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Young women's dis-identification with feminism: negotiating heteronormativity, neoliberalism and difference

Scharff, Christina (2009) Young women's dis-identification with feminism: negotiating heteronormativity, neoliberalism and difference. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

This thesis explores young women's relationship with feminism, contributing to an enhanced understanding of feminist dis-identification. Feminist research offers various explanations for young women's repudiation of feminism; this study adds a further dimension to current debates by adopting a performative approach which explores how difference, and particularly sexuality, mediates young women's responses to feminism. Employing and developing the broader theoretical frameworks of postfeminism, individualisation, neoliberalism, and difference, this thesis intervenes in current debates by highlighting the role of heteronormativity in negotiations of feminism. The study is based on forty, semi-structured qualitative in-depth interviews with a diverse group of German and British women, aged 18-35. A discursive analysis of the interviews provides an insight into young women's talk, thoughts, and feelings about feminism. Exemplifying a postfeminist logic, two broad patterns were discernable in the research participants' talk: feminism was either considered as valuable, but anachronistic and therefore irrelevant to the present, or fiercely repudiated as extreme and dogmatic. While most research participants reported they would not call themselves a feminist, their stance towards feminism shifted depending on the cultural resources they drew on to discuss feminist politics. Reflecting the broader cultural currents of neoliberalism and individualisation, the respondents frequently rejected the need for a collective movement by positioning themselves as individuals who were capable of negotiating structural constraints autonomously. The research participants were aware of persistent gender inequalities, but located them predominantly in the public sphere and/or 'other' parts of the world, claiming they had not personally experienced gender discrimination. Feminists were overwhelmingly portrayed and constructed as unfeminine, man-hating, and lesbian. Although the respondents could not name any concrete examples of feminists who corresponded to this stereotype, the construction of 'the feminist' haunted their accounts. As the performative approach illustrates, discussions of feminism gave rise to complex negotiations and performative citations of normative femininity. Performances of femininity were racialized and classed, intersecting with feminist dis-identification in multiple ways. The perception of feminism as inclusive or exclusive figured as an important theme in the interviews. This thesis adds to our understanding of feminist dis-identification by employing various theoretical tools, drawing on empirical accounts, and by revealing the structuring role of heteronormativity in negotiations of feminism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2009 Christina Scharff
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DD Germany
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Collections > LSE History of Thought theses
Supervisor: Gill, Ros
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/111

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