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5 - Sex and Desire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

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Summary

THERE IS AMONG feminist commentators widespread concern about the pornographization of culture and the sexualization of young girls, as we saw in chapter 1. On the one hand, the assertion of female sexuality is important and necessary, as is the avoidance of unhelpful moral panics. On the other, the vulnerability of girls and young women to sexual assault, and the reduction of women to their bodies, require acknowledgment and action. Sex and desire thus raise the matters of agency and volition. They are also obviously linked to the questions of body and beauty: as chapter 3 demonstrates, the prevalence of eating disorders and low self-esteem among young women in the Western world is bound up with normative ideals regarding sexual attractiveness. Sex and desire may also challenge or affirm sisterhood and identification, entailing emulation, rivalry, hostility, or attraction between female subjects. This book's chapters thus form an interlinked investigation into contemporary feminine willfulness. If not necessarily or only oppositional, this willfulness is at the least troublesome and, occasionally, optimistic.

Framing Female Desire

The tension between affirmations of female desire and the requirement to protect and appropriately advise young women raises the matters of will and willfulness. If the thousands of contributors to the Everyday Sexism project are to be believed, young women experience sexualization and harassment routinely. The social will renders them docile. But what happens when the girl or young woman herself desires? Is her desire willful in Ahmed's sense? In Daddy's Girl, Valerie Walkerdine suggests so: “the little girl who is not nurturant, but displays a sexuality too different, active, animal, is one who constantly threatens the possibility of the rational order.” Elsewhere, she points out that the girl as an erotic object challenges the notion of the innocence of the child. Yet Walkerdine also acknowledges the systematic sexualization and scrutiny of girls: “There is an erotically-coded and ubiquitous gaze at the little girl.” Affirming female desire, and especially the sexuality of girls and young women, can serve to legitimize views of girls as appropriate targets, or fair game, so to speak. Natasha Walter points out the vulnerability of girls and the dubious status of the idea of “choice” in this context.

Type
Chapter
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Willful Girls
Gender and Agency in Contemporary Anglo-American and German Fiction
, pp. 116 - 139
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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  • Sex and Desire
  • Emily Jeremiah
  • Book: Willful Girls
  • Online publication: 23 August 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787441705.006
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  • Sex and Desire
  • Emily Jeremiah
  • Book: Willful Girls
  • Online publication: 23 August 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787441705.006
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Sex and Desire
  • Emily Jeremiah
  • Book: Willful Girls
  • Online publication: 23 August 2019
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787441705.006
Available formats
×