Young Women and the Culture of Intoxication: Negotiating Classed Femininities in the Postfeminist Context

  • Linda Bailey

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The thesis explores current debates about postfeminism, social class and new forms of femininity within the context of young women’s social drinking practices. A pervasive culture of intoxication has emerged amongst contemporary young drinkers where drunkenness is constructed as integral to a good night out. This is played out in highly visible public displays where gender, femininities and class are performed, positioned and reconfigured. The culture of intoxication therefore provides a productive arena to undertake an in depth analysis of how postfeminism works and how different social groups of young women navigate gender relations, new formations of femininity and class within this terrain. Data are in the form of middle-class and working-class young women’s accounts of their social drinking in bars and clubs within a relatively small city in the South West of England. The data was collected through 2 phases of semi-structured focus groups with 6 friendship groups of 24 women between 19-24 years of age. A Foucauldian discourse analysis was employed to identify key discourses in young women’s talk, focusing on the intersection between postfeminism and the culture of intoxication. These young women are called on to occupy positions of excess through drinking practices and display a hyper-sexualised form of femininity. This produces an impossible dilemma for young women. The young women drew on four discourses to construct drunkenness as a cultural norm. Within these discourses a particular level of drunkenness was constituted as highly desirable but also as a precarious risky state. Femininity was defined around a ‘right’ look and a ‘wrong’ look within two interlinking discourses and the young women drew on discourses that re-inscribed the gendered politics of drinking. The working-class and middle-class young women drew on different discourses to articulate class differentiation and class was reproduced through highly coded terms. There was an absence of feminist discourse throughout the young women’s accounts and this was involved with re-producing the sexual double standard and with constructing classed postfeminist subjectivities. The thesis concludes by considering the implications of a new classed femininity within an absence of feminist discourse in the context of postfeminism.
Date of Award31 Oct 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAvi Shankar (Supervisor) & Chris Griffin (Supervisor)


  • culture
  • alcohol
  • femininity
  • sexualities
  • postfeminism
  • class

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