‘Listen to your fear’: how fear discourse (re)produces gendered sexual subjectivities

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Manuela BeyerChemnitz University of Technology, Germany

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This article explores the interrelations between gender and fear, based on the hypothesis of sexual fear being produced as a feminised emotion in discourse. Empirical analyses of historically contingent constructions of sexual fears from 1961–2021 in the advice pages of the popular German youth magazine Bravo show how fear has been produced as a central technique governing feminine sexuality, by far surmounting the importance of either feminine love or desire. The results point to historically specific constructions of feminised sexual dangers, developing from premarital pregnancy in the 1960s, emotional suffering because of premature coitus in the 1980s and 1990s, to digitalised sexual practices in the 21st century. Feminised constructions of sexual risks and fears render feminine subjects as passive, vulnerable and in need of protection while simultaneously producing masculine subjects as actively sex seeking and potentially dangerous. The results also indicate that discursive delegitimisation of feminine sexual fear may equally contribute to re-establishing sexual inequality by pressuring girls to be sexually available. I argue, therefore, that it is not sufficient to analyse constructions of gendered subjects as being either fearful or fearless. Instead, the reconstruction of discursive model practices governing subjects to manage sexual fears is key to disentangling the complex nexus of gender and fear. The investigation of historical transformations of sexual fear discourses contributes to tracing both dynamics and continuities in gendered power relations, thereby illustrating the central role of fear in classic sociological research themes of inequality and power relations.

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Manuela BeyerChemnitz University of Technology, Germany

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