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Competent sexual agency and feminine subjectivity : how young women negotiate discourses of sexuality Wiebe, Brandy Michelle 2009

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Competent Sexual Agency and Feminine Subjectivity: How Young Women Negotiate Discourses of Sexuality by  Brandy Michelle Wiebe  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULLFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (SOCIOLOGY) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) January 2009 © Brandy Michelle Wiebe, 2009  Abstract Building upon feminist and sexual health research, this dissertation shows how the positioning of women in various discourses as somehow „lacking‟ actually constrains what researchers are able to hear in their sexual stories. Using interviews with 26 heterosexually active young women, I seek to upset traditional approaches to understanding young women‟s sexual stories and theorizing heterosexuality. To analyze the interviews, I first employ a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis that focuses on the power that circulates through discourses and our positioning within them. Our positioning in various discourses both enables and limits various courses of action, understandings and experiences. This power of discourse is illustrated by an emergent hybrid discourse that is apparent in young women‟s sexual narratives. I discuss what I call the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse and show how this discourse smoothes over contradictions between liberal and gendered discourses. Secondly, I show how psychoanalytic insights allow us to explore the processes of subjectification by which young women constitute themselves as (hetero)sexual women. Specifically, this dissertation explores processes of abjection, disavowal and ambivalence in participants‟ narratives. In conclusion, the dissertation outlines the practical implications for sexual health education in Canada.  ii  Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................... ii Table of Contents ............................................................................................................... iii Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................ iv Dedication ............................................................................................................................v Chapter One: Bringing the Agent into Young Women‟s (Hetero)Sexual Negotiations Meeting the Researcher and Participants .............................................................................1 Chapter Two: Are Women Always and Everywhere Lacking?! .......................................36 Chapter Three: Theory and Methodology - Questioning the Subject and the Interview Process ...............................................................................................................................67 Chapter Four: Women‟s Negotiation of Dominant Discourses of Gendered (Hetero)Sexuality .............................................................................................................103 Chapter Five: Abjection and Gendered (Hetero)Sexuality ..............................................154 Chapter Six: Disavowal, the Subject and the Spectre of Violence ..................................190 Chapter Seven: Ambivalence and the Desiring Subject ..................................................226 Chapter Eight: Young Women as Desiring, (Incoherent) Subjects in Sexuality Education ........................................................................................................................260 Conclusions: Imagining a Future .....................................................................................295 Bibliography ....................................................................................................................313 Appendices .......................................................................................................................325 Appendix A: Participant Information Chart ........................................................325 Appendix B: Interview Schedule .........................................................................329 Appendix C: Ethics „Certificate of Approval‟ .....................................................333  iii  Acknowledgements I would like to thank my supervisory committee, Dr. Tom Kemple and Dr. Becki Ross, and my supervisor, Dr. Dawn Currie, for their unwavering support over the course of this dissertation. Their enthusiasm and guidance took this project farther than I could have imagined. Thank you for taking the time to spend with me challenging my ideas and pushing me past my limits to produce a dissertation of which I am academically and personally proud. I would also like to thank my writing group and academic peers, Bonar Buffam, Jacqueline Shoemaker Holmes, Rachael Sullivan, Shelly Ketchell, and Elizabeth Bruch for their invaluable contributions and willingness to read and critically comment on my work.  iv  Dedication Thank you to my dear family, Sean, Ramona, Paul, Terrrance, and Adriana, and my dear friends for being there to support me and laugh with me through the joys and the periodic tears that occurred over the many years of my PhD. Like all things in life, you have made this process an adventure. I dedicate this dissertation to you.  v  Chapter One: Bringing the Agent into Young Women’s (Hetero)Sexual Negotiations - Meeting the Researcher and Participants What do young, heterosexually active women have to say about their sexuality? How do they see understand themselves as sexual subjects? What do they see as sexually possible for themselves? What is not possible sexually? In light of my own experiences, I have concluded that current theoretical understandings of women‟s heterosexual experiences fail to grasp the complexity of sexuality, rarely accounting for feelings of excitement, passion and joy alongside the potential pitfalls and dangers of these experiences. This feeling motivated me to speak with twenty six heterosexually-active young women. We talked about sex, relationships, the contradictions young women face, and how they learn(ed) about sex and sexual relationships. In this chapter I begin with a brief overview of my research and the structure of this dissertation, I then discuss my own positioning as a researcher, how and why I came to do this research, my political orientations towards the research, and introduce the young women who participated. My theoretical orientations will be outlined in the next two chapters. While I will go into greater detail about my methodology, theoretical framework, analysis, and findings throughout this dissertation, a brief introductory overview of this project will help orientate the reader. This dissertation is based on semi-structured interviews with twenty six heterosexually-active young women. In both my methodology and my analysis I focus on discourse and language. Using the interview transcripts as narratives, I explore how the young women understand themselves as sexual beings, how they negotiate everyday sexual interactions, and what issues and concerns are most salient in their decisions around sexuality. The central theme in the narratives is the participants‟ desire to establish their discursive authority by articulating themselves as  1  „competent‟ (intelligent, autonomous, „successful‟) sexual subjects. In my analysis I explore how various discourses are drawn on such that women can position themselves as competent sexual agents who are skillfully able to negotiate the sexual contradictions they often experience. I also go on to problematize participants‟ understanding of themselves as sexual beings and explore moments when their narratives are riddled with contradictions and complexities. Here psychoanalytic concepts emerged as useful tools to explore social processes of young women‟s subjectification within discourse. I show how the psychoanalytic processes of abjection, disavowal, and ambivalence offer sociologists novel insight into understanding the reiteration and disruption of systems of gendered inequality and sexual subjectivity. In the final chapter of this dissertation I attempt to use the theoretical insights I highlight in the participants‟ narratives to illuminate and critically engage with the issue of how sexual health education is provided in Canadian public schools. My use of Foucauldian poststructural and psychoanalytic theoretical insights make the transition to attempting to outline some „best practice‟ implications for sexual health educators in Canada is fraught with tension. Although I acknowledge this basic tension, and will discuss it in more detail in Chapter Eight, I attempt to make this transition as a conscious choice and purely out of my own political commitments. While it seems impossible to translate theoretical insights that assume a fragmented and incoherent subject, as a psychoanalytically-informed poststructural approach does, to an educational and cultural context that bases its pedagogy on the Cartesian liberal subject, I do so because to be paralyzed by this daunting task is not an option. As a critical feminist sociologist, I hope to establish the relevance of my research to people‟s everyday lives and to contribute positively to them. Because of this basic tension, my efforts to discuss  2  education in Chapter Eight remain tentative but I feel that this effort, no matter how problematic, is important. My personal negotiation of sexuality led me to research young women‟s negotiations of (hetero)sex. As an undergraduate in university when feminism became a privileged discourse in my life (in that I understood everything in my world through this perspective), it became increasingly challenging to remain uncritical of heterosexuality as an institution. I also questioned my own sexual identity. Over time I came to understand myself as a primarily heterosexually-identified woman, though I remain attracted to and periodically sexually active with women as well. To this day, regardless of my range of sexual partners, I remain hesitant to identify as queer (to a lesser degree) or bisexual (to a greater degree) because, ostensibly, I have never experienced homophobia and am generally assumed to be heterosexual. This is a highly ambivalent identification, however, because I remain aware of the necessity of celebrating a range of queer identities and questioning the homo/hetero dichotomy1. After taking an introductory women‟s studies course and a sociology of gender course, I knew that sexuality would be the area of expertise I wanted to develop in my academic life. At the same time, taking these courses also brought up some unproductive guilt around being primarily attracted to men and my heterosexual privilege. I remember being embarrassed about an engagement ring I wore, at a time when gay marriage was still illegal. Although much of the turmoil was self-produced, there was something specific to a feminist classroom that challenged me and what I had assumed to be assumed about life. Interestingly, my privilege as an ostensibly hetero woman has been 1  My knowledge of lesbian feminist critique of the „discourse of queer heterosexuality‟ (Schlichter, 2007) further complicates any potential queer identification, along with the fact that I have not personally experienced homophobia directed against me.  3  much more apparent and challenging to me than my privilege as a highly educated White woman in Canada. Ultimately, my own negotiation of heterosexual pleasure and feminist politics, a political orientation that at the time seemed to reject the very notion of hetero pleasure (Koedt, 1970; Hite, 1976), was all part of the process necessary to get me to where I was going personally, academically, and professionally. In the sociology of gender course, I was also exposed to a sexual assault education workshop which eventually led to my volunteering as a sexual assault support peer counselor for more than four years. This experience further increased my knowledge of and interest in sexuality. The tensions I experienced between my early feminist views, knowledge of sexualized violence, and my own experiences of pleasure and empowerment as a woman having sex with men continued to characterize my life. Nearing the end of my time at university sexual assault support centres (at the Universities of Alberta and British Columbia), I became increasingly interested in other areas of sexuality education, knowing that (hetero)sexuality could be more than simply a site of exploitation and pain. I took my anti-oppression feminist orientations2, developed academically and in the sexual assault arena, to the field of sexual health education. In the summer of 2006 I took an intensive sexual health educators‟ certification course with „Options for Sexual Health B.C.‟ (previously „Planned Parenthood B.C.‟). I am currently working on my practicum, teaching youth in kindergarten to grade 12 and helping parents to talk with their children. My time with other sexual health educators, particularly those in their twenties who seemed to connect most directly with youth, has increasingly challenged my views of sexuality. Often these educators exposed the feminist 2  An anti-oppression feminist perspective seeks to understand, account for and ameliorate the everyday inequalities people experience at the intersections of sexuality, gender, racialization and class, among others.  4  assumptions I made about young women‟s sexual exploitation, challenging me to think about sexuality in more complex and sophisticated ways, allowing for contradiction, pleasure and agency to co-exist in women‟s lives. Through my experiences of teaching sexual health and talking with youth, alongside my academic focus on sexuality, I became interested in exploring how young women negotiate their own sexual pleasure and agency, which they are very obviously doing, amid dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality that often silence and erase these very experiences. As mentioned above, I interviewed twenty six women. For both pragmatic and purposive reasons, I decided to talk to (hetero)sexually active women3 between age 19 and 25 who are currently attending university. Pragmatically, being a PhD student and a teaching assistant on a university campus, I had access to this population. Interviewing women over the age of 19, I would not have to deal with parental or guardian consent and other ethical issues around interviewing under-aged people. At the same time, I felt that this age group, having been educated in a post-HIV sexual context, would have a clear memory of how and where they learned about sexuality and sexual health, as much as any of us ever do. The same population was likely to have had at least one male sexual partner and potentially a few partners over some years and to have had a range of sexual experiences and opportunities for sexual negotiation. I recruited women through posters on the University of British Columbia campus and solicited participants in sociology courses of various levels, which offered highly 3  It is important to note here that given the specific complexities of young, disabled women‟s sexuality, including the history of forced sterilization and in particular their vulnerability to sexualized violence, I will not be including these women in my sample. Clearly, similar research that positions women with disabilities as sexual agents is an important area of investigation but I feel that a different project, focused exclusively on this topic, would be more appropriate. However, I will mention that diabetes and chronic depression were brought up by a couple of the participants. Only depression was understood as affecting the participant‟s sexuality and I have addressed this issue in this dissertation in relation to her selfcharacterized amount of desire, or lack thereof.  5  productive recruitment pools. I also advertised on Craig‟s List, an online posting site, which ended up yielding only one participant. Most of the women who responded to my call for participants did so out of personal interest, and, commonly, out of a sense of what I would call “karmic duty”4 in the academic world, perhaps seeing themselves as researchers, whether currently or later. All of the women I interviewed had postsecondary education and many were completing Bachelor of Arts degrees, most often in sociology5. There were also a few women from science and teaching backgrounds, and from graduate studies. Given these demographics, which I problematize and explore below, the research participants were overwhelmingly middle-class, though there was also a high proportion of participants from upper class backgrounds. Only a few of the participants self-identified as having come from a lower or working class background, usually as the result of divorce. Specifically, when I asked the participants how they would identify their class background, 13 said middle-class, 8 said upper middle-class or lower upper-class, 2 said upper class, and 3 said working middle-class or lower middleclass. It is interesting to note that no one specifically identified with the working or lower-class. These self-identifications foreshadowed the distance placed between themselves and the lower or working class throughout the interviews. This distancing occurred despite the range of class experiences the participants related to me over the  4  By karmic duty, I mean that a number of the women mentioned that participating in research projects, and contributing to someone else‟s research, would in some karmic sense cause participants to do the same for them if they ever decided to go on to do graduate work. „What goes around, comes around‟ seemed to be a guiding metaphor for these women. 5 Since many of the participants have taken a number of sociology courses, it is arguable that they may have had much more access to discourses that are critical of social norms and assumptions. As will be seen in Chapter Five however, even when they are critical of societal assumptions (in this case, the sexual double standard) explicitly, they still implicitly rely on such assumptions in their understanding of themselves as sexual beings. It could also be argued that people who are already critical of society may self-select into the study of sociology.  6  course of the interviews6. This distancing is a phenomenon we will explore below and more specifically in Chapters Four and Five, as we see how salient class positioning is in participants‟ understandings of themselves as sexual subjects. It is also important to note that the class categories discussed here are not social categories that I employ analytically but reflect instead participants‟ understandings. Given the vast range of experiences the women talked about, we cannot assume what it means to the majority of participants when they say they are „middle-class.‟  Class, Ethnicity and Racialization While there was a range of experiences within the participants‟ lives, I must be clear that middle-class positioning, values and privilege were present in nearly all of the interviews, making this exploration of (hetero)sexuality in many ways very specific. One particular factor came up in many of the interviews that seems to be a result of the participants‟ class positions and eventual educational achievement. The participants often seemed to be positioned as „always already‟ headed for university by their parents. Similarly, many of them were involved in accelerated, university-bound streams in high school. Some of the women‟s high school peers were not sexually active, which could perhaps be connected to their involvement in accelerated academic programs. The parents often propelled the women to excel academically. Miriam7 (who identifies as being „Persian‟8) remembers her mother saying to her, “I want you to have the right friends, the right influence, I want you to do well in school, I want you to go to university […] these 6  See Appendix A for a few brief comments on how diverse participants‟ class identifications and understandings were. 7 All names used in this dissertation are pseudonyms chosen by the participants or myself. 8 I use quotes to indicate when I am relying on the participants‟ own words regarding their selfidentifications.  7  should be your focus.” For some of the participants their parents‟ desires felt like pressure, as it was by Rosie („Japanese‟) and Emma („Vietnamese‟). As Gonick would point out, the women I interviewed exist in a context where education is viewed as “a personal achievement important for shaping a promising individual future” (2004:196). At the same time however there is also additional stress put on education within families from immigrant backgrounds. This immigrant-specific stress arguably occurs in „recent‟ (in the sense of recent generations or temporally recent) immigrant families, as was seen in Rosie‟s and Emma‟s experiences. In the migrant context Gonick argues “grades are invested with a very special significance in that they are viewed as stages of enacting an inter-generational responsibility” (2004:196). I argue a similar stress also occurs in economically-migrant families, who are working their way into the middle and upper classes. Indeed, education was privileged by the parents above most other values, as evidenced by Emma‟s belief that, despite their strong Catholic faith, her parents would support her having an abortion “because they think education is so important.” Even while in university, parents continue to highlight the women‟s academic achievements over other achievements. For Jill it is apparent that her mother “just wants me to have a life before I have children,” which includes finishing her degree and getting a good, financially-sound job. Lily‟s parents are also protective of her education in the face of new sexual and romantic partners. She reflects, “I think they‟re thinking more about career in the future and „what are you going to do after university?‟ and all that stuff. And they just want to make sure that I‟m not in like, um, infatuation, almost with this boy.”  8  Given this emphasis on education it seemed to me that most of the women had a very pragmatic view about sexuality and their choices of sexual partners. These views and choices notably facilitated sexual practices, particularly around birth control, that would not in any way hinder their educational successes and progression. Pregnancy during their time as students simply was not an option, let alone a feasible one, for any of the women I had interviewed. At least three participants had had an abortion prior to the interview. Sexuality was something that needed to fit functionally in their lives, rather than having their lives change to adapt to their sexuality. In this sense, because of their drive for academic achievement and their access to financial and cultural resources, the young women I interviewed are not representative of similarly-aged women in Canada generally. For a number of reasons, including their privileged positioning, I decided not to write about birth control specifically, though understandably it was an important theme throughout the interviews. While issues around birth control were discussed in nearly all the interviews, I excluded a discussion of birth control because I did not see any particularly novel findings. In other words, nothing about our discussions of birth control „begged for analysis.‟ Instead, I have chosen to focus on how the women understand themselves as sexual agents and position themselves as sexual women. Throughout this dissertation I argue that despite these limits these women‟s stories have some things to tell us about the experiences of (hetero)sexually active young women from a range of backgrounds in Canada. At this point, it is useful to include a note on how I conducted the interviews. The participants and I usually met in my office on campus, though sometimes we met in participants‟ homes. We chatted briefly before the interviews over tea or water about how  9  we had both come to be where we were, that is, chatting about sex as the topic for a PhD dissertation. We started the interview by discussing how participants identify their class background, racial or ethnic identity, sexual identity and anything else they believed was relevant to their identities (diabetes and chronic depression were the only issues that participants brought up here). The interviews were generally fun and relaxed, taking the character of a „girls chatting about sex‟ conversation. At the same time however, the interviews were surprisingly one-sided, in that questions about me and my own experiences only came up a few times, despite my mentioning early on in the interviews that I was open to their questions (personal and otherwise) and that I may at times mention my own experiences if it was appropriate. Indeed, my few interjections, as opposed to questions, usually involved sharing some type of „sexual health educator‟ knowledge. Perhaps my general silence resulted from the fact that we began the interview with a very general „tell me anything at all/everything about your sexual history.‟ I found that, with few exceptions, the participants spoke to this question at length. Their sexual history narratives were often so detailed and lengthy, encouraged by my clarifying and probing questions throughout, that we usually covered most of the topics I set out to. After the participant-guided overview we talked about things that they had not brought up themselves but that I still wanted to cover. (See Appendix B for a complete interview schedule.) With every participant I did not ask every question included in the schedule because we were often close to the hour and a half time limit I had promised to abide by. The interview questions were rarely asked sequentially, but were asked as related issues were brought up in participants‟ narratives. When time was running short after the participant had completed her sexual history narrative, I chose an appropriate number of  10  questions suited to their narratives and the topics I was most interested in discussing. Given that the topic we discussed was sexuality, I tried to be as non-judgmental as possible, enabling women to feel comfortable in speaking about things that they had sometimes shared with very few others. Related to the logic of how I conducted the interviews, I tried to privilege the issues and topics participants felt most motivated to discuss and to focus on how they discussed them. When transcribing the interviews, I included the participants‟ and my own repetitions, hesitancies and moments of inarticulateness. I did this because I wanted the reader to be aware of moments when the participants hesitated, struggled to clarify their thoughts and were not sure what to say.9 I have tried to remain committed to accurately and authentically representing the participants‟ words, struggles and meanings. For this study, ten of the twenty six women identified themselves as having nonWhite racial or ethnic backgrounds. With only a couple of exceptions, none identified with the more negative connotations associated with “racalization,” such as feelings of devaluation, dehumanization, and expulsion, that might be expected in a highly racialized society such as Canada. However, given the multicultural context of Canada and of Vancouver in particular, where 'race' has become a site of public celebration, this may not be surprising10. In the group that did not identify as White, I included women who identified as Jewish, who are also excluded from the „White‟ category in Canada, as Persephone („Jewish‟) so articulately remarks. I must also note here that while one of the  9  In the interview excerpts included in this dissertation when I have included „…‟ it is part of the participants‟ dialogue and signals moments when they hesitated and took time between statements. Otherwise, when I have included „[…]‟, this signals the exclusion of statements I edited out of the excerpt because they do not expediently support the analytical argument being made. 10 Thank you to Shelly Ketchell and Bonar Buffam for sharing their expertise in critical race theory and clarifying this idea with me.  11  participants identified as Aboriginal, I generally have not addressed the myriad complexities of sexuality found in the context of Aboriginal people‟s lives which are ensconced in colonialist and racialized discourse and economic exploitation within Canada (Cannon, 2006). The specificities of and the elevated impact of sexually transmitted infections, most importantly HIV, on Aboriginal women in Canada demands sexual health and sexuality research that focuses exclusively on voicing their concerns, triumphs and challenges. (For an important overview of these issues and developments see Ship and Norton, 2001). Alongside work that documents the specific sexual health risks that Aboriginal women face, there is also a burgeoning literature that celebrates the specificity of Aboriginal sexuality, which has been systematically distorted and erased in dominant discourse (Taylor, 2008). Sixteen women identified themselves as „White‟ or „Caucasian.‟11 Generally the interviewees said little that explicitly connected their experiences of sexuality to issues around racialization. In particular, White participants never said anything explicitly about White privilege nor did they comment on race after self-identifying as White at the beginning of the interview. This is not surprising within a context that erases privilege based on skin colour. This omission may also have occurred because we did not talk about the media per se, a topic which would have likely addressed issues around dominant imagery and representations of beauty and sexuality. In retrospect, I recognize that I also made the assumption that racialization did not affect White women‟s sexuality, as I failed to develop questions to explore this topic with them. Conversely, I tried to ask questions that would allow me to explore how racialization might affect the lives of 11  Here, I included women who specified their racial and/or ethnic background as „Slovakian,‟ „Scandinavian,‟ and „Lithuanian.‟ During the interviews, I clarified with these women that they would indeed include these specific ethnic identifications within the dominant White category.  12  women who did not self-identify as White or Caucasian. I must note here that it is important to remember that issues of religion, among other issues, may have been subsumed by discussions of „race‟ or ethnicity. In the few cases were women did articulate experiencing what they referred to as „cultural‟ differences (presumably from mainstream White Canada) there was no mention of religious differences, which may have been brushed over by the term „cultural.‟ Only two Catholic participants remarked on moments when their parents‟ religious views affected their sexuality. Interestingly, except for when I brought it up, only a few of women said anything about the colour of their skin or their ethnic/religious background during the interviews. Issues of racialization never came up in connection with individual partners or experiences. It is surprising given the historical context of miscegenation, that the controversial topic of interracial dating and sexuality was only brought up once in the interviews, by a woman who was campaigning for her mother to accept her boyfriend who is of a different ethnicity. When these issues were discussed during the interviews participants focused on the experience of cultural pressure to be a „good girl‟ who does not have sexual partners before marriage. Where racialization did intervene in the lives of the participants, at least in what they articulated to me12, my limited findings on the topic reiterated what has already been established by authors whose focus is racialized sexuality. In Canada, White (hetero)sexuality is privileged as the desired norm over and above racialized bodies that are constructed as „foreign‟ and potentially threatening to Canadian cohesion and identity. As Nagel summarizes:  12  It is certainly arguable that as a White woman and neophyte researcher I was insufficiently attuned to the experience of racialized inequality to tease this out in the interviews.  13  [The] pattern of contrasting valorized dominant group sexuality with devalued nondominant group sexualities can be found in descriptions of ethnic relations around the world. Sexual stereotypes commonly depict „us‟ as sexually vigorous (usually our men) and pure (usually our women), and depict „them‟ as sexually depraved (usually their men) and promiscuous (usually their women). (2003:10) For the dominant White perspective in Canada, devaluing nondominant groups‟ sexualities can be seen most vividly in the stereotyping and devaluing of the „squaw‟ as a „loose,‟ immoral, Aboriginal woman (Cannon, 2006). Similarly, devaluing nondominant group sexualities is apparent in the construction of Black sexuality as animalistic and voracious in the „Black Promiscuity‟ discourse (Hill Collins, 2004). Within the context of the „Black Promiscuity‟ discourse, Black women became unrapable and the Black men assumed rapists in North American culture (Hammonds, 1997). Alternatively, this process is also seen in the asexualization of South Asian bodies as „model minorities‟ (Dasgupta and Dasgupta, 1996). As Negal argues, “[racialized] depictions of sexual purity, dangerousness, appetites, desirability, perversion are all part of the performative construction of sexual respectability and disrespectabilty, normalcy and deviance” (Nagel, 2003:55). Contesting the power of dominant constructions of the sexualities of nondominant racialized bodies are counterhegemonic “sexual claims and attributions (that) challenge [minority] stereotypes with unflattering sexual images of whites” (Nagel, 2003:56). Espiritu‟s (2001) work with Filipina American women unpacks this resistance and places it within the context of migration to North America. Espiritu argues that “gender is key to immigrant identity and a vehicle for racialized immigrants to assert cultural superiority over the dominant group” (2001:415). While not all of the non-White identified women communicated that they were first or second generation immigrants, many did and it is to  14  these experiences that I speak to here. Interestingly, this form of resistance came up directly in my interview with Alex, who identifies as „Punjabi/Indo-Canadian,‟ when she remembered an interaction she had with her current partner, who is also South Asian: Alex: He asked me, „Well since you‟ve been in a relationship that lasted so long, I‟m assuming that you‟re not a virgin?