Drawing on a research project looking at women’s engagement with therapeutic/self-help literature this paper uses the concept of narrative frameworks to explore women’s negotiation of currently circulating stories of healthy womanhood, intimacy and sexuality. In a (western) world increasingly informed by therapeutic discourses, adult women are told they are entitled to happiness and success and failure to do so is seen to result from past (often traumatic) experiences which might or might not be remembered. Central to this construction of womanhood is what (drawing on Rich 1980) I have called ‘compulsory sexuality’ whereby the healthy adult woman is constructed as sexually knowledgeable, active and desirous. This not only puts pressure on all women to construct a (particular) active sexual self but helps to construct those who do not as problematic and directs them to seek both cause and solution in their damaged psychologies. One such cause is said to be childhood sexual abuse and the self-help literature aimed at survivors of such abuse encourages readers to use the idea(l) of an active sexual self as a measure of health, well-being and ultimately womanhood. In this paper I argue that contemporary narrative frameworks of healthy womanhood not only allows for women who are not, or do not wish to be, sexually active to be identified as problematic, but directs them to see themselves as damaged. In critiquing the sexual abuse recovery literature I also show how this can be used to create different a/sexual selves, albeit ones currently perceived to be ‘damaged’.
- Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences - Reader
- School of Human and Health Sciences
- Centre for Applied Childhood, Youth and Family Research - Core Member
- Centre for Citizenship, Conflict, Identity and Diversity - Associate Director
- Secure Societies Institute