Photo: TwentyFour Students is licensed under CC by 4.0

Photo: TwentyFour Students is licensed under CC by 4.0

Abstract: Over the past decade, sexual rumor spreading, slut-shaming, and homophobic labeling have become central examples of bullying among young women. This article examines the role these practices— what adults increasingly call “bullying” and what girls often call “drama”— play in girls’ gendering processes. Through interviews with 54 class and racially diverse late adolescent girls from five regions of the U.S., I explore the content and functions of “sexual drama.” All participants had experiences with this kind of conflict, and nearly a third had been the subject of other girls’ rumors about their own sexual actions and/or orientations. Their accounts indicate that sexual drama offers girls a socially acceptable site for making claims to, and sense of, gendered sexuality in adolescence. While they reproduce inequality through these practices, sexual drama is also a cultural resource for girls—one that is made useful through the institutional constraints of their high schools, which reinforce traditional gender norms and limit sexuality information.  

*Lead article and winner of the 2016 American Sociological Association Sociology of Sexualities Section Graduate Student Paper Award, See Also: Miller, Sarah. 2016. “How You Bully a Girl.” Gender & Society Blog.    

Miller, Sarah. Forthcoming. ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Tough Guys’: Gender, Sexuality, and the Individualization of Anti-Bullying. In Christopher Donoghue Ed. Power and Aggression Among Adolescents: Toward a Sociology of Bullying. (Manuscript Under Contract at New York University Press).

Abstract: This book chapter examines the gendered and sexualized messages anti-bullying campaigns send youth through two case studies: a national campaign against “girl on girl crime,” and a national campaign on cyberbullying that emphasizes girls’ sexual morality and boys’ “uncontrollable” heterosexual desires. Using data from a multi-year ethnography at a rural high school in the Northeast, I find that both of these initiatives obfuscate boys’ often integral role in girls’ experiences of bullying, as well as boys’ own experiences of conflict, while emphasizing girls’ “meanness” and their responsibility to both tolerate and protect themselves from boys’ and men’s bad behavior. Further, I argue that both campaigns emphasize an idealized white, heterosexual, class-privileged girlhood deserving of both protection and reform, while obscuring the increased structural and social challenges LBTQ, low income, and girls of color face when navigating conflict. 

Miller, Sarah. 2013. In Defense of Danger: Sex, Schools and the Politics of Discourse. Sexualities. 16 (5/6): 604-621

Abstract: This study examines a community controversy over the first high school-sponsored student performance of The Vagina Monologues, covered in the local and national media about the sexuality of minors. Through content analysis of archival documents and media coverage, I explore the discursive politics of this debate over sex, youth, and schools. I find that this community’s atypical support for teen girls’ performances about sexuality and desire at school was couched in a protective discourse of sexual risk, obfuscating girls’ sexual autonomy, while emphasizing their vulnerability to sexual violence. 

Wilkins, Amy and Sarah Miller. 2017. “Secure Girls”: Class, Sexuality, and Self Esteem. Sexualities. 20(7). 815-834

Abstract: Public discourse is replete with talk about the fragility of young women’s self-esteem, linking poor self-concept to a range of social problems associated with girlhood. We know little about the impact of these ideas on young women. In this article, we examine interviews with 66 girls, aged 14–22, to understand how they talk about the link between self-esteem and sexual expression in everyday life. We find that girls’ talk about self-esteem uses classed meanings that unintentionally reinforce and extend the role of sexuality in girls’ status hierarchies, benefitting those with more class resources, while policing all girls’ abilities to claim sexual agency.

Schalet, A., J. Santelli, S. Russell, C. Halpern, S. Miller, S. Pickering, S. Goldberg, and J. Hoenig. 2014. Broadening the Evidence for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Education in the United States. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 43(10): 1595-1610

Abstract: Scientific research has made major contributions to adolescent health by providing insights into factors that influence it and by defining ways to improve it. However, US adolescent sexual and reproductive health policies-particularly sexuality health education policies and programs-have not benefited from the full scope of scientific understanding. From 1998 to 2009, federal funding for sexuality education focused almost exclusively on ineffective and scientifically inaccurate abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs. Since 2010, the largest source of federal funding for sexual health education has been the “tier 1” funding of the Office of Adolescent Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. To be eligible for such funds, public and private entities must choose from a list of 35 programs that have been designated as “evidence-based” interventions (EBIs), determined based on their effectiveness at preventing teen pregnancies, reducing sexually transmitted infections, or reducing rates of sexual risk behaviors (i.e., sexual activity, contraceptive use, or number of partners). Although the transition from primarily AOUM to EBI is important progress, this definition of evidence is narrow and ignores factors known to play key roles in adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Important bodies of evidence are not treated as part of the essential evidence base, including research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth; gender; and economic inequalities and health. These bodies of evidence underscore the need for sexual health education to approach adolescent sexuality holistically, to be inclusive of all youth, and to address and mitigate the impact of structural inequities. We provide recommendations to improve US sexual health education and to strengthen the translation of science into programs and policy.