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.
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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.
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.
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Bay-Cheng, L.Y., Bruns, A.E. & Maguin, E. Agents, Virgins, Sluts, and Losers: The Sexual Typecasting of Young Heterosexual Women. Sex Roles 79, 699–714 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0907-7
- Young women
- Sexual agency
- Gender norms
- Sexual stereotypes