Reinventing the Squeal: Young New Zealand Women Negotiating Space in the Current Sexual Culture
The sexual behaviour of young emergent adult women in New Zealand has become a target of media attention and commentary. Moralising language is prevalent in the public discourse, describing young women negatively with respect to character and psychology. Research investigating the increase of cultural artefacts such as hooking up or casual sex is often risk-focused, concentrating predominantly on detrimental impacts such as STIs, rape-risks, and depression. Some feminist analyses describe behaviour as postfeminist or as examples of false consciousness. Despite these positions, young New Zealand women are engaging in these and other non-relationship sexual activities in growing numbers, suggesting that current approaches are failing to capture salient explanatory information. Due to the negative impacts of social constraints such as the sexual double standard, traditional femininity and moralising social commentary on young women it is important to present a more holistic image of their behaviour so as to provide a deeper explanatory view which better accounts for young women’s experiences and motivations. In this study I utilise a mixed method research design to access a wide range of participants on a sensitive research topic. A self-selecting sample of 163 young women aged between 18 and 30, recruited from various university campuses around New Zealand, completed an online survey. From this group 18 heterosexually-identifying young women were selected to participate in instant messaging, email and face to face interviews, and an online discussion group. To analyse the material they provided I use a Third Wave feminist theoretical lens in order to give primacy not only to their voices but also their claims to agency and the importance of subjective positionality. I use Sexual Script Theory as a framework to illuminate the impact of cultural dialogues on individuals, and space was conceptualised as a way to illustrate performances and agency. Results suggest that young New Zealand women are strongly affected by risk-focused and moralising dialogues to the effect that they have internalised a risk-focused cultural script that guides their sexual interactions and behaviours within socio-sexual culture in constrained and avoidant ways. Other performed scripts such as ‘good girl’ femininity, traditional masculinity, and the normative performance of heterosex also presented as barriers to subjective sexual experience/development. However, many young women in this study were resistant to some of these scripts, as evidenced in their attempts to occupy traditionally masculine and/or social spaces where non-normative behaviours are (partially) permitted. Their behaviour suggests critical engagement with their socio-sexual environment and some awareness of script elements that dictate acceptable feminine behaviour, and how these constraints can be (at least temporarily) resisted as a means to not only developing sexual subjectivity but also to refashioning modern femininity.