Performing Young Womanhood in Neoliberal Britain: Discursive Constructions of New Femininities

Paludan, Marie (2017). Performing Young Womanhood in Neoliberal Britain: Discursive Constructions of New Femininities. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores how young women negotiate the meanings and dilemmas of young womanhood in Britain today. Gender, womanhood and young adulthood have been variably defined and understood. This thesis will investigate how young women negotiate contemporary discursive constructions of femininity, taking a broadly social constructionist and discursive psychological perspective which conceptualises identities as constructed and continually negotiated in talk and interactions. The thesis analyses data from 13 semi-structured interviews with 8 female university students between the ages of 18 and 23. In addition, it analyses a data set of vlogs uploaded by 11 female vloggers in the same age group. In this thesis ‘discourse’ is used in the wider sense of denoting meaning-making practices such as visual images and appearance as well as spoken language. An innovative methodological framework for analysing video material is proposed. The thesis considers what kind of young woman is brought into being through the talk, appearances and other discursive practices of the participants. It shows how the participants negotiate complicated discursive contexts in which positioning oneself as empowered is desirable, and positioning oneself as a victim is undesirable. The thesis also shows how the participants position themselves as responsible in their talk about their futures.

The analysis shows the ambiguities in young women’s orientations to their bodies, and the ways that young women position themselves as intelligent and mature by distancing themselves from vulnerability to beauty related pressures. The analysis also shows how young women continually work on improving themselves, reflecting not only on their self-improvements, but also on their ongoing reflexivity. Yet overdoing their careful controlling of themselves is constructed as unhealthy. The implications of these findings and the methods used are discussed.

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