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Flirting with Danger

Young Women's Reflections on Sexuality and Domination

Lynn Phillips

Publication Year: 2000

In Flirting with Danger, Lynn M. Phillips explores how young women make sense of, resist, and negotiate conflicting cultural messages about sexual agency, responsibility, aggression, and desire. How do women develop their ideas about sex, love, and domination? Why do they express feminist views condemning male violence in the abstract, but often adamantly refuse to name their own violent and exploitive encounters as abuse, rape, or victimization?

Based on in-depth individual and collective interviews with a racially and culturally diverse sample of college-aged women, Flirting with Danger sheds valuable light on the cultural lenses through which young women interpret their sexual encounters and their experiences of male aggression in heterosexual relationships.

Phillips makes an important contribution to the fields of female and adolescent sexuality, feminist theory, and feminist method. The volume will also be of particular use to advocates seeking to design prevention and intervention programs which speak to the complex needs of women grappling with questions of sexuality and violence.

Published by: NYU Press

Flirting With Danger


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

I recently came upon a lapel button that said, “What is it about ‘no’ that confuses you?” Having worked for many years on combating violence against women, I rushed to buy the pin, delighting in the question as I imagined it posed to men. With one simple rhetorical question, this pin seemed to capture the messages I had learned and tried so hard to ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Writing a book is a profoundly personal endeavor, but thankfully, I was never in it alone. Many friends, colleagues, students, and family members helped to bring this work to its present form. It is a pleasure to thank them here. I must first express my indebtedness to the thirty young women who were gracious enough to share their very intimate stories with me so that, ...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-11

During the last fifteen years I have listened with increasing concern and attention to young women’s struggles to make sense of their relationships and sexualities. I have seen how an awareness of male aggression filters through young women’s experiences and understandings of their own hetero-relational lives. Scenes such as the following have been ...

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Chapter 2: Contextualizing the Study

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pp. 12-32

The young women in this study are entering adulthood at a time of profound social and political change. The last thirty years have seen traditional gender roles talked about, teased apart, and, to some extent, renegotiated. Whereas not so long ago, Lucy and Desi couldn’t be seen sleeping in the same bed on television, explicit sexuality now appears everywhere from music videos to toothpaste ...

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Chapter 3: What’s a Young Woman (Not) to Think?

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pp. 33-78

I began this study seeking clearer understandings of the nuances and apparent contradictions in young women’s contemporary thinking about their hetero-relations. In conducting the interviews, however, I came to understand that their current perceptions and relational decisions were rooted in lessons learned in childhood and early adolescence.1 As women ...

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Chapter 4: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

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pp. 79-110

These women's dilemmas are not unique. Though Louise and Darla state their cases particularly vividly, they describe a struggle shared by their peers in this study—the struggle to make sense of their hetero-relations within a multitude of contradictory expectations and potentially harsh judgments about their status as young adults and their character as ...

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Chapter 5: Managing Contradictions

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pp. 111-148

Claudia's words speak to the many contradictory feelings possible in any one encounter. They also speak to the psychological strategies young women call on to manage moments of pain, anticipation, and ambivalence. Experiencing mixed emotions about entering into this sexual encounter, Claudia first constructs a private fantasy, creating in her mind ...

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Chapter 6: Controlling the Damage

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pp. 149-189

Despite women's best efforts to manage power in their hetero- relationships, all too often “things go badly.” And when they do, young women, like Elaina, are motivated to “control the damage.” As with their strategies for managing contradictions in their encounters, women’s strategies for controlling the damage tended to rely on individual, psychological maneuvering, rather than on expressions of outrage ...

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Chapter 7: Conclusion

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pp. 190-206

In this passage, bell hooks describes naming and criticizing the negative aspects of sexuality as a simple task. However, the stories young women have shared here suggest that even naming, alone, is not so simple, at least when it comes to assessing one’s personal experiences. Although feminist theorists, researchers, and activists have long documented ...

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pp. 207-211

My aim in writing this book has been to stimulate discussion of hetero-relational nuances often overlooked in both traditional and feminist social science literature. My hope throughout this project has been that in hearing the participants’ stories and considering the contexts in which they took shape, researchers, advocates, activists, educators, policy ...

Appendix A

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pp. 213-218

Appendix B

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pp. 219-220

Appendix C

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pp. 221-223


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pp. 225-231


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pp. 233-242


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pp. 243-253

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About the Author

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p. 255

LYNN M. PHILLIPS is the author of The Girls Report: What We Know and Need to Know about Growing Up Female, commissioned by the National Council for Research on Women, and Planned Parenthood’s Unequal Partners: Exploring Power and Consent in Adult-Teen Relationships. She teaches psychology and gender studies at Eugene Lang College

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768150
E-ISBN-10: 0814768156
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814766576
Print-ISBN-10: 0814766579

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 50724089
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Flirting with Danger

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sexual harassment of women -- United States.
  • Discrimination against women -- United States.
  • Man-woman relationships -- United States.
  • Young women -- Sexual behavior -- United States.
  • Young women -- United States -- Interviews.
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