The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
EPILOGUE: THEORETICAL IMPLICATIONS AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS

The narrative accounts provided in chapters 3 through 6 recount the experiences of only three young women; therefore, these stories do not comprise representative examples of sexual abuse or identity development in general. They do, however, offer interesting clues about the ways in which young women from very diverse backgrounds managed to cope with sexist violence and go on to seek their own niche in the world. Ranging widely from their personal efforts to "have a life," this chapter will explore some of the implications for identity theory that can be derived from their accounts.

While recounting the stories told by Ada, Chloe, and Letitia, many different theoretical constructs came into play. First, in keeping with Erikson's ideas, these three young women were all seeking to find a niche in the world. In that search, however, they encountered pervasive personal and social efforts to silence them. Their struggles to give voice to their experiences of sexual abuse highlighted issues that are relevant to feminist theories on social constructions of women's sexuality, gender, and violence. In keeping with other feminist theories that emphasize the self-in-relation, these three young women had to find connections with others who were able to listen respectfully to their testimonies before they could give voice to ugly, hidden truths. Rather than a linear progression from dependency to autonomy, their identities were formed around issues of voice and audience in efforts to establish both separation from and connection to others. Thus, finding a voice was linked to separation from those who would not listen, while building connections to others with whom it was safe to speak created possibilities for independence and autonomy in relationships bounded by mutual respect.

These narratives suggested that the processes by which identities are constructed combine theoretical constructs from many different sources. No single theory of identity development seemed to capture the complexity of that task. In the process of searching for the kinds of separate connections around which to establish self-respectful identities, however, these three

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