‟ and I‟m like, „Why would you assume that?‟ And I asked him if I hadn‟t have been would it have been a problem and would he still have pursued the relationship? And he said, „No, I still would have pursued it, it‟s just that it wouldn‟t have been easy to accept.‟ So I think that really has something to be with, maybe not racialized in Canada, but maybe culture has something to do with it. Brandy: As in a White girl wouldn‟t have had the same… Alex: I think that honestly, he would have expected that Brandy: a White girl wasn‟t a virgin Alex: expected and accepted it, if it was, you know, someone, like a White girl that he was meeting and definitely, people have different expectations, I think that, um, Punjabi people, like guys and girls will have different expectations about who‟s gonna be, who‟s gonna be more sexually active and who should and shouldn‟t be. „She‟s a White girl, of course she‟s had more partners, who cares.‟ Associating certain things with like, like associating drinking beer with slutty behaviour, like White girls drink beer. Here Alex goes on to tell me about stereotypes that circulated around „slutty White girls that drink beer.‟ I call this the „dirty White girl‟ discourse. We could laugh about the „dirty White girl‟ stereotype, acknowledging it as a common one we had heard, though we were both surprised by the beer drinking addition. However she is also signaling an important intersection of racialization and sexuality that emerged in these interviews. Espiritu (2001) and other authors (DasGupta and DasGupta, 1996) have documented strict parental control on racialized daughters‟ sexuality and movements. As we will see, Espiritu‟s work is useful because she connects the control of American  15  Filipina girls‟ and womens‟ sexuality, distinguishing and distancing it from mainstream White girls‟ sexuality, to the context of immigrant experience in discursively hostile host countries. Gonzalez-Lopez‟s work (2004) further complicates our understandings of parental control of racialized women‟s sexuality and racialized stereotypes of macho fathers, arguing that Mexican fathers‟ investments in their daughters‟ virginity vary by where they grew up and is related to their desire to protect their daughters within a culture they see as dangerous. I feel it is important not to impose the assumption of intergenerational conflict and restriction on the narratives of racialized women. While issues of racialized sexuality did occur, as seen in Alex‟s narrative, participants did not usually highlight intergenerational conflict or parental restriction as part of their negotiation of their sexuality. This finding may also be explained by the fact that, as we will see in later chapters, the participants fundamentally understood, or at least tried to understand, themselves as being in sole control of their own sexuality. This orientation would limit the discursive space available to explore cultural patterns of adaptation in new countries. This being said, a few of the women from immigrant backgrounds did mention that they came from „traditional‟ cultural backgrounds and felt that this affected their sexuality. Alex was most vocal about the constraint she felt in her community. She felt a great pressure to maintain her chastity as a young Punjabi woman. Nevertheless she also resisted this pressure. As Espiritu found, emphasizing chastity, particularly of young women, “has the effect of reinforcing masculinist and patriarchal power in the name of a greater ideal of national/ethnic self-respect” (2001:416). Alex went on to clarify: I come from a super traditional culture and maybe that‟s why, because my culture is really, really traditional and very patriarchal, um, that um my  16  .  beliefs have sort of opposed it […] or like I‟ve rebelled against it […] But I think it‟s getting better in terms of girls speaking up and, „Who are you [young men] having sex with?!‟ You know, um, but I think it‟s a major concern for girls, if I‟m sexually active with more than one partner, „Who‟s going to want me when it comes to getting married?‟ Whereas with guys, it‟s not a huge concern, „I can do what I want now and then I want to marry a virgin…‟ […] [But] I wouldn‟t call myself completely liberal and confident in that it‟s just going to be like, [having already had a sexual partner] won‟t be a problem with someone else, because it really wouldn‟t be, but I‟m not completely comfortable saying this is my sexual history, this is what happened, accept it. Mother and daughter, Shamita Das Dasgupta and Sayantani Dasgupta, find a  similar dynamic in the North American South Asian population where “the rubric of „cultural preservation,‟ is actually about the control of women‟s sexuality” (1996:231). Errant sexual behaviour is linked with „cultural betrayal‟ (232), such that patriarchal structures within the community become hard for women to criticize without „rebelling‟ (as Alex terms it) against their community. Importantly, Daspgupta and Dasgupta as well as Espiritu argue that such gendered sexual limitations are “neither traditional nor culturally indigenous” (Dasgupta and Dasgupta, 1996:236), but often arise within migration contexts where racialized bodies are devalued within the host community. Interestingly, when cultural values around virginity came up with South Asian participants, the women did not internalize the demonization of their „unchaste‟ behaviour (having had sex before marriage), nor did they think of themselves as „bad women.‟ Rather, they questioned their value as sexual partners to future potential boyfriends/husbands. Most of these women, however, felt confident that they would not have to negotiate the contradictions inherent in the racialized sexual double standard, feeling that they and their current (and first) partners would eventually marry. As I have mentioned, where racialization was referenced in the interviews, it generally confirmed Espiritu‟s (2001) and Dasgupta and Dasgupta‟s (1996) assertions  17  that minority cultural resistance is manifested in a racialized sexual double standard. However, while I found evidence of a „dirty White girl‟ counter discourse, alongside this discursive disruption was the continued privileging of White skin in understandings of desire and sexuality in Canada. In Gina‟s recollection of her early crushes on boys she remembers feeling quite anxious and fearful of being rejected as a result of her Aboriginal background: Gina: I do remember thinking because my best friend [Kimmie] in elementary school, she was, would flirt with all the boys and they would flirt back and I remember being the background person, or the background girl, and thinking that I was different or that they wouldn‟t like me and I would guess that has to do with um race just being different like I thought maybe it had to do with me being shy and not comfortable talking to boys but I think what made me really shy was thinking they wouldn‟t want to talk to me. Brandy: And for you that was based on racialization?13 Gina: Yeah, like if I think of specific memories I experienced I can remember feeling that was, like they wouldn‟t want to talk to me and that‟s understandable because I‟m different and not White like [Kimmie] is, I would always compare myself to her and thinking that the boys that liked her were White. Gina‟s perceives her „non-White‟ status as directly related to her (sexual) desirability to the White boys that surrounded her on the playground. Her anxiety and fear of rejection is premised on her undesiriable status in relation to White Kimmie. This is not surprising within a cultural context that devalues Aboriginal women‟s sexual desirability (Taylor, 2008). Generally because of the overwhelmingly middle- and upper-class background of nearly all of the participants, and the attendant emphasis on education discussed above, like Higgins (2007), I “found repeatedly that social class seemed to trump race” (75). I 13  In the interview with Gina I used the word „racialization‟ because Gina had been exposed to and used critical theoretical words, including „racialization,‟ herself.  18  will explore how and perhaps why class „trumped‟ race below. This is not to undermine the value of an intersectional analysis of sexuality that focuses on racialization, whose importance Alex („Punjabi/Indo-Canadian‟) highlights: “It‟s really different and especially living in Canada, where we don‟t all share the same values.” In my work I focus on commonalities, exploring how a select group of university-educated young women, upwardly mobile and/or securely middle-class, understand themselves as sexual subjects, rather than on how they are racialized within Canada. I have also highlighted where experiences of women of colour and White women diverge. I acknowledge that my own orientations towards sexuality and my own positioning as a White woman delimit this dissertation‟s boundaries. Also important to how racialization was mediated within the women‟s narratives was the overarching „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse that pervaded the interviews. I will expand significantly on this discourse in later chapters, but here it is important to note that the participants went to great lengths to communicate their competency as sexual actors. They presented themselves as in control, able to handle complication and contradictions with ease, and masterful at negotiating mentally and physically „healthy‟ sexual interactions. I argue that the default category of the competent woman discourse is one who is „unencumbered‟ by her skin colour or class, in other words, one who is White and middle-class in the Canadian context. The White middleclass female subject is the unspoken but pervasive subject haunting the narratives. In this sense, I believe that many of the women spoke „as if‟ they did not constantly negotiate racialized and classed social structures in Canada, despite their vast diversity of experience. This is not to say that the women‟s experiences were by any means  19  hegemonic but that the overarching attempt to justify one‟s position as a competent female speaker and actor limited the discursive space available for women to articulate experiences that diverged from the White, middle-class norm. The participants‟ generalized middle class status and access to education position them as always already sexually “respectable” (Skeggs, 1997)14, which facilitates their claims of sexual competency. Their privilege as middle-class young women, as we will see in narratives of their competency in later chapters, remains unspoken, though is always present. The participants are entitled to engage their sexuality as play because they are unlikely to be forced to engage in sex as a form of labour to ensure their economic survival. Access to the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse is in many ways inherently classed because participants‟ sexuality is rarely questioned and pathologized to the same degrees that working class women‟s is (Sangster, 1996; Peiss, 1989). In a similar way, as was mentioned, the subject who is speaking in these narratives rarely articulates negotiating racialized inequality and privilege.  Sexual Diversity In my call for participants, I advertised for „heterosexually active‟ women. I used the words „heterosexually active‟ rather than heterosexual in hopes that a range of women would respond. I planned to interview heterosexually active women in order to examine their sexual subjectivity and understandings of themselves as sexual agents by exploring how they negotiate heterosexual encounters. An important premise to note here is that I do not necessarily conflate the term „heterosexually active‟ women with the assumption  14  I discuss Skeggs‟ (1997) arguments about middle class sexual respectability in more detail in Chapter Five.  20  of a heterosexual identity, nor do I conflate heterosexual activity with penile-vaginal penetration. Thus I hoped to interview women who saw themselves as being heterosexually active (in self-defined ways) as well as women who may also be homosexually active as well15. The only basic criterion for participation was that volunteers had had sexual contact with men at some point in their life. My hope was fulfilled, as women who had had sex exclusively with men and with both men and women responded to my ad. I use the term heterosexually active and throughout this dissertation write about (hetero)sexuality for very specific reasons. First, I was interested in sexual interactions that took place within the context of explicit gendered norms of sexuality. While I recognize that gendered norms of sexuality are always contested and complex, I wanted to eliminate the further complexities that would occur within same-sex partner sexual interactions. In other words, my main concern is not in theorizing heterosexuality as an identity per se but rather in exploring how sexuality occurs within gendered dominant discourses and how young women understand themselves as sexual beings within these discourses. Throughout this dissertation I use the word (hetero)sexuality to signal how sexuality always occurs and is understood within larger gendered, heterosexist structures, as well as to disrupt naturalized assumptions about sexuality as normatively heterosexual. Also, I use (hetero)sexuality in order to remain cognizant of the need to disrupt the homogenization of heterosexual experience. The parentheses denote that sexuality should 15  Queer sexualities will not be directly addressed in the interests of focusing the study, avoiding the potential to conflate issues around gender and sexuality, and in order to reach a deeper level of theoretical engagement with and problematization of heterosexuality as a coherent, essential and stable identity. My problematization of heterosexuality will contribute to previous work in this area such as Katz (1995), Segal (1994) and Groneman (2000), as well as to non-essentialist scholarship on youth heterosexuality, similar to Adams‟ (1997) work in the Canadian context. I expand further on the issue of participants‟ same-sex sexual experiences below.  21  be understood as involving a variety of experiences, identifications, orientations and relationships with others and with oneself. In acknowledging that all sexuality is understood to take place through gendered dominant discourse, I hope that this dissertation will contribute to the denaturalization and deconstruction of heterosexuality as an identity. I do not assume that heterosexuality is a given or default identity for the participants; rather, I explore the processes that occur in their understandings of themselves as sexual actors within gendered discourses of (hetero)sexuality. I hope to add to theoretical work that problematizes heterosexuality (Katz, 1995; Segal, 1994) by viewing sexuality (however it is expressed) as the product of constant negotiation and embodied engagement rather than as a naturalized or stable state. Laumann and Gagnon remind us that “in sociology the word sexual usually appears only as an adjectival modifier to the noun deviance” (1995:184). I see this dissertation as part of the burgeoning literature that critically engages „hetero sexual‟16 encounters. Richardson also argues that assuming the naturalness of heterosexuality has severely limited sociology such that we “delimit interpretations of both heterosexuality (as stable, necessary, universal) and the social (as naturalized heterosexuality)” (2000:23). While I do focus on the heterosexual context, it is in order to understand better how heterosexual identities are negotiated and understood discursively, rather than to reiterate its supremacy. Only this critical exposure can undermine heterosexuality as “a taken for granted subject position that is not even articulated” (Ussher, 2005: 30). In a similar vein as Adams‟ important book, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of  16  I use the term „hetero sexual,‟ here and throughout, to denote heterosexual sexual activity, as opposed to „opposite‟ gender, and not necessarily sexual, interactions. In other words, when using „hetero sexual‟ I am referring to specifically opposite-gender sexualized interactions, though not necessarily opposite-gender sexual contact or activity.  22  Heterosexuality (1997), my work is part of a larger exploration of “the sexual centre that gives the margins their shape” (4). Hence, I aim to contribute to the overall destabilization of gendered dominant discourses that naturalize and privilege heterosexuality and position women as passive objects. A decentering of heterosexuality is important given the context of heterosexual hegemony that occurs in North America. The premise of heterosexual hegemony, the privileging and glorification of heterosexuality in all areas of public and private life , is heterosexism, the belief that heterosexuals are “normal” and “natural” while same-sex desire is “deviant” or “sick” (Kinsmen, 1996). Heterosexuality as an identity emerges in relation to and response to “deviant” sexuality that does not contribute to the perpetuation of the species and in turn capitalist political and economic orders (Kinsmen, 1996). Kinsmen notes that “respectable” and “proper” sexual, read heterosexual, relations are hegemonic because they “unite force and consent in the social organization of ruling” (2007:169). He is careful, however, to clarify that hegemony is “always actively accomplished, never self-securing” (187), reminding us that while heterosexual hegemony is entrenched in North American society, sociologists must always be exploring how this hegemony is maintained and resisted. Exploring the maintenance of heterosexual hegemony is crucial in exploring sexual regulation, which is “the complex of relations of the various institutions and practices that define, manage, and limit our sexual lives” (168). We will see throughout this dissertation how our current understanding of heterosexuality as a gendered, classed and racialized phenomenon both limits participants‟ experiences and is resisted by them. We will see how the women are both subjected to and resist the sexual regulation of heterosexual hegemony, always  23  remembering that “heterosexuality [is not] merely one sexual identity among many; it is, in many societies, the norm and ideal” (Seidman, 2003:44). Weeks argues that the gendered and sexualized dichotomies that premise heterosexual hegemony “position sexual subjects, and organize sexual desires, in contemporary societies, in ways which subordinate women and marginalize transgressors” (2003:37). I explore how this occurs in the women‟s narratives. Critically exploring women‟s narratives of heterosexual experience allows me to ask the following questions, among others: “How are complex, often internally contradictory, and ambiguous systems of sexual meaning constructed and challenged?” “What is the relation between „macro‟ patterns of social organization and „micro‟ negotiations of sexual definition?” (Epstein, 1994:198). As I draw on psychoanalytic theory in my analysis of participants‟ narratives, Ingraham‟s (2006, 2008) interpretation of Jacque Lacan‟s understanding of the “imaginary,” the “imagined or illusory relationship between an individual and their social world” (2006:198), is helpful in understanding heterosexual hegemony. Drawing on Althusser‟s social theoretical reading of Lacan, Ingraham argues that the “heterosexual imaginary is that way of thinking that relies on romantic and sacred notions of heterosexuality in order to create and maintain the illusion of well-being and oneness” (2006:198). This basic orientation to sexual relating works to obfuscate how heterosexual hegemony acts to preserve racial, gendered and sexual hierarchies. The heterosexual imaginary is premised on the heterosexist assumption of heterosexuality‟s “normality” and homosexuality‟s “deviance.” I seek to expose how women‟s understandings of their “well-being and oneness” as sexual actors illustrate how heterosexual hegemony is perpetuated and experienced in their lives. Following Ingraham‟s example, I “investigate  24  the ways various practices, arrangements, relations and rituals work to conceal the operation of [the institution of heterosexuality]” (2008:28). Upsetting sociological theory‟s tendency to “think straight,” I explore “the power and the promise of heterosexuality [while] examining and addressing its paradoxes” (Ingraham, 2005:4). Stevi Jackson (2006) uses the word „institutionalized heterosexuality‟ to denote the structural power of heterosexuality in the West, clarifying that “as an institution heterosexuality, while exclusionary, also governs the lives of those included within its boundaries” (108, emphasis in original). She distinguishes „institutionalized heterosexuality,‟ which I see as being similar to heterosexual hegemony as defined above, from „heteronormativity‟, which is “shorthand for the numerous ways in which heterosexual privilege is woven into the fabric of social life, pervasively and insidiously ordering everyday existence” (108). In this sense, research such as my own explores the governance of the „inside,‟ which in turn contributes to sociological understandings of social orderings that privilege some identities and practices over others in myriad ways. Exploring heterosexual interactions helps us to see the possible variability in these relationships and that “agency is a factor even in conformity” (116). I use the term “heterosex” when discussing heterosexual sexual activities in this dissertation. I use this term, as Higgins does, “to refer to sexual activity between women and men (as opposed to autoeroticism, or sex between women or between men),” finding “the term useful not only in its specificity, but also because it denaturalizes that idea that all sex occurs between a man and woman” (2007:79). I also use the term heterosex to attune myself and the reader to the fluidity of sexuality and sexual practices, having found that the use of sexual identity categories (heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual)  25  often produces assumptions around people‟s activities, which I do not wish to reiterate. Remaining attuned to fluidity is particularly important in the context of this dissertation, as within mainstream sexual health education. Currently “educational strategies and policies appear predicated upon notions of who does what with whom” such that fluidity is often marginalized (Stewart et al., 2000:410). I hope to challenge these assumptions and premises. As anticipated, participants disclosed a range of sexual experiences. A number of the women had had sexual interactions ranging from kissing to oral sex and penetration with both men and women. Despite the presence of same sex encounters for a number of women, only one women, Lily, identified as bisexual. This is perhaps not surprising since my posters and classroom announcements advertised for „heterosexually active‟ women. A number of the women disrupted the naturalization of heterosexuality themselves when I asked them how they identified sexually. Sue identified as „hetero with a splash of bi,‟ Shawnequa as „80 (men)/20 (women), but relationships only with men,‟ Maria and Maia both identified as a „Kinsey 1 or 2‟ (meaning heterosexually leaning but not exclusively). Ten of the other women problematized their heterosexual identification, citing bi desire and experience, while eleven identified as „exclusively hetero.‟ While there was much evidence of sexual diversity I found that the women generally downplayed and minimized their desire for and sexual engagement with other women. Like Sheena‟s experience, for many of these young women sex with other women “was just an encounter” („Hetero but bi experience‟). When I pointed out to Lily, who was the only participant to identify specifically as bisexual, that her first „full on‟ sexual experience was with a woman, she was surprised: “It‟s interesting cause in my  26  mind I don„t really think of it like that. I guess it is?!” Lily‟s sexual relationship with this woman differed from the experiences of the other participants‟ same-sex encounters because it continued for a number of weeks. On this relationship she reflects: “We would say things like, you know, „I really like you‟ and all that stuff but I think maybe looking back on it that we were just using each other [to get rid of] sexual frustration and stuff.” Alongside the emotional intimacy that is assumed to be typical of longer-term romantic sexual relationship there is a concurrent rejection of this same-sex encounter as a significant romantic sexual relationship. While this minimization is not a central finding of my research it seems to warrant mention here, even though it is arguably not surprising, given that I was not specifically advertising to women that identified as nonheterosexual. This finding does however seem to be further evidence of the cultural context of heterosexual hegemony that devalues homosexual activity. The emphasis on hetero sexual relations may also speak to the fact that our practices are always much more fluid than the traditional hetero/homo identity dichotomy allows us to acknowledge, as Kinsey showed us in the mid twentieth century (1948; 1953); therefore I may have been advertising for „heterosexually active‟ women but, despite a diversity of sexual experience, the women who responded overwhelmingly privileged their hetero desire and practices as far as their understandings of themselves were concerned.17 I learned that there is a great deal of tension and diversity in terms of women‟s identities, desires and practices. The women‟s sexualities were at times malleable and context specific, similar to Diamond‟s (2008) findings that fluidity is central to women‟s experiences of sexuality. 17  The privileging of hetero desires and practices in the women‟s narratives may not only be explained by the context of heterosexual hegemony within which they occur. Culturally in North America we value a „stable,‟ coherent sense of self (rather than fluidity), which may also account for their privileging of one main „storyline.‟ In turn, the context of heterosexual hegemony ensures that the heterosexual „storyline‟ is not privileged at randomly but in line with dominant discourses.  27  I originally analyzed the interviews as a „sexually coherent‟ whole, in that I did not analytically separate exclusively hetero identified women from those that disrupted monosexual18 (Ault, 1996) identity. I did this so that whatever data emerged could be analyzed on its own terms, rather than through predetermined analytical categories. After finding little difference in how women discussed their sexuality, I decided to re-view Lily‟s interview transcript to see if, as the only explicitly bisexually-identified woman, differences were retroactively evident. Interestingly, I still found overwhelming similarity between her narratives and the others. Ultimately, I cannot determine how the silencing of female-female sexual desire and activity was based on the recruits my advertisements targeted and produced19 and how it is related to larger societal homophobia. What was clear, however, was that nearly all the participants, like Lily, “automatically thought heterosexual experiences” when we discussed their sexual experiences within the interviews. Very few mentioned their same-sex encounters, and when they were discussed at my behest they were, as we saw above, usually minimized or set apart as somehow different. It is important to acknowledge that despite my efforts to “not think „straight‟” while designing and conducting my research, there will inevitably be “heteronormalizing processes at work” during the interviews (Allen, 2006:163). The women‟s narratives, at least in part, emerged as a function of how I organized and approached the interviews. Rather than try to account for what did not “show up” because of the context of heterosexual hegemony within which the interviews occurred, it is useful to attempt to 18  Ault (1996) distinguishes monosexual, desiring only one sex (hetero or homo) from bisexual identities, wherein both sexes are desired. 19 I should note here that Lily decided to participate after a classroom announcement I made, wherein I could stress „heterosexually active‟ as distinct from „heterosexually identified,‟ which would be an entry point different than for participants that called me after only seeing my poster.  28  understand why same-sex experiences were usually minimized or set apart as somehow different in the women‟s narratives. As will be seen in later chapters, three psychoanalytic concepts emerged as tools that could facilitate my analysis of the women‟s narratives: abjection, disavowal, and ambivalence. When reading the transcripts I was struck by the homogeneity of the women‟s narratives, despite the diversity of their sexual experiences. Judith Butler‟s argument that same-sex desire stands as that which is rejected or abjected from the category of “proper” (heterosexual) subjecthood (1999) is important when accounting for this silence around same-sex experiences. I argue that the “oddity” of the silences around same-sex experience was not exclusively the result of what I “missed” in the interviews or failed to draw out, but often speak to the productivity of attending to psychoanalytic processes when analyzing the narratives. Insofar as the possibility of experiencing and articulating same-sex desire is expelled via the process of abjection, as Butler argues, then the silences that pervade the narratives of women who had same-sex experience is not surprising. The rejection of same-sex experiences in the process of abjection ensures that such experiences are not or are rarely spoken. Hence the process of abjection is apparent not only in the areas of their narratives discuses in Chapter Five but also in the silences around same-sex experience.  Limitations In discussing this dissertation with various people one central question kept coming up: who volunteered to participate in this research? People pondered if there was something unique about these people (that is, those who are willing to discuss their sexuality with a stranger) that make this research somehow specific to a limited group.  29  Thinking about this myself and in conversation with others20 I realize that the cultural silences that surround sexuality limit the range of people comfortable speaking about their experiences and, in turn, limit all sexuality research. In some ways all we have to rely on as sexuality researchers is the intrepid voices of a few. This does not negate the theoretical value of such explorations however, nor does it mean that I can say nothing about social values and forces more generally. Schwartz and Rutter (1998) help us think through this conundrum. In regard to the under-explored context of heterosexuality, and arguably sexuality more generally (excluding „deviance‟ focused studies) Schwartz and Rutter remind us that “[researchers] must rely on what people say they want and do sexually, and these reports, as much as the desire and behaviour itself, are influenced by what people believe they are supposed to feel and say” (1998:3). In this sense, my focus on sexual subjectivity and how women understand themselves as sexual agents engaging in sex with men is particularly productive. I have very little interest in the „truth‟ their sexual activities per se (what exactly or „real-ly‟ did or did not occur), to which I have limited access anyways, as Schwartz and Rutter remind us. Rather, I am interested in gaining access to the beliefs, normative influences, and competencies Schwartz and Rutter are signaling. They caution researchers: to recognize the challenge of collecting and interpreting self-report data, particularly on the enigmatic topic of sexuality. Respondents may not tell the truth or remember the truth or even be sure that what they thought happened really did happen. For the healthy skeptic of sexual self-reporting,.. survey data remain records of norms or values, if not precise accounts of deeds. (36)  20  Thank you to those that participated in a brainstorming session about my research and this question, including Dawn Currie, Rachael Sullivan, Jackie Shoemaker-Holmes, Bonar Buffam, Shelly Ketchell and Elizabeth Bruch.  30  The „truth‟ of participants‟ claims is not a question I ask. Rather, I explore how they position and understand themselves within variously available streams of discourse. Among other things, I am exploring what discourses young women generally have access to in understanding themselves as sexual beings. Their degree of access to variously privileged discourses is, in turn, varyingly „easy.