Agents, Virgins, Sluts, and Losers: The Sexual Typecasting of Young Heterosexual Women
- 622 Downloads
In a 2015 contribution to Sex Roles’s Feminist Forum, Bay-Cheng argued that contemporary social evaluations of young women hinge not only on their apparent adherence to gendered moralist norms of sexual activity, but also on their performance of a neoliberal script of sexual agency. We used a mixed method approach to test this proposal, specifically its alignment with the evaluative dimensions of the Stereotype Content Model (SCM; Fiske 2013). We asked 186 U.S. adults (aged 19–64) to imagine four “sexual types” of young heterosexual women: sexually active and agentic Agents; sexually abstinent and agentic Virgins; sexually active but not agentic Sluts; and Losers, who are sexually abstinent and not agentic. Qualitative analysis of open-ended responses and quantitative analysis of personality attribute ratings indicated that participants evaluated the types differently and in ways that often mapped onto the SCM. We also conducted post-hoc inductive thematic analysis of the qualitative data, finding meaningful differences among participants’ impressions of the types in relation to their sociability, femininity, and vulnerability. Alongside signs of progress toward the affirmation of young women’s sexual agency, we also found that social evaluations of young women continue to hinge on their sexuality and traditionally gendered norms.
KeywordsYoung women Sexual agency Gender norms Sexual stereotypes
The authors thank Julie M. Maier for her assistance with analyses. The first author thanks Ella Ben Hagai for the opportunity to present a version of this work in September 2017 as part of Bennington College’s Society, Culture, & Thought colloquium.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This research was approved by the University at Buffalo’s Institutional Review Board. This is original work that has not been previously published and is not under consideration at another journal. This research was not supported through external funds. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Berglas, N. F., Angulo-Olaiz, F., Jerman, P., Desai, M., & Constantine, N. A. (2014). Engaging youth perspectives on sexual rights and gender equality in intimate relationships as a foundation for rights-based sexuality education. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 11, 288–298. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-014-0148-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Bettie, J. (2014). Women without class: Girls, race, and identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Estepa, J. (2017, May 23). Donald Trump calls Manchester bomber (and many, many other people) ‘losers’. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/05/23/other-people-besides-manchester-bomber-trump-has-called-losers/102047624/.
- Fasula, A. M., Carry, M., & Miller, K. S. (2014). A multidimensional framework for the meanings of the sexual double standard and its application for the sexual health of young Black women in the U.S. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 170–183. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.716874.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878–902. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.528.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Gagnon, J. H., & Simon, W. (2005). Sexual conduct: The social sources of human sexuality (2nd ed.). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers (Original work published 1973).Google Scholar
- Gavey, N. (2005). Just sex? The cultural scaffolding of rape. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Haslam, N., & Loughnan, S. (2014). Dehumanization and infrahumanization. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 399–423. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115045.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kervyn, N., Fiske, S. T., & Yzerbyt, V. Y. (2013). Integrating the stereotype content model (warmth and competence) and the Osgood semantic differential (evaluation, potency, and activity). European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 673–681. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.1978.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Lamb, S. (2010b). Towards a sexual ethics curriculum: Bringing philosophy and society to bear on individual development. Harvard Educational Review, 80, 81–105. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.80.1.c104834k00552457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- National Football League. (2017, August 16). Statement from Joe Lockhart, NFL Executive Vice President of Communications. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/NFLprguy/status/897863415313698816.
- Osgood, C. E., Suci, G. J., & Tannenbaum, P. H. (1957). The measurement of meaning. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
- Ringrose, J., & Walkerdine, V. (2007). What does it mean to be a girl in the twenty-first century? Exploring some contemporary dilemmas of femininity and girlhood in the West. In C. A. Mitchell & J. Reid-Walsh (Eds.), Girl culture: An encyclopedia (Vol. 1, pp. 6–16). Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
- Sakaluk, J. K., Todd, L. M., Milhausen, R., Lachowsky, N. J., & Undergraduate Research Group in Sexuality URGiS. (2014). Dominant heterosexual sexual scripts in emerging adulthood: Conceptualization and measurement. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 516–531. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.745473.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Tanenbaum, L. (2015). The truth about slut-shaming [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leora-tanenbaum/the-truth-about-slut-shaming_b_7054162.html.
- Tolman, D. L., Davis, B. R., & Bowman, C. P. (2016). “That’s just how it is”: A gendered analysis of masculinity and femininity ideologies in adolescent girls’ and boys’ heterosexual relationships. Journal of Adolescent Research, 31, 3–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558415587325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Valenti, J. (2010). The purity myth: How America’s obsession with virginity is hurting young women. Berkeley: Seal Press.Google Scholar
- Wilke, J., & Saad, L. (2013, June 3). Older Americans’ moral attitudes changing: Moral acceptance of teenage sex among the biggest generational divides. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/162881/older-americans-moral-attitudes-changing.aspx.