Identity of Distance: How Economically Marginalized Black and Latina Women Navigate Risk Discourse and Employ Feminist Ideals
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Racialized and classed “risk” narratives of sexuality in the United States construct economically marginalized young women of color as sexually precocious, potential teen mothers who are likely to end up as burdens on the state. Some scholars underline the utility of recognizing reproductive inequalities involved in constructing teen motherhood as an unequivocal social problem, and they stress the importance of exploring teen mothers’ agency in navigating dominant risk narratives. Fewer studies analyze how young women who are not pregnant or parenting produce, reproduce, and challenge dominant risk narratives about their sexuality. Drawing on three years of intensive fieldwork among 13 young economically marginalized black and Latina women, I demonstrate how feminist ideologies of empowerment interact with pervasive risk narratives in the everyday lives of marginalized women coming of age in the “shadow of the women’s movement.” My observations show that the young women strategically navigate circulating risk narratives about their sexuality by constructing an identity of distance characterized by feminist ideals of independence, self-respect, and self-development to distance themselves from these narratives. However, as they construct this identity of distance, they also stigmatize young mothers and police their own bodies and the bodies of their friends and sisters. I draw on women-of-color feminism to reflect on the uncomfortable relationship—evident in the process of a group of young women’s identity construction—between feminist ideologies of empowerment and bourgeois heteronormativity that marginalizes young women’s sexualities by constructing teen motherhood as inherently problematic.
Youth; Risk discourse; Feminist empowerment; Women-of-color feminism; Re-productive justice
Politics and Social Change
Identity of Distance: How Economically Marginalized Black and Latina Women Navigate Risk Discourse and Employ Feminist Ideals.
Social Problems, 65(4),