‟ In other words, young women have easier or more common access to different discourses (for example, anti-capitalist feminism discourse as opposed to discourses of liberal responsibility). Therefore, how these young women are able to understand themselves has insight to offer into what discourses generally are available and in the process of being contested. The specific historical context of the women‟s lives must be acknowledged as well. We will see in Chapter Four the range of sexually constraining and empowering discourses to which the women I interviewed have access. These women have access to a wide range of discourses not only because they are young women attending university but also because they were born into a post-rights movement historical context wherein feminism and other rights-based discourses have produced significant changes in society. By virtue of their birth cohort they have access to a pool of discourses that is different from what would be available to, for example, the people Kinsey interviewed in the 1940s and 50s. The public commodification of sex in the context of late capitalist consumerism and access to learning and entertainment technologies like the internet also make these women‟s historical positioning important. I will further explore this range of historically specific discourses in detail in Chapter Four.  31  An iceberg21 analogy is useful in thinking about the „validity‟ of the participants‟ experiences, as in having something to say for larger segments of society. This analogy works in two ways. In one way, above the water line is a small section of the iceberg/population that we can see (or access in other ways). This would be the relatively limited number of people who are willing to openly discuss their sexual experiences with a researcher. Below the surface is the potentially more significant part of the population/iceberg that is unwilling to speak. In this sense, I have access to only the „tip of the iceberg‟ because recruitment can only ever be voluntary. We have nothing else to base our research on as long as there are cultural tensions around discussing sexuality. On a second, more important, level, from a poststructural psychoanalytic perspective22 which informs this work, the „tip of the iceberg‟ is arguably all that researchers of sexual subjectivity are able to access in participants‟ narratives. From this perspective, what is interesting is how we all understand and articulate ourselves as coherent and competent subjects. This would be our experience „above the water line,‟ as it were. From a poststructural and psychoanalytic perspective, however, the experience of competent coherence is only illusory, an eternal process of covering up the inherent instability and threat of subject dissolution (below the water line). I delve more deeply into these „below the water line‟ processes in the subsequent chapters. From a more general social constructionist perspective, Schwartz and Rutter remind us that: people are always kidding themselves; in other words, people acquire the desires and behaviours that are available and appealing. These choices will be based on personal history as well as social norms and will emerge in idiosyncratic and diverse ways across the continuum of sexuality. They will also be based on the costs and benefits in a given social system. (1996:30) 21 22  Thank you Rachael Sullivan for your articulation of this analogy. I will distinguish and elaborate on this perspective in Chapter Three.  32  We are always „kidding ourselves‟ about our sexual selves not because we are „dupes‟ of a capitalist patriarchy but because we are fundamentally invested in understanding and presenting ourselves as competent, coherent subjects in late modern capitalist society. Considering the complex issues around interviewing and self-selection also evokes for me the Foucauldian parallel between the modern day „interview‟ with the expert, in this case me, and Catholic confessional practices with priests (Foucault, 1990:19). Here the participants are seen as confessing their „sins‟ to me, and through this process exposing their sexual subjectivity to governance. Inevitably this is an invaluable insight. Following Attwood (2006) I would question any direct parallel between these two processes, however, and instead focus on “the particular sexual sensibilities which characterize late modern culture” (84). Attwood asserts that while an incitement to discourse about sexuality, particularly by medico-scientific experts, persists, “the contemporary tone of these confessions may modify their cultural significance and impact” (84). That is, as Attwood reminds us, “the remaking of confession as entertainment23 is, of course, symptomatic of a culture in which sex signifies both the truth of the self and its performance; authenticity and artifice” (84, emphasis in original). It might be asked how these interviews act as performances themselves, with participants „performing‟ their sexual competency for me as „expert‟ (and in turn judge). This is an important question; however I would not distinguish the narratives participants wove from our everyday enactments of self-articulation and performance. This is not to say the we are consciously performing specific roles every day (South Asian woman, lesbian, a member of the working class, for example), but that our every piece of clothing, 23  This is a particularly relevant view since a number of the women expresssed after the interview that they had had fun doing it.  33  utterance, and movement is part of, both reiterating and shoring up, our various discursive and embodied positions. Acknowledging the limitations in my ability or desire to make „truth claims‟ based on these interviews, I am nevertheless convinced of their value as signposts in understanding (hetero)sexual subjectivity and the discursive constitution of (hetero)sexuality. That being said, I must acknowledge that while I have made sure that I include in this dissertation all the women who agreed to contribute to this research with their time and effort, some interviews invariable appear more often than others, based on, among other things, my own assessment of their readability and applicability. In each case, I have tried to be true to the experiences of these young women individually and as a group generally, rather than privileging some stories over others. I argue throughout this work that despite the specific demographic characteristics of the women I interviewed, these women‟s experiences offer significant insight into sociological understandings of (hetero)sexual subjectivity and, in turn, into how we frame and present sexual health education in Canadian classrooms. The limitations I have outlined here include the respondents‟ class commonalities, education, a limited articulation of how racialization affects the participants‟ lives and a heterosexual focus. I also want to acknowledge that my similar positioning as a (relatively young24) university student with similar educational and class privileges, though not the same racialized privilege or lack thereof as some, allowed the interviews to have the “chatting between girlfriends” feel that facilitated the intimacy, playfulness, disclosure and trust that yielded such textured transcripts.  24  I was 29 when I conducted the interviews and, not shockingly, still believe myself to “connect” with “twenty-somethings”.  34  At the beginning of this chapter, I spoke about why I was motivated to do this research. In the next chapter, I outline three specific discourses through which we currently understand young women‟s sexuality: dominant, feminist and sexual health education discourses. I show why they are to some degree useful in understanding young women‟s sexuality, but, more importantly, I show why current approaches limit our ability to productively theorize young women‟s sexuality. In Chapter Three I outline the theoretical tools I found useful in accounting for participants‟ experiences. The theoretical perspectives I outline are useful because they exceed the limits of current theoretical approaches.  35  Chapter Two: Are Women Always and Everywhere Lacking? Since at least the nineteenth century, a variety of people have been interested in understanding the “nature” of women‟s sexuality. No matter who was speaking for or about women‟s sexuality, a common thread is that little discursive room has been made available for women‟s sexual agency. Today there is still an overwhelming silence around women‟s active sexual desire and sexual agency. This dissertation attempts to further theoretical understandings of young women‟s (hetero)sexual subjectivity25 and, in turn, our understanding of sexual health education in Canada. I position this dissertation within three differentiated, yet inextricably interwoven, discourses around female heterosexuality: dominant26, feminist27 and sexual health discourses. These are the three central frameworks we currently have for understanding young women‟s sexuality. In these discursive streams women seem to be defined primarily by what they lack: namely active desire and sexual agency; the ability to engage in fulfilling, empowering sexual relationships with men; and the ability to „say no‟ to unwanted sexual contact. Certainly there has been much productive work produced by critical feminist and sexual health researchers, as we will see. Within the context of feminist and sexual health research, I approach the topic of young women‟s sexual subjectivity from a novel perspective that attempts to show how the positioning of women in various discourses as somehow „lacking‟ actually constrains what we as researchers are able to hear in their sexual stories. In this chapter, I argue that our current frameworks are inadequate. If we do not 25  I will clarify how I define subjectivity in Chapter Three. I define dominant discourse as discourses that are most privileged in our everyday lives in North America. They are discourses that are activated and relied on in understanding the world almost unconsciously, in that they are accorded such authority that they are often assumed to be the basis of our reality. 27 Though I use the term „feminist,‟ I must note that this is not a monolithic or homogenous category. There are many streams of feminists thought and I will be exploring tendencies that occur in only some feminist work, as we will see. 26  36  assume that women are always already lacking and at risk of sexual harm we can better account for the complexities, ambivalences and contradictions that are present in young women‟s sexual stories, yet have been smoothed over and covered up in dominant, feminist and sexual health discourses. This dissertation opens up to what women have to say, rather than reiterating theoretical assumptions of how they are at risk. In order to do so, it is important to explore how I see current theoretical approaches to young women‟s (hetero)sexuality as limited. I spend considerable space here discussing dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality. I do this intentionally because, as will be seen, both feminist and sexual health discourses, unsurprisingly, at times activate streams of dominant discourses and also manifest similar contradictions. When discussing how sexuality is constructed in dominant discourse over time, it is important to acknowledge the early absence of discussions of female-female desire, which was rarely discussed until it became demonized and infantilized by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century sexologists, culminating in Freudian theories of lesbianism. Sexuality, specifically heterosexuality, has long been central to dominant discourses of femininity and womanhood. In the West, Christianity provides two of the most archetypical symbols of female (hetero)sexuality: the virgin Mary and the fallen woman Eve (Valverde, 1985). Mary renounces all personal desire and devotes herself to one specific male, Jesus. Conversely, Eve‟s desire is not completely absent as she is seduced by the serpent. Eve‟s desire causes the downfall of humanity and our expulsion from Eden. Eve‟s secular parallel is „the whore‟ or „the bad girl‟ (Valverde, 1985). The good girl/bad girl division has suffused dominant discourses of women‟s sexuality. Who is characterized on either side of the divide has always been connected to experiences of  37  class (Sangster, 1996; Peiss, 1989), race (Hammonds, 1997), and sexuality, where samesex desire tends to be denied and demonized. Historians have documented the rise of the ideal of „passionless femininity‟ during the nineteenth century; within this discourse White, middle and upper class women28 were seen as best protected from their sexuality by completely denying their desire (Carpenter, 2005). This ideal replaced the earlier view that women, carrying on Eve‟s „curse,‟ were sexually dangerous creatures who could not control their sexuality. Complete denial became the appropriate response. Conversely, Black (Hammonds, 1997), Aboriginal (Carpenter, 2005) and working class women (Sangster, 1996; Peiss, 1989) were endowed in dominant discourse with a lascivious hypersexuality that had no hopes of being contained. The White middle and upper class „angels in the homes‟ (Skeggs, 1997), by conforming to the „good girl‟ ideals, could expect men‟s protection from sexual risks such as unwed pregnancy, abandonment and rape (Vance, 1984). The women excluded from this category were offered no such protection and indeed were often at great sexual risk (Vance, 1984; Hammonds, 1997). With the rise of sexology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, developed by people like Krafft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis and Freud, whose work seems to reinforce and perpetuate the assumption of women‟s „lack,‟ dominant discourses of women‟s (hetero)sexuality began to shift. In the twentieth century women have been constructed in dominant discourse as lacking, and thus as the passive, receptive counterpart to active male desire. In Freudian discourse women‟s desire for other women was understood to be lacking „authenticity‟ or validity, and was characterized as  28  It was also believed that men should be protected from women‟s sexuality but the responsibility for controlling sexuality fell almost exclusively on women‟s shoulders.  38  immature and infantile. For Freud and many others, in the overarching context of women‟s assumed sexual passivity and receptivity, same-sex female sexuality becomes not-sex. The construction of men‟s desire as active and of women‟s desire as passive are founding features of our current dominant understandings of sexuality (Segal, 1994). The passive/active assumption has been reiterated and supported in scientific and everyday discourse throughout the twentieth century. Also in the twentieth century we saw the rise of the „companionate marriage‟ ideal where new sexual values seem to allow for women‟s desire but continue to construct it as solely relational to and responsive to men, especially husbands. At the same time, assumptions about women‟s sexual nature and responsibilities were related to race and class, as early eugenic discourses provided the logic for encouraging White middle and upper class couples to have more sex and thus more children in order to „maintain the nation.‟ Pivotal in the rise of the companionate marriage ideal were the key mid-century sexologists Kinsey (1948; 1953) and, later, Masters and Johnson (1966). Increasingly, women came to be defined as sexually similar to men, as being equally able to enjoy sex and orgasm. Sameness, in regard to one‟s potential for sexual pleasure and gratification, rather than the earlier view of sexual difference, became increasingly dominant in these discourses (Segal, 1994; Potts, 2002). Despite these shifts, women‟s desire still tended to be defined as responsive only to their male partners‟ sexual drives (Carpenter, 2005; Potts, 2002; Segal, 1994), and men were constructed as teachers and guides, coaxing out women‟s hesitant (hetero)sexuality. As we will see, in some ways the young women I spoke with understand their sexuality within this traditional framework. However, they also draw on other discourses to articulate themselves as sexual agents.  39  While men and women‟s ability to provide and receive sexual pleasure was constructed in similar ways by mid-century sexologists, women‟s „more characteristic‟ sexual passivity (a logical compliment to „aggressive‟ male sexuality) was increasingly highlighted, reiterated and reinforced. The way men and women sought pleasure and manifested their sexuality was caught up in the active/passive dichotomy. Sexology, from the late nineteenth to mid/late twentieth century, has been central to the development of dominant discourses in the increasingly medicalized, rationalized and scientific West. Inevitably, counter-discourses and resistance emerged in response to sexological discourses (Foucault, 1990). Generally however, as Segal argues, the sexologists “[reaffirmed] male domination as biological inevitability, [and portrayed] the „sex act,‟ understood as heterosexual genital engagement, as its exemplary moment. A woman‟s sexuality, although given a more autonomous existence, still required a man to initiate it and release it. In the bedroom, as in life, women remained subordinated to the needs and desires of men” (Segal, 1994: 79). As we will see, sexology and the development of our predominant understandings of heterosexuality within the frame of masculine activity and feminine passivity have left their mark on feminist and sexual health discourses as well. The liberal sexual discourses, which assume women‟s right to sexual pleasure, apparent in the narratives of the women I interviewed, took root during this mid-twentieth century period. As I noted above, another historically important period is the „sexual revolution‟ of the 1960s and 70s. This movement was made possible by the earlier shift which favoured companionate marriages and then more directly by other social movements that occurred in the 1960s, such as the civil rights movements and a more general rejection of  40  earlier moral values. During this period, the increasingly widespread use of „the pill,‟ as hormonal contraception came to be known, facilitated the connection between sex and women‟s bodily autonomy, as it offered a new way to prevent unintended pregnancy. The pill was seen as freeing women to engage in sex with fewer risks (Segal, 1994). The „free love‟ facilitated by the pill was constructed as „freedom‟ within a range of social movements, but women involved in the various movements became increasingly disenchanted with their subservient, supportive roles as „secretaries‟ to male leaders. Many feminists see women‟s subordination within the civil rights movements as the impetus for the rise of the second wave of feminism (Segal, 1994). Women of this generation, Segal argues, “moved on from seeing sex as liberation to seeking liberated sex” (30). In any case, shifts in moral discourse that supported the rights movements and the sexual revolution had a major impact on dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality and increasingly created discursive room for homosexuality as well. In the 1980‟s Wendy Hollway (1984, 1989) identified three overarching discourses of (hetero)sexuality circulating in Western society. Today her framework is still found to be useful and is used explicitly by many researchers (Braun et al, 2003; Potts, 2002) and implicitly by most. Although I shall develop Hollway‟s ideas more fully in Chapter Four, a brief overview will help to introduce her ideas. Hollway sees three discourses as central to accounts of heterosexual relationships: the male sexual drive discourse, the have/hold discourse, and the permissive discourse. Within the male sexual drive discourse, men are constructed as active, if not aggressive, sexual agents who are biologically driven by their sexuality and are in need of sexual satisfaction – this discourse is related to the „coital imperative‟ in which heterosexual coitus and male  41  orgasm are privileged expressions of sexuality (Segal, 1994; Potts, 2002; Braun et al., 2003). Within the have/hold discourse sex is part of a larger monogamous relational context and women are seen as gatekeepers of their sexuality and enforcers of the romantic ideals attached to „good‟ sex. Within the permissive discourse sex between two consenting partners is encouraged and both women and men are assumed to be sexual agents. Right away contradictory aspects of the first two in relation to the last discourse are apparent. Three questions emerge from this contradiction: In what circumstances are women expected to be gatekeepers responsible for both satisfying men‟s biological needs and maintaining their own claim for access to respectability? How are women subjected to male protection and resources in permanent relationships? And finally, in what circumstances are women allowed to engage freely as sexual agents? The “messy” complexity of the narratives analyzed in later chapters highlights the sexual contradictions young women are forced to negotiate. More recent research on sexuality has come to focus on the contradictions present in dominant discourse (Phillips, 2000; Gonick, 2004; Jackson, 2005; Abel and Fitzgerald, 2006; Braun et al., 2003; Hollway, 1998). One of the most important contradictions experienced by young women today is between discourses of „proper‟ feminine (hetero)sexuality, which retain a focus on Hollway‟s first two discourses, such that male sexuality and agency are privileged, and (apparently gender-neutral) liberal discourses that uphold sexual autonomy and self-determination (Gonick, 2004), and is supported by permissive discourses of sexuality. As Phillips (2000) and many other authors have pointed out, in the last thirty or forty years traditional gender and sexual roles in North American society have changed considerably, allowing for many more freedoms of  42  sexual expression29. At the same time however, many of the sexual risks young women face, such as sexualized violence and sexually transmitted infections (hereafter STI‟s), remain apparent (12). As well, there is the sensationalization and omnipresence of sex in general culture (in music videos, advertising, TV and movies, among other venues), which many view as the „sexualization of culture‟ (Attwood, 2006), but which still conveys the common message that sex is still somehow „bad‟ for girls and women. As Kipnis (2007) writes, “a mainstay of [writing on heterosexuality] is the cautionary tale aimed at dissuading women from having sex, or sex of the wrong kind, or with wrong people. The arguments vary, the politics may very, but the message keeps coming around again” (87). Specifically, we see these warnings around the potential expression of women‟s active desire, as is perhaps evident in a „hooking up‟ culture that various authors have lamented (Kipnis, 2007; Flack et al., 2007). Even if members of this younger generation are rampant hedonists, as Kipnis shows many mainstream writers are quick to assure us that “it‟s hedonism minus the pleasure” (for women at least) (90). Sexual risk and passivity continue to be reiterated through dominant discourse. Even though young women‟s passivity is assumed, in this context of sexual contradictions, they are concurrently positioned “as responsible for the sexual relationship and any problems occurring within it,” as Jackson (2005) found in her study of letters published and responded to in teen magazines (296). Alongside tales of sexual doom and terror for women, the permissive discourse linked to liberal autonomy and freedom is often evident in popular culture, epitomized, for example in Cosmopolitan magazine. At the heart of „Cosmo ideology‟ there is a 29  Here I note that a Foucauldian perspective reminds us that pro-sex feminist discourse circulating in popular culture, while challenging and reworking traditional gendered discourses, also creates its own anxieties and regulatory regimes of truth, often in the name of „emancipation.‟  43  central contradiction wherein “women‟s right to have affairs and even be aggressive both in and out of bed [is proclaimed] – never facing up to the fact that at some point both the boyfriends and [the experts] are going to find their authority directly challenged” (Valverde, 1985: 164). Within the Cosmo approach to sexuality, women are schooled in how to please their male lovers. At the same time, however, they are constructed as being responsible for their own pleasure as well, chided if everything is not perfect for both themselves and their partner. Desire is apparent but activated in „proper‟ female ways that reiterate and validate passivity. „Pro-sex‟ feminism avoids these particular contradictions and plays an important role in making women‟s sexual rights and agency common sense to many young women today. From popular books to pornography, pro-sex feminists such as the Boston Women‟s Collective (Our Bodies, Ourselves), Susie Bright, Carol Queen and Annie Sprinkle and popular culture figures such as Madonna, Kim Cattrall and Ani DiFranco have had a major impact on the possibilities women see as part of their sexual worlds. When discussing discursive constructions of women‟s sexuality such counter-hegemonic influences must be acknowledged: in Chapter Four we will see how the young women I interviewed draw upon and incorporate sexually empowering discourses. Books by journalists on women‟s sexuality, such as Paula Kamen‟s Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution, offer a similar approach to Cosmo, by celebrating this recent „individualist generation‟ (2000:1) and the sexual freedoms available. Kamen argues that young women “feel entitled to conduct their sex lives on their own terms” (2000:2). Young women today are juxtaposed against the „sexually ignorant‟ baby boomers that preceded them. Like Monica Lewinsky, they are free to have  44  sex „like a man,‟ in the sense that young women are able to embrace certain cultural codes of masculine sexuality, such as aggression, independence, and (supposed) autonomy. Like Paglia (1992) and Roiphe (1993), Kamen tries to reinstate women as sexual agents. However, here sexuality is completely exempt from the possibility of cultural constraint. There is arguably some disruptive potential in such celebratory texts. Nevertheless, as Hollway and Jefferson (1998) point out, their weakness lies in assuming that both women and men are rational unitary subjects who engage in sex. My own theoretical work, as will be outlined in Chapter Three, contributes to the critique of this assumption of the sexual subject as rational and unified. Looking back on her pivotal 1988 paper outlining „the missing discourse of desire‟ in sexual health education, Michelle Fine writes: Calls for [women‟s active] desire have, indeed, [been] decoupled from what some of us thought was the object. The trajectories of desire have been mediated and colonized by global capital, medicalization, privatization and the imperial presence of the state, particularly in poor communities (2005: 56-57). Fine wryly acknowledges that people must „be careful what they ask for.‟ Even in the 1980s Valverde already saw how desire was taken up by consumerism and constructed as limitless in popular culture and dominant discourse (1985: 152). This „sexualization of culture,‟ which Attwood argues is a „rather clumsy phrase,‟ denotes a range of values, identities and practices, including more permissive sexual mores, the proliferation of sexual images and texts in popular culture; and the media‟s fondness for sexual controversies and panics (2006: 78-79) All in all, it signals a context wherein sex has become „the Big Story‟ (Plummer, 1995: 4). Relying on Foucault‟s insights in The History of Sexuality (1990), Attwood critically draws our attention to how increasing the  45  discursive articulation of sexuality in dominant discourse “[makes] our sexual practices and identities more available for regulation” (2006:82). Critics of late modern culture are ambivalent about the sexualization of culture. Some see it as potentially subversive and others as a reiteration of traditional forms of discursive regulation. Within the context of the third wave of feminism, under the impact of Cosmo ideology, late modern capitalism, and the sexualization of culture, Hollway (Hollway and Jefferson, 1998) later argued that it is now possible “to talk of a (post)feminist discourse [wherein women position themselves as „the subject of sexual desire rather than its objects‟] as distinct from a permissive one” (412). In this article however, Hollway and Jefferson do make it clear that “in the historical absence of positions which construct women as active sexual subjects, practices attempting to forge such a position - furthest developed in…a (post)feminist discourse - are constantly in conflict with dominant discursive constructions of female (and therefore also of male) sexuality” (1998:418). Like the arguments of Hollway and many others, my discussion focuses on these contradictions inherent in dominant discourse, and examines the discursive space that is opening up for an understanding of women‟s sexual agency that is not simply passive and responsive to men‟s active desire. Assuming women‟s agency and ability to actively negotiate their sexual lives within constraints allows us to explore and offer legitimacy to „new‟ discursive positions for women‟s sexuality, however women choose to express it. The voices of the women I interviewed demanded that I acknowledge their agency and inventiveness. Having explored many dominant discourses around women‟s (hetero)sexuality and before I move on to explore various feminist discourses of women‟s sexuality, it is  46  important to note how the young women I interviewed are culturally and historically positioned in specific ways. As was mentioned, pro-sex feminism has had a considerable impact on the popular culture the surround the young women I interviewed. There is also a considerable legacy of the broader feminist movement in popular culture. In many ways the women I interviewed live in a so-called „post-feminist‟ context where it is often assumed that women have access to the same political, economic, and social privileges as men. Evidence of feminist ideals of sexual and economic equality is readily apparent on television shows such as Sex and the City and The ‘L’ Word. DIY (Do It Yourself) feminist websites and Girl Power cultural artifacts abound. In this context, the women I interviewed have relatively easy access to discourses that support their sexual autonomy, discourses which previous generations of women would have found much more challenging to access. As we will see however, in some ways the post-feminist context has empowered women and in others it has made the challenges and contradictions women face more invisible. While discussing the historical and cultural context that this research occurs within, I will take a moment to discuss the specific context with which the women I interviewed live. All of the women I interviewed were residing in Vancouver, a coastal city and major seaport in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver is one of North America‟s most expensive cities and is regularly voted one of the world‟s most livable cities, but it also is has one of Canada‟s poorest neighbourhoods, the Downtown Eastside, which is home to a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people. Many of the participant‟s experiences as urban, educated, middle class women are likely very different than perhaps rural women‟s experiences or women‟s experiences in the  47  Downtown Eastside, an area that over the last decade has had the highest HIV infection rate among injection drug users in the Western world. Vancouver is the executive city for British Columbia‟s many resource-based industries while also being a centre for cultural media productions such as film, television, video games, and pornography30. Vancouver is very culturally and racially diverse with 51% of the population being categorized as “visible minorities” (Statistics Canada 2007) and, according to the 2006 census, 32% of its residents speaking a language other than English or French (Canada‟s official languages) at home. Given this specific historical and geographical context, the participants‟ experiences may be significantly different that those of rural women‟s in New Brunswick for example and women‟s in previous generations. This being said, some of the women I interviewed grew up in different parts of Canada and a few in other countries. I do not wish to over generalize my population, as in the many ways discussed this is a very specific population, but I find it interesting that despite differences there are also a number of commonalities in participants‟ narratives. Certainly future research will have to explore the extent to which my findings apply to other women‟s experiences.  Feminist Discourses In addition to acknowledging the radical pro-sex influences mentioned above, it is also important to explore how women‟s sexuality has been constructed in current  30  Vancouver is often referred to as Silicon Valley North in acknowledgement of its extensive porn industry.  48  mainstream feminism31. While there are parallels between some strands of feminist discourse and dominant discourse as discussed above, in that they both take up the assumption of women‟s sexual passivity in some way, feminist discourse is distinctive in looking explicitly and critically at (hetero)sexuality. Since the emergence of feminism in the nineteenth century as a political orientation, Vance argues, “feminist theorists have disagreed on how to improve women‟s sexual situation and, even more basically, on what women want sexually” (1984: 1). She identifies two streams of thought within feminist discourse, in general terms: either a „protectionist‟ or „expansionist‟ view of women‟s sexuality (Vance, 1984). Protectionist arguments have sought to protect women from men‟s aggressive lust, “assuming either that women‟s sexuality is intrinsically muted or at least that it cannot flower until greater safety is established” (1). Conversely, expansionist discourse, increasingly seen in the twentieth century, asserts “that women could venture to be sexual in more visible and daring ways, especially as material changes which favored women‟s autonomy in general (wage labour, urbanization, contraception, abortion) also supported sexual autonomy” (1-2). My research supports the argument that protectionist discourse has been maintained in mainstream feminism, as defined in Footnote Thirty One, and that expansionist discourse is privileged by pro-sex feminism. A brief historical overview of feminism is useful to understand the context within which feminist constructions of women‟s sexuality have developed. The first wave of feminism, which most publicly focused on gaining the vote for women and is often referred to as maternal feminism, emphasized the need for women to exercise moral 31  I distinguish „mainstream feminism‟ as the research and theory that is most privileged and visible within feminism, such streams often include the works of White, Western, middle and upper class, heterosexual feminist academics.  