Photographing desire: women exploring sexuality through auto-photography
AbstractFeminist debates since the second-wave movement frequently construct ‘women’s sexual liberation’ and resistance to patriarchal heteronormativity as oppositions. This framework oversimplifies the interwoven relationship between personal and cultural constructions of women’s sexuality; furthermore, it risks overlooking individuals’ lived experiences and emotions. This research investigates the multiplicity and complexity of ‘women’s sexual desire’ by engaging with feminist symbolic interactionism and ideas from queer theories. How does a woman negotiate her personal ‘web of desire’ within social conventions? The project adopts auto-photography – a participatory method incorporating self-photography, journaling and interviews – to engage 18 UK women residents from seven countries in the co-creation of knowledge. This method encourages women to actively develop ideas; thus, it has an activist potential to reveal underrepresented meanings of women’s sexuality. In addition, the methodology generates rich textual and visual materials that demonstrate the depth of participants’ self-analysis and reflexivity. Multiple analytical methods (thematic analysis, discourse and narrative analysis, social semiotics) are deployed to read the women’s narratives critically, as well as representing them as valid. Desire is fluid, and women explore its meanings through metaphors and symbols. The women’s understanding of desire is negotiated within four cultural sites – Christianity, ethnicity, popular culture and feminist ideas – through which they might adopt, reject or struggle with dominant sexual scripts. Their sexual feelings are embodied experiences that can be generated through four preconditions: a positive perception of body image, sensations, fantasy and intimate relationships. The diverse ways in which participants visualise their sexuality reaffirm that each woman’s desire can be understood as a web interwoven by personal identities, social interactions and cultural scenarios in a continuous process. In particular, the extensive references to popular culture suggest that its sexual scripts are influential in constructing women’s desire.
Tsao, Kai-Wen Evangeline (2015) Photographing desire: women exploring sexuality through auto-photography. PhD thesis, University of York.