Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity

By Sharon R. Mazzarella; Norma Odom Pecora | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Becoming a Woman in the 1970s: Female Adolescent Sexual Identity and Popular Literature

Amy Bowles-Reyere

This essay focuses on a new type of literature aimed at girls that emerged in the 1970s. This coming-of-age genre in Young Adult Literature presents a vision of womanhood that encourages a new kind of female identity, emphasizing sexual knowledge and sexual expression. I investigate how female sexuality is expressed and articulated in seven young adult texts. The theme threading its way throughout this popular literature is that female adolescents should have more power and control over their bodies and more authority to make choices about them. In all seven books, the female protagonist learns to assert her identity by gaining confidence in her sexual knowledge and understanding.

Influencing these young adult books was a plethora of adult literature, both fiction and nonfiction, produced in the 1970s that encouraged women to explore their sexual feelings and to demand sexual pleasure from their partners. For example, the feminist messages in the first publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves ( 1970) by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying ( 1973), Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden ( 1973), and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch ( 1970), among others, encouraged women's sexual subjectivity and exploration and provided a language for female sexual maturation and physiology. The messages in this adult popular literature appeared in some of the adolescent popular fiction produced during this period, such as Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret ( 1970) and Forever ( 1975), Norma Klein's It's NotWhat You Expect

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