Transforming the label of ‘whore’: Teenage girls’ negotiation of local and global gender ideologies in Cyprus

Elena Skapoulli


This article examines how gender ideologies linked to global processes such as migration and the spread of youth popular culture pose certain challenges for teenage girls who live in patriarchal social contexts. Drawing on a corpus of ethnographic data at a multiethnic middle school in Cyprus, the article focuses on the ways in which language practices mediate this experience and the possibilities that language envelops in the process of gender identity formation in globalizing times. At the intersection of contradictory ideologies ranging from the school’s religious gender discourse, which promotes modesty and chastity, to the predominant media discourse of femininity, which highlights female sexuality, girls’ gender identity claims become fraught with moral implications. In the local peer culture, girls are placed on a fabricated and culturally widespread “virgin-whore” continuum along which different cultural groups – which are often equated with ethnic groups – are evaluated. Paradoxically, girls who embrace sexual freedom (either in practice or rhetorically) may in fact exercise agency and become empowered precisely because of early adolescents’ fascination with sexuality. These girls draw largely on the dominant discourse of femininity abundantly marketed by global media and the pop culture. They thus manage to explore alternative ideas about agency and gender in a locally rebellious manner that defies the traditionalist female roles that school and church promote.

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