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Echoes of Postfeminism in American Students’ Narratives of Study Abroad in France

  • Author(s): Kinginger, Celeste
  • et al.

Published Web Location

https://doi.org/10.5070/L28228835
Abstract

In qualitative research on Americans in study abroad contexts, female gender often emerges as problematic, with young women portrayed as hapless victims of sexual harassment. The assumption underlying interpretation of these studies appears to maintain that female students are victimized because they find themselves in places where inherently superior American discourses of gender equity do not prevail. Meanwhile, however, scrutiny of participants’ stories reveals deeper mysteries, to do with  gender trouble from home that students bring to their experiences abroad. This paper adopts a narrative approach to interview and journal data from a previous study in which American students, both male and female, recount their experiences in France. Their accounts are linked to the sociocultural history and popular ideology of Franco-American relations and to images of study abroad in the American media. Students’ stories draw upon and contest an amalgam of images related to social class, gender, and national identity, which are embedded in perennial American representations of French language learning as social class transcendence. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, this phenomenon has morphed into a contemporary postfeminist self-help literature for would-be Frenchwomen, which celebrates anachronistic images of women as accomplished homemakers and objects of sexual desire who nevertheless control their destinies through artful styling of self and navigation of the global marketplace. “Frenchness,” with or without corresponding language ability, symbolizes membership in the mobilized, global elite. Thus, while a second language offers potentially new resources for the performance of gendered identity, this study shows how the relationship between such resources and learners’ desires is mediated by previous participation in specific discourses of gender and social class, which may or may not prioritize language learning per se.

 

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