From the Agency Line to the Picket Line: Neoliberal Ideals, Sexual Realities, and Arguments about Abortion in the U.S.
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Bay-Cheng’s (2015) paper on the Agency Line provides a much-needed articulation of how neoliberal ideals are used in the U.S. to evaluate young women’s sexuality. Our commentary extends her important work in two specific ways. First, we describe the Agency Line as it relates to the concept of hegemonic masculinity. Although young women in the U.S. are not afforded the same entitlement to sexual desire or behavioral freedom as young men, we suggest that the Agency Line is used to evaluate women’s sexuality against traditional masculine norms. Second, we explore how neoliberal ideals are used to blame women for failing to control their reproductive functioning. Arguments about access to abortion in the U.S. reveal investments in neoliberalism, although different groups apply these ideals in different ways. Those who oppose access to abortion erase, minimize, or vilify pregnant women in ways that converge with neoliberal judgments of “out of control” sexual activity. Those who support abortion rights describe their position as supporting a woman’s autonomy and control over her body and pregnancy status in accord with neoliberal values of rational choice, freedom, and self-determination. On both sides of the picket line, a focus on neoliberal ideals obscures social, economic, and relational factors that influence women’s reproductive realties. By applying the Agency Line to feminist concepts and U.S. reproductive politics, we provide additional support for Bay-Cheng’s (2015) argument about the impact of neoliberal ideals on young women’s lives.
KeywordsAgency Hegemonic masculinity Reproductive politics Abortion
Compliance with Ethics
This commentary was completed in accordance with APA ethical standards. No data were collected and as such no approval for this project was obtained from our institution’s IRB. Please contact the corresponding author of this commentary for more information as needed.
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