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Sexuality and Contemporary Literature By Joel Gwynne and Angelia Poon ...

Chapter 1:  Toni Bentley’s The Surrender
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Sexuality and Contemporary Literature

longer needed” (28). Stéphanie Genz and Benjamin Brabon situate the term as indicative of a “post-traditional” era characterized by “dramatic changes in basic social relationships, role stereotyping and conceptions of agency” (1), a rhetoric of “power feminism” accentuating women’s “shared pleasures and strengths” in a manner that is unapologetically sexual, premised on the understanding that “good pleasures make good politics” (69). In this conceptualization of the term, the postfeminist woman expresses her individual agency “not by politicising her relationships with men and her status as a sexual object, but primarily through the re-articulation of her sexual identity” (Genz and Brabon 92). Contemporary feminist resistance to postfeminist discourse, evident in Sarah Gamble’s definition of the term as “women dressing like bimbos, yet claiming male privileges and attitudes” (43), is often found in challenges to the validity of postfeminist rhetoric as constituting a positive model of female empowerment and emancipation. Yet, in the twenty-first century, contemporary British culture presents a plethora of social contexts that have proven fertile ground for the growth of postfeminist rhetoric.

In Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, Natasha Walter charts a highly sexualized culture in which the constant reinforcement of one type of role model is shrinking and warping the choices on offer to young women. The author comments that “sexualised images of young women are threatening to squeeze out other kinds of images of women throughout popular culture” (Walter 68) and attributes this shift to the fact that prostitution and the values of the sex industry have “moved from the margins to the mainstream” (49).1 This can be seen not only through the publication of numerous bestselling accounts of prostitution, such as Belle de Jour’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl (2005), but through the publication of books marketed as nonfiction erotic memoirs of educated career women who are not prostitutes. More often than not, these accounts are identified as indicative of the liberatory potential of postfeminism’s celebration of female sexual empowerment and “refusal of any definition of women as victims who are unable to control their own lives” (Gamble 44). Indeed, just as postfeminism