Conflicting Messages about Heterosexuality
As the young women are constantly exposed to a variety of the conflicting images and social prejudices, the academic community exhibits the immense interest in studying their impact on the formation of common perceptions of the heterosexual relationships. In Flirting with Danger: Young Women’s Reflection on Sexuality and Domination, Lynn M. Phillips argues that the media images, sex education, and family produce a set of opposing assertions in relation to the sexuality of the genders, victimization, and women’s expectations.
The author illustrates a wide set of convictions about the heterosexual relationship formed under the influence of the social environment. Phillips clearly expresses the deep academic curiosity in studying the widespread and contradicting stereotypes about the sexuality of both genders. She heavily relies on the personal reflections of the young women that participated in the survey (Phillips, 2000, p. 34, para. 1). Meanwhile, the author draws from a great variety of accumulated knowledge about the issue. The findings of the predecessors allow Phillips to construct her argument in relation to the academically proven concepts and notions. At the same, the renowned researcher supplies the audience with the social envelope. According to Phillips (2000), the sex education is profoundly influenced by the conservative ideology and the anti-feminist rhetoric (p. 35-36). The overall function of the sex education was reduced to the damage control due to the persistent promotion of abstinence and overall reluctance to address the controversial issues of birth control, gay and lesbian sexualities (Phillips, 2000, p. 35, para. 1). The mentioned evidence largely contributes to the establishing of the author’s familiarity with the issue as well as her main objectives.
One of the aspects addressed in the essay is the contradictive cultural perceptions of the female sexuality. Phillips strives to emphasize the clear distinctions between the concepts of the “good women” and “together women”. The first discourse determines the image of the successful women in terms of such opposite notions as “virgin” and “whore”. The female virtue is measured by the exhibition of modesty and selflessness, cultivated by the suppression of sexual desires while maintaining the appearance of the feminine purity and innocence (Phillips, 2000, p. 39-40). At the same, the personal recollections of the respondents suggest that the media images and school-based sex education produced numerous racist convictions. The teenage magazines tend to idealize the beauty of the white females, while the black women have no images to relate to (Phillips, 2000, p. 42, para. 2-4). In addition, the sex educators unconsciously convey the message about the promiscuity of the black girls by means of the body language (Phillips, 2000, p. 44, para. 2-3).
The second discourse relates to a different set of messages. The “together women” are sexually liberated and radiating with self-content (Phillips, 2000, p. 47-48). Meanwhile, this interpretation of female sexuality produced a wide set of judgmental assertions. The masturbation or any other form of pleasuring oneself is widely condemned since it partially deconstructs the image of an independent and self-assured woman (Phillips, 2000, p. 49, para. 3). In terms of the racial prejudices, the personal experience of the 19-year old respondent suggests that peers tend to view the black girls as strong, over-confident, and, consequently, promiscuous (Phillips, 2000, p. 50, para. 2). Overall, the reliance on the real-life experiences helps to establish the credibility of Phillips’s point of view.
It is only natural that Phillips proceeds with the discussion of the main discourses regarding the male sexuality. Once again, the author resorts to illuminating the differences between two opposing notions such as the normal or danger dichotomy and male sexual drive. The latter refers to the socially accepted division of men into two groups, i.e. the normal and abusive ones (Phillips, 2000, p. 52, para. 2). While Phillips (2000) acknowledges the validity of Linda Gordon’s argument about the influence of history and context on these categories, she argues about the emergence of the distinctive features that characterize both groups. (p. 52, para. 3). The category of the sexual abuse, in particular, is codified in the U. S. legislation and includes the sex offenses (Phillips, 2000, p. 53, para. 1). Although the discourse is based on the scary stories about the bad men, the culturally shaped images of heroes and criminals are racially biased. For instance, the cinematography often portrays white heroes, while their opponents are predominantly black people (Phillips, 2000, p. 53-54). At the same time, the parental warnings mainly concentrate on avoiding the interactions with strangers while failing to admit the risks of domestic violence (Phillips, 2000, p. 54-55).
The later concept offers the different view on the masculine sexuality. Phillips (2000) borrows Wendy Hallway’s term “the male sexual drive discourse” to describe the socially justified manifestation of the male sexual aggression (p. 57, para. 3). According to this theory, the masculine aggression is acceptable since it is viewed as a natural pattern of men’s behavior, whereas explosive males are obliged to succeed in their sexual advances against stubborn women (Phillips, 2000, p. 58, para. 1-2). Interestingly, as the cinematography and romantic fiction provide numerous examples of links between love and the male domination, the women tend to consider the aggressive sexual reaction of men as the prove of their attractiveness (Phillips, 2000, p. 61, para. 1). Both discourses obviously stand in opposition to each other.
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As the male sexual drive and the pleasing woman discourses suggest the high risks of victimization, Phillips is preoccupied with identifying this notion. According to the female victimization statement, entering the sexual relationships are generally equated to a wide set of risks including disease, pregnancy, rape, bad reputation, and loss of self-respect (Phillips, 2000, p. 61-62). The spread of this assertion is attributed to the popular media images of the victimized girls (Phillips, 2000, p. 62, para. 3). On the contrary, the true victims discourse refers to the true crimes, whereas the victims did not provoke the sexual assault or took all available measures to cope with the situation afterwards (Phillips, 2000, p. 66, para. 1). Furthermore, Phillips (2000) seems to agree with Elizabeth Stanko who argues that such misconducts as street and workplace harassment, battering and acquaintance rape are not crimes since they are so typical and, therefore, normal (p. 67, para. 2). Evidently, the first approach condemns any forms of sexual intercourse as potentially dangerous, while the second one offers the definition of victimization which is too narrow.
Similarly, the author offers two interpretations of women’s expectations from participating in the heterosexual relationships. In terms of the love hurts discourse, Phillips appears to agree with the assertion, provided by Ann Snitow. The researcher claims that while men’s cruelty and indifference is a common attribute of heterosexual relations, women are often forced to find the solution for their irresponsibility by themselves either by becoming better wives or lowering their general expectations from relationships (Phillips, 2000, p. 69-70). On the other hand, the love conquers all discourse suggests that the heterosexual relationships are the ultimate prerequisite of happiness. It derives its appeal from the popular fairy tales about happy couples and motherly guidance (Phillips, 2000, p. 73-74). Overall, Phillips supplies the audience with the comprehensive analysis of what notions constitute victimization and how women perceive the life in marriage.
In conclusion, the evidence illustrates the staggering effect of the social environment on the perception of the heterosexual relations. It is obvious that such factors as media images, family values, and school education tend to shape the youth’s views on the major aspects of heterosexuality. The book is the abundant source of knowledge on a varying set of discourses on gender sexuality, sexual abuse, and women’s vision of the relationships. Therefore, it is recommendable for reading by the wide audience.