Desiring to be desired: A discursive analysis of women’s responses to the ‘raunch culture’ debatesith collective actors:

Ethics Approval: 2012/070

Researcher: Laura Thompson

Supervisors: Associate Professor Ngaire Donaghue

Honours Study Completed: 2012


In recent years an explicit, raunchy version of female sexuality has become more visible in Western media and societies, and the idea that women can use this mode of sexuality to express their empowerment and liberation has gained traction (Gill, 2007, 2008; Levy, 2005).However a number of feminist academics have questioned whether this new ‘raunch culture’ represents true gains for women’s empowerment and sexual agency, or rather if it reflects a new form of oppression for women. Relatively little is known about how young women interpret this phenomenon and what they make of such debates. Thus the aim of the this study was to explore the ways in which young women talk about raunch culture and how they respond to common feminist arguments that have been raised in relation to it.


Seventeen women were recruited to participate in focus group discussions, ranging in age from 18 to 41 years old (M = 23.73). Four sets of focus groups were conducted with two to five participants in each group. Each set consisted of two, 90 minute long sessions which were spaced one to two weeks apart. Throughout the focus group sessions participants were given material drawn from feminist literature and blogs to read and discuss.

Transcriptions of the focus groups were analysed using Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. This method seeks to locate particular statements within the wider social discourses and understandings upon which they rest, with the aim of uncovering the particular ‘ways of seeing’ and ‘ways of being’ provided by these discourses.


Much of the participants’ talk revolved around the ways in which raunch culture can be empowering for women, and there were three main notions that were often drawn upon as a defence for women’s participation in it: “confidence/self-esteem”, “choice” and “doing it for yourself”.

In the discourse on “confidence/self-esteem”, performances of raunchiness were constructed as being empowering, rather than objectifying, because receiving sexualised attention from men makes women feel good and boosts their self-esteem and/or self-confidence. The notion of choice was also used to argue that, as long as such behaviour reflects a personal choice that a woman is comfortable with, then it is not inherently problematic. In discursive constructions of “doing it for yourself”, women’s engagement in raunch culture was discussed as not an act of submission to men (or the patriarchy), but rather something women do to compete with or be accepted by other women, and above all to benefit themselves.


Gill, R. (2007a). Postfeminist media culture: Elements of a sensibility. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10(2), 147-166.
Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/sexism Figuring female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. Feminism and Psychology, 18(1), 35-60.
Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture. Melbourne: Schwartz.