theoretical resources, from postmodern, to queer, to psychosocial • includes research on gay and lesbian identities and an examination of masculinities, recognising that boys too are gendered subjects
Education and institutionalised heterosexuality • in general this work is denaturalising gender and heterosexuality in opposition to the impetus of the school which is to naturalise gendered hierarchy and heterosexuality. • it also draws on more fluid notions of relations of power, seeing power not only as top down, but created locally. • studies of the official school and its curriculum, and the informal school, can be a focus of empirical attention, and a favoured method is ethnography • this is a context where informal cultures of the school are often saturated with sex, through innuendo, humour, commentary and types of enactment or performance, but the official culture seeks to deny the
Education and institutionalised heterosexuality Mary Jane Kehily’s findings, like many before her • The pervasive presence of homophobia, the concern with notions of ‘reputation’ and the naturalisation of heterosexuality within the school site echo many of themes of earlier work (Kehily, 2002: 206). • she is keen to identify the young people as active autonomous agents specifically here in relation to sexual issues • She identifies student sexual cultures, describing them as the meanings ascribed to issues of sexuality by students themselves in peer groups, same sex friendship groups and in social interaction more generally • ‘From the perspective of young people themselves, their informal peer group cultures remain one of the few sites within school that is not shaped by the demands of teachers, parents, politicians and policy makers’. • Kehily argues that a particular version of masculinity is being invoked in talk and action by young men in schools, and in this heterosexuality is seen as central to a masculine sense of self, premised on doing and display, and involving bodily practices
Two poststructural approaches: Kerry Robinson • ‘Sexual harassment and sexual violence become part of the performance of hegemonic masculinity that can cement gendered cultural bonds between those boys and men who take up this form of masculinity as their own, creating a sense of identity. (Robinson 2005: 20) • ‘is not a fixed character type, always and everywhere the same. It is, rather the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender relations, a position always contestable’ (Connell 1996: 76). • One’s subjective positioning is not fixed, but can discursively shift as individuals read their locations within relations of power, claiming or resisting discourses according to what they want to achieve ( Robinson 2005: 23)
Two poststructural approaches: Kerry Robinson Boys explanations for sexual harassment of girls ‘Yes, boys do that (sexual harassment). They often call girls names and they touch girls but it is only a joke!’ It’s natural ‘Boys do things like pinch girls on the bottom, pull their hair and call them names, but no more than normal. There is always that in any school’. Some girls ask for it ‘They get called that because of the way they act and what they look like. They have the reputations for being slack!’ what will my friends say? Here they are referring to the pressures of the male peer group.
Two poststructural approaches: Kerry Robinson Connell and Kimmel on the male peer group: ‘the peer group, not individuals, are the bearers of gender definitions’ (Connell 1996: 220) ‘ as adolescents we learn that our peers are a kind of gender police, constantly threatening to unmask us as feminine, as sissies’ (Kimmel 1994: 132). It is crucial that intervention strategies are based on deconstructing discourses of hegemonic masculinity that limit the options of gendered identities open to young men (and young women) and perpetuate powerful cultural binaries such as male/female and heterosexual/non-heterosexual that operate to radically and aggressively exclude the ‘Other’. (Robinson 2005: 35)
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell ‘sex, gender and sexuality are constituted in constellations that open up possibilities and set limits for ‘who’ a student can be’ (250). Like Robinson, and other researchers, Youdell draws attention to the intersectionality of masculinities, sexualities, ethnicity and class Youdell proceeds from an ‘understanding that school practices are permeated by enduring hetero-normative discourses that inscribe a linear relationship between sex, gender and (Hetero) sexuality within the ‘heterosexual matrix’ ( Youdell 2005: 253). She suggests that sex-gender-sexuality are joined in complex constellations that join together the body and discourse.
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell she sees identity, categories such as gender and sexuality, as constituting subjects, but also as equivocal, and this is where her space for agency for the subject appears. These names of identity categories are open to ‘strategic reinscription’. Youdell is saying that sex-gender-sexuality are not causally related, but exist in constellations, and to name one category of the constellation is to silently infer further categories in a ‘citational chain’. The example she gives is that ‘the identity ‘dyke’ silently constitutes hetero-femininity. The elements of the constellation sex-gender-sexuality are constructed
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell ‘Girls sit cross-legged with upper bodies drooping over the legs. They hold their hands in their laps, those wearing skirts hold the fabric and/or their hands to conceal groins. ’ Some sit with their knees bent close to the chest, wrap their arms around their bent legs and again hold their skirt fabric or hands to conceal the genital area. For boys ‘Bent knees are rarely touching, pulled up close to the chest, or hugged. Outstretched legs lie apart. Boys often lean backwards and prop themselves up with braced arms. ’
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell this indicates a contradiction in the discursive constitution of heterosexual femininity the requirement for the female-feminine body to deny its desire and to take responsibility for the control and constraint of the body and of sex; but also to display sexuality and be the repository for the body, sex and desire. This is a double bind underscored by the dichotomy of the virgin/whore.
