In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

7 ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Conclusion It has been a simple task for women to describe and criticize negative aspects of sexuality as it has been socially constructed in sexist society, to expose male objectification and dehumanization of women, to denounce rape, pornography, sexualized violence, etc. It has been a far more difficult task for women to envision new sexual paradigms, to change the norms of sexuality. The inspiration for such work can only emerge in an environment where sexual well-being is valued. —bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center 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 and denounced male coercion and violence against women, the young women I interviewed had much more difficulty making straightforward claims about their own victimization. While they were eager to share complex stories filled with recollections of violence, fear, and manipulation, they found it overwhelmingly challenging, and often impossible, to name their experiences examples of abuse. Intellectually and politically, they were able to speak with great conviction against male sexual aggression. But their reflections suggest that it was no simple task to identify male sexual domination as victimizing in their own lived experiences. I agree with hooks that envisioning new sexual paradigms may pose an even more difficult task. Making their way through such constraining cultural discourses and social and developmental challenges, and lacking a discourse of female pleasure without penalties and a discourse of male accountability , these young women found it difficult, indeed, to develop a sense of entitlement to insist on hetero-relations in which their own agency and well-being were fostered. But whereas both hooks and traditional attribution theorists seem to suggest that women first recognize victimization and then attempt to explain it or develop more empowering possibilities for their sexual well-being, the stories presented here suggest that young women’s meaning-making processes for their own experiences may work in reverse. That is, young women appear unable to name their own victimization precisely because their cultural contexts make it so difficult to insist on male accountability and to envision and experience hetero-relational pleasure without penalties. We have seen that although the participants expressed a powerful awareness of male violence and coercion, and although they attributed women’s victimization to such abstract villains as a “patriarchal society,” “sexism,” “cultural misogyny,” or “men in general,” only two women, Diana and Wendy, translated those acknowledgments and attributions into a willingness to name victimization in their own lives. And even they referred to other violent or painful encounters or coercive relationships they endured as simply “weird,” something they “didn’t want,” or a “bad experience .” When contemplating their own circumstances, women were much more likely to attribute encounters or relationships that “went badly” to faults in their own judgment or to psychological wounds or ignorance underlying a man’s actions, rather than naming and holding him accountable for his abusive behaviors. These findings raise at least three important questions. First, while we have seen that young women perceived certain psychological benefits from accepting personal responsibility and disqualifying themselves as victims, what are the costs of not naming victimization? Second, how can these women’s experiences shed light on recent debates about women’s Conclusion ❙ 191 supposed eagerness to adopt a “victim identity”? And third, the classic (and by far the toughest) question, what can we do? How might these women’s stories and struggles propel us to transform current hetero-relational realities so that women, as well as men, are safe and entitled sexual subjects? In this final chapter I explore these questions and consider their implications for broader social and political understandings of agency and victimization in hetero-relations. Personal Responsibility and the Costs of Not Naming As we have seen, these young women are engaged in an admirable struggle to preserve their personal integrity both within and after victimizing experiences. Their stories reveal many compelling reasons for choosing not to name their own experiences victimization, and for forming attributions that support their resistance to use such labels when “things go badly.” While we can now appreciate young women’s reluctance to acknowledge their own victimization, we must also consider the costs of not naming abuse. As...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.