49  restraint over themselves. Despite dissenting voices among first wave feminism, such as Emma Goldman, the most privileged view stressed women‟s sexual purity and moral superiority while highlighting these „strengths‟ as the premise for why women should be given the vote (Segal, 1994, 80-81). In the early twentieth century, feminists like Christabel Pankhurst struggled for „Votes for Women and Chastity for Men,‟ thereby activating two hopes, one for women‟s political inclusion and for the end of the „scourge‟ of venereal disease. It was in the second wave of feminism, arising out of and with the social movements of the 1960s, that sexuality became a more fiercely contested public issue among feminists and that heterosexuality as an institution specifically came under public scrutiny. Out of the feminist-consciousness raising groups of the 1970s, a discourse of sexuality emerged as a central issue in women‟s lives (Segal, 1994: 33). Women‟s sexuality came to be understood as something that was defined and controlled by men. Feminists sought to redefine sexuality, emphasizing women‟s sexual autonomy and the right to control their own bodies, asserting a positive sexuality within “a society at best ambivalent, and more often antagonistic, toward any such notion” (33). Some feminists then tried to seek a somehow „essential‟ or „natural‟ female sexuality that had hitherto been repressed, manipulated, and perverted by patriarchal society. “This means that women‟s sexuality – often unthinkingly presumed heterosexual – could be thought of in the singular, and that distinctions between heterosexuality and lesbianism did not at first come to the fore” (34). Here Segal argues that we see a significant stress on developing new „feminist‟ proscriptions around women‟s sexuality to replace old patriarchal ones, a milieu in which Anne Koedt‟s The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm (1970) was able to gain  50  supremacy. The possibility of women‟s „legitimate or authentic‟ heterosexual pleasure became increasingly questionable. As Segal claims, “the tendency simply to blame men, which was soon to overtake the passion to reform them, has always been present in feminist thinking and culture – at least , within the white feminist perspectives which have dominated women‟s liberation movements in both Britain and the US” (49). It is necessary to note that many Black feminists, lesbian and heterosexual, are aware of the racist manipulation of rape charges and have challenged the alienation of men that was evident in mainstream middle-class, White feminism (59). The first public split within feminism occurred in the 1970s and was between lesbian and heterosexual feminists. Stevi Jackson refers to this as „the challenge of political lesbianism‟ (1999). During this period it was argued that regardless of one‟s physical desires, women could and should focus all their resources, desires and support only on other women, hence „political‟ lesbianism. Adrienne Rich‟s influential essay, „Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience‟ (1980), was key to this period of feminism because, rather than demonizing heterosexual women as dupes of patriarchy, as did some streams of political lesbianism, she focused her critique on the institution of heterosexuality. Rich‟s voice to some degree disrupted the essentialist assumptions of the lesbian/heterosexual debates. Elsewhere in this skirmish it was thought that women “who had sex with men were colluding in their own oppression and any pleasure so gained a form of masochism,” to which “heterosexual feminists responded with a mixture of outrage and guilty defensiveness” (Jackson, 1999:14). The reverberation of these debates is still being felt today. As we will see, the implicit assumption that heterosexuality is somehow bad for women persists in feminist sexual health research.  51  Out of the hetero/lesbian conflict arose the „sex wars‟ of the 1980s. Jackson argues that the sex wars focused on, though cannot be reduced to, issues concerning sexualized violence and pornography, and on exploring how sexuality had been constructed and defined from a masculine perspective (1999:16). Two areas of debate were central: first, the debate around pornography, censorship32 and legitimacy of „kinky sex,‟ most often sadomasochistic sex in the lesbian community, as sexual expression, and second, the pleasure /danger debate. Carole Vance‟s collection of essays, Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality (1984)33, is one of the key texts of this debate and remains influential today. Vance opens the text with the following statement, “The tension between sexual danger and sexual pleasure is a powerful one in women‟s lives. Sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression, and danger as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure and agency” (1). Here, developing pro-sex feminist arguments, Vance disrupts the overemphasis on danger in much feminist theory which, she argues, “runs the risk of making speech about sexual pleasure taboo” with the result that “sexual pleasure in whatever form [becomes] a great guilty secret among feminists” (7). This text was influential in reminding its readers, then and today, that feminism “cannot create a body of knowledge that is true to women‟s lives, if sexual pleasure cannot be spoken about safely, honestly, and completely” (7). This collection does not seek in any way to “weaken the critique of danger.” It acknowledges the hugely important impact that radical feminism, which understands men‟s oppression of women as the first oppression of any group over another, has made in addressing domestic and  32  Ironically, this feminist campaign for the censorship of pornography was supported by the religious right and became the most publicized, dominating perceptions of feminism in the 1980s. 33 This book came out of a conference at Barnard College in April 1982 called „Towards a Politics of Sexuality.‟  52  sexualized violence, and in mobilizing resources for women‟s shelters and rape crisis centres. Nevertheless, the contributors to Pleasure and Danger “wished to expand the analysis of pleasure, and to draw on women‟s energy to create a movement that speaks as powerfully in favor of sexual pleasure as it does against sexual danger” (3). From my perspective, the importance of this collection‟s contribution cannot be overstated. The second wave of feminism had shown that “gross and public departures from „good‟ woman status, such as lesbianism, promiscuity, or non-traditional heterosexuality, still invite – and are thought to justify – violation” (4). If fear led to inaction and constrictions in women‟s personal lives, Vance et al. were invaluable in showing that fear also constricted our theoretical engagement with sexuality. If left to fear in feminist theory, as elsewhere, “everything is attributed to men, thereby inflating male power and impoverishing ourselves” (5). Our silences “leave the irrationality and volatility of sex open to manipulation by others, easily mobilized in campaigns against sexual deviance, degeneration, and pollution” (5). Vance posits questions that still need to be asked of feminist research and theory today: If sexual desire is coded as male, women begin to wonder if they are ever really sexual. Do we distrust our passion, thinking it perhaps not our own, but the construction of patriarchal culture? Can women be sexual actors? Can we act on our own behalf? Or are we purely victims, whose efforts must be directed at resisting male deprecations in a patriarchal culture? Must our passion await expression for a safer time? When will that time come? Will any of us remember what her passion was? Does exceeding the bounds of femininity – passivity, helplessness, and victimization – make us deeply uncomfortable? Do we fear that if we act on our most deeply felt sexual passion that we will no longer be women? Do we wish to bind ourselves together into a sisterhood which seeks to curb male lust but does little to promote female pleasure? (1984:7, emphasis added). Vance‟s questions raise the important issue of how basic understandings about gender and how/who people are in the world permeate, and indeed found, even the most critical  53  stances available. Does building a theoretical body of literature that does not assume women‟s passivity somehow threaten the very notion of what is „woman‟? By failing to consider the possibility of active female desire, in its myriad practices, some feminist theory is limited in its ability to disrupt and resist the overarching (masculine) perspective. Following Vance, an increasing number of authors (Valverde, 1985; Segal, 1994) have considered these questions and shown how feminist theory continues to be limited by phallocentric thinking. Again, it is important to note that I argue that the tendency to focus on danger is most prevalent in the mainstream of feminism and I distinguish this from the radical (expansionist) orientations of pro-sex feminist discourse. Interestingly, few of the women I interviewed verbally identified themselves as feminists, usually instead activating individualist “gender-neutral” discourses of sexual rights that are only partially informed by pro-sex third wave feminism. Perhaps this is illustrative of the split between women‟s everyday lives and feminist discourse that Segal (1994) has argued has occurred. In response to the theoretical inadequacies she saw, in 1985 Valverde proposed seeing sexual activity and passivity as two moments of a dialectic in order to move beyond the feminist impasse that (re)positions women as passive sexual victims of men‟s inherent aggressiveness. Later, in 1994, Segal sought to reclaim sexual agency, specifically for heterosexual women, which she felt would “revive a richer and more inspiring feminist culture and politics” (xi). Her response was to deconstruct the notion of female sexual passivity and receptivity and male aggression and activity. Segal reminded us, again, that “the difficulties of overturning phallocentric ways of thinking about sex are so pervasive that it is not really surprising that in attempting to avoid them we often,  54  unwittingly, seem to add to their legitimacy” (41). In addition to disrupting dichotomous thinking about sexual passivity and agency, Segal also questioned the unity, rationality and coherence of the liberal (sexual) subject. The liberal (sexual) subject is assumed in dominant discourse, feminist theory and sexual health research. Important contributions can be made to theorizing young women‟s (hetero)sexual subjectivity if we no longer assume the liberal (sexual) subject. I elaborate on this argument in Chapter Three, choosing to focus on a poststructural and psychoanalytical view of subjectivity. In 1984, as part of Vance‟s collection of essays, Hollibaugh vehemently asserted, “[feminism] must be an angry, uncompromising movement that is just as insistent about our right to fuck, our right to the beauty of our individual female desires, as it is concerned with the images and structures that distort it” (409). This claim is as important today as it was over 20 years ago. Some feminist theorists are still trying to “move toward something: toward pleasure, agency and self-definition” (Vance, 1984: 24). I will show that a reliance on male and liberal-centric assumptions about sexuality, and women‟s passivity specifically, and about the coherent, rational subject, delimits and circumvents efforts to theorize women‟s (hetero)sexual agency.  Discourses of Sexual Health Sexual health has long been an important issue in dominant discourses around sexuality more broadly. Valverde argues: In Western capitalist societies since the eighteenth century there has been a tendency to equate sexual health with general social health, with „culture‟ and „civilization,‟ while sexual „degeneracy‟ has been equated with the decline of empires and the breakdown of civilization (1985: 147).  55  The connections between sexual and social health can been seen in the eugenics movement and in first wave feminism‟s call for women‟s „moral (sexual) restraint‟ during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as much as it is evident in later panics about and demonization of unwed Black teenaged mothers in the U.S. (Fine, 1988:42). The sexual health literature I position myself in is connected to dominant discourse and feminist theory in a number of ways. Like feminist theory, in the attempt to understand young women‟s sexuality feminist-informed sexual health research attempts to challenge dominant understandings of sexuality by identifying how dominant discourse delimits young women‟s ability to be sexually self-determining. Also, like feminist theory, it gets caught up in sometimes reiterating and reinforcing the very discourses it seeks to disrupt. Above I have shown how mid-twentieth century sexological researchers, like Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, contributed to dominant understandings of sexuality. In research by Masters and Johnson, and later in feministinformed sexual health research, there was an increasing emphasis on women‟s sexual independence, often even outside of the marital unit, and on their responsibility for their sexual pleasure and health (Segal, 1994:103). Invariably, the presence of this popularized stream of research, promoting egalitarian heterosexual relationships and women‟s sexual agency, did empower some women to assert themselves sexually (103). However, women also became increasingly responsible not only for both their partner‟s and their own pleasure, but also for limiting negative aspects of heterosexuality, such as unplanned/unwanted pregnancy and, particularly after the discovery of HIV/AIDS in the  56  1980s, the spread of STIs. As I show in this thesis, the multiplication of female responsibility is a common theme in dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality. Shere Hite was one of the most influential early feminist-informed sexology researchers. Many have praised the 1976 Hite Report: A Nationwide Survey of Female Sexuality as a pivotal exploration of women‟s sexuality, a subject long shrouded in silence. While its value is significant, the Hite Report also embodies many of the problems present in feminist theorizing of female (hetero)sexuality. Segal (1994) claims that Hite‟s work, like that of other sexologists, is orgasm-centric, and that, more importantly, it denies and brushes over women‟s accounts of (hetero)sexual pleasure, specifically around penetration (106). It is telling that, under a section titled “Sexual Slavery,” Hite informs us that 87% of the women she studied do enjoy coital sex34. Clitoral stimulation was privileged as the „proper‟ site of female pleasure and “Hite‟s all too blatant bias has served as a model for almost all subsequent feminist research on heterosexuality, which continues to take for granted women‟s negative experiences of vaginal penetration” (Segal, 1994:109). My focus is not on the types of pleasure women find in their (hetero)sexual experiences per se. Rather, I hope to point out that assumptions of risk and lack in relation to men continue to found and permeate research on and theorizing about heterosexuality. From this perspective it becomes apparent that women‟s stories of pleasure, their understandings of their desire, and their agency are often glossed over and unaccounted for in much sexual health research. Segal sums up much feminist-informed research in claiming “[the] conspicuous absence in all sexological writing-its inability to theorize desire-weakens the work” (113). 34  Interestingly in a later study with men (1981) Hite found a similar eroticization of being penetrated but, as Segal points out, she dismisses the possibility the perhaps (hetero)sexual pleasure is more complicated than the orgasmic focus of sexological research.  57  If the denial of women‟s active sexual agency and desire is apparent in feminist sexual health research, so too is this „absence‟ apparent in sexual health discourses as they are reiterated in sexual education in the classroom. Indeed, one of the key works on young women‟s sexual health education is Michelle Fine‟s (1988) Sexuality, Schooling and Adolescent Females: The Missing Discourse of Desire. I have outlined the assumption of the impossibility of women‟s active, „healthy‟ desire in dominant discourse and in much feminist discourse as well. In this context Fine‟s findings are perhaps not surprising. Fine‟s work is pivotal in articulating this silence, as it relates to sexual health education, and in opening it up to a critical gaze. Fine shows that in “an unacknowledged social ambivalence about female sexuality,” young women are “[educated] primarily as the potential victim of male sexuality, she represents no subject in her own right” (30). Specifically, Fine identifies four streams of discourse within the classroom. The first, „sexuality as violence,‟ is most conservative and draws a direct connection between youth sexuality, violence and young women‟s exploitation. The second, „sexuality as victimization,‟ does not depict sexuality as inherently violent, but teaches young women, and increasingly young men, about “their vulnerability to potential male predators” (31). In this stream of thought, young people, predominantly young women, need to be schooled in protecting themselves from diseases, pregnancy and “being used.” The focus here is on “Saying no.” As we will see, this theme is the goal of much sexual health education today. Maia remembers being told “have guy friends, it‟s ok, just be careful” in school, and many of the other women I interviewed were emphatic about how “useless” their formalized sexual health education had been. In sexual health discourses generally, as in dominant and feminist discourses, women are  58  again positioned as lacking in relation to men and assumed to be at risk from them and without their own active desire. Fine goes on to identify a third discourse, „sexuality as individual morality.‟ Here, there is a slight allowance for young women‟s sexual subjectivity because their decisions are valued and supported, but only “as long as the decisions made are for premarital abstinence” (32). The language of self-control and self-respect predominates. Lastly, “a discourse of desire,” is present only as a “whisper” within institutionalized sites of sexual learning, and “[when] spoken, it is tagged with reminders of „consequences‟-emotional, physical, moral, reproductive, and/or financial” (33). Often a discourse of desire appears “only as an interruption [and has] faded rapidly into the discourse of disease-warning about the dangers of sexuality” (38). While she finds a discourse of desire to be missing in institutional settings, Fine identifies a discourse of desire circulating in less formalized situations and in the girls‟ understandings of themselves. Again, it seems that women are trying to speak something that dominant discourse, and to a lesser degree feminist and sexual health discourse, is unwilling to account for and engage with in significant ways. Women are again positioned primarily as gatekeepers who “say „yes‟ or „no‟” to male sexual agency rather than acknowledged as sexual agents who enact their own agency amidst constraint. Fine argues that unlike official school discourse, “sexual meanings voiced by female adolescents defy such classification” (35). She found that the young women she spoke with, predominantly low-income high school aged Black and Latina women, considered fears and passions “in the same breath.” Their “struggle to untangle issues of gender, power and sexuality underscores that, for them, notions of sexual negotiation cannot be separated from sacrifice and nurturance” (35). Fine offers an  59  increasingly complex view of the desiring female subject, which opened the door for later critical work. As Fine cogently argues: Few voices of female sexual agency can be heard. The language of victimization and its underlying concerns – „Say No,‟ put a brake on his sexuality, don‟t encourage – ultimately deny young women the right to control their own sexuality by providing no access to a legitimated position of sexual subjectivity (1988:36-37). Despite Fine‟s invaluable insights into the discursive limitation of young women‟s sexual subjectivity, both in dominant discourse and within sexual health education - not to mention within feminist-informed research - we continue to see that women are positioned as lacking and at risk of male sexuality. The WRAP (Women, Risk and AIDS) project, undertaken by Holland et al. between 1988 and 1990, illustrates a currently prevalent tendency in mainstream feminist sexual health research. The WRAP project is by far the most influential work on young women‟s (hetero)sexual activity and their understandings of themselves as sexual beings. This massive British study comes out of feminist-influenced sexual health researchers‟ concern with young women‟s continued „inability‟ to translate their sexuality education35, which occurs within broader discourses of gender „equality,‟ into concrete sexual health and safety increases. Specifically, they situate their work with a context in which “the incidence of HIV infection and AIDS among non drug injecting heterosexuals is currently low in the UK, [but] epidemiological evidence suggests that this may be short lived” (1990:336). Women‟s bodies are constructed as the crux of this potential increase in the non-druginjecting heterosexual population. This highly influential study comes out of the feministinspired focus on the question of how young women are delimited in their efforts to 35  Holland et al. document the limited extent to which this type of formal education occurs, finding it to be “too little, too late, too technical” (1994b: 65). They claim that this lack of education is one of the factors contributing to young women‟s sexual disempowerment.  60  protect themselves from STIs/HIV and unplanned pregnancy, as well as in their efforts to exert their own agency. Holland et al. explore “what makes it difficult for women to practice safer sex” (1994a: 23). They “argue that if we are to understand young people‟s sexual relationships we must attend to the power relations within which sexual identities, beliefs and practices are embedded” (1990: 336). As part of broader feminist efforts to empower young women, this study seeks to document the limits women face in asserting their sexual health and safety within patriarchal society in order to begin to overcome these obstacles. It would be surprising to find a related work that did not directly quote and cite one of Holland et al.‟s many articles on the project. In praise, Stevi Jackson writes: This study…is probably the most thorough and sophisticated research to have been carried out on young women‟s sexuality to date, based on indepth interviews with 148 British women aged 16-21 from a variety of class and ethnic backgrounds, and followed up with similar interviews with 46 young men. The findings have been reported in over 40 publications, culminating in the book Male in the Head, which draws together many of their findings and ideas. (1999:28) While I do not in any way question the validity of the WRAP project, either methodologically or theoretically, I do feel that it is important to compliment such research with additional research that focuses on how women are also discursively positioned in ways that do not merely reiterate gendered inequality. The titles Male in the Head and the Women, Risk and AIDS project suggest that limited attention was given to young women‟s sexual agency. Holland et al‟s argument that young women internalize patriarchal culture (1990, 1994b, 1998, 2003), crippling their ability to care for their sexual health and their pleasure, is an important one in a supposedly post-feminist context where such inequality is assumed to have disappeared. The WRAP project is invaluable,  61  but there needs to be space for not only exploring the dangers and risks that young women face, but also for their active desire and negotiations of sexual agency within structures of inequality. While there is some evidence of young women‟s own desire and agency in their research, the themes of risk, constraint, and servility toward men are central, while resistance is usually relegated to the conclusion (Holland et al. 1994b). The general uptake of the WRAP project findings by the feminist sexual health community often emphasizes and highlights their negative findings. In Holland et al‟s myriad publications on the WRAP project they argue, in various ways, “that young women‟s limited sexual knowledge, their alienation from their own desires, and the concomitant lack of control in sexual encounters places them at particular risk in relation to HIV infection” (1994b:62). I would not question that women experience disproportionate risk of HIV, but feel we need to problematize the assertion that young women are always alienated from their own desire. If we are trying to build feminist-inspired, empowering sexual health education policies and approaches which are relevant to young women‟s lives and which will make an impact on their behaviour and understandings, we must engage young women not only as sexual objects within patriarchal relations but as sexual agents actively negotiating the complex intersections of gender, sexuality, class, racialization, and ability. In my interviews, Persephone was particularly derisive of sexual health teachers who refused to acknowledge her right to be sexual and remembered herself as a youth wondering about their “gall” to do so. It is not surprising that WRAP‟s findings are privileged, given the larger dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality (particularly those around women‟s sexual passivity and men‟s sexual aggressiveness) that circulate in society. There is also a  62  reiteration of the assumption that women are at risk within heterosex because they are often, according to Holland et al., “constrained by the confusion of their notions of sexuality with their expectations of romance, love and caring” (1990:340). The discursively naturalized connection between women and their emotions in dominant discourse is common. Given the positioning of women as caring nurturers within dominant discourse it is important to explore how ideas of love and romance situate hetero sex; however, we must not be limited to assuming that women‟s behaviours and self-understandings are dictated by their emotions and desire to foster lifetime relationships with men. Exploring what is not working in women‟s sexual lives because their desire is often orientated to men‟s sexual needs and pleasures in patriarchal society, as Holland et al. do, is productive, but we must also pursue research that highlights and explores women‟s active desire. The WRAP project also perpetuates the belief that men‟s sexual interests are diametrically opposed and antagonistic to women‟s, with the authors claiming that “it appears that often the main thing standing between young women and safe sex is the men they are with” (1990:347). Privileging antagonistic heterosexual assumptions and women‟s vulnerability in our research is not the only way to account for young women‟s experiences of sex with men. If researchers and educators are trying to make sexuality education relevant to young women‟s lives, they must reflect all aspects of women‟s desire and experience, not only experiences of constraint. I acknowledge the value of research efforts such as the WRAP project but in this dissertation, which builds on others‟ work (Phillips, 2000; Tolman, 2002; Allen, 2003a, 2003b, 2004; Abel and Fitzgerald, 2006; Higgins, 2007), I move beyond and compliment mainstream feminist  63  sexual health research that at times reiterates and legitimates the dominant discourse of (hetero)sexuality. Only in listening to how young women speak about the complexities and contradictions that they experience can feminist researchers build relevant theories of (hetero)sexual subjectivity, theories that speak to young women and their experiences rather than alienate and discredit young women‟s stories. In the mid 1990s Michelle Fine (with Pat Macpherson) continued to talk to young women with diverse backgrounds to delve deeper into their personal „discourses of desire.‟ This research causes Fine and Macpherson to acknowledge “how dated the academic literatures were, how powerful feminism had been in shaping [young women‟s] lives and the meanings they made of them, and yet how inadequately their feminism dealt with key issues of identity and peer relations” (1994:219). They find that “the concerns of white elite women are represented as the concerns of [adolescent girls]” (220, emphasis in original). By accounting for our own assumptions as feminist researchers we can be more attentive to young women‟s sexual stories in order to revitalize a relevant body of feminist literature.  Where I Stand The discourses available to us both enable and constrain what we can articulate, experience and understand. I have outlined three distinct but interconnected discourses on (hetero)sexuality: dominant, feminist and sexual health education36. These discourses inevitably enable and constrict both what young women can know and say about their sexuality as well as what researchers ask and how they understand young women‟s sexual subjectivity. Reviewing what feminist sexual health researchers have learned in 36  I will return to a more detailed discussion of sexual health education in Chapter Eight.  64  the last two decades, Fine (2005) asserts that we now have much evidence for the constraints entailed in gendered discourses of (hetero)sex. Nevertheless, Fine argues, “desire denied insists; it carves underground irrigation systems of radical possibility” (Fine, 2005:55, emphasis in original). I will build on Fine‟s and others injunction to develop, support, and legitimate a discourse of desire in young women‟s lives and in their sexual experiences so that this discourse can inform and produce alternative theories of subjectivity that do not focus exclusively on young women‟s sexual passivity and risk. At the same time, I question and deconstruct the assumption of a liberal subject that directs and rationally engages in sexual activity. Following Butler, I maintain: The fact that desire is not fully determined corresponds with the psychoanalytic understanding that sexuality is never fully captured by any regulation. Rather, it is characterized by displacement, it can exceed regulation, take on new forms in response to regulation, even turn around and make it sexy. In this sense, sexuality is never fully reducible to an „effect‟ of this or that operation of regulatory power. This is not the same as saying sexuality is, by nature, free and wild. On the contrary, it emerges precisely as an improveisational possibility within a field of constraint (2004:15). In Chapter Three I develop further how dominant, feminist and sexual health discourses are upset by poststructural and psychoanalytic insights concerning sexual subjectivity and sexual health. Above I have positioned this dissertation within three key discourses which have produced and constrained our current understandings of young women‟s sexual subjectivity. By accounting for desire in women‟s narratives and including psychoanalytic and poststructural insights into subjectivity, I move beyond the assumption that young women‟s „brains turn to mush‟ as they attempt to navigate their sexual desires and “reconcile enjoying [hetero sex] under the current conditions” (Kipnis, 2007:89). As Kipnis scathingly and insightfully notes:  65  There are many conflicting stories circulating about what women are getting up to in bed, and how much they‟re really enjoying it, and whether proclaiming enjoyment is even a reliable indicator of anything when it‟s a woman doing the proclaiming; we are the sex after all, notorious for faking enjoyment (2007: 87). Listening to what women want rather than telling them what their sexuality should look like is a productive way to understand how young women negotiate pleasure, desire, and connection with an intimate partner within gendered, sexualized, racialized and classed structures. Thaweesit argues, “[ambivalence] and tensions predominate in women‟s verbal expressions and silences whenever their actual sexual behaviour is incongruent with certain authoritative… discourses” (2004: 206). She believes that these ambivalences, tensions and silences are central to theorizing sexual subjectivity. In a similar way, I explore ambivalence and contradiction in young women‟s narratives and silences, addressing the complexities of how we understand ourselves and engage as sexual agents. In a period that sees increasing rates of HIV and other STIs among young women (Potts, 2002; Health Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca), it seems pressingly important to develop “research and political strategies that illuminate the textures of women‟s lived experiences, rather than smoothing them over, [which] may help fuel efforts to critique and transform existing problematic discourses” (Phillips, 2000:210, emphasis in original). When addressing the complex, often contradictory, textures of women‟s lived experiences, our research and political strategies must at the same time account for young women‟s sexual agency and pleasure. In the next chapter, I outline the theoretical approaches I feel extend beyond the understandings of young women‟s sexuality currently available in dominant, mainstream feminist and sexual health education discourses.  