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"I'm sexually attractive but I'm powerful": Young women negotiating sexual reputation

Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 1995. "I'm sexually attractive but I'm powerful": Young women negotiating sexual reputation. Women's Studies International Forum 18 (2) , pp. 187-196. 10.1016/0277-5395(95)80054-S

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“Slag,” “tart,” “slut” — these are all terms in common currency in 1990s Britain. Feminist researchers have identified how such insults are used by men to oppress women and to deny female desire and sexual agency. But how can we interpret women's own persistent use of such sexual insults? Can this simply be dismissed as evidence of patriarchal brain-washing? This article explores young women's understandings of such terms and identifies three overlapping but distinct ways in which “slag” is defined: slag as “other,” slag as “Everywoman,” and slag as “she who allows herself to be used.“ I argue that power, rather than sexual activity per se, is central to the understanding of a “real slag” and that a woman may be “promiscuous” and yet not be perceived as a slag because she is “in control.” It is this that accounts for the popularity of figures such as Madonna. Madonna is not a slag because she conveys the message: “I'm sexually attractive but I'm powerful.” In fact. Madonna and “slag” occupy the same conceptual space — the gap between being powerful and being sexually available. Terms such as “slag” express that contradiction, whereas Madonna appears to transcend it. Any attempt to challenge young people's concerns about sexual reputation must recognise the multiple levels on which such insults operate, the function of terms such as “slag” in naming exploitation, and the conflicts young women experience in exploring heterosexual relations.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0277-5395
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 08:55

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