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“Stroppy Bitches Who Just Need to Learn How to Settle”? Young Single Women and Norms of Femininity and Heterosexuality


The (older) single woman has evoked numerous negative sociocultural stereotypes in recent (Western) history, with “being single” a fraught position for (heterosexual) women. Have shifts toward gendered equality changed this stereotype? We interviewed 21 young heterosexual women in Aotearoa (New Zealand) about their experiences of being single. We focused on young adulthood (ages 25–35), a time when having children might be a particularly salient concern. Women’s experiences of being single were inextricable from their wider experiences of heterosexuality and pressures to enact a “desirable” femininity. A thematic analysis identified four patterned sets of pressures, which we conceptualised as rules that govern hetero-relating: (a) pressures and expectations surrounding beauty standards, (b) (allowing for) aspects of male control and superiority, (c) acceptable/unacceptable gendered standards of sexuality, and (d) eventual and mandatory (heterosexual) coupling (by a “certain” age). Participants remained largely subject to traditional ideas around heterosexual gender roles, with identifiable punishments for “unfeminine” behaviour. Many women did articulate resistance and critique, even as most also expressed complicity. In this context, singledom was constructed as a “defective’ state,” even if desired, suggesting it remains a complex and precarious position to occupy.

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There were no sources of funding for this project (done as part of a Master’s degree).

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Correspondence to Virginia Braun.

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There were no conflicts of interest to declare.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

No animals were involved in this project. All human participants were over 16 years and volunteered to be start of the study using an ‘opt in’ process.

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All participants were informed in detail about the nature and purpose of the study, via email upon first contact and again verbally at the interview. All participants were also given time to read and then sign a participant information sheet and a consent form.

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Pickens, C., Braun, V. “Stroppy Bitches Who Just Need to Learn How to Settle”? Young Single Women and Norms of Femininity and Heterosexuality. Sex Roles 79, 431–448 (2018).

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  • Gender roles
  • Sex roles
  • Relationships
  • Sexuality
  • Gender identity
  • Hetero-relationality