66  Chapter Three: Theory and Methodology - Questioning the Subject and the Interview Process As noted above, I approached the interviews I conducted with serious reservations about the ability of much of current dominant, feminist, and sexual health education discourses to adequately account for young women‟s sexuality. On seeing the complex and at times contradictory character of the narratives, I knew I would have to look outside of the mainstream feminist sociological (tool)box in order to develop a richer understanding of what the women were saying. I could not simply highlight the coherence of their narratives and ignore the moments when narratives fell in on themselves. In this chapter, I outline the theoretical and methodological approaches I found useful in conducting interviews and analyzing the narratives. In this dissertation I explore young women‟s negotiation of dominant discourses of gendered (hetero)sexuality and their understandings of themselves as sexual beings and actors, which constitutes their sexual subjectivity. Following Currie et al. (2007:393) I use the word „negotiate (ing) (tion)‟ in a way similar to how they use the word positioning to capture the complexities of subjectivity and to acknowledge our engagement with discourse and subject formation as an ongoing accomplishment. Methodologically, I approach these issues by conducting semi-structured open endedinterviews covering a variety of topics, while allowing the interview to flow as the participants saw fit. From a theoretical perspective I perform a poststructurally- and psychoanalytically-informed discursive analysis of these 26 interviews. Following Weedon‟s outline of feminist poststructuralism, I focus on discursive practices, “analyzing how they are structured, what power relations they produce and reproduce, where there are resistances and where we might look for weak points open to challenge  67  and transformation” (1987:136). I see everyday (hetero)sexual encounters as “taking place within a social context shaped by competing discourses of heterosexuality. [These] discourses are seen to enable, and limit the possibilities of, [such] material-discursive practices” (Braun et al, 2003:238). My use of the concept subjectivity takes Adams‟ (1997) definition as its point of departure: subjectivity is to be understood as both the conscious and unconscious aspects of the individual. It refers to the way we understand who we are in the world and how we take our place in it. We make this knowledge „ours,‟ not through the revelations of our „true selves,‟ but via our negotiations through and within discourse – regulated systems of what can be expressed and said. Our discursive attachments let us bring meaning to the world around us and to our place within it. They offer us subject positions through which we come to understand who and what we are. Our location at the confluence of a variety of discourses makes possible the range of ways we have of expressing ourselves, as well as meanings we assign to our expressions (15-16). Once subjectivity is defined there still remains the task of deciding how to best „get at‟ subjectivity analytically. As mentioned, when I began to analyze the interview narratives, I felt that many of my mainstream feminist sociological tools, perhaps focusing on how young women‟s sexuality is constructed within current capitalist relations of ruling, or focusing exclusively on gendered sexual inequality, failed to fully account for the complexity I saw in the narratives. I needed an alternative analytical vocabulary. Many theorists have been drawn to psychoanalytic theory when struggling to understand subjectivity (Sondergaard, 2002). I became increasingly drawn to a psychoanalytic framework for thinking through subjectivity. While some theorists question the „compatibility‟ of using psychoanalytic and poststructural analytic approaches to sociological explorations of subjectivity (Sondergaard, 2002), important theoretical work such as Judith Butler‟s (1993, 1997, 1999, 2004), Iris Marion Young‟s (1990), and  68  Jacqueline Rose‟s (1986) shows the productive and illuminating possibilities of using psychoanalytic insights to explore sociological issues of power, inequality, and subjectivity. In this chapter I outline how I have combined a Foucauldian-informed poststructuralism, following McLaren‟s (2002) exploration of subjectivity, with psychoanalytic insights into subjectivity (Hollway, 1989) in order to explore how the sexual subject „comes to be.‟ I use a discourse analysis that illuminates the discourses emergent in young women‟s sexual narratives alongside psychoanalytic concepts to theorize young women‟s sexual subjectivity in new ways. In this chapter I outline the theoretical orientations that guide my analysis, which in turn affected my use of interviewing as a methodological tool. From a political perspective, behind both my methodological and theoretical approaches, my orientation is (poststructurally informed) anti-oppression feminism. In taking up poststructural and feminist insights, I remain hopeful that structures of inequality can be reworked. Thus I approach young women as active, innovative sexual and gendered agents who are negotiating gendered norms. My task is to analyze the inherent instability of gendered norms and the resulting possibilities for transgression and subversion created by the negotiation of these norms. I explore moments when young women‟s voices interrupt dominant, feminist and sexual health discourses, highlighting the complexities that already exist in experiences of sexuality but that are discursively silenced in a context that denies women‟s desire. Both in my method and theoretical approach, I focus on language use. I asked the participants questions about their sexual experiences. I do not apply an unwarrented label  69  of „truth‟ to their words but rather see their words as manifestations of the available and competing discourses of (hetero)sexuality that they are negotiating. I unpack how the women articulate and understand their selves and their experiences, their sexual subjectivity, in order to explore the processes constituting this subjectivity (Hollway, 1989). Following Weedon, I remain cognizant of the fact that “language, in the form of socially and historically specific discourses, cannot have any social and political effectivity except in and through the actions of individuals who become its bearers by taking up the forms of subjectivity and the meanings and values which it proposes and acting upon them” (1987:34). In this way, I see the language of my participants as a window into how various discourses delimit and enable different courses of action, choices, understandings, and experiences. While poststructural and psychoanalytic37 insights show us how “the individual subject‟s misrecognition of herself as the true author of her thoughts, speech and writing gives the articulation of subjectivity in language the temporary appearance of fixity”, I maintain that “the temporary fixing of meaning is always precarious” (Weedon, 1987:105). Understood this way, discursively articulated meaning is a great ally to feminist efforts to rework gendered discourses of (hetero)sexuality. From a psychoanalytic perspective we will also see how the imagined unity of subjectivity is betrayed in language (Grosz, 1990:59). Once again, the semistructured interview is a productive methodological tool to address the theoretical issues I discuss in this dissertation. While the women invariably experience and attempt to articulate themselves (their subjectivity) as coherent and stable, a common feature of late modern Western subjectivity (Hollway, 1989; Davies et al., 2006), a process I explore in  37  I will illustrate below how I distinguish poststructural insights into language and discourse from psychoanalytical insights into (social) psychic processes.  70  Chapter Four, there is a concurrent betrayal of this coherence in language, which I will examine from a psychoanalytic perspective in Chapters Five, Six and Seven. In exploring both experiences and language in my methodological and theoretical approaches I seek to address the two sites wherein change can and must be realized.  Theoretical Upsets As McLaren (2002) argues, Michel Foucault‟s theoretical work offers a useful starting point for theorizing the connection between discourse and subjectivity. Foucault‟s reconceptualization of power in The History of Sexuality (1990) has become important for feminist examinations of women‟s sexuality that both acknowledge women‟s agency and avoid structural determinism. Rather than theorizing social power as a function of sovereignty or as resulting from monarchical rule over others, Foucault argues that we must reconceptualize power „without the king,‟ and thus as a multiplicity of forces immanent in a variety of spheres. Since power is always contested, there are multiple, though differently authorized, discourses through which power circulates. Different forms of power are interlinked within contradictory and fragmented strategies, but often form comprehensive systems. Power is constantly reproduced and reiterated at every moment but also constantly contested, which is Foucault‟s central insight. He clarifies that power should be seen “as a dispersion of centers from which discourses [emanate], a diversification of their [discursive] forms, and the complex deployment of the networks connecting them” (1990: 34). Exploring discourses within networks of power becomes important in understanding the strategic role of sexuality and our participation within these networks.  71  With regard to sexuality specifically, Foucault argues that since the Victorian period we have experienced an increasing inventiveness and “multiplication of discourses” surrounding sexuality. His argument challenges the belief that during and since the Victorian period Western society has been characterized by sexual repression, a belief which he terms the Repressive Hypothesis. This multiplication of discourses has been supported by the increasing examination of the conscience via confessions of various forms and the advent of medical technologies of sex. Foucault argues that since the Victorian era sexuality has been subject to an “incitement to discourse.” The number of discourses used to discuss sexuality has increased exponentially, resulting in a „speechifying of sexuality‟ in everyday life, while authorized speech has been relegated largely to judico-medical „experts‟ and their discourses. Thus for Foucault the history of sexuality is really a history of the proliferation of discourses, which hold so much power precisely because they are construed as „speaking the truth of‟ the subject. Poststructural feminist Chris Weedon elaborates on Foucault‟s argument by exploring how discourses “are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They also constitute the „nature‟ of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern” (1987, 108). Weedon‟s work is useful in developing a Foucaudian discursive analysis that illuminates our understanding of sexual subjectivity. Examining which discourses women activate to understand themselves as sexual agents and how they negotiate and manipulate dominant discourses of women‟s passivity acknowledges them as active, desiring agents in the context of power that often masks much of its effects. The interviews show how various types of discourses inform participants‟ sexual subjectivity and how discourses are differentially drawn on and  72  authorized in the interviewees‟ understandings of themselves as sexual beings, resulting in being both enabled and delimited by myriad discourses. Sexuality then is an excellent site to explore power because “discourses on sex did not multiply apart from or against power, but in the very space and as the means of its exercise” (Weedon, 1987: 32). In the introduction to this chapter, I outlined Adams‟ (1997) understanding of subjectivity. I now move beyond this definition with a critique informed by Foucault‟s concept of „subjectification‟ (assujetissement), which offers an understanding of how our subjectivity is structured. Using Foucault‟s concept of „subjectification,‟ I explore how various discourses have the effect of both limiting and enabling various ways that women understand and thus experience their sexuality. Subjectification, then, is one of the processes through which theorists can understand sexual subjectivity (insofar as the young women understand themselves and their actions in the world, their „me,‟ within the context of subjectification). I also examine how the discourses young women have access to, and the social structures they are surrounded by, also provide frameworks (or valid „storylines‟) for how they can act and understand themselves as sexual agents. Foucault (2003) writes that much of his work focuses on how a human being becomes a Subject. This is the process of subjectification. Subjectification is a form of power, a power that is immanent to the person precisely because it is part of how one understands oneself („who I am‟). He writes, “this form of power that applies itself to immediate everyday life categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him that he must recognize and others have to recognize in him” (2003: 130). Via subjectification we are thus both “tied to [our] own identit[ies] by a conscience or self-knowledge” and subject to others by control and  73  dependence (130). „Truth‟ and the truth of a subject („who I am,‟ our subjectivity) “[are] only produced by virtue of multiple forms of constraint” (316). Thus the truth of one‟s self is “achieved” as we are subjected by multiple discursive restraints. This process is referred to as subjection. Via subjection we are both “tied to [our] own identit[ies] by a conscience or self-knowledge” and subject to others by control and dependence (130).The power of subjectification is such that “the one over whom power is exercised is recognized and maintained to the very end as a subject who acts; and that, faced with a relationship of power, a whole field of responses, reactions, results and possible interventions may open up” (138). Thus “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only in so far as they are „free‟”; in other words “freedom must exist for power to be exerted” (139). The subject must have “some possible mobility, even a chance of escape,” unlike a chained slave (an example that Foucault uses) (139). People must experience themselves as free. The „me‟ of subjectivity, via the process of subjectification, is understood as how I make my choices and how I am free to define who I am within constraints that we are subject to but which, at the same time, offer points of resistance and transgression. Adding some psychoanalytic insights to Foucault‟s work, Butler further clarifies that: subjection is neither simply the domination of a subject nor its production, but designates a certain kind of restriction in production, a restriction without which the production of the subject cannot take place, a restriction through which that production takes place. (1997:84, emphasis in original) In other words, the discourses we have access to may limit our understandings of ourselves – for example, that women are sexually passive, that gender is purely dichotomous and oppositional, and so on - but they also provide a subject position to  74  speak from, without which we would not be intelligible or authoritative (to varying degrees). Such subjects have the potential in turn to rework the very discourses that limit them precisely because the process of subjectification produces a „me.‟ As Judith Butler writes, the concept of subjectification allows us to account for gendered and sexed performances that “swerve from their original purposes and inadvertently mobilize possibilities of „subjects‟ that do not merely exceed the bounds of cultural intelligibility, but effectively expand the boundaries of what is, in fact, culturally intelligible” (1999:39). A common critique of Foucault is that his view of subjectification privileges a negative understanding of subject formation insofar as it stresses the moment of „subjectification as subjection‟ at the expense of a closer consideration of agency and resistance. This critique seems undertheorized as Foucault, as well as Butler who influentially builds on his work on subjection, have both emphasized the mutually constitutive aspects of delimitation and enablement. Foucault develops the notion of subjectification specifically to argue that “the notion of repression is quite inadequate for capturing what is precisely the productive aspect of power” (2003:307). Similarly, Butler further clarifies that: The paradox of subjectification (assujetissment) is precisely that the subject who would resist such norms is itself enabled, if not produced, by such norms. Although constitutive restraint does not foreclose the possibility of agency, it does locate agency as a reiterative or rearticulatory practice, immanent to power, and not a relation of external opposition to power. (1993:15, emphasis in original) The subject „who would resist such norms‟ is the „me‟ or the subjectivity produced, and delimited, via subjectification. Here I would say that it is the productive moments of subjectification that are theoretically most useful and novel, in the sense of „enabling, if  75  not producing‟ the resisting subject. Foucault‟s and Butler‟s articulations of subjectification are premised on Hegel‟s proposition that “desire is always a desire for recognition”, such that “to persist in one‟s own being is only possible on the condition that we are engaged in receiving and offering recognition” (Butler, 2004: 31). Thus discourse is a form of power which produces subjects insofar as it allows us to position ourselves within it and be recognized. This recognition is also inevitably delimiting. Our positioning of our selves within discourse constitutes our subjectivity. Butler reminds us that “subjection consists precisely in this fundamental dependency on a discourse we never chose but that, paradoxically, initiates and sustains our agency” (1997:2). Thus we see how the concept of subjection is not a choice because “the subject pursues subordination as the promise of existence” (20). As we will further see below in my discussion of Lacan‟s „mirror stage,‟ the misrecognition of ourselves as coherent, „choosing‟ subjects, though very real to us as our subjectivity, is based on an illusion of freedom without limits, constraints or restrictions. In my interviews I explore these moments when young women recognize themselves and seek the recognition of their partners, society and myself as an interviewer as competent, intelligible (hetero)sexual subjects. These moments are also accompanied by and entail the constant reworking and enabled disruption of these very same norms and discourses. Butler claims that subjection is the trajectory of our most fundamental desire to be recognized as subjects generally. However, I also explore the desire to be recognized as competent (hetero)sexual female sexual agents, which necessitates young women‟s negotiation of patriarchal dominant discourses of autonomous liberal subjecthood and (hetero)sexuality in ways that both delimit and  76  enable myriad choices, behaviours and experiences. Both Butler and Foucault remind us that there is not a subject external to power who is resisting, but rather a subject enabled and constrained by subjectification. As Weedon summarizes “[to] speak is to assume a subject position within discourse and to be subjected to the power and regulation of the discourse” (1987:119, emphasis in original); at the same time she reminds us that “the interpellation of individuals as subjects within particular discourses is never final. It is always open to challenge. The individual is constantly subjected to discourse” (97), which enables transformation of discursive and material relations. Foucault‟s historical studies of power and discourse also allow us to imagine new ways of articulating a „reverse discourse‟ or of „talking back.‟ As Weedon clarifies, “[reverse] discourse enables the subjected subject of a discourse (really multiple discourses) to speak in her own right” (1987:109). My research explores how young women both disrupt and reiterate patriarchal constructions of their sexuality as passive. Since discourses are suffused with power, they also have the potential to expose and undermine it. In the interviews I conducted we will see that “new knowledges that begin from bodies and pleasure can serve as counterdiscourses…[that] help to interrupt the process of normalization that is part and parcel of the deployment of sexuality” (McLaren, 2002:113). While these are termed „reverse or counter discourses‟ it is important to remember that these are never „outside‟ of power or discourse and, via the process of subjection, are always enabled, produced and constrained by variously privileged discourses. Power and discourse are inextricably linked. Weedon writes: Power is a relation. It inheres in difference and is a dynamic of control and lack of control between discourses and the subjects, constituted by  77  discourses, who are their agents. Power is exercised within discourses in the ways in which they constitute and govern individual subjects (1987:113). Weedon‟s relational concept of power is useful in understanding young women‟s sexual subjectivity and thus their available and likely courses of action. Building on Foucault I hope to theorize sexuality in a way that addresses both “power and resistance in ways which locate them socially and historically, and which point to how resistance is produced and new discursive positions developed” (Weedon, 1987: 123). In doing so, I explore how dominant discourses of sexuality are modified by their very exercise (123). Exposing discourses and their differential, fluid activation provides insight into how power operates in young women‟s understandings of themselves as sexual agents and the feasible courses of action they see for themselves. Being both constrained and enabled by various competing and differentially privileged discourses, following Probyn, I view the sexual self as “a combination of acetate transparencies: layers and layers of lines and directions that we fix together and in depth, only then to be rearranged again” (1993:1). At the same time, I remember that this constant rearranging is never a „free play‟ where anything is possible because it is a process immanent to discourse and power. While seeing the utility of Foucauldian insights, I also remain cognizant of Butler‟s cautions about relying solely on Foucauldian discourse analysis. As she writes regarding the discursive productivity of the subject: the subject is initiated through a primary submission to power. Although Foucault identifies the ambivalence in this formulation, he does not elaborate on the specific mechanisms of how the subject is formed in submission. Not only does the entire domain of psyche remain largely unmarked in his theory, but power in this double valence of subordinating and producing remains unexplored. Thus, if submission is a condition of subjection, it makes sense to ask: What is the psychic form that power takes? Such a project requires thinking that theory of power together with a theory of psyche, a task that has been eschewed by writers in both Foucauldian and psychoanalytic orthodoxies.  78  (1997:2-3) For this reason I find it productive to include psychoanalytic concepts that help us understand the processes through which we understand ourselves as (sexual) subjects. In Chapters Five, Six and Seven I use three psychoanalytic concepts (abjection, disavowal and ambivalence) to read participants‟ narratives. I see these psychoanalytic concepts as a specific form of discourse analysis but also as a way to move beyond assumptions of women‟s sexual passivity that pervades the three discourses within which I position my work (dominant, feminist and sexual health discourses), and as a way to understand how power via discourses circulates through young women‟s lives and self-understandings. Specifically, I rely on non-clinical, non-pathologizing aspects of psychoanalysis as a method of interpretation of both the articulated and unarticulated aspects of women‟s narratives. The psychoanalytic concepts that I use are analytical, not diagnostic tools. The concepts allow me to account for processes in the narrative and at no time do I attempt to pathologize or make claims about an individual‟s psychic state. Psychoanalytic insights can be used to expose processes of subject formation that are latent in narratives, those that the speaker often does not acknowledge. Specifically, Lacanian psychoanalytic insights will allow me to begin to approach processes of subject formation in these narratives.  Subjective Upsets One of Jacques Lacan‟s primary psychoanalytic contributions to this project is his understanding of the subject as fundamentally fragmented, contradictory and unstable (Lacan, 1995); in essence he shows the illusory nature of subjectivity. Although we  79  sometimes experience ourselves as coherent, choosing subjects, Lacan shows this to be only a shell precariously covering up and compensating for the underlying disunity and incoherence (1995). This understanding disrupts a multitude of modernist, humanist perspectives that assume the subject to have a stable, internal, and pre-discursive core that enables autonomous subjects to act apart from societal structures that limit our actions. Humanism assumes that our subjectivity speaks the truth of the subject itself, an assumption which Lacan contests. The Lacanian subject is the obverse of the humanist one. Grosz praises Lacan for helping to free feminist theory from the constraints of humanism, which she argues is “a largely metaphysical and implicitly masculine notion of subjectivity” (1990:148). Lacan argues that the „I,‟ the subject, is created via the Mirror Stage, which evokes the splitting of the ego, in contrast to the modernist belief in a conscious and autonomous subject governed by the cogito (Descartes‟ “I think therefore I am”) (1995:135). This theory of the self assumes a fundamentally fractured rather than coherent subject. The (mis)recognition of our selves in „mirrors‟ (objects and subjects that surround and reflect us) situates the agency of the ego in a fictional and imaginary direction. As Weedon notes, the Mirror Stage: creates in the individual a structure of subjectivity which ensures that the individual, as a speaking subject, will be caught in a misrecognition of itself as the Other. The Other is the position of control of desire, power and meaning…In identifying with the position of the Other, the subject misrecognizes itself as the source of meaning and the power that structures it and of which it is an effect. (1987:51, emphasis in original) We assume or strive for the perfected coherence in the mirror but do not achieve it (Lacan, 1995). We act „as if‟ the „I‟ is internal and coherent though it remains disunited and permanently incomplete through the course of the lifespan. The mirror serves an „exemplary function,‟ in the sense of an ideal, because it does not accurately represent the  80  infant‟s experience, which in many ways is still fragmented, incomplete, and without total control. The image remains purely an ideal throughout our lives, as our actual physical/emotional well being and competent mastery of our world will fail to correspond completely to our ideal image of it. Thus the „I‟ is not „resolved‟ in any sense during infancy but rather remains disunited and incomplete throughout life (1995). Lacan writes that the “mental permanence of the I” is necessarily “pregnant with the correspondences that unite the I with the statue in which man projects himself [and] with the phantoms that dominate him” (1995:136-137). For Lacan, there is only symbolic construction and ontological history, a constant „coming into being‟ and retroactive construction of the past for the rest of our lives. The Lacanian „I‟ or self is fictional in that it is a way of overcoming fragmentation and powerlessness. In this sense the „I‟ is an „orthopaedic‟ device (like a leg brace), which „binds‟ disunity into a stable subject position. Lacan characterizes this „binding‟ as fundamentally rigid and constraining, though it gives us a place from which to claim a valid (necessarily subjected) subject position (1995). Judith Butler further argues (1993, 1997, 1999) that while the fundamentally discordant and fractured self potentially undermines gender and sexual essentialism, each of us must also accept the current constraints placed upon our sexuality (such as gender and sexual dichotomies) in order to claim a speaking position and to be acknowledged by others, and ourselves, as valid, intelligible subjects who have the right to claim a subject status and social belonging. Since Butler‟s focus is on the heterosexual matrix, for her a valid, authoritative subject position is juxtaposed to the abjection of queer displays. Lacan shows us that, because the subject is not an essentialized, coherent whole, all self-narratives will be filled with tensions, contradictions and fissures. Psychoanalysis  81  assumes that our speech provides evidence of our fragmented state and thereby undermines the notion of the modernist subject. I approach this project using Lacanian insights on the subject to explore subjectivity as a fluid, on-going and constant process. From a Lacanian- and poststructural-informed perspective that highlights the troubled and contradictory nature of the subject, it is possible to see how dominant discourses of women‟s sexual passivity and lack of desire are both disrupted and reiterated in their narrative accounts of their experience, in addition to offering insight into the more complex and ambivalent aspects of sexual behaviours. Hollway argues that Lacan identified two specific moments, or developmental splits, through which the subject is formed: first, the Mirror Stage and second, when we enter into language (1989:82). Entering into language allows us to articulate an „I‟ but it necessitates our positioning ourselves, and losing ourselves, like an object (the spilt between I and me). Lacan offers insights into the „I‟ (1995) which I use to explore the „me‟ of subjectivity. In other words, I explore how we understand ourselves (as an object) in the world. Thus both the mirror stage and our entry into language are „splittings,‟ that “produce the human subject,” which for Lacan together constitute the basic „subject effect‟ (Hollway, 1989:83). Thus, while there is no singular subject that undergoes these splits, the splits are productive of an illusory subject, which we, in turn, subjectively understand. The second moment when subjection is consolidated occurs when we enter the symbolic world of language. The symbolic order for Lacan “is the social and cultural order in which we live our lives as conscious, gendered subjects…[which is] structured by language and the laws and social institutions which language guarantees” (Weedon, 1987:51-52). To extend Lacan‟s theorization of these „moments,‟ where the Mirror Stage  82  “establish[es] a relation between the organism and its reality” (1995:137), our subjectivity is negotiated in the Symbolic Order as „conscious gendered subjects.