Revisiting Bedroom Culture: New Spaces for Young Women's Politics
In this article I argue for an investigation of recent representations of young women's civic engagement and political activism as being on the wane. I interrogate contemporary theoretical developments that seek to explain their politics and attitudes towards citizenship in terms of risk and individualisation. I suggest that young women may have developed new forms of political expression, and found new spaces for these, as a consequence of the scrutiny that girlhood has come under in recent times. The article thus addresses the issue of new places for youth expression, the changing landscape of youth `resistance,' and especially the location of young women within this. I take as my reference point an argument about youth politics made by Henry Giroux (1998:24), among others, who says that `when youth do speak, the current generation in particular, their voices generally emerge on the margins of society -- in underground magazines, alternative music spheres, computer hacker clubs and other subcultural sites.'(1) Here I want to elaborate some ideas about why this might be so, especially now, and especially for young women. I am interested in the idea that girlhood has become a container for cultural anxieties about social change, and that there exists a cultural fascination with girlhood, which constructs young women as either `having everything' or being in serious trouble. I am, then, exploring the ways that young women have responded to this; and how they have perhaps `gone underground' in an attempt to evade this kind of spotlight. I illustrate this argument by drawing from my current research, in which I have interviewed young women about cultural politics, social change and feminism.
Why Youth Citizenship Now?
Youth citizenship has become a central issue within youth sociology due to the ways in which young people's circumstances have shifted under late modernity. Whilst the concept of the period of youth as a fixed and certain experience has always been a contested notion, contemporary times put this idea under considerably more strain. Research both locally and internationally is engaged with the challenge of understanding young people's social and political identifications in changing times, when identity itself is characterised by flux.(2) Specifically, this is because young people no longer enjoy the kinds of transitions and pathways once available to bridge the passage from a dependent childhood to an autonomous adulthood. These pathways have also typically led towards full adult citizenship, in the broadest sense meaning `multi-layered, full membership in a community,'(3) and by the narrowest definition being entitlement to nation-state specific political, social and civil rights. However, young people increasingly live in between, and travel back and forth from, dependence and independence. Late modern conditions of globalisation and post-industrialisation, and their effects on labour markets, migration and social identity are widely held responsible for this phenomenon of non-linear trajectories.(4) At the same time, young people's capacity to engage in political protest or collective resistance that might emerge out of frustration at these circumstances is also seen to be muted. Post materialist values are often attributed to youth; that is, individual lifestyle decisions take priority over any interest in emancipatory politics.(5) According to many commentators on youth, cynicism, apathy and a focus on the self have replaced activism. However, as Debi Roker argues, `researchers have generally focused on what young people do not do in relation to participation. Very little attention has been paid to the ways in which young people do participate in society, and their roles as active citizens.'(6) Consequently, it has become critical at this moment to understand how young people can become engaged in civic life and experience political efficacy in the absence of traditional passages to citizenship: are they already forging their own paths in this respect and where might these be identified? …