‘You Can Spot Them A Mile Off’: Young Women’s Negotiations of Class and the Sexual Culture of Shame

Abstract

In contemporary Western society, young women are caught between the competing discourses of the slut/virgin dichotomy and the more recent imperatives of a sexualised culture. Drawing on data from qualitative interviews with young people, I identify a relationship between social class and susceptibility to sexual stigma. The practice of slut-shaming works locally to bolster the social capital of some girls at the expense of others, often those of perceived lower status. I find that middle class women are afforded sexual liberty, particularly if they display agentic practice. In contrast, working class women occupy more precarious positions of sexual respectability which depend on narratives of relationships and love to ameliorate the potential for slut-shaming.

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Acknowledgements

Jonathan Bradshaw for supportive comments on this draft.

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No funding was received in connection with the study.

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Correspondence to Helen Williams.

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This study was approved by the University of Leeds Ethics Committee.

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Williams, H. ‘You Can Spot Them A Mile Off’: Young Women’s Negotiations of Class and the Sexual Culture of Shame. Sexuality & Culture (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-021-09824-x

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Keywords

  • Young women
  • Class
  • Slut
  • Shame
  • Agency