‟ In the symbolic order, gendered subjects, which we all are, are positioned in relation to the primary signifier, the phallus, which Segal argues: is not a biological attribute, but a discursive position which constitutes women in terms of lack and men in terms of the threat of lack. It creates a sense of difference from a power which is illusory – the fantasized possession, or lack, of the phallus. (1994:131-132, emphasis in original) Later feminist work building on Lacanian insights is productive in exploring how people become discursively positioned in relation to the power attributed to the primary signifier, which Lacan describes as either (female) being or (male) having the phallus (1982). The phallus is, for Lacan, a primary, transcendental signifier; the signifier of sexual difference, “which guarantees the patriarchal structure of the symbolic order…[It] signifies power and control in the symbolic order through control of the satisfaction of desire, the primary source of power within psychoanalytic theory” (Weedon, 1987:53). Mitchell and Rose (1982) acknowledge that systems prohibiting incest and imposing social regulation are symbolized in the phallus and are thus culturally important, but also show that patriarchal society has only retroactively given meaning to women‟s (and specifically the mother‟s) lack of the phallus. Gallup (1985) builds on our understanding of the phallus by arguing that the phallus, as Lacan conceptualized it, is an inherently neutral signifier and symbolic of both the constant weight of patriarchal systems of inequality and the constant failure and precariousness of such systems. Kristeva (1982) was among the first feminist writers to critique and expand on Lacan in order to remain cognizant of the social historical specificity of subjectivity. The works of various postFreudian and Lacanian theorists, in particular Irigaray (1985) and Franz Fanon (1967),  83  show that the symbolic and the structures that Lacan argued organize society, though useful, must also be acknowledged and problematized as White, male, heterosexual imaginaries masquerading in place of a universal symbolic. Thus, while I will be using Lacanian insights, these latter authors are invaluable in producing a more nuanced, embodied engagement with psychoanalysis. I take up a specifically feminist, poststructural, psychoanalytic perspective in this project, which does not assume that society‟s structures have an essential nature. At the very least, no matter how the meaning of the phallus is debated (Mitchell and Rose, 1982; Gallup, 1985; Segal, 1994), we are free to build on and go beyond Lacan‟s work because it alerts feminist theorists to the ambiguous and uneasy nature of sexuality and desire, as well as the illusory nature of the subject. Many feminists contest the political and theoretical utility of Lacanian psychoanalytic concepts. While this is an important critique to be aware of, we have also seen the important work done by feminists (such as Gallup, Rose, Irigaray, and Kristeva) that does not simply „build on‟ or „go beyond‟ Lacan but often offers a vigorous critique, reformulation, and redeployment of his concepts for purposes which are often quite different from (and even at odds with) Lacan‟s. This being said, it is important to note that I am not concerned with either following or departing from Lacanian orthodoxy per se, or with the direct or „correct‟ use of Lacanian concepts, which I intentionally employ in restrictive and minimal ways in this dissertation, but rather with feminist appropriations of and engagements with Lacan. Specifically, I rely on Lacan primarily for his view of the subject as fragmented and incoherent. My use of basic Lacanian  84  assumptions about the subject in turn informs what analytical categories and concepts will emerge as beneficial to my sociological analysis of subjectivity. While drawing heavily on a Lacanian disruption of the humanist subject, I must make a note here about how I define desire and sexuality within this dissertation. I must clarify that I do not generally rely on a Lacanian understanding of desire, but rather I activate a more colloquial notion of desire and sexuality. For Lacan (1982) desire is always by definition elusive and displaced. Part of the nature of being a speaking conscious subject is the process of only ever circling around a desired object or Other. Desire can never be fully achieved and must be constantly displaced. Lacan refers to this as „the homelessness of desire‟ (1982). Desire is central to subjectivity for Lacan, as he “saw satisfaction as a necessarily alluring impossibility critical to the crystallization of subjectivity, sanity and culture” (Dimen, 2005:7). By contrast, I find Schwartz and Rutter‟s definition of desire more useful in this dissertation. Very simply, sexual desire “is the motivation to engage in sexual acts. It relates to what turns people on” (Schwartz and Rutter, 1998:2). Sexuality per se consists of behaviours, the sexual acts we participate in for pleasure and stimulation, not only physical, like petting and intercourse, but also courtship and seduction, either alone or with another/others, and desire38 (2). Following Jackson (2006), I take sexuality broadly to be a “term referring to all erotically significant aspects of social life and social being, such as desires, practices, relationships and identities. This definition assumes fluidity, since what is sexual (erotic) is not fixed but depends on what is socially defined as such and these definitions are contextually and historically variable” (106). Like Jackson, I understand that heterosexuality:  38  There are myriad dimensions of sexuality that could be focused on, such as spirituality, culture, age, etc, but I focus primarily on desire and behaviour in this dissertation.  85  should not be thought of as simply a form of sexual expression. It is not only a key site of intersection between gender and sexuality, but also one that reveals the interconnections between sexual and non-sexual aspects of social life. Heterosexuality is, by definition, a gender relationship, ordering not only sexual life but also domestic and extra-domestic divisions of labour and resources…Thus heterosexuality, while depending on the exclusion or marginalization of other sexualities for its legitimacy, is not precisely coterminous with heterosexual sexuality. (2006:107) As mentioned above, in analyzing the interviews I use psychoanalysis as a form of discourse analysis. I reiterate that these conceptual categories are used here in analytic, not clinical or diagnostic, ways. I use the psychoanalytic concepts of abjection (in Chapter Five), disavowal (in Chapter Six) and ambivalence (in Chapter Seven) to explore young women‟s narratives; in doing so, I address how women‟s subjectivity can be understood within the context of these three psychoanalytic terms. I will offer more refined technical versions of these three ideas as specific concepts in due course; however it is useful to note here how the ideas of abjection, disavowal, and ambivalence circulate in everyday speech in ways that are quite similar to the psychoanalytic processes I discuss later in greater detail. For example, many people would be familiar with the distinct but often related usage of the terms „denying‟ or „disavowing‟ something, people often claim to be ambivalent about this or that in their life, and sometimes refer to something as being abject, as in a state of abjection, like abject poverty. Abjection is at times even used in relation to sexuality in everyday speech, particularly when used in reference to repulsion. While drawing on the colloquial meanings in this text, I will also be reformulating them with the help of a productive combination of poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theories. Approaching this project I theoretically understood the abject as an aspect of women‟s (hetero)sexual agency and desire and „proofs‟ thereof, whereas Butler (1999)  86  emphasizes how the abject is manifested in non-dichotomized or queer gender and sexual performances (1999). The abject, this active desiring and sexual agency, has been viewed as repellant in theory and society. As mentioned above, later authors (such as Irigaray, Fanon, Gallup and Campbell) have exposed the gendered, sexualized and racialized aspects of Lacan‟s work. These critics show that women‟s active desire and sexual agency constitute the abject because masculine sexual subjectivity, the most validated, privileged form of sexual subjectivity, is supposed to be constructed against the passive female position; moreover, it is also the divide distancing „proper‟ from „improper‟ female sexual subjectivities. Disrupting the assumption of female sexual passivity is often seen as a threat. Women have traditionally been gazed upon as sexual objects, but by using psychoanalysis to explore agency we see how women also sometimes return the gaze (via active desire). Psychoanalysis brings together issues of sexual agency and social limitation and thus offers novel insights into how young women speak as subjects. Using a poststructural approach, as informed by Foucault, Lacan, and feminist theorists including Butler and Weedon among others, allows me to better theorize the complexity of young women‟s (hetero)sexual encounters and their agency as they resist and reiterate traditional notions of women‟s sexual passivity and lack. As a method of discourse analysis, I use psychoanalysis in what I refer to as a „surface‟ or superficial way. I do this for a number of specific reasons. I remain cognizant of Weedon‟s warnings, when she writes: it is not good enough to assume psychoanalysis accurately describes the structures of femininity and masculinity under patriarchy, since discourse constitutes rather than reflects meaning. To take psychoanalysis as descriptive is to assume basic patriarchal structures which exist prior to their discursive realization. (1987:50-51)  87  I use both a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis that focuses on the power that circulates through discourses and our positioning within them, in turn limiting and enabling various courses of action, understandings and experiences, and psychoanalytic insights that allow us to explore how processes of subjectification can occur as young women constitute themselves as (hetero)sexual women. It is useful to note that Lacanian psychoanalysis treats the unconscious not simply as „pre- or extra-discursive,‟ but as being structured like a language. Rose writes that for Lacan the “„truth‟ of the unconscious is only ever that moment of fundamental division through which the subject entered into language and sexuality, and the constant failing of position within both” (1982: 53). Understanding this, we see why unconscious desires, anxieties, and conflicts are analyzable as discursively articulated in a variety of direct and indirect ways. My research methodology and analysis does not assume that the participants‟ responses are somehow analyzable as conscious, reflexive processes of self-construction and selfrepresentation. In this reading the unconscious is not barred from the symbolic, but enters, or even forcefully breaks into, the symbolic through a variety of „symptomatic‟ expressions throughout participants‟ narratives. With feminist theoretical and political commitments in mind, I treat these „symptomatic expressions‟ in non-clinical and nonpathologizing ways. I say that my use of psychoanalysis remains on the „surface‟ or is superficial because I rely on it as a tool useful in moving the theorization of women‟s (hetero)sexual subjectivity beyond lack and passivity, as it is positioned in the three discursive streams I outlined in Chapter Two. Sykes refers to this type of „superficial‟ usage as „a goodenough ethical pluralism‟ that “[considers] how subjectivity can be shaped by  88  unconscious patterns” while acknowledging that “on the basis of life history interviews it is not possible or productive to ask what actual psychic mechanisms might be at play for the narrator – to stray into the territory of clinical analysis” (2001: 12 of 24). My use of psychoanalytic concepts is therefore non-clinical and non-therapeutic. I use psychoanalysis for its insights rather than taking on fully the Freudian, and ,in turn, Lacanian models, which risks, as Weedon points out, “implicitly to accept their universalist patriarchal implications and their reduction of subjectivity to sexuality” (1987:71; Campbell, 2000:65, also supports this assertion). Beginning with its “partial but critical displacement of biology” via Freud (Weeks, 1985:128), and particularly the Lacanian (anti-humanist) subject with all its complexities, disruptions, and contradictions, psychoanalysis provides a novel inroad into the stagnancy that the basic assumption of women‟s sexual passivity has engendered and perpetuates. A poststructural focus on discourse reminds us that “there is no one universal structure of subjectivity”, but rather that, “[as] an effect of discourses which are heterogeneous and often conflicting, the structures of subjectivity within which the individual is constituted as a conscious subject vary” (Weedon, 1987:90-91). I show how the concepts of abjection, disavowal and ambivalence shed light on processes of subjectificaton and the will of the subject to appear coherent, stable and liberally agentic. Following Sondergaard‟s cogent warnings, I do not consider psychoanalysis “capable of theorizing psychological processes that exist before and independent of conceptualization,” phenomena that are somehow granted “a pre-discursive existence” (2002:446) by this „psy-science‟ (452).  89  Following Aoki‟s use of Lacan, I see no need “for any engagement with Lacan to be passive or submissive” and position my work within “[some] of the most exciting current feminist theory [that] draws upon such critical ambivalence, especially in the area of subjectivity, sexuality, performativity, identity, desire and the body” (1995: 65). I agree with Segal (1994) that in approaching sexual desire, we must attend to the “troubled and troubling legacies of psychoanalysis” because “desire, in whatever form, is first and foremost a psychic reality” (1994:119). I do not assume the „truth‟ of psychoanalysis and deny it the hegemony that it at times has been used to claim, but see its productivity in opening up subjectivity and moving beyond the assumption of women‟s sexual passivity. Ultimately I see psychoanalysis as providing a window into sexual subjectivity and how various discourses of gendered (hetero)sexuality are negotiated by the young women I interviewed. Ironically, even though “subjectivity, following the arc from Freud to Lacan and Kristeva, is built on lack” (Waller, 2004:145), I feel that these very insights can move us beyond theories of women‟s (hetero)sexual subjectivity that assume lack and passivity. I do not look for or assert “truth” in their articulation of experiences, but explore what and how various discourses are drawn on and activated in articulating their sexual subjectivity, their understandings of themselves as sexual agents, and the sexual experiences and understandings that are available to them. Again, the iceberg metaphor is useful in understanding my usage of both Foucauldian discourse analysis and psychoanalytic concepts to imagine what is going on both below and above the water line of subjectivity. I base this approach on the psychoanalytic assumption “that in each of us there is a realm of psychological functioning which is not accessible to ordinary  90  introspection, but which nevertheless has a determining or at least a motivating influence on the activities, thoughts and emotions of everyday life” (Frosh, 1987:2). I focus on psychoanalytic concepts that help us understand how people act and think in relation to others, as opposed to purely internal psychic dynamics. I hope to access, as much feminist research does, „unarticulated experience‟ (DeVault, 1999:67) so that I can explore “not only „conscious‟ dynamics but also „unconcsious‟ processes at play in the way we narrate ourselves into existence” (Sykes, 2001: 5 of 24). My psychoanalyticallyinformed attention to the silences and incoherent moments in narratives allows me to strengthen my analytic engagement with the interviews. DeVault (1999) argues that within patriarchal language systems, which Lacan would refer to as the symbolic order, women are lacking the language to articulate many of their experiences. This is undoubtedly true of women‟s articulations of their active desire. My research contributes to understanding women‟s experiences of sexuality and their sexual subjectivity in novel ways because, relying on psychoanalytic conceptual tools, I focus on the unarticulated aspects of subjectivity. Interviews also allow me to explore the moments when we inevitably expose and disrupt assumptions of a humanist coherent subjectivity and agency, in turn inevitably to interrupt the discourses that circulate around gendered (hetero)sexuality and to account for “the uncertainties and threats to identity in contemporary gender relations” (Hollway and Jefferson, 1998:406).  Methodological Upsets Here I must acknowledge the context within which my interests in sexuality and sexual subjectivity have emerged. Following Foucault‟s assertion of an „incitement to  91  discourse‟ around sexuality since the Victorian era, Plummer convincingly argues that sex itself “has become the Big Story” (1995:4.) During this late modern period “a grand message keeps being shouted: tell about your sex” (1995:4, emphasis in original). The people you tell, as Foucault argues, are increasingly variously positioned „experts‟ on the topic, from advice columnists, doctors and psychiatrists to researchers, but also partners and yourself. While I certainly fall within the broad category of „expert‟, the illusory nature of the humanist subject who speaks and acts in voluntary and coherent ways also disrupts my understanding of the semi-structured interview as a methodological tool. From this perspective, it becomes obvious and important that “sexual stories can be seen as issues to be investigated in their own right” (Plummer, 1995:5, emphasis in original). In the course of the interviews there is not a coherent, “correct” truth that can be articulated by participants and in turn extracted by me in my analysis, enacting an understanding of the interview process that Franklin calls “the information extraction model” (1997:100). Such a model can not be relied on if one questions the very nature of the speaking subject and situates her constitution within various, often contradictory, discursive streams. The extraction model, as seen in humanistic traditions, maintains: that it is possible to achieve self-expression of oneself as a woman, man, or „ungendered‟ individual in language [assuming that] an already existing subjectivity awaits expression. It also assumes that language is a transparent medium which expresses pre-given meaning…[Supposedly langauge] is a passive tool of communication. (Weedon, 1987: 82-3) Pitt argues that psychoanalytic understandings of our efforts to articulate ourselves mesh well with poststructural insights into the relationship between experiences and their articulation (1998:536), both of which undermine a humanist approach to interviewing as an analytic process. Scott reminds us that:  92  It is not individuals who have experience, but subjects who are constituted through experience. Experience in this definition then becomes not the origin of our explanation, not the authoritative (because seen or felt) evidence that grounds what is known, but rather that which we seek to explain, that about which knowledge is produced. (1992: 25-26) Thus my approach to interviews assumes that the subject herself is constantly in process, specifically via her articulations; as Probyn states, “[the self] is reworked in its enunciations” (1993:2). Pitt argues that in a poststructurally-, psychoanalytically-understood interview we find “both within the subject and its narrative desires, something that resists itself, something that escapes the consolations of rationality and intentionality” (1998:537). This understanding of the interview allows - indeed demands - that I explore both how young women attempt to articulate themselves as coherent, competent (female heterosexual) subjects, as an inescapable presence in interview narratives (Currie et al., 2007:377), and the constant disruption and contradiction of this illusion. I agree with Pitt (1998) that, ironically, perhaps the only „truth‟ we can find in narratives “is never quite the truth about ourselves, but a stranger and perhaps intolerable truth: the truth that we cannot be the masters of our self-knowledge” (541). However, following how Currie et al. (2007) hear contradictions and inconsistencies in interviews, we must take these moments not as characteristic of the people who are speaking but as “processes through which they become [„subjects‟]” (378), wherein „becoming‟ is the constant process of negotiating various discursive streams and subjectivities. When conducting the interviews for this dissertation, I found that my approach best fit within “the discourse model” of interviewing (Franklin, 1997:104). Franklin outlines the following characteristics (versus prescriptions) of the discourse model:  93  (1) The interviewer enters into a conversational mode, and responds to interviewees questions, perhaps even talking about her own experience; (2) while a topic or focus generally exists beforehand, exploration of new themes that arise in the exchange is encouraged; (3) cross-connections may develop; one interviewee may say something that can be used productively in subsequent interviews with others; (4) the interviewer attends to and, if desired, rearranges power relations between participants to the ends of establishing equality, or even a collaborative relationship. (104) As discussed in Chapter One, from the very beginning of the interviews a fairly casual environment was developed. Even though the interviews were a negotiated process of developing mutual understanding within the context of the interview process, in many ways I see them as having some characteristics of what Franklin calls the “shared understanding model” (1997). Often I was focused on understanding “the interviewee‟s sense of her life experience from her perspective” (103), even though I did not approach these articulated experiences as „truth‟ for the purposes of analysis. Basing my approach on a psychoanalytically- and poststructurally-informed discourse analysis, I examined both coherence and disruption in the interview transcripts. During analysis I relied on what Currie, Kelly and Pomerantz (2007) call a „symptomatic reading.‟ Following Gee (2002), like Currie et al., I seek to maintain the „embodied presence‟ of the participants and see discourse as: bringing together mental „entities‟ and social action. Discourses always involve more than language, they coordinate language with ways of acting, interacting, valuing, believing, feeling, and with bodies, clothes, non-linguistic symbols, objects, tools, technologies, times and places. (2007:380) Thus we can see how the discourses the young women I interviewed were constantly negotiating are inextricably tied up with the emotional, physical and psychic experiences of sexuality.  94  In Currie, Kelly and Pomerantz‟s (2007) notion of „symptomatic reading‟, “moments of rupture were read as „symptoms‟ of how power works through discourse, [they] signal the contradictory nature of discourse” (381). Symptomatic reading requires two readings of the transcripts. The first reading attends to the „accomplishment of Selfhood.‟ Specifically, Currie et al. were exploring how adolescent girls experience and articulate their Selfhood as „girls.‟ In my work this first reading looks at how the young women I interviewed understood themselves as sexual actors. As we will see in Chapter Four, in these moments participants actively reiterate and privilege various dominant discourses of the coherent autonomous liberal subject. During the second reading another “hermeneutic comes into play when incoherence and contradiction threaten to destabilize this Selfhood, as often happened elsewhere in the [interviews]” (381). These contradictions and incoherencies became evident as the women I interviewed negotiate dominant discourses of gendered (hetero)sexuality that, in contrast to gender-neutral liberal humanism, privilege male sexuality and pleasure by positioning „proper‟ feminine (hetero)sexuality as passive and receptive. These contradictions force speakers to navigate the often diametrically opposed subjectivities of the autonomous liberal actor and the passive (hetero)sexual woman. What is unique about Currie et al.‟s „symptomatic reading‟ is that in this second reading they also “[attend] to ways in which the Speaker maintains a coherent sense of Self in the face of self-contradiction. [They] call this way of working over transcripts „symptomatic reading‟ because it directs attention to processes beyond the text…[it directs] our attention to unspoken but ever-present discourses that shape [the subjects‟] sense of themselves and their worlds” (381). Symptomatic reading enables one to  95  explore “the logic that operates to stabilize [the subject‟s] talk” (391). This logic is provided by what they call a „trump discourse‟: the overriding discourse that imparts contextually-specific coherence to a Speaker‟s statements, no matter how contradictory these may seem to the researcher. In the context of contradictory meanings, it operates as a foundational discourse that comes into play „in the last instance.‟ Because a „trump discourse‟ operates as common sense to the Speaker, it is more often than not „latent‟ in [the Speaker‟s] talk; that is, it remains unspoken. The purpose of „symptomatic reading‟ of transcripts is to identify these „trump discourses‟ because they tell us a lot about how power works through discourse (391). The authors are careful to distinguish „trump discourses‟ from dominant or hegemonic discourses, as trump discourses may also come „from below‟ because less powerfully positioned discourses may indeed be foundational for the interviewee. In my struggle to theorize how young women navigate the contradictions engendered at the intersections of (masculinist) liberal discourses and discourses of proper passive heterosexual femininity I was inspired by Currie et al.‟s „trump discourse‟. Rather than a „trump discourse‟ that smoothes over contradictions per se, I identify a hybrid discourse that allows young women to negotiate the contradictions they experience in late modern, (neo)liberal society. In contrast to the problematic Currie et al. explore, the women I interviewed rarely made contradictory statements about themselves, but rather were positioned within various discourses which themselves made contradictory statements about women as subjects, for example, concerning liberal autonomy versus proper passive feminine (hetero)sexuality. This discourse, „competent feminine sexuality39‟ is a hybrid form of the liberal actor and passive feminine  39  I do not „trouble‟ the word sexuality by appending (hetero) when referring to the „competent feminine sexuality‟ hybrid discourse because within the narratives the women rarely disrupted the naturalized assumptions of sexuality as heterosexuality. This disruption did not occur despite the fact that, as  96  (hetero)sexuality. Like Currie (2001), I see competence as being “signaled by a coherent subject who spoke confidently about herself and her…world” (277). Competency needs to be understood within the late modern, (neo)liberal context of a self-help culture, particularly in regard to sexuality and sexual health (books, magazines, television shows, sex education classes themselves). As Foucault (1990) argues, we are compelled to articulate ourselves as sexually and emotionally healthy subjects by a proliferating number of sex experts. Hence we are „subjected.‟ As we will see however, a psychoanalytic approach reminds us that, although competency or mastery is sought by the speaking subject, incoherence and contradiction will always be manifested in language. As we will see in Chapter Six, part of being a competent actor is the necessity of „glossing over‟ or anticipating and hence destabilizing critiques of one‟s narratives (ex: an expert asking you if „x‟ rather than „y‟ might be occurring) and contradiction within one‟s narrative. Within the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse the contradictions between an autonomous sexual actor and a passive, heterosexual female can be competently smoothed over so that the overall coherent sense of selfhood is not directly threatened. At the same time, however, this hybrid also allows for both the reiteration and disruption of dominant discourses of women‟ passive (hetero)sexuality. Thus the double hermeneutic of the symptomatic reading “recognizes that while we, as social actors, arrange discursive elements in creative ways, discourses have the power to also arrange us in specific ways” (Currie et al., 2007:392). In Chapter Four I explore the „roots‟ of the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse, which lie in the companionate marriage ideal reworked in the late twentieth  mentioned in Chapter One, many of the women‟s experiences would appear to disrupt their heterosexual identity.  97  century in „permissive‟ discourses of sex, (neo)liberal discourses and what Phillips (2000) calls the „together woman‟ discourse. I see the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse as an „emerging discourse,‟ as Foucault would have called it. Sexuality is a discursive field and our subjectivity therein a discursive formation always being reworked, sometimes in unpredictable ways. The reworking of the liberal and gendered discourses within the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse cannot be read „directly off‟ of the discourses that found it. I am exploring the „unanticipated‟ and „unintended‟ effects of how liberal and gendered discourses circulate (Foucault, 1990). Interestingly, this hybrid emerges as a discursive formation that brings together aspects of discourses, liberal and gendered, that might otherwise be seen as competing discourses. The „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse weaves together discourses in unanticipated ways that sometimes resist, and at other times reiterate, existing gendered and sexual power relations. We will see in Chapter Four how the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse enables women to construct themselves as „choosing‟ to engage in specific behaviours. In their self-understandings, this hybrid discourse often activates discourses that maintain a passive feminine (hetero)sexuality. Women‟s agency in these moments is directed towards pleasuring their male partners. Nevertheless, this hybridization also enables a reworking of their experience of desire and their resistance to dominant discourses of feminine (hetero)sexuality. In Chapter Four, exploring how women position themselves within the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse and the contradictions that are being smoothed over draws our attention to the aspects of sexual subjectivity where  98  psychoanalytic insights, beyond Foucauldian-informed discourse analysis, can deepen our theoretical examination of subjectivity. In my own work I have added a third reading to Currie et al.‟s „symptomatic reading.‟ Here I explore how the psychoanalytic concepts of the abject, disavowal and ambivalence (in Chapters Five, Six, and Seven) offer insight into how coherent subjectivity is maintained amidst the contradictions and complexities seen in women‟s narratives. As I have argued above, relying on various non-clinical40 psychoanalytic theoretical tools allows us to better understand subjectivity and the maintenance of a coherent selfhood. It moves us beyond the limits of imagining only a passive female (hetero)sexuality. When theorizing subjectivity Hollway also saw how psychoanalysis could help us understand the various levels of coherence and contradiction in participants‟ narratives. She writes: Participants usually strive for coherence and consistency in the narratives they produce (for research as for other purposes). This is one effect on subjectivity of the dominant Western assumption of the unitary rational subject; we attempt to construct our experience within its terms. The remainder – what is unacceptable and in contradiction – is repressed. It has effects, by being displaced through the defence mechanisms, and these effects help to reproduce the unitary rational subject. (1989:43) Interestingly, while not actively engaging psychoanalytic discourses themselves, Currie et al. seem to hint at and invite this extension of their method, as they are focused on how we actively arrange discourses at a level that “remains below the level of ordinary consciousness” (2007:392). Building on their insights, I have included tools that can facilitate our exploration of myriad levels of consciousness and subjectivity.  40  I reiterate that I use psychoanalytic concepts to understand processes of subjectification and have no desire to pathologize or “psychoanalyze” individual participants.  99  In addition to the discursive contradiction (liberal/gendered subject positions) that the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse negotiates, a psychoanalytic perspective proposes that there are also two internal contradictions being covered over. The first has been identified by Butler (2004). It is a contradiction that all subjects must negotiate as they are separated from the (M)Other in the Mirror Stage and later become an object in language as they begin to articulate the I, necessitating a split between the subject „I‟ and object „me.‟ This contradiction is the rejected knowledge that as human beings we are always in connection to others and always at their mercy for recognition (as thought in the Hegelian tradition). Butler calls our earliest dependency on a caregiver „primary dependency‟ (1999:7) and argues: No subject can emerge without this attachment, formed in dependency, but no subject, in the course of its formation, can ever afford fully to „see‟ it. This attachment in its primary forms must both come to be and be denied, its coming to be must consist in its partial denial, for the subject to emerge. (8, emphasis in original) Arguably, this process of partial denial, and hence our shoring up and assertion of our competency as autonomous speaking subjects, is constant throughout our lives. The desire for competency that the Lacanian subject is constantly trying to master and embody belies the basic dependency that we try to disavow. Thus psychoanalysis can offer a way of understanding hybridized discourses as “the workings of fantasy construed not as a set of projections on an internal screen but as part of human relationality itself” (Butler, 2004:15). We can see how the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse and the psychoanalytic processes of subjection, the abject, disavowal and ambivalence, work to negate the dependency we so vehemently reject in our individualization and subjectivity.  100  The second major contradiction, already mentioned above, is that gendered discourses within patriarchal society position women as passive objects of male desire, rather than as autonomous (ungendered) liberal sexual subjects. Thus I argue that the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse is „untrue,‟ or never truly achievable, on at least two levels for women (as seen in the negotiation of these two contradictions). This insatiability, or un-achievability, speaks to both its latent-ness in narratives and its foundational role in arranging ourselves in discourse and how discourses arrange us, which Currie et al. (2007) found but did not articulate in this specifically psychoanalytic way. In other words, as Hollway points out, this interpretation is a version of „Methinks the lady doth protest too much‟ exposed precisely because “[people‟s] vulnerabilities are often signified through the energy with which they are protected, and the positions people try to occupy can indicate the opposite” (1989:79). As foundational and „soothing‟ as the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse is, so too is this hybrid the most insatiable, following Lacan‟s understanding of all desires. Every time the subject speaks and assumes a position within language and discourse, the mechanisms of the mirror phase are active, “[they] guarantee that the individual‟s identification with the position of [the] speaking subject is imaginary and is invested with the massive psychic energy of the desire to control meaning” (Weedon, 1987:52). It will become apparent in Chapters Four, Five, Six and Seven that „discursive authority is paramount‟ (Weedon, 1987:98) to the speaking subject. We will see how discursive authority as a competent female sexual agent at times enables young women to position themselves as active, desiring subjects and at others delimits their ability to assert their own desires, pleasures and safety at great cost to the autonomy they have so carefully arranged.  