• Consumer sexualities: women and sex shopping

      Wood, Rachel; University of Chester (Routledge, 2017-08-15)
      Introduction: Consumer Sexualities The introduction to Consumer Sexualities: Women and Sex Shopping sets out the main objective of the book: to provide an insight into the experiential, everyday dimensions of sexual consumption. It gives an overview of the theoretical frameworks used, including Foucault’s technologies of the self and de Certeau’s notion of ‘making do’ with the materials of commodity culture. It outlines how the qualitative research, including interviews and accompanied shopping trips, was undertaken and considers some of the challenges of researching sexual cultures. Finally, an overview of the following chapters is provided. Chapter One - Sexual Consumption and Liberation in Feminism This chapter deals with a series of ‘moments’, from the late 1960s to the 1980s, in which feminist connections between sexual liberation and the consumption of sexual commodities (such as the vibrator and dildo) were forged. Drawing on the Spare Rib magazine archive alongside a range of other primary and secondary sources, the chapter explores how sexual consumption as an enabler of sexual, and even socio-political emancipation, emerged as a key area of debate, although not of agreement, over this period. These moments point to a foundation, both discursive and material, for the 1990s postfeminist ‘makeover’ of sexual consumer culture. Chapter Two - Consumer Sex: Technologies of the Self This chapter explores the role of sexual consumption in an age of postfeminist neoliberalism. Examining popular forms of sex advice for women, the chapter argues that women are enjoined to participate in technologies of the sexual self that enable them to work upon their sexual consumer knowledge and identities. Such technologies were taken up in the doing of the research itself, both by researcher and participants. Finally, there is a discussion of the question of women’s agency and lived experience – arguing for the importance of attending to women’s ambivalent everyday negotiation of postfeminist culture. Chapter Three - Sexual Spaces: Going Sex Shopping This chapter explores the sex shop as a space of ‘encounter’, where sexualities are both represented and experienced. Through the distinctions made between sex shops – as accessible, feminine, tasteful, classy, tacky, seedy, and even dangerous – gendered and classed sexual identities are constructed and performed whilst non-respectable sexual identities are othered. Performing sex shopping in a confident, respectable, tasteful, knowledgeable and feminine manner can be understood as a key regulatory technology of the sexual self through which female subjects are incited to articulate and work upon their sexual identities and lives in neoliberalism. Chapter Four - The Sexy Body: Wearing Lingerie This chapter argues that lingerie is used as a technology of the self through which postfeminist forms of sexiness and femininity are constructed. However, embodied narratives of pleasure and discomfort in lingerie can be understood as negotiations with the postfeminist and neoliberal construction of the ‘sexy body’ as a visual project to be worked upon. Finally, the chapter highlights the ways in which lingerie can be deployed in non-(gender) normative ways through the process of pleasurable laughter, performance and play. Chapter Five - Sexual Objects: Using ‘Sex Toys’ This chapter examines the various ways in which sex toys are mobilised as part of sexual practice. The body and sex toy are understood as an ‘assemblage’ that can enable and disable particular sexual pleasures, identities and practices. Women’s accounts point to the pressure to perform feminised emotional labour by working on the orgasmic sexual self and relationships. However, participants’ experiences also demonstrate that, as sex toys are made ordinary through their repeated everyday use and their assemblage with bodies, their meanings may shift in ways that often exceed or contradict their significance as commodities in postfeminist sexual culture. Conclusion: (Sexual) Politics of the Ordinary The conclusion to Consumer Sexualities explores the wider implications of placing the everyday at the centre of an analysis of contemporary sexual cultures. This approach demonstrates that commodities like lingerie and sex toys are adapted, negotiated and transformed as they become embedded in the mundane, ordinary contexts of everyday sexual use. I suggest that focusing the critical gaze on the ‘ordinariness’ of sexual materials, far from being placatory or complacent, is key to forming a critical response to restrictive or moralising popular debates around sexual cultures.
    • Critical feminist hope: the encounter of neoliberalism and popular feminism in WWE 24: Women’s Evolution

      Wood, Rachel; Litherland, Benjamin; University of Chester; University of Huddersfield (Taylor & Francis, 2017-11-03)
      Scholarship has pointed to contemporary feminism’s popularity and cultural “luminosity.” While this research has highlighted the limitations of feminist politics in a context of neoliberal individualism, this paper seeks to ask what possibilities for critiques and transformation of gender inequalities might be enabled by feminism’s visibility in neoliberalism. Using a framework of critical feminist hope, we highlight that capitalism’s embrace of feminism inarguably limits its political scope, but it may also open up opportunities for new forms of representation. To illustrate this, the paper analyses WWE 24: Women’s Evolution, a “brandcasting” documentary made to mark the rebrand of the sport entertainment promotion’s women’s division in 2016. While never naming it directly, the documentary draws heavily upon the signifiers of popular feminism. Although this mobilisation is often highly limited, a critically hopeful feminist reading allows us to move beyond dismissing this text as an example of feminism’s “cooptation” by neoliberalism. We highlight the documentary’s scathing critique of past failings in the representation and treatment of women performers, and, more importantly, the way feminism is used to make the case for corporate re-structure and change.
    • Girls being Rey: ethical cultural consumption, families and popular feminism