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell Int: How do you know if people are virgins or not? Molly I dunno, because people don’t give a shit. Diane: [Indicating Nicola] She ain’t. Nicola: [Shouting, high pitch] I am Diane Molly: [Laughing] She ain’t. Int: How do you know? Nicola: [More serious, agitated] But I’m still joking around, I’m just having a laugh Molly! Molly: Yeah but people like [boy’s name] and [boy’s name], they’ll take it differently and think ‘Ah, she’s a right little slapper’ and that.
Two poststructural approaches: Deborah Youdell also shows that middle class young women in her group have greater freedom to enact an active and consenting heterofemininity (without becoming a slapper or whore). She gave an example of a young woman engaging in bodily play with a young man in which he took the lead but she was a consenting partner. Here the young woman’s middle-classness gave her institutional protection and an alternative liberal/feminist discourse of sexual liberation and gender equality. Through this she could constitute herself as feminine and desiring. Another example was of a young woman who jettisoned heterosexual femininity altogether. She wore combat trousers and various bodily adornments indicating a lesbian identity Youdell does see these as examples of girls opening discursive spaces for themselves to be otherwise
Some concluding remarks Stevi Jackson and Sue Scott suggest that ‘progress’ in sexual matters is extremely uneven, which leads to sexual antinomies or contradictions and paradoxes. They see this as a result of the specialness of sex, that it is seen as separable from mundane everyday life, with the potential to deliver ecstasy. At the same time it is also seen as uniquely problematic and liable to provoke anxiety, disgust and revulsion (Jackson and Scott 2004: 233).
Some concluding remarks A further contradiction lies in the greater acceptance, even valorization of sexual diversity, particularly in popular culture where gay and queer characters abound, alongside the continued primacy of institutionalized heterosexuality as the normative mode of adult relationship. Even gay and lesbian relationships are more acceptable if they buy into the dominant values of normative heterosexuality, are long-term, monogamous, stable.
Relationships in inventing adulthoods Unlike earlier generations - who tended to follow normative patterns - most young people in this study did not appear to enter and sustain relationships for the sake of getting married and having children, although when we first met them aged 11 -18, most of them had expected to do just that Having a good friend, a sexual partner, a companion, someone to have fun with and confide in, were some of the qualities they sought in an attempt to create ‘a special relationship’ that was adjusted to their individualised plans and needs. Although relationships are changing, and breaking up more frequently, as can be seen in patterns of divorce and repartnering, and serial monogamy, what is clear is that relationships, and commitment within relationships, are things that many young people still
Relationships in inventing adulthoods Fusion …the fact that I wouldn’t want to live without him, I couldn’t live without him, I just couldn’t, it’s like I could never remember him not being in my life. . and…the fact that he’s just like, he’s not just a husband, and lover he’s the bestest friend I’ve ever had, completely made for each other. And it’s always having someone there, when you need them (Hazel, aged 19) I don’t know why I find it while hard when I’m really pissed off, just like you know parents problems or whatever I just feel stupid and foolish talking to a friend or something, but my girlfriend like I could talk to her about anything and she’d just sit and she’d be listening, I can talk to her about it. (Glen, aged 21)
Relationships in inventing adulthoods Autonomy I'm definitely, definitely going. I have offered him he can come with me if he wants, I've even offered since we've broken up he can come with me as a friend as I would love to have him come with me but he's not going to hold me back because if he held me back I would hate him it might take a while because I might be happy to stay with him now but come a years time or come fifteen years time I would hate him for taking away my chance like because I wouldn't see it as me giving up my chance for him I would see it as him taking away my chance, I know I would. (Karin, aged 19) )
Relationships in inventing adulthoods Uncommitted You don't have your own time any more, you can't do what you want to do, you always have to consider someone else now, just not me. (Malcolm, aged 18) I suppose you're always together stuck to each other like most of my friends and their girlfriends are like they never do anything without each other they always have to ask permission can I go here, can I do this, whereas I don't need to ask I just go and do… so I don't have to worry about any of that so I'm happy. (Naz, aged 21)