COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course examines the positioning of all girls through the heteronormative discourse of Lesbian, Good Girl, Slut which evaluates young women by their desire for and desirability by men – like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears … too little, just right, too much… and what it takes to walk that “just right” line. It challenges the idea that the Good Girl and the Slut are in binary relationship to each other and proposes that women are placed on a continuum of desire and desirability. The continuum is, in part, made visible by the possibility of lesbian desire. The course grew out of my work with lesbian adolescents and their lived experience with/participation in the good girl/slut discourse. Below are abstracts/excerpts of two of my papers that shape the thinking for this course.
Sluts: The power of compulsory heterosexuality regulates the sexuality of adolescent lesbians as strongly as it does their heterosexual peers. Marked with a “sexual”(ized) identity, young Southern lesbians in this life history study made claim to moral high ground by consistently identifying with the hegemonic “good girl” construct and by participating in the naming of women whose sexual behavior demonstrated a disregard for the “rules.” The good girl/ bad girl, the virgin/slut binaries played significant roles in their identity claims, in their relationships, and in their choices of friendships. Personal self control (“just kissing”) is seen by these young women as admirable and “sluts” are seen as dangerous women who harm others and themselves. This paper will explore the marking of “sluts” and “too experienced” women in the life stories of white Southern adolescent lesbians and the continued social controls imposed on adolescent female sexuality through the devaluing of women’s sexual agency.
The Lesbian Goodgirl: In addition to the direct demands on the containment of the body, hegemonic femininity requires selflessness, thoughtfulness, niceness, servitude, and heterosexuality. Hegemonic femininity is linked not only with “proper” performance of gender and a rightful claim to “normalcy” but to a moral discourse surrounding what it means to be a “good” person and what the standards for evaluating “goodness” ought to be – so that gender “properly” performed equates to “goodness” and to properly perform gender, one must be straight, so “straightness” too becomes a requirement for “good girl” status. Conflict, then, potentially exists as young lesbian identifying women wrestle with an identity sexualized by the culture that denies them claim to a position as a moral subject and yet tells them they “should” be “good girls.”“I was immediately captivated by the course Good Girls, Sluts, and Dykes because it was focused on discussing material that I normally would have to seek out and study on my own rather that having the opportunity to actually discuss it in a class with a well-informed professor….The way Dr. Payne presented the course felt more like a conversation about important scholarship and current issues rather than a dictator spitting out facts and telling us what to think. Everyone was free to express their opinions or ask questions in class, which led to students bringing in additional readings they heard about elsewhere or sending out e-mails to the entire class with links to articles or videos relevant to course content. These added conversations were not required, but done voluntarily and with enthusiasm. The conversations we were having extended outside of the classroom and it is a conversation that I would beg to argue continues with each and every one of us that took that course… Additionally, the course was made up of a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students from various departments across the Syracuse University campus. Each person had something new to add and gain from this course because of the shared experiences from the diverse classroom.” Heather Roy, Graduate student, Communication & Rhetorical Studies