Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2020

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dan Schubert

Language

English

Abstract

When one thinks of violence, one tends to assume that the perpetrator and the victim of the violence are two separate individuals. But what happens when we discuss violence committed against the self? How can we work to contextualize such violence and understand its root causes? This research seeks to explain the phenomenon of women committing acts of self-harm in the form of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and eating disorders (EDs) through the lens of gender violence. The research examines the correlation between certain patriarchal dynamics in Western society and the influence of women turning their aggression, shame and hurt inwards. The patriarchal dynamics that are scrutinized are the double-binds of female sexuality (the pressure for females to be simultaneously experienced sexually and pure); the dilemma of female expression (the lack of an acceptable outlet for female anger); and unrealistic beauty standards (the media creation of an idealized and impossible female figure). This triple bind of female sexuality, female expression and female beauty restricts the ways in which women feel they can express themselves and appear. Through qualitative research in the form of in-depth interviews with ten Dickinson College women, I explore the women’s ideas and concepts of and experiences with self-harm. Findings reveal that although every experience with self-harm is unique, the social position of living as a woman influences the ways in which the participants negotiated their sexuality, expression and outward appearances. Prevalent themes that arose include the ways in which the media has created and perpetuated beauty ideals as well as the prominent role of social media in exposing women to self-harm; the mutually destructive relationship between sexual expression and self-harm which is exacerbated by victim-blