Exploring the Impact of Sociocultural Expectations on Young Women’s Negotiations of Normative Femininities

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Chiodo, Linda Nicole (2018) Exploring the Impact of Sociocultural Expectations on Young Women’s Negotiations of Normative Femininities. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


The current sociocultural climate is increasingly characterised by postfeminist and neoliberal sentiment, which presents a complex and contradictory context for young women who are constructing their identities in this social terrain. Adopting a theoretical orientation of social constructionism and drawing on feminist poststructuralist theories, the current research aimed to contribute to knowledge concerning how young women ‘do’ gender and negotiate contemporary normative femininities. Specifically, how school-aged young women understand, interpret and perform sociocultural informed normative femininities was examined; including, how young women understand and position themselves in relation to broader issues of sexism and feminism. Additionally, this study sought to examine the ways in which the school environment and young women’s friends and peers inform their perceptions and performances of successful girlhood. The current ethnographic study was conducted in an all-girls Catholic non-government secondary school in Melbourne, Victoria. Participants included eleven young women and three teachers from this school. Multiple qualitative data collection methods were employed, including individual semi-structured interviews with young women and teachers, a focus group with young women, fieldwork and archival data. Data collected was analysed thematically and the findings were varied and complex. The extent to which this all-girls school environment was a safe or unsafe space (often simultaneously) for participants to develop their understandings of feminism and normative femininities was explored. Thus, it was found that this educational setting presented young women with many barriers as well as opportunities to challenge notions concerning customary schoolgirl femininities. Importantly, the young women in the current study were found to be in a state of hyper-vigilance with regards to their ability to manage and negotiate the numerous contradictions inherent in postfeminist and neoliberal representations of girlhood. In summary, young women’s negotiations of normative femininities were found to be primarily formed around wanting to do well in school, paired with the pressure of satisfying appearance related norms. It was established that through judgemental looking and talking, female peers were influential in informing participants’ performances of normative femininities. That is, it was evident in the current study that young women were often subjected to mistreatment by other female peers based on their gendered performances. Furthermore, the young women in the current research demonstrated varied levels of awareness regarding the different forms of sexism they and other young women experience; and expressed multiple and varied relationships to feminism. Overall, young women in the current research were found to be active in their diverse, fluid and complex negotiations of normative femininities; however, at times were unsatisfied with the avenues available to ‘do’ girlhood.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/37822
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Health and Biomedicine
Keywords feminist poststructuralist theories; femininities; feminism; postfeminism; normative femininities; women; youth; adolescents; wellbeing; bullying; girlhood; gender; sexism; school; friends; peers; seconday school; Catholic school; St. Cera's Ladies College; Melbourne
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