101  More importantly, from a poststructural and psychoanalytic perspective, exploring how we are subjected as individuals, in both its productive and negative moments, allows us to answer Foucault‟s call for research that disrupts the way power currently circulates. He argues: The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state, and from the state‟s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality that has been imposed on us for several centuries. (2003:134) My project seeks to examine the process of subjectification and to imagine women‟s (hetero)sexual subjectivities in ways that are not limited to their passivity and objectification, honouring their active attempts to negotiate various discursive positions. The goal of this project is to facilitate „new‟ forms of subjectivity and individualization41 in sexual life and education.  41  As discussed above, I see psychoanalysis not as the truth of the subject but as a useful tool in understanding the subject as it has come to be articulated within the types of individualization Foucault links with the (neo)liberal state over the last several centuries. Perhaps a psychoanalytic view of the subject will one day indeed become obsolete, as Marcuse (1970) once proposed.  102  Chapter Four: Women’s Negotiation of Dominant Discourses of Gendered (Hetero)Sexuality As identified in Chapter Three, one of the central contradictions that young women must negotiate in their sexual lives is between the discursive positionings made available to them as gendered sexual subjects and as (supposedly ungendered) (neo)liberal42 humanist subjects more generally. I explore these competing discursive positions more deeply below. The tensions I examine are between the promises offered a (neo)liberal sexual subject in sole control of her pleasure and the constraints experienced by women who are constructed as the passive recipients of men‟s sexual desire. This chapter will provide an indepth analysis of the negotiations necessitated by varying and contradictory discursive positions available to contemporary women, showing how Foucault‟s notion of subjectification is important for understanding young women‟s everyday sexual encounters. We will begin to see how the participants‟ subjectivities are conflicted and contradictory, although they are generally constructed and engaged with by them as coherent and straightforward. I explore subjectivity as a tapestry woven of many threads and patterns. The processes of negotiation show that the women are never merely at the mercy of dominant discourses, nor are they fully determined by them. Participants artfully negotiate subject positions that they experience as most empowering for them in myriad sexual situations. The negotiation of the positions that they experience as most empowering is facilitated by a hybrid discourse that smoothes over the contradictions created by their position at the nexus of both gendered sexual and liberal discourses. I refer to this hybrid discourse as the „competent feminine sexuality‟  42  I use the term (neo)liberal because as we will see that (neo)liberalism while having specific political connotations also activates and strategically incorporates aspects of the liberal humanist view of the subject.  103  discourse, which is relied on in creating a coherent position amidst the contradictions experienced and articulated. Analyzing the contradictions and dissonances evident within women‟s interviews shows that, alongside the narratives and experiences of pleasure, control, and being „together‟ (Phillips, 2000) young women, the impact of dominant discourses of women‟s sexual passivity persists. We will see how the participants negotiate these contradictions, creating a foundational approach to their world that asserts their mastery and competence as both „proper‟ sexual young women and as empowered, “liberated,” autonomous liberal (sexual) agents. In this chapter we will begin to see how the subjectivity the women negotiate is always „troubled.‟ Their subjectivities smooth over contradictions in their understandings of their lives, but they also are constantly upset by these contradictions. Inherent to this upset is the transgressive potential that results for the impossibility of „nailing down‟ meaning and coherence. This examination of the first and second levels of a symptomatic reading (Currie et al., 2007) is valuable in understanding how young women negotiate various discourses of (hetero)sexuality, but we will also begin to see why a purely poststructural discursive analysis of the narratives is inadequate. The chapters that follow in turn employ the psychoanalytic terms - the abject, disavowal and ambivalence - to further examine the contradictions which the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse attempts to erase. Exploring the slips and gaps in women‟s narratives also exposes the inadequacy of the pleasure/danger dichotomy to account for the ambivalence and complexity of women‟s sexual experiences. Following Foucault‟s reconfigured theory of power, in considering young women‟s sexual experiences I did not assume men‟s power in sexual encounters is  104  uniform or omni-present. In the interplay of power and agency in heterosexual relations, “male power by its nature operates so as to always offer spaces for female agency, the potential extent of which is constantly shifting” (Allen, 2003a: 241). The Foucauldian subject is always necessarily subjected because “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only in so far as they as „free‟” (1990:139). We will see that amid the range of discourses available43 to young women, some are more likely to facilitate resistance amidst constraint; at the same time they enable places for women to stand as speaking subjects, discourses also limit what can be said. As Jackson and Cram argue, “discourses may restrict or regulate but they also offer the potential to liberate, a view consistent with Foucault‟s theorization of resistance as a necessary constituent of power” (2003: 114). Similar to Allen‟s work with young adults, I found that while many of the young women I interviewed “drew on dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality to constitute their sexual selves, some also spoke in ways that revisited these meanings,” such that they were “multiply positioned in a way that enabled them to simultaneously accommodate and resist taken-for-granted meanings about female” sexuality (2003b: 217). My research shows that questions about the „truth‟ of sexual encounters (for example, whether they are really empowering, pleasurable and reciprocal, as Braun et al, 2003, query), are not nearly as critical as questions of what actions (and identities) are variously constrained and enabled by particular constructions of heterosex. Interestingly, Gonick illustrates that young women (and in her research, adolescent girls specifically) experience the intersections of dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality and “the effects of (neo)liberal 43  While I use the word „available‟ here, I do not mean to say that women are free to „pick and choose‟ whatever discourses they like but that they will come into contact with a range of discourses that are differentially privileged in their relevancy and likelihood of being taken up. The phrase „taken up‟ signals the moment wherein the subject is positioned as a speaking, coherent subject and therein subjected by the very same discourses.  105  discourses of individuality in particularly complicated ways” (2004: 190). In the narratives below we see “the dual processes through which we become specific individuals actively taking up as our own the terms of our subjection [both as sexual and (neo)liberal subjects, and] through which we are categorized, totalized and governed” (Davies et al, 2006: 92). To begin, I investigate young women‟s negotiation of discourses of (hetero)sexuality that currently hold popular currency. As we saw in Chapter Two, Hollway‟s (1984) classical essay, “Women‟s Power in Heterosexual Sex,” is still useful in articulating the most powerful discourses of (hetero)sexuality. She outlines three overarching discourses: the „male sexual drive‟ discourse, the „have/hold‟ discourse, and the permissive discourse. While I find Hollway‟s categories useful in their clarity and astuteness, rather than using them as a privileged analytical tool I offer them merely as a way to frame my discussion, which focuses on women‟s negotiations of discourses that contradictorily position them as passive sexual objects and those that position them as autonomous liberal (sexual) agents. The „male sexual drive‟ discourse emphasizes that we construct men‟s sexuality as active and aggressive and women‟s as passive and objectified. Women are the object that arouses men‟s needs and, as such, can submissively comply or must resist and control men‟s unrelenting advances. Within this space women‟s pleasure is secondary, and women “are relatively powerless with regard to the successful negotiation of safer sex practices with a male partner” (Potts, 2002:43). Thus, “[any] exercise of power is regarded as unfeminine and threatening to men” (Holland et al. in Potts, 2002: 43). For our purposes here the active/passive construction of men‟s and women‟s sexuality in the „male sexual drive‟ discourse will play a central  106  role, as we see how women negotiate their sexual encounters from within this foundational framework. Out of this discourse we also see the privileging of male pleasure and sexuality that allows for „real‟ sex to be defined by (condomless) intercourse (Potts, 2002), an act that is usually initiated by the male partner and is concluded with the male orgasm, almost universally defined as his ejaculation. This discursive positioning of women plays a clearly evident role in participants‟ everyday sexual encounters. I find that at the intersection of the idea of „women as passive sexual objects not wanting to threaten their male partners‟ and the privileging of male pleasure, the issue of lack of desire on either partner‟s part became a differentially gendered experience. I expand on this finding, which occurs within the larger context of contradiction and negotiation, later in this chapter. For the moment, I note that a woman‟s lack of desire was a constant „issue,‟ often quite vehemently discussed between partners as „a problem.‟ Conversely, a man‟s lack of desire was rarely discussed. Female partners adjusted to their male partner‟s lack of desire and did not consider it a problem. Hollway‟s „have/hold‟ discourse situates sex as “only a small part of a much larger monogamous relational context” (Braun et al, 2003: 238). Here sex can be constructed as a form of emotional work, a trade off for security and emotional connection; his pleasure is her (almost sole) pleasure. Again, we see a reiteration of the framework of lack, passivity and victimhood for women discussed in Chapter Two. An example of this discourse can be seen when Lisa discussed her first long-term and sexual relationship: By the end it felt like we had such a huge history and we were even still thinking that this was my major relationship in life and I had to make it work […] In hindsight it was clearly not a good stable kind of relationship that you wanted to continue and so I felt like I had to, sort of, preserve  107  the relationship and I couldn‟t say anything that was too detrimental, or say anything, or be too instructive, kind of, but with the current one when it was friends with benefits […] I really felt I could say anything that I needed to say and it didn‟t matter if it freaked him out and if we ended up breaking up. Here Lisa signals her investment in a primary, ideally life-long, romantic hetero relationship and the limitations experienced as a result. She contrasts this relationship with her experiences with a later partner, a „friends with benefits‟ (or friends that fuck) relationship which mitigates the expectations of propriety she felt. I have included Lisa‟s experience here to illustrate Hollway‟s have/hold discourse because this particular discourse was not as salient in the narratives, thus it comes only sporadically in the rest of this chapter. Much more prevalent than the have/hold discourse in participants‟ narratives was Hollway‟s third „permissive‟ discourse. This discourse coalesces in the statement “sexual activity is good and right for both men and women, and anything goes, as long as no one gets hurt” (Braun et al, 2003: 238). However as Potts (2002) argues, the permissive discourse‟s granting of female sexual desire and agency is often still subsumed by the „male sexual drive‟ discourse. In these moments I saw the participants experience themselves as having agency and as desiring (in myriad ways, not only sexual) actors entitled to all the rights of their male partners. In these moments I heard this discourse as a way to articulate why they chose to have sex with their partners when not personally wanting to have sex. During these moments of „choosing‟ unwanted sex, we see how the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse smoothes over the contradictions between liberal and gendered sexual discourses. Potts argues that “the permissive discourse retains notions of active male sexuality and compliant female sexuality, with women „striving‟ to meet men‟s sexual  108  „needs‟” (2002:44). While it is important to address instances of „unwanted consensual sex‟ (Muehlenhard and Peterson, 2005:18), wherein „choosing‟ unwanted sex is justified and made logical within the „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse, it is also necessary to highlight moments when the women activate (neo)liberal discourses to demand their pleasure and safety, both physical and emotional. The many streams of sex-radical feminism and sex positive popular cultural manifestations, such as Sex and the City, Queer as Folk, Bust magazine, and Canadian Sue Johanson‟s Sunday Night Sex Show, are central to legitimating and perpetuating the sexually empowering discourses women draw on in demanding taken for granted sexual and reproductive rights. It will become evident throughout this dissertation that the celebration of women‟s sexual agency and desire is a result of how they negotiate their experiences44 within hegemonic (hetero)sexual scripts “that still position women‟s desire as a response to men, „sex‟ as heterosexual intercourse, and practices or desires that deviate from this narrow norm as problematic or perverse” (Ussher, 2005: 27). In spite of the power of these scripts, women‟s efforts and successes must not, and cannot, be ignored. Throughout the rest of this chapter I outline a number of discourses evident in the narratives. These include dominant discourses of women‟s sexual passivity; liberal individualist discourses which are intertwined with disruptive pro-sex feminist discourses; a discourse Phillips (2000) calls the „together woman‟ discourse; and the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse which I distinguish as an emergent discourse unique from the other discourses.  44  It is important to note that at times I talk about women negotiating dominant discourse of gendered (hetero)sexuality and at other of times of negotiating various encounters and experiences. I do not do so to equate discourses with experiences but to acknowledge that our everyday material encounters and relationships are negotiated and made sense of discursively.  109  Negotiating Discourses of Female Sexual Passivity Characteristic of nearly all of the negotiations I identified in participants‟ narratives was the construction of women‟s sexuality and desire as passive, a theme that runs throughout discourses of (hetero)sexuality. There is much productive research motivated by Segal‟s (1994) and others‟ call to move beyond the passive/active dichotomy in theorizing (hetero)sexuality. Moving beyond this dichotomy is essential in theorizing female sexual subjectivity, but it remains present in the lives of young women and must be accounted for as an easily accessible and socially rewarded position45. At the same time, we can and must show how women resist and disrupt passivity. In some sense, like Tolman, I found that listening to young women “reveals how entrenched gendered sexuality and the double standard continue to be” (2002: 119). As I argued in Chapter Two, a basic shift in orientation is necessary when theorizing women‟s sexuality; however, the findings of numerous studies (summarized in Jackson and Cram, 2003: 114) cannot be completely discounted and remind us of what is not working in some women‟s sexual lives. These studies explore, through women‟s own talk, how “young women are positioned as passive objects of male sexual desire, want and need” (Jackson and Cram, 2003:114). I draw attention to how women both resist and reiterate such constructions. Like Allen, I take “the view that male power in heterosexual relationships is not simply monolithic nor sufficiently vulnerable to subversion to render it unstable; [rather] while male power is pervasive in some form, it is simultaneously contested and negotiated in ways which afford women a measure of agency” (2003a: 236).  45  Here I mean that passive femininity is socially rewarded in the sense of allowing access to the resources and privileges assumed to be granted to „properly‟ feminine women, such as a „good man‟ who will care for her and commit to a marriage contract.  110  The presence of the „passive standard,‟ as I call it, in order to signal the often default expectations around hetero (sexual and otherwise) relations, was common in young women‟s attempts to create pleasurable experiences with their male partners. Lisa laughs about her first sexual relationship recalling: Lisa:  It‟s probably like the standard progression. We started with manual  Brandy: Like mutual masturbation? Lisa:  like I would masturbate him, not at the same time. Yeah, so we sort of did that for a while and then moved on to oral sex and I think in each case it was always him doing it to me first and then I would kind of catch up […] He wouldn‟t talk about it, he‟d just kind of move really slow and if I didn‟t stop him then he‟d keep going […] „I don‟t know what my hand is doing and its in your crotch!‟ (laughter) Which is perfect, I didn‟t want to talk about it, I didn‟t really have the vocabulary to talk about anything, I just wanted to do it.  In accommodating her partners‟ seemingly expected advances, and her inability to discuss their activities46, she also upsets the normative assumption of passivity. Lisa just “wanted to do it” and is doing just that within the „comfortable‟ discursive spaces created by dominant views of (hetero)sexuality; she is actively exploring the contours of her sexual desire and agency within the parameters of discourses of passivity. We see the male partner initiating and guiding sexual experiences in the case of Jackie and her current long term partner as well. However, as Jackie‟s partner attempts to increase their mutual pleasure, we also see him resist the role of initiator. Jackie‟s internal dilemmas around speaking as a sexual agent are apparent in the following comment: Jackie: I actually think he would, yeah, would be excited by anything I suggest, if I suggested anything. 46  It is interesting to note that her male partner apparently did not feel comfortable talking about their sexual activities either („he wouldn‟t talk about it‟), perhaps an indication of the limited access either of them had to sexual discourses.  111  Brandy: what would a hard [issue] to talk about be? Jackie: Umm, I don‟t really know how to tell him how, should he, what should he do when he gives oral sex…I, I think I‟m shy…I think I’m being nervous that he would have, he would have negative images if I suggest something but obviously I know it’s not true, but then deep in my heart there’s something, some weird thoughts going on. Brandy: Like it would hurt his feelings? Jackie: It‟s more like I wouldn‟t want him to think of me as a slut maybe? Yeah, but its very weird because I know he wouldn‟t but somehow I just think this way so Brandy: I see, so like you‟re being aggressive? Jackie: Or maybe too bossy. Brandy: …so in some instances he‟s not used to you being bossy? Jackie: No, not at all. It‟s just me thinking that. It‟s just me thinking of some things that have never happened before…It was, there was no negative experience around this, it’s just more like what I get from the media I think. Brandy: Like what could happen if you were to bring that up? Jackie: Umhm. Or maybe, umm, asking too much and, umm, being really aggressive is not what I should do, that kind of feeling. Brandy: Is it around, „that‟s not what proper women do‟ or..? Jackie: I think it‟s not desirable to males. Brandy: So it‟s not that he‟s not open to new ways of performing, let‟s say oral sex, but it‟s the actual act of asking for it. Is that what he might not like? Jackie: Yeah. Yeah, that‟s what I‟m thinking, but at the same time I know it‟s not true. Here we see Jackie struggling with what she‟s come to expect from hetero relations from the media, which she specifically mentions, but we might presume that there are other  112  sources of confirmation for her anxiety. It is possible that her partner‟s own behaviours are contradictory in this regard, but she herself articulates the possibility of not being positioned exclusively as a passive sexual object. Concern for a male partner‟s view of what constitutes a „good‟ female sexual partner (read: „passive but accommodating‟) is evident in a number of women‟s narratives. Nova‟s narrative is similar to Jackie‟s when asked how comfortable she is communicating what she finds pleasurable to a partner: I‟m pretty good at it. I think, like I think it‟s really important to talk about it otherwise […] but you have to be comfortable that they’re going to respond and you have to be, like, you have to know that they’re going to like you after. Like with my high school boyfriend, the guy that [pressured me], I‟d be like, „this feels good‟ because I thought he would breakup with me if I didn‟t like it, you know? So you have to be secure, like I have to be secure in my relationship to be honest. Nova‟s hesitation to breech the „women as passive sexual subject‟ position is directly linked to past experiences, whereas Jackie links hers with more amorphous cultural learning. Transgressing and resisting the passive position risks his „not liking you after.‟ A few of the participants use phrases like „freaking each other out‟ (as I note below) or „being crazy,‟ which signals a fear of transgressing the expected role of passivity. Social censure in the realm of intimate moments can be painful and inhibiting, though since this experience Nova has had a least one partner with whom she felt she could very openly, creatively and joyfully express her desires. Diane reports experiencing a similar hesitancy in actively expressing her desires. Interestingly, and in line with the have/hold discourse that reinforces the passive/active dichotomy, she finds that since breaking up with her boyfriend she feels freer in expressing her desires and asserting her sexual agency: Brandy: So how comfortable generally are you talking with your partners about sex?  113  Diane: Not very. It takes me a very, very long time. Even now, my ex and I are much better now, when there‟s no risk of losing each other. It‟s silly, when we were in a relationship, like, „what are my boundaries and what are his?‟ And even though we‟ve been together for a year I‟m still kind of tentative with what I‟m willing to talk about. But now he‟s not my boyfriend anymore and we‟re really close. So we’re more open now, when there’s not a risk of freaking each other out. But it‟s hard, I have a hard time with somebody that‟s very new, but I also have a hard time with somebody where I feel like there‟s a, I don‟t know, there‟s that, that connection with and therefore I‟m a little scared to ask for things, you know what I mean? Whereas now it‟s just sex between us, or supposed to be, so if he‟s going to get his, then I‟m going to get mine. So I‟m going to make sure it‟s worth it or what am I doing? If we both made the decision to sleep with one another, then we better do it for what it‟s for! Being somewhat freed up within the have/hold discourse, Diane explicitly and vehemently takes up the permissiveness discourse, which facilitates her demand to „get hers.‟ At the same time it is evident that both in new relationships and continuing long term ones she feels the constraint of discourses around female (hetero)sexuality. It is noteworthy that, whereas Jackie seems more cognizant of her feelings of constraint as related to the discursive openings available to her as a woman (which she describes as being „from the media‟), Diane articulates the character of her discomfort as „personal.‟ This intensive personalization, evident in individualist (neo)liberal subject positions, will be explored further below. It is clear that being subjected by such discourses, in their take up and use, can both constrain and enable women‟s access to an active sexuality. Miriam too reports awaiting the sexual advances of an earlier dating partner and attributes her hesitancy to act, despite being „into him,‟ to her own personality traits: Brandy: So the [guy you‟re dating], umm, you said that he hadn‟t kissed you for like five dates and you said that you weren‟t going to kiss him. Was it because you weren‟t desirous of kissing him?  114  Miriam: Yes Brandy: Or were you like that‟s just not cool, me kissing him? Miriam: It was more me being shy to kiss him. I totally thought he was good looking. Yeah, I was into him. I was just like, „I can‟t do that! I don’t have the guts to do that!‟ Later in her interview, Miriam stresses her rights, saying “I need to feel like I‟m the one who‟s calling the shots.” Libby positions herself in discourses of passivity so that while expressing desire is certainly feasible and encouraged by her partners, it remains clear that her own articulated desires must not overwhelm or exceed her male partner‟s: Brandy: If you had any [particular] desires, um would you feel comfortable bringing them up with your partners? Libby: I would yeah […] I think he would be okay with it. Umm, I mean not like, like the hard core, you know, like uh bondage, but experimentation would be something that we‟d both be open to. Her active desire can be asserted, as long as it does not get „too crazy.‟ It must be something they both are comfortable talking about. It is clear that in a number of different situations, young women do carve out spaces for asserting sexual desire and agency. We have seen some of the limitations women experienced in being positioned as passive sexual objects. We have also seen how they at the same time disrupt and trouble these very discourses. Miriam humorously sums up the weight and potential disruption of discourses of female sexual passivity when I ask her at the end of our interview if there is anything else about herself as a sexual being she‟d like to tell me: Miriam: Oh, I‟m a sexual being - that‟s great! (laughs) Brandy: Is that uncomfortable? Miriam: No, no! I just never thought of myself as a sexual being, like actually,  115  anyways, ummm, I am a sexual being, okay! Brandy: That can be your mantra! Miriam: I‟ll have to remember that in bio chem class, „I am a sexual being.‟ Take that! I don‟t think so. Miriam is surprised that she could consider herself a sexual being. Being a sexual being is directly connected with being an active sexual being, as expressed by her exclamation, „Take that!‟ Considering herself a sexual agent is surprising to Miriam. More specifically, considering herself a sexual agent within her biochemistry class is a particular achievement, perhaps because of the masculinist nature of scientific discourse, which has supported the discursive exclusion of women as female sexual agents. At the same time as being surprised, Miriam is pleased with this new thought about herself. Yet she also remains ambivalent about identifying as a sexual agent, which become apparent when she ends the interaction by saying, “I don‟t think so.” In a single moment Miriam is both reiterating and disrupting hegemonic discourses.  Negotiating Discourses that Privilege Male Desire and Pleasure Discourses that continue to privilege male sexual desire and pleasure were evident throughout many young women‟s narratives, further supporting the overarching discourse of passive/active gendered (hetero)sexuality. For some participants their sense of the discursive positioning of their pleasure as secondary to their partners was vague, and was felt almost as a discomfort when their sexual encounters „failed‟ to approximate cultural prescriptives around heterosex. For Gray, this dissonance was experienced as anxiety, a concern that the psychological discomfort she felt was potentially the result of a personal sexual inadequacy on her part:  116  I‟d say that especially with [this particular partner], he can last longer if he wants, more so than some of my other boyfriends and I find sometimes that I become sore or can‟t have multiple, like, orgasms or wait and have sex again immediately, while he can. And I find that a bit of a source of some kind of anxiety or lack of confidence, I almost felt like, „Isn‟t the guy suppose to be the one that‟s coming quickly?‟ and the fact that I feel like I have to keep up with him, it feels a bit, I don‟t know, yeah, [I‟m] just a bit uncomfortable with that. For Lisa, this dissonance coalesced on her orgasms: The odd thing about that relationship was that I could orgasm much more easily than him so there was this weird unbalance like totally opposite of what most societal things are […] it was really bizarre for him, me too. I didn‟t know how to deal with that. In these situations the discourses privileging male sexuality and pleasure remain obfuscated from view such that „deviance‟ was experienced as personalized anxiety. Women‟s anxiety seems to be focused on whether or not they can „competently‟ and masterfully negotiate their experiences in ways the both empower them as liberal (sexual) subjects and allow them to stay within the normative strictures of „proper‟ feminine (hetero)sexuality, that is ensured that their male partner‟s pleasure remained privileged. It is not always clear where the pressures to privilege a partner‟s pleasure would come from, which sometimes had a woman engage in sexual practices that she did not really enjoy. Olivia discusses a previous relationship: Olivia: Like when I had my period, he didn‟t want to have sex but I would feel like I would have to go down on him so that he would like still be getting pleasure and near the end of our relationship I didn‟t want to have sex at all so I just went down on him a lot cause it was faster, cause he just took such a long time and sometime I just didn‟t want it to take that long so I would just do that Brandy: So you said during your period? Did he feel that same way? Like, „Oh, well you should go down on me.‟ Olivia: Well he‟d never actually say that, but he‟d always be like „Oh, I‟m so horny. Why do you still have your period?‟ kind of stuff, like joking  117  around, and it would make me feel a little bit insecure, like sometimes he‟d just masturbate but sometimes I‟d feel like it was something I had to do for him […] I guess I just felt that it wasn‟t reasonable to ask him if he‟d have sex with me or go down there when I had my period even though I didn‟t think it was gross but I thought that it was reasonable for him to ask cause there wasn‟t anything going on with him, especially when I was having [a long] period! The justification of „reasonableness‟ speaks to the pervasive, dispersed and multiplied nature of discourses privileging male pleasure. As in the legal context, what the „reasonable person‟ would do (i.e. what the masculinist liberal subject would do) is the privileged guiding measure for how sex should look. Often the women are aware of how discourses privileging male pleasure affect their understandings of their sexual experiences and make active attempts to account for and „make sense‟ of why they privilege men‟s pleasure. As Maria comments: So like I knew for me [giving oral sex] was like a means of pleasure almost, I was excited to do it and, umm, so I can only hope that when a guy‟s going down on me, like it doesn‟t have to be exciting necessarily, but I don‟t like, I really don‟t want, I guess I think of myself and sort of like, the way I have sex with guys it‟s sort of like an „Ok, let‟s just do it sort of thing.‟ I don‟t want to receive in that way, like I‟m fine with giving in that way but it‟s just, I don't want, like if he doesn‟t want to do it, I don‟t want him to. The different standards she holds for herself and her male partner are clearly evident. Maria accounts for this discrepancy as her „choice‟ to give in a „let‟s just do this‟ kind of way but not to receive in the same way. For her, „satisfying‟ the „male sexual drive‟ is more of a given or an eventuality. Her pleasure is more dependant on his „wanting to.‟ In Jackie‟s case feeling responsible for satisfying her partner‟s sexual needs is clearly articulated. At times she actively resists her own feelings of responsibility: Jackie: I actually, sometimes I feel sorry that I can‟t, I can‟t like satisfy all his desires and it‟s because I think it‟s sort of, I‟m just sort of sometimes thinking that it should be a part of my responsibility to handle each other‟s desires.  