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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Prude awakening : a critical discourse analysis of recent prescriptive abstinence texts Wright, Erin E.


In the last few years, a number of abstinence-oriented, secular, popular press prescriptive texts focusing on young women’s sexual practices have been published. Using Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis, I analyze discourses of sexuality present in these texts and explore how these texts converge and diverge with the broader U.S. abstinence movement. My analysis demonstrates that the prescriptive texts mirror a version of sexuality associated with both the abstinence movement and the Christian Right: one that is biologically- or spiritually-based, natural, gendered, oppositional, heterosexual, powerful, fixed, and in women only, virtually unable to overcome without negative effects. In this view, sex is dangerous and damaging to young woman as individuals and to society as a whole. The prescriptive texts diverge from the abstinence movement in important ways, primarily through their embrace of Girl Power discourses. The ways in which Girl Power is used reveal engagements with feminism absent from the abstinence movement, and also highlight neoliberal dimensions of subjectivity and success similarly missing from the wider abstinence movement. The prescriptive texts' authors use neoliberal Girl Power discourses to link young women’s sexual practices with success, which allows the authors to construct abstinence as an empowering intervention in young women’s lives. This is in tension with the abstinence movement, where abstinence is a matter of avoiding harm rather than achieving good. I conclude that these divergences suggest the books constitute a distinct trend within the movement, which I call “New Victorianism.” Other scholars have used New Victorianism to refer to a post-World War II shift in social relations in which women returned to the private sphere of the home, essentialized as wives and mothers, and I argue that the New Victorian books similarly construct girls in the 21st century as “mothers-in-waiting.” However, I also use the term to signal the New Victorian authors’ use of neoliberal Girl Power discourses that allows them to celebrate girls’ achievements and advocate for a conservative, individualist agenda at the same time.

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