Skip to main content
Log in

The Agency Line: A Neoliberal Metric for Appraising Young Women’s Sexuality

  • Feminist Forum Review Article
  • Published:
Sex Roles Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Young women’s sexuality traditionally has been marked along a gendered moralist continuum of sexual activity, ranging from virtuous (virgins) to licentious (sluts). However, this one-dimensional model cannot easily accommodate substantive changes in the norms that influence girls’ sexualities. Contemporary scholarship generated across the Anglophone West includes many signs that such a shift has occurred, ushered in by the cultural and ideological suffusion of neoliberalism. I enlist interdisciplinary and international evidence of neoliberalism’s influence on constructions of girls’ sexuality to argue that in the U.S., girls are now judged on their adherence not only to gendered moralist norms, but also to a neoliberal script of sexual agency. In addition to reviewing conceptual and empirical grounds for this claim, I consider the multidimensional normative field created by the intersection of this Agency Line with the long-standing Virgin-Slut Continuum. The primacy of agency within neoliberal discourse seems to legitimize women’s sexual autonomy and its subjective nature may permit them some control over their position above the Agency Line. But upon critical inspection it becomes clear that young women remain confined to a prescribed normative space that divides them from one another, compels self-blame, and predicates their worth on cultural appraisals of their sexuality.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others

References

Download references

Acknowledgments

This work has been presented at: the University at Buffalo’s Buffalo Center for Social Research (March, 2014); the Society for Research on Adolescence Biennial Meeting in Austin, TX (March, 2014); and the University of Pittsburgh Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies Program (November, 2014). I thank J. Dennis Fortenberry and anonymous reviewers for their careful feedback on preliminary drafts.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laina Y. Bay-Cheng.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bay-Cheng, L.Y. The Agency Line: A Neoliberal Metric for Appraising Young Women’s Sexuality. Sex Roles 73, 279–291 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0452-6

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-015-0452-6

Keywords

Navigation