118  Brandy: Did you say it shouldn‟t be a part? Jackie: It should be, it should be but not like totally. A part of it should be my responsibility, so sometimes I feel sorry that sometimes he feels really uncomfortable because I cannot have sex with him and he does not want to masturbate, he does not like to masturbate […] He would then suggest that I masturbate for him. Brandy: Give him a hand job? Jackie: Yeah Brandy: Is that something you‟re open to? Jackie: Yeah, I‟ve done it before but sometimes I don‟t want to do it anymore and I just want to sleep Brandy: Do you just say „No, we‟re done?‟ Jackie: Yeah. A few discourses activated here position Jackie in such a way that, despite her ambivalent discomfort („it should be but not totally‟), she is able to say something along the lines of „No, we‟re done‟ when she‟s no longer enjoying herself. First, she constructs their mutual responsibility for satisfying each other‟s needs as a shared one, drawing on discourses about „companionate (marriage) relationship‟ for example, which, as outlined in Chapter Two, have gained currency over the twentieth century. Second, she is asserting her own rights, presumably as a liberal subject and empowered women born since the second wave of feminism, first, not to do something she is not enjoying and, second, to get a good night‟s sleep. As we can see from the above comments, discourses that privilege male pleasure and sexuality often force young women into the false „dilemma‟ of negotiating feelings of responsibility for their partners‟ pleasure (Tolman, 2002). When coding instances during the interviews where participants addressed times they had faked orgasms or 119  pleasure during their sexual encounters, I labeled these as instances of „performing.‟47 While I draw on Judith Butler‟s theoretical work throughout this dissertation, I must note here that my use of the word „performing‟ does not correspond with Butler‟s (1999) theory of „performativity.‟ Here it seemed that women consciously48 chose to perform their own pleasure in order to satisfy a range of partner needs. It soon became apparent that these instances of „performing‟ pleasure so as to ensure the privileging of male pleasure were much more complex than has been presumed in the past. In this sense the „faked orgasm‟ or faked pleasure is a powerful signal of how young women can reconstitute bodies and pleasures in ways that subvert and disrupt the meanings that bodies and pleasure have been given within dominant discourse. Allen‟s (2003a) work with young people is critical here. Allen too found that women sometimes determined their behaviour within the logic of discourses privileging male pleasure, but at the same time she found that young women “invoke a sense that men‟s pleasure and sexual needs take priority because…[they] permit it.” (2003a: 242). From women‟s perspectives, their partners‟ pleasure is prioritized because they want it to be. The women are able to smooth over the contradictions of „performing pleasure‟ by latently relying on the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse, through which they understand themselves as „choosing‟ to privilege their male partner‟s desire and pleasure, such that they are positioned both within discourses of „proper‟ feminine (hetero)sexuality and liberal (sexual) agency. They are thus able to experience themselves as agentic beings who „choose‟ to privilege their partner‟s pleasure, maintaining and conforming to the 47  It is of note that the possibility of having to „perform‟ pleasure was prevalent and acknowledged enough in North America generally that I often open this discussion with the participants by commenting: “and now for the good old, „have you ever faked an orgasm?‟” 48 I found that there was an understanding of intentionality behind participants‟ „performing‟ pleasure that is vehemently rejected by Butler in regards to her notion of „performativity‟ (1993).  120  discursive constraint of feminine sexual passivity. With respect to „faking orgasm and pleasure,‟ male pleasure is privileged in ways that still offer women forms of agency. Like all forms of poststructurally-imagined agency, this is by no means a „pure‟ idealized form of agency enacted by an oppressed subject progressing towards some state „free of restraint.‟ Rather, this agency is negotiated within currently available discursive positions and draws on various discourses that enable young women to experience themselves as „choosing agents,‟ empowering themselves to meet their personal and social needs, in particular, their need to competently perform their femininity. Dilemmas necessitated by the discursive privileging of their male partner‟s pleasure were present for most of the young women with whom I spoke. The assumption that men‟s pleasure should be prioritized was never taken on as „absolute truth.‟ There was often a discomfort with the view, as seen above, and this discomfort usually translated into some type of active resistance on the participant‟s part. A number of women simply refused to fake orgasms for their partner‟s satisfaction. It is interesting to note that discourses around proper heterosex have shifted over the twentieth century, in that „performing‟ has shifted from „performing wifely duties‟ to „performing pleasure.‟ This shift has much to do with dominant discourses around masculinity, which Potts (2002) shows have come to position men as (s)experts who should be competent at pleasing their women. Women‟s ability to resist discourses of women‟s passivity and draw on pro-sex feminist discourses must be understood in the context of their social positioning. As mentioned, the women I interviewed all are immersed in a popular culture context that  121  allows at least some room for women‟s sexual agency. They did not invent empowered, pro-sex practices or discourses, but by virtue of their access to the sex-radical feminist discourses that circulate through the media they are positioned in ways that facilitate their sexual rights. These women grew up having access to feminist discourse, although as we see, there are many other contradictory discursive streams circulating as well. Many women feel that specifically faking orgasm is a disservice to themselves and their partners. It was common for women to be fine with „faking pleasure‟ even if they were not fine with faking orgasm per se. Many participants „fake pleasure,‟ but they do so for a range of reasons, which include finding that the production of pleasure early on in an encounter physically arouses them. As Jo comments, laughing: “I know that doing that gets me more into it […] I don‟t really categorize it as fake because I‟m conscious that I‟m like making more noise or like, I guess it comes down to making more noise, but then making more noise turns me on so, it‟s a win win situation!” Mary Jane‟s division between faking orgasm and pleasure is quite common: Brandy: So sometimes there‟d be simulated pleasure but not necessarily a faked orgasm? Mary Jane: Yeah. Yeah, the thing is that things feel good, I just don‟t orgasm from it, so it‟s not like I‟m lying, I‟m just not going to fake the actual orgasm, like the climax. Like even when I have sex sometimes I know I‟m going to get there but it takes time, so sometimes a guy‟ll come before I get to that point, but it‟s definitely getting there but I just haven‟t orgasmed so I‟m not going to like orgasm when I‟m not even there yet and I‟ll be like „That felt good‟ cause I want them to know that it felt good, right? But I don‟t wanna lie, I don‟t think faking it would be very good cause I feel like it just does bad for them and me too, cause it‟s telling a guy, „This is making me orgasm‟ when you‟re not and so they think that that‟s an okay thing to do, but really you want something else, so I‟d rather just tell them, „Hey, do something else‟ than make them think that what they‟re doing is good. As Nova‟s excerpt shows, this distinction between faking pleasure and orgasm is often a  122  very blurry, but in the end a very definite line can be drawn: Brandy: So now the good old, have you ever faked an orgasm? Nova: No! But I haven‟t corrected them if they‟re like, „You?‟ and I‟m like, „Yeah!! Can we change the subject?!‟ Like I haven‟t intentionally faked it, but like I‟ve been really enjoying it and they thought that I did but I actually didn‟t. Like it was great, it just wasn‟t orgasmically great, and I never say like, „Oh no, I didn‟t.‟ Like I think that would crush them, but I never see the point in faking it [because] then they‟ll just learn to do stuff that I don‟t really like and there‟s no point in rewarding that! I think, like if they‟re going to think I‟m liking it, I better be liking it. That‟s how I think anyway. I felt really bad with this [one guy] cause I couldn‟t [orgasm] and I think he got upset about it and I was like, „I don‟t know why I can‟t!!‟ But I didn‟t want to just save his ego and fake it and I told him like „I don‟t fake it. I‟m sorry I‟m not going to, like, I like it, it‟s great, it‟s fine. I just, I‟m not gonna pretend for you…‟ For Nova there is a firm line between „mistaken orgasm‟ and intentionally performing orgasm or denying her own experiences. I found it interesting that for a number of the women „performing pleasure‟ seemed to be about being able to position themselves and their partners as „successful‟ sexual actors. This desire for „successful‟ sexual encounters provides further evidence that a sexual/interpersonal mastery is sought by young women as part of the hybrid „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse. Holland et al. state explicitly, “male-centred heterosexuality requires that the woman also ought to have an orgasm to make it proper sex and to demonstrate his power. Faking orgasm is one way in which women use their bodies sexually to meet this aspect of social construction” (Holland et al, 1994a: 30). While sometimes it was primarily a so-called „powerful male‟ whose „success‟ was at risk, more often than not issues around successful sex were much more complex. In my research I often encountered the discursive constraint of privileging male sexuality, but there was also the space in which women‟s desire becomes part of the conversation  123  around heterosex. The particular young women I interviewed were navigating through their sexual encounters in ways that they saw as entitling them to claim „success‟ as sexual actors as well, hence supporting and validating their competency. Certainly, their success was often established in reference to their male partners‟ expectations, but they had reconfigured their „success‟ as sexual actors not in terms of the current culturally privileged moment of orgasm, but in terms of their „managing‟ sexual encounters smoothly and expertly:49 Brandy: Umm, ok, so you‟ve never faked an orgasm? Maria: No, I never plan to. (laughs) I hope not. Brandy: Umm, how about faking your own pleasure, like you‟ve said sometimes [that] it should have been very apparent to the guy that you weren‟t enjoying yourself, other times? Maria: Oh, no, it‟s yeah, no. I‟ll like, I‟m noisy, just by virtue, like even when I‟m kissing, I moan and stuff. And so sometimes if I haven‟t moaned in a little while or if I know, I‟ll sometimes throw that out, make everyone feel better. But apart from that, not in a big way. Maria is clear that it is not only her partner‟s pleasure that is at stake. She wants everyone, including herself, to feel better; not only do partners feel better, but the „proper‟ social roles are reinforced and further legitimated. „Making everyone feel better‟ is perhaps a signal of Maria‟s implicit recognition of the discursive streams in which her interactions occur. She remains committed to „not faking it‟ but is cognizant of her necessarily active role in „feeling good‟ about the encounter. The unacknowledged gendered nature of one‟s discursive positioning as a „good‟ sexual partner evidences on one level the presence of the hybrid discourse to cover up these contradictions between liberal and feminine (hetero)sexuality and on another the competency and mastery that is 49  The self-disciplining and governing Foucault argued to be characteristic of modern Western society, and its role in subjecting young women, will be addressed below.  124  imagined or sought by continual deferral, as will be explored in future chapters. For Sheena, being a „good‟ sexual actor in an encounter means communicating her pleasure to her partner, even if this had to be via a performance: Brandy: So, the good old, have you ever faked an orgasm? Sheena: […] Many [times]. Brandy: With your current partner? Sheena: With him, not much, maybe once or twice, it was mostly with other partners. I really enjoy myself and I know I‟m not going to have an orgasm but I am really enjoying myself, so I don‟t want them to think that I‟m not enjoying myself because I‟m not having one, so I‟d fake an orgasm and that was that and it kept everything good. I don‟t know […] all the guys have really wanted me to be um enjoying myself, so yeah. Given the drive to confirm competency in life generally, and that part of sexual competency is derived from partner choices, as we will see in Chapter Six, current partners may be idealized as „most‟ suitable by placing previous relationships within a narrative of „progressive betterment.‟ Given the assumption of „progressive betterment,‟ it is not surprising that many of the participants report feeling that their current partners are more sexually skilled than previous partners. Sheena feels that she has been forced to perform her pleasure less often with her current partner than with previous ones. She sees her role to reciprocate to her partners‟ desires (who have all „wanted her to enjoy herself‟‟) with her own active response (even if performed). Following Roberts‟ research on faking orgasm as emotional relationship labour, Potts notes, “[faking] orgasm is a performance by her that rewards and validates his performance. And so a convoluted play ensues, with both actors mindful not only of their own performance, but also of the „presentation‟ of the other‟ (2002: 91, emphasis in original). Given Potts‟ (2002)  125  understanding of women‟s performances as ways of rewarding and validating men‟s sexual performances, we can see how accounts of partner reciprocity within hetero sexual relationships sometimes translate into experiences of „obligation,‟ as Braun et al. (2003) found. The authors are careful however to remind us that the question of „what‟s really going on‟ in accounts of reciprocity (i.e.: men and women give equally in hetero sexual relationships) is less important than those exploring discursive opening and constraint within various gendered discourses of (hetero)sexuality. It is interesting that Sheena, like Maria, makes reference to „keeping everything good.‟ Emma also says that choosing not to fake pleasure would “ruin the moment.” There is clearly a normative presence central to their experience of „choosing‟ to „smooth things over‟ with their performances of pleasure. Here I am not venturing into „a cultural dupe‟ argument. Latently referencing the background „competent feminine sexuality‟ discourse, the women who choose to perform pleasure see themselves as actively choosing to manage their sexual encounters to maximize „success‟ for themselves and their partners within an unacknowledged gendered framework. They are positioning themselves as active agents within the discursive space available to them, which poststructural theory shows us is the only possibility of agency, as there is no possibility of enacting agency outside of discourse as liberal humanists would have us believe (Foucault, 1990; Butler, 1999). Certainly, sex is rarely an either/or experience. Lily is clear about privileging her male partner‟s pleasure, while maintaining a demand for her own: What we‟ve found is that the first time we do it, it‟s for his pleasure and stuff but afterwards we‟ll come back and he‟ll do all these things to me and I‟m just having orgasm after orgasm and then we‟ll have intercourse again and then it‟s really good, I think for the both of us.  126  Persephone chooses to vehemently reject privileging male pleasure if it would compromise her own sexual health and pleasure: [I] remember there was another recent one, he was like […]„I don‟t like this condom‟ and I was like, „I‟ve got one, want to try mine?‟ And [he was] like, „I just don‟t really like it.‟ [Me,] „Let‟s try mine. Switch!‟ Don‟t give him time. „Ok, guess what? Better?!‟ And he was just like, „It‟s just not really…‟ and I‟m like, „That‟s a shame, I was looking forward to having sex!‟ […] I‟m not one of those people that are like, „You wear it or you‟re not having sex with me!‟ (loudly and petulantly) I‟m just like, „Well, whatever, I‟ve had mine, so if you want to go, that‟s fine. I‟m going to kick you out in five minutes anyway!‟ You know what I mean? (laughs)  Lack of Desire as a Gendered Experience At the nexus of discourses that position women as passive sexual agents and those that privilege male pleasure and sexuality, the experience of one partner having less or a „lack‟ of sexual desire becomes a deeply gendered one. When positioned as passive sexual beings, there is limited room for women to articulate a claim for their desire and pleasure though, as we will see throughout this dissertation, the space available is actively mined by the participants. Similarly, as male pleasure is privileged there is arguably more space within which couples can address and discuss male pleasure. Thus, when the young women I interviewed view themselves as being sexually more voracious and desiring more sex than their male partner it is handled very differently than when the male partner wants to be having sex more frequently. Of the women who participated in this research and commented on differences in desire, four identify their long-term male partners as wanting sex more and two identified themselves as wanting sex more. How the couples and the individuals within them dealt with these discrepancies is tellingly similar in both cases. When the male partner has a higher sex drive, this experience is  127  dealt with in a couple of different ways. For Jackie, her view of herself as having less of a sex drive seemed to mesh well with dominant constructions of women‟s sexual nature. She seemed to find it almost „natural‟ that her partner would have a higher sex drive. About their differing desires, she says: Jackie: Every time I don‟t feel like I don‟t want it, but not every time do I feel like I want it […] Like when I don‟t want it, I will tell him but sometimes when I‟m indifferent, but as long as I don‟t feel uncomfortable, I‟m okay with it […] Even if I feel indifferent, I wouldn‟t feel uncomfortable, so he would feel that, umm, I‟m not very aroused, but I‟m not disgusted or anything like that…I don‟t feel bored or anything. It‟s when I‟m indifferent, it was more like I, I‟m not very interested, but it‟s not like I‟m not interested, not like I don‟t care at all, it‟s not that, it‟s just in a not very interested [way], „Ok, he asked for it, so yeah.‟ Brandy: So you‟d say he can tell the difference between [when you‟re aroused or not]? Jackie: Yeah Brandy: So he‟s okay to have sex anyways? Jackie: Because I can’t be terribly interested every time! At another point in her interview Jackie reflects on an earlier partner who had a much lower sex drive than she. I ask if it was a hard adjustment between her having a higher and now a lower sex drive than her partner. She replies, “No, I just grew up.” This comment is interesting because her way of dealing with her apparent lack of desire („growing up‟) is premised on popularized (medicalized) Freudian theory, which places vaginal orgasm resulting from heterosex as the sign of female sexual maturity. She sees herself as having to „grow up‟ in order to deal with her partner‟s desires. Maia experiences a similar distance between her own and her partner‟s sexual desires. It seems telling that, in contrast with Jackie, Maia does not position herself so  128  firmly within naturalized discourses of women‟s passive sexuality and Freudian sexual maturity: Maia: I don‟t know if it‟s because of the birth control I use, but I feel like the frequency we had sex went down as time passed. Like, umm, yeah, we used to be almost everyday, and now it‟s two or three times a week. I have trouble getting interested, which frustrates him. [Since] I„ve been on the pill, half the time I don„t feel like it. Like, „I have a headache.‟ It‟s still enjoyable when we do have it. Brandy: Umm, so and you said that might be related to birth control? Maia: Yeah, that‟s a common side affect. Brandy: Certainly. So do you think it‟s more likely that than like, „We‟ve been together for a while now?‟ Maia: Probably a combination. Brandy: Ok. Umm, so you said jokingly that you have a headache. How do you handle it when..? Maia: I just, „I don‟t feel like it‟ […] well he kind of grumbles and then I get mad and I‟m like, „Do you really want me to have sex with you because I feel guilty?‟ „Noooooo…‟ But […] I‟m fine with him masturbating and looking at porn […] I don‟t tell him, „Do it yourself‟ but he knows that he can. Brandy: But would you ever like sit with him while he masturbates or anything? Maia: Yeah! All the time Maia makes considerable effort to account for her lack of desire in ways that do not reflect on the nature of female sexuality. She clearly still acknowledges such discourses, „I have a headache‟ being a common misnomer signaling women‟s „naturally‟ reticent sexuality. It seems that where the differences in sexual desire have the opportunity to be discursively positioned in ways that are not so naturalized and totalizing there is more room to negotiate alternative responses (him masturbating alone or with her sitting with  129  him)50. These alternatives do not necessarily include her having sex when she is not motivated to do so. For some of the couples, differences in sexual desire led to out-and-out conflict. When I asked Jill how they handled her lower level of desire, which she attributes to a medical condition, she exclaims: Jill:  We fight a lot! I‟m kind of serious, we do fight about this. We get really, butt heads when we start to like really talk about it, because he gets really frustrated because, „I want you to want it.‟ He almost feels like he‟s not getting, like it‟s him not me, he feels like he‟s not pleasing me, doing his job.  Brandy: So in regards to that, um, how comfortable are you generally talking about sex with your partner? Jill:  Oh, very. Except when we start to butt heads, „Ok, change the subject.‟ Yeah.  Brandy: Is that specifically about him wanting you to want it? Jill:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. That‟s pretty much it, it comes down to me not wanting it enough.  Jill feels comfortable talking about most sexual things openly with her partner, but found that her „lack of desire‟ was a place their communication always broke down. Interestingly, throughout the interviews discourses work in tandem to construct „normal‟ heterosexual encounters. The construction of men as (s)experts (Potts, 2002) who should be arousing and fulfilling their female partner‟s needs is, according to Jill, taking a toll on her partner‟s confidence. Libby experiences her and her partner‟s differing level of sexual willingness as an issue from the beginning of her first sexual relationship, as she was a virgin and her partner was not: 50  As an aside, it‟s interesting that I thought to ask if she sits with him while he masturbates only because that is a way I‟ve dealt with differing levels of desire in my own heterosexual relationships.  130  I sort of warned him about it from the beginning, cause I didn't want to make him think I was [going to have sex with him], but at the same time I knew he knew but wasn‟t going to believe it. So we often had conflicts, cause, I, you know, you‟ve been doing things like oral, that wasn‟t something that I wanted to do for a little while, so we‟d have conflict like, „You just don‟t understand‟ and then that was probably the biggest issue right away [...] at first I was just like, I was like, with anything I felt like it was maybe being a little push and it took a few times for us to argue and I sort of stormed off before I was actually willing to try. Later on in their relationship, when they were having intercourse, differing levels of desire remained an issue: Brandy: You said, so sometimes you find yourself not fully into it, does it ever cause any tension, like, is he aware of it? Libby: Yeah, it causes tension sometimes and I feel bad when I‟m just like ,„No‟ and I know he‟s disappointed, so that kind of like puts tension because I’m not supporting him […] It comes up lots. Central to accounts of male desire being higher than women‟s, is that the difference is an issue to be made sense of, accounted for, and dealt with by both partners, either by negotiating openly, having recurrent conflict, or by „growing up and adjusting‟. In the two instances where the women identified themselves as being more desirous of sex than their male partner, the women‟s experiences were defined and dealt with differently. Gina brought up her higher levels of desire in response to a question about how well she and her partner communicate about „sexual stuff‟: Gina: Um, it really fluctuates. Some days it‟s really easy…whether I feel like discussing it. Um, I‟d say generally it‟s okay. Communication, um, the only thing is that I feel like, uh like I, I‟m not sure if it‟s me being more horny than he is, or we‟ve had a couple nights when I wanted to have sex and he didn‟t and that‟s hard to hear. I find that hard to take because I think, I don‟t know, he always says he‟s too tired, which is understandable and fair enough, but I‟m like, „What am I suppose to do?‟ So communication around that, I don‟t feel that comfortable with because so far it‟s always been me that wanted it and he doesn‟t and it hasn‟t been the other way around, so that‟s kinda hard to talk about… [My male partner] feels like, „Why is she hornier than I am?‟ And he  131  wonders about it, if something‟s wrong with him. Brandy: Have you [asked him about it]? Gina: Not really. Brandy: So it‟s a sense you have from his reactions? Gina: He always seems apologetic. Then I feel bad, „I‟m sorry!‟ It is important to note that in all these interviews we are getting only one partner‟s view, so it is possible that, like Gina, many of the male partners above feel „sorry‟ for having higher sexual desire than their female partners. I also do not want to underestimate the impact on the male partner of not „successfully‟ being able to position himself as a male (s)expert who initiates and guides sexual encounters. Like the women in this study, men are discursively positioned amid multiple discourses that both constrain and enable them in various ways. Poststructural research seeks to explore the gendered, classed, sexualized, nationalized, raced, etc. aspects of various discourses. The most salient point in regard to the gendered experience of „lack of desire‟ is the degree to which a partner‟s „lack of desire‟ is an issue to be addressed and how that will be done. Gina finds their differing desire „hard to talk about.‟ She relies on implicit verbal and non-verbal cues in order to infer her partner‟s feelings about their sexual differences. This is the only time in her interview that Gina mentions her partner‟s „lack of desire.‟ In contrast, when women self-identified as having lesser desire than their partners, the issue of negotiation or outright conflict was brought up a number of times throughout the interviews. It seems that Gina deals with this issue internally rather than with her partner. Similarly, Lisa made reference only once to her own greater level of desire, at the end of the interview when we were starting to run out of time:  132  Brandy: Ok, we‟ve kind of, this will likely be quick, how does masturbation figure into your sexuality now or since you started having sex? Lisa:  It‟s a main staple in my sexual life.  Brandy: Ok, ok. So like you have a more voracious appetite than your partner? Lisa:  Yeah.  Brandy: So do you masturbate in bed together51, or like would you do that by yourself? Lisa:  Sometimes after sex, if it wasn‟t enough, um, sometimes I‟ll do it with him around, sometimes he‟ll go off and do something else and I‟ll masturbate  Brandy: Is he aware of it? Lisa:  Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Um, and but mostly it‟s just I go to bed earlier than him, so I‟ll masturbate and go to sleep and then he comes to bed later. So that‟s sort of a staple of my masturbating.  Lisa refers to their differences quite casually and does not appear to regard it as a problem at all. Masturbating before bed and sometimes after sex is just „a main staple in her sexual life.‟ We are given little insight into her partner‟s view of this, but later in the interview we are reminded that we must be careful when making assumptions about how gendered discourses of heterosexuality work. We must question the experiences these assumptions cover up, by delimiting the discourses and words we have to draw on - in other words, the „sense-making‟ schemas we can use in articulating ourselves. Here I ask if Lisa and her partner have ever had sex when he may have been indifferent, to which she responds: “Yeah, probably, especially since he has [a] sort of the lower sexual appetite. It probably happens more with him than with me.” Always already positioning  51  As I write this I see that earlier with Maia I assumed that she would sit there while her partner masturbated and here I‟m barely „hearing‟ that only Lisa is masturbating in this situation. I assumed that she and her male partner would masturbate together, even though she‟s clear that it is her desire that‟s higher. I make a basic assumption of the „male sexual drive‟ discourse.  133  men within the male sexual drive discourse delimits the likelihood that researchers will address and explore how men also sometimes „choose‟ to have sex when they do not want to.  (Neo)liberal Subjects Positions as Platform and Limit: ‘Competent, Feminine Sexuality’ Throughout this chapter we have seen young women reiterating and resisting dominant discourses of gendered (hetero)sexuality. This finding raises the question of where the participants position themselves when articulating resistance. Certainly, there is evidence of a number of alternative discourses in their narratives, including various feminist discourses, pro-sex and otherwise, but an often present discourse is one of (neo)liberal humanism. It is at the intersection of gendered discourses of (hetero)sexuality and discourses of (neo)liberal discourses that the hybrid latent „competent feminine sexuality‟ occurrs. I argue that it is within discourses of (neo)liberalism that Hollway‟s „permissive‟ - the „anything goes as long as no one gets hurt as both men and women pursue their own pleasure‟ - discourse of (hetero)sexuality positions itself. (Neo)liberalism is the foundation that enables the permissive discourse to „make sense‟ for young women to draw on in articulating themselves as competent, autonomous sexual actors. At the same time, discourses of (hetero)sexuality position woman as gendered actors in ways that undermine their ability to position themselves as sexual agents. It is important to note that above I presented narratives of women negotiating dominant discourse of (hetero)sexuality as though they could stand somehow separate from the moment they take up (neo)liberal discourses of „sexual rights,‟ which are supported and  134  informed by various feminist and non-feminist discourses. We saw threads of (neo)liberal discourse throughout many of the narratives. The separation of the above section and this one is simply a way to explore the somewhat distinctive role of the discourses of sexuality prior to exploring how the women position themselves as sexual beings within larger discursive contexts. As we will see, the (neo)liberal discursive position the young women draw on is deeply affected by their gendered position as women and thus needs to be read against the background context of the hybrid discourse that mediates these contradictions. Most importantly, we will see that the (neo)liberal subject position is both a platform and a limit with regard to how young women demand and negotiate their sexual desire and pleasure. As a number of authors have argued, (neo)liberal discourses of individual choice emerge that tend to obscure structural patterns of inequality (Harris et al, 2000: 374). As a result of contradictions between gendered subjectivities and (neo)liberal humanist ones, young women are positioned such that on “one hand, it is important and desirable to be successful in the heterosexual sphere, and to gain confirmation for one‟s feminine identity from men. But according to Western notions of the individual, it is equally important to demonstrate one‟s own individuality and independence, and not to give up one‟s position of decision making” (Harris et al, 2000: 277). The women negotiate these contradictions by weaving a tapestry of discourses, wherein they can position themselves as being competent (hetero)sexually active women and liberal subjects. Certainly, the pillars of subjectivity, competency and mastery are present in the sexual lives of young women, which results in their being “multiply positioned in a way that [enables] them to simultaneously accommodate and resist taken-  135  for-granted meanings about female and male sexuality” (Allen, 2003b: 217). Again, we see the centrality of Foucault‟s notion of subjectification to an analysis that allows for agency within myriad systems of circulating power. We have been witness to the mediation of discourses and power; this is “not to deny power‟s disciplinary effects, but to suggest that the subject produced is more than „docile‟ or totally determined by [the] power” of dominant discourses of gendered (hetero)sexuality (Allen, 2003a: 238). An overview of (neo)liberal discourses of the subject is unnecessary h