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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Heterosexual tensions within Canadian neoliberalism : young South Asian women’s negotiations toward sexual autonomy Dhillon, Michelle


With the proliferation of neoliberal discourse in the West, there has been a congruous emphasis on the sexual freedoms purportedly available to young women. While navigating gendered, racialized, and ethnically-grounded understandings of and expectations for their heterosexuality, young women are simultaneously compelled to understand themselves as sexually ‘empowered,’ able to freely dictate the terms of their heterosexual desire and behaviour. Exploring the experiences of young, heterosexually-active South Asian women in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, my research builds upon a burgeoning area of scholarship considering these contradictions of contemporary femininity. Through a thematic analysis of data generated through focus group discussions, with a total of twelve participants, I consider how these young South Asian women experience and make meaning of their heterosexual desire and behaviour. Ultimately, I found participants’ heterosexual experiences to be characterized by their negotiation of a central tension: while their sexual freedoms remain conditional and constrained, these young South Asian women nonetheless constructed themselves as fully in control of their heterosexual experiences and, accordingly, as individually responsible for effectively navigating any restrictive understandings or expectations that may threaten their sexual autonomy. In the following analytic discussion, I trace this tension through participants’ navigation of the heterosexual expectations encompassed within an idealized notion of South Asian femininity, efforts to work through moralistic understandings of heterosexuality, and pursuit of wanted and pleasurable heterosexual encounters.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada