Following the international success of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend tetralogy (2011–2014) and the HBO series inspired by it, attention has intensified in the new media on the topic of girlhood and coming-of-age stories. At the same time, the #metoo campaign introduced aspects of feminist discourse into the mainstream, with girls becoming especially sensitised to the issues raised. This seminar series offers a fresh focus on girlhood and asks how we might understand it today.
Epstein explores who experiences pleasure and how this reflects or reinforces societal views on sexuality, using masturbation in queer young adult literature as a case study. Societal discomfort with masturbation, female sexuality in general, and lesbian sexuality in particular combine to make queer female solitary sex an invisible and possibly taboo subject in young adult literature. Since literature can reflect society and show readers possibilities for their lives and futures, it is especially concerning that while young males – both heterosexual and queer – are depicted in English-language young adult novels as enjoying a wide range of sexual practices, including onanism, there are few explicit portrayals of young queer females exploring and appreciating their own bodies and their sexual responses. Epstein argues that this lack does young queer women a disservice, teaching them shame and secrecy rather than healthy and confident sexuality.
B.J. Epstein (University of East Anglia): 'The (Lack of) Pleasures of Girlhood: The Masturbating Queer Girl in Young Adult Literature'
Event date: Thursday, 27 October 2022