Sexy Stories and postfeminist empowerment : From Häutungen to Wetlands
This article explores shifts in feminist and postfeminist discourse on sexuality using two influential novels about women's sexual agency and empowerment as case in point. The first novel, Häutungen [Shedding], appeared in the mid-1970s at the peak of the New German Women's Movement and went on to become one of the most important feminist fictional texts. The second novel, Feuchtgebiete [Wetlands] was published in 2008 in the wake of what has been called postfeminism. Both books are discovery narratives about young women coming of age and both have been heralded by the media as having ruptured sexual taboos and old ways of talking about women's bodies and sexuality. In different ways, both have also been influential in feminist and postfeminist debates about the possibilities for empowering women as sexual subjects. Both texts show how fiction can draw upon and help shape a transgressive sexual politics, making it instrumental in women's sexual empowerment. In this article, we examine the resonances and the differences between these two texts, paying particular attention to the kind of narratives that are produced and how in each case a sexual subject is constructed in and through the text. Specific exclusions in terms of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality are explored, as well as the sexual political strategies that each text generates with an eye toward the possibilities each creates for women's sexual (dis)empowerment and critique of normalized sexuality.
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