      Wood, Rachel; Litherland, Benjamin; Reed, Elizabeth (Informa UK Limited, 2019-08-29)
    • Look good, feel good: sexiness and sexual pleasure in neoliberalism

      Wood, Rachel; University of Chester (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017-01-27)
      This paper explores the connections between sexiness and sexual pleasure for women in neoliberal, postfeminist culture. The first half of the paper is concerned with an examination of the way that ‘looking good’ and ‘feeling good’ are constructed and conflated by sex advice for women. The second half of the paper considers how this discourse is negotiated in women’s accounts, in which they work upon and understand themselves as sexual agents who look and feel good ‘for me’. In conclusion, I argue that working upon the self/body in ways that are intelligible in neoliberalism can be precarious and prone to failure.
    • The pleasure imperative? Reflecting on sexual pleasure’s inclusion in sex education and sexual health settings.

      Wood, Rachel; Hirst, Julia; Wilson, Liz; Burns O'Connell, Georgina; University of Chester, Sheffield Hallam University (Taylor and Francis, 2018-04-30)
      This article offers an empirically grounded contribution to scholarship exploring the ways in which pleasure is ‘put to work’ in sex and sexuality education. Such research has cautioned against framing pleasure as a normative requirement of sexual activity and hence reproducing a ‘pleasure imperative’. This paper draws on interviews with sexual health and education practitioners who engaged with Pleasure Project resources and training between 2007 and 2016. Findings suggest that practitioners tend to understand pleasure within critical frameworks that allow them to avoid normalising and (re)enforcing a pleasure imperative. Accounts also show negotiations with, and strategic deployments of, values surrounding sexual pleasure in society and culture. While some accounts suggest that a pleasure imperative does run the risk of being reproduced by practitioners, notably this is when discussing more ‘contentious’ sexual practices. Interviews also demonstrate that practitioners attempting to implement a pleasure agenda are faced with a range of challenges. While some positive, holistic, and inclusive practice has been afforded by a pleasure approach, we argue that the importance of a critical framework needs to be (re)emphasised. The paper concludes by highlighting areas for further empirical research.
    • Sexual consumption within sexual labour: producing and consuming erotic texts and sexual commodities

      Wood, Rachel; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2015-09-07)
      This paper explores the various connections between two particularly feminized fields of sexual culture – erotic fiction and sex toys – through an examination of the accounts of five UK women who are both readers and writers (or producers) of erotic fiction. The qualitative data evidence, first, a network of production and consumption across the fields of erotica and sex toys, and, second, the formulation of erotica writing/producing as a form of implicit sex work in which sexual commodities are mobilized. Analysis is divided into three themes: ‘informing sexual knowledge’, in which the educative function of erotica is examined, particularly around sex-toy use; ‘mobilizing sexual experiences’, in which I argue that writing erotica involves mobilizing one's body and sexual experience to add value to the product; and ‘managing emotional risks’, in which the emotion, identity and boundary management strategies particular to this form of implicit sexual labour are examined.
    • ‘What I’m not gonna buy’: Algorithmic culture jamming and anti-consumer politics on YouTube

      Wood, Rachel; University of Chester (Sage Publications, 2020-07-08)
      This article is based on an analysis of ‘anti-haul’ videos on YouTube, where a vlogger explains which beauty products they plan not to buy. Anti-haul vloggers have much in common with ‘culture jamming’ movements, which use the communicative practices and materials of promotional culture against itself to spread an anti-consumerist agenda. The article argues that anti-hauls should be understood as the reinvention of ‘culture jamming’ techniques for a contemporary promotional culture that is platform based, algorithmically governed, and mobilised through the affective, authentic performance of the ‘influencer’. I refer to this manipulation of the platform’s visibility mechanisms to spread anti-consumer messages as ‘algorithmic culture jamming’. The anti-consumer politics of anti-hauls are contradictory and ambivalent. At the same time, I argue that anti-hauls also offer important possibilities for political learning, personal and collective transformation, and alternative creative pleasures outside of continual consumer accumulation.
    • 'You do act differently when you're in it’: lingerie and femininity

      Wood, Rachel; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2014-01-13)
      This paper examines British women's accounts of buying and wearing lingerie taken from in-depth interviews exploring experiences of shopping in sex shops. Lingerie forms one part of a sexual consumer culture that is positioned within a neoliberal discourse of postfeminism. Women's engagement with the representation of lingerie, the way they enact lingerie buying and wearing in their everyday lives and the ways they speak about these practices show complex and often incongruous strategies of accommodation and negotiation. Such strategies can make lingerie pleasurable and liveable whilst at the same time expressing forms of anxiety, ambivalence or laughter directed towards the performance of femininity and feminine sexuality required and represented by lingerie. I contend that it is precisely through this often contradictory engagement with lingerie that strategic counter discourses emerge, by which women can resist some of the respectable norms of female sexuality. Women position themselves in ambivalent ways in relation to the visual imperative of feminine sexuality represented by lingerie, particularly through an embodied discourse of comfort and discomfort, or through the playful and pleasurable performance of non-naturalised gender roles.