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Title: 'Mirror on the wall, am I desirable at all?' : sex, pleasures and the market in postcolonial Italy
Author: Zambelli, Elena
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 731X
Awarding Body: SOAS, University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2016
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This dissertation contributes to debates around women's subjectification in contemporary Western countries; contexts characterised by an increasingly sexualised culture, economic insecurity and xenophobia, and an upsurge in the feminist 'sex wars' (Chapkis, 1997: 11). In particular, it explores the ways in which sexuality, pleasure and work interrogate each other and differently impinge on women's subjectification and agency according to class and race. The case study is contemporary Italy, which was recently gripped by a wave of panic about sex, and maintains a position - standalone in Western Europe - in favour of a return to state-regulated prostitution and in opposition to same-sex unions. Processes of women's subjectification are heavily constrained by heteronormativity, compelling them to take on the position of either the chaste wife/mother or the sexually enticing but stigmatised 'whore'. This dissertation, therefore, looks at how Italian and migrant women navigate these roles through an exploration of the contradictory subject positions voiced by women working in different leisure, erotic and sex market niches: pole dance entrepreneurs and teachers, 'image girls', lap dancers, indoor and street sex workers. Overall, this thesis argues that understanding women's display and use of sexuality, whether for pleasure and/or work, requires overcoming dichotomies juxtaposing sexual objectification and empowerment, dependence on a desiring male audience and autonomy, victimisation and choice. It argues that the position of radical feminists and abolitionists, that prostitution engenders a uniquely dire and unacceptable form of work-induced alienation, is flawed by heteronormative biases, and reproduces the class-based and racialised privileging of white Western women. Therefore, it shows that for many migrant women, pursuing dreams of social and/or spatial mobility and feeding their affective bonds, entails investing different blends of sex, care and love into their work; whether stigmatised as whores or praised as cheap carers, they express a form of resistance to an unwanted fate. Finally, the thesis argues for retrieving the affective and existential value of desirability, beyond its significance for gender relations of power.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral