While the conclusion reflects on the discussion and the future direction of policy and practice to address abuse in young intimate relationships, the landscape for change remains uncertain. The impetus for change appears to have the momentum of the new Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the promise of an Ofsted review of peer-on-peer sexual harassment and abuse in schools, but the commitment to sustain attitude and cultural changes that scaffold unhealthy gendered social norms remains uncertain. This should not deter us from our civic and moral duty of challenging abusive and harmful social norms and behaviour.
The voices of the young women shaped the foundation for this book. This chapter ‘sets the scene’ regarding the nature of the problem and the context of young people’s intimate relationships. The emphasis is on how young women continually modify and negotiate their behaviours as a result of their interactions and how their understanding(s) influences existing and new definitions of behaviour within these relationships.
Chapter 3 focuses on exploring the impact of gendered social norms of relationship roles, in particular, the power dynamics during each stage of the progression of young intimate relationships. The sense of the gendered social construction of intimate relationships will be explored, basically, the norm or cultural feature of courtship, discussing the perceived benefits and comfort gained from accepting established gendered scripts, rather than suffering the consequences of non-conformity. Young women lack the power to operationalise their egalitarian attitudes in order to engage in relationships that adhere to the description of what they expect, want or desire within a ‘healthy relationship’. They demonstrate how they carefully managed their ‘performance of self’ and the management of their own identity. It will be argued that barriers preventing the operationalisation of their attitudes, beliefs, wishes and feelings reinforce gender differences, providing unstable grounding for a change towards ‘real’ gender equality. Young women perform what they see as the expected girlfriend role to meet their boyfriends’ demands, to the detriment of their own self-development of identity.
Chapter 4 explores the dichotomy of a slag/angel and gendered ‘sexual double standards’, and this appears as a challenging dilemma for young women from their attitudinal understanding and experiences. The discussion will focus on the pressure on young women to perform the overt sexual role which is aligned with being a ‘slag/slut’. Despite acknowledgement by young women that this is problematic and an unfair label, this is perpetuated by these women themselves. Pervasive ‘double standards’ exist in relation to girls’ and boys’ sexual activity, which function as a dichotomy for young women of angelic femininity and the stigmatised sexual slut/slag/whore, illustrating the precarious nature of their sexual reputation, in sharp contrast to young men’s laddish/sexual hero role. Thus, it is permitted and expected for young men to have a focus on the physicality of intimate relationships. The ingrained fear of transgressing gender norms and challenging this sexual emphasis places young women within the quandary of ‘sexual double standards’. The discussion explores how the ‘doing of sex’ for young women ignites a web of controversy and dilemma, often placing them in an impossible position.
This chapter explores the key differences in the nature, patterns and visibility of abuse in young intimate relationships, in comparison with adult intimate relationships. The severity and impact of intimate partner abuse on young women is highlighted, with a specific focus on exploring the continuum of abuse. This includes looking into the nature of coercive control and the psychological harm inflicted by such abuse, as well as everyday forms of harassment, such as sexual bullying, including groping, and gendered patterns of verbal abuse in schools and beyond. The discussion within this chapter will also begin to explore the impact of abusive behaviour on young women’s well-being and identity.
The influence of social media or ‘online’ relationships has changed the nature of communication in relationships and is integral in shaping the landscape of young people’s peer and intimate relationships. Chapter 5 focuses on exploring how the nature of interpersonal communication has shifted, due to the widespread use of the internet and mobile phones, and so has the possibility for emotional abuse, specifically, the ability to remotely monitor movements. The dilemma of the internet, with its ability to perpetuate abuse by functioning as a platform to facilitate bullying behaviour, grooming and the non-consensual circulation of sensitive sexual images, can equally function as a supportive tool with vast information privately at young women’s fingertips, and this will be a central discussion point of this chapter.
The focus of this chapter is on promoting the need to develop a policy on ‘healthy relationship’ education that concentrates on a ‘whole-community approach’ that includes an emphasis on tackling gender norms as its foundation. The focus of this policy should go beyond the school setting in order to incorporate key multi-agency stakeholders, parents/carers and the wider community as a whole. Young women continue to face challenges when negotiating their feminine identity. Prevention programmes geared towards empowering young women should focus on promoting their confidence and individual agency. This re-evaluation will assist young women to construct their position in a manner that reduces the likelihood that any form of negotiation and power comes at a cost. This cost, seen within their narratives, was the emotion work of the management of this power imbalance and the requirement to ‘subtly’ perform their expected girlfriend role, due to the lack of negotiating space within their intimate relationships. The gaps between young women’s attitudes, their desires, expectations and their ‘everyday’ experiences draw attention to the complex dilemma for young women when performing their role in relationships.
Ceryl Teleri Davies’ research in female-only spaces informs this illuminating guide to young women’s experience of intimate relationships. Essential reading for those working with young people, the book makes a vital contribution to the study of gender-based violence. Her research reveals young women’s understandings of what it means to have a healthy relationship, and considers the influence of gendered social norms within both healthy and abusive relationships.
While contributing to the debate on how young women negotiate the conflicts inherent in contemporary constructions of gender, the book then suggests a pathway towards gender equality.
This short afterword recognizes that sustainable futures require responsible stewardship of resources. It estimates the carbon footprint entailed by the production of this volume. It shares the methodology used to calculate it, the assumptions underpinning the model, the inherent error margins and any calculation that seeks to explore the environmental costs of our actions. The chapter also explores the options for offsetting this footprint and the debates and ethical questions they raise, discussing why the editors and contributors felt it important to calculate the carbon footprint of their endeavour and what they did with that knowledge.