Top Girls? Young women and the post-feminist sexual contract

McRobbie, Angela. 2007. Top Girls? Young women and the post-feminist sexual contract. Cultural Studies, 21(4), pp. 718-737. ISSN 09502386 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article argues that, particularly in the last decade, an address by government to young women in the 'advanced democracies' of the west, and in this case in the UK, entails the provision of what might be understood as a new sexual contract. In the post-feminist guise of equality, as though it is already achieved, young women are attributed with capacity. They are urged to become hyper-active across three key sites where their new found visibility then becomes most manifest. Within the field of consumer culture this takes the form of the 'post-feminist masquerade' where the fashion and beauty system appears to displace traditional modes of patriarchal authority. Likewise the emergence of the 'phallic girl' appears to have gained access to sexual freedoms previously the preserve of men, the terms and conditions of which require control of fertility and carefully planned parenthood. The new sexual contract is also embedded within the fields of education and employment. Here too young women (top girls) are now understood to be ideal subjects of female success, exemplars of the new competitive meritocracy. These incitements to young women to become wage-earning subjects are complex strategies of governmentality, the new 'career girl' in the affluent west finds her counterpart, the 'global girl' factory worker, in the rapidly developing factory systems of the impoverished countries of the so-called Third World. Underpinning this attribution of capacity and the seeming gaining of freedoms is the requirement that the critique of hegemonic masculinity associated with feminism and the women's movement is abandoned. The sexual contract now embedded in political discourse and in popular culture permits the renewed institutionalisation of gender inequity and the re-stabilisation of gender hierarchy by means of a generational-specific address which interpellates young women as subjects of capacity. With government now taking it upon itself to look after the young woman, so that she is seemingly well-cared for, this is also an economic rationality which envisages young women as endlessly working on a perfectible self, for whom there can be no space in the busy course of the working day for a renewed feminist politics.

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post-feminist masquerade, consumer culture, the phallic girl, hegemonic masculinity, new sexual contract, patriarchy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


July 2007Published

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Date Deposited:

12 Mar 2009 15:42

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 14:44

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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