Loughborough University
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Young women refusing sex: the epistemological adventures of a feminist

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posted on 2010-10-28, 07:52 authored by Hannah Frith
Women's sexual refusals are central to both conservative and/or religious campaigns to curb and control sexuality, and to feminist campaigns for sexual freedom. While public health messages implore young women to 'Just Say No' to premarital/teenage sex, the feminist 'No Means No' campaign tries to ensure that women's refusals are not ignored or disregarded. Drawing on data from 15 focus groups with 58 female, heterosexual, school (age range 16-18) and university student (age range 18-50; modal age 20:8) volunteers, I discuss women's talk about saying 'no' in relation to three existing social scientific theories: miscommunication theoiy, emotion work theory and sexual script theory. Each of these theories suggests a different explanation for women's (lack of) sexual refusals: women do not say 'no' clearly enough; women are reluctant to say 'no' because they are protecting their male partner from feelings of rejection; or cultural expectations dictate that women should refuse sex while men should continue to initiate sex. I provide two competing approaches to analysing these three theories. The first (essentialist) approach treats women's talk as transparent evidence of real world events or of psychological phenomenon (i.e. women miscommunicate or women do perform emotion work). The second (constructed) approach treats women's talk as produced in a particular interactional setting in order to serve particular interactional functions. This thesis expands feminist debates about the relative value of essentialism and social constructionism for understanding women's lives and for advancing theory. The majority of feminists, including those who identify their work as social constructionist, adopt an essentialist approach to data analysis. This thesis contributes to the development of feminist psychology both by investigating women's accounts of refusing sex, and by critically evaluating these two different epistemological approaches to analysing qualitative data.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Hannah Frith

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en