Lecture: The Body Agentic: Neoliberal Metrics for Appraising Young Women’s Sexuality | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Lecture: The Body Agentic: Neoliberal Metrics for Appraising Young Women’s Sexuality

November 13, 2014 - 4:00pm - 5:30pm
Laina Bay-Cheng (University at Buffalo)

Note:  From 9-10:50, Prof. Bay-Cheng will lead a colloquium discussion on her article: "Justifying sex: The place of women’s sexuality on a social justice agenda." _Families in Society_, 92(1), 97-103. The article will be available on the GSWS Portal on my.pitt.edu. 


Young women’s sexuality traditionally has been marked along a gendered, moralist virgin-slut continuum. However, this one-dimensional model cannot easily accommodate substantive changes in the norms that influence girls’ sexualities. Contemporary scholarship includes many signs that such a shift has occurred in the U.S., ushered in by the cultural and ideological suffusion of neoliberalism. I use interdisciplinary evidence of neoliberalism’s influence on constructions of girls’ sexuality to argue that girls are no longer judged only on their adherence to gendered moralist norms, but also on their performance of a distinctly neoliberal script of sexual agency. In addition to reviewing the conceptual and empirical grounds for the claim that a new evaluative metric is in place, I consider the multidimensional normative field that is created by the intersection of this Agency Line with the long-standing Virgin-Slut Continuum. The primacy of agency within neoliberal discourse appears to legitimize women’s sexual autonomy and its subjective nature may permit them some control over their position above the Agency Line. Nevertheless, young women remain confined to a prescribed normative space, one that: divides girls from one another; compels self-blame; and perpetuates the predication of girls’ worth on cultural appraisals of their sexuality.

Bay-Cheng slide

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