Consent puzzles: Narrative ambiguities of girls' sexual agency in literature and film from the 1990s

Michele Meek, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

In Consent Puzzles: Narrative Ambiguities of Girls’ Sexual Agency in Literature and Film from the 1990s, I examine post-second wave feminist era films, literature, and media representations that depict what I call “consent puzzles,” or ethically and aesthetically ambiguous depictions of girls’ sexual consent. Although sexual consent can be problematic for adults and for boys, a great deal of attention in both psychological studies and popular discourse emphasizes an overarching concern about how sexual consent operates specifically for girls. In particular, girls are often depicted as the gatekeepers who are either “consenting” or “nonconsenting” to others’ desires, as opposed to being portrayed as agents driving their own sexual interactions. Furthermore, even when girls are depicted as “consenting,” their consent is often deemed irrelevant due to their status as “always already” victims. In addition to representations of blatant nonconsensual sex, girls’ consent might be considered invalidated due to their age, or because of their “sexualization” by popular culture, or both. In this study, I investigate particularly puzzling depictions of girls’ sexual consent—such as reiterations of Lolita, or stories of girls’ sexual desire amidst sexual abuse, or the competing media narratives surround the “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher—to show how these narratives not only demonstrate the gray area of consent, but also how they validate girls’ subjectivity, desires, and agency. I then look to the character of Stevie from April Sinclair’s novels as a model for how girls might contend with the innumerable layers in between our ideas of coercion and consent and access the ambiguities of sexual agency, sexual preference, gender, and race. Finally, I bring my study into the present through the contemporary discourse about teen sexting, which further highlights the ambiguities of real and imagined girls’ sexual consent, and I advocate for a more nuanced approach to reading girls’ sexual consent and agency, so that we might better protect girls from sexual assault, while affirming girls’ own sexual subjectivity.^

Subject Area

Literature|Gender studies|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Michele Meek, "Consent puzzles: Narrative ambiguities of girls' sexual agency in literature and film from the 1990s" (2016). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10196028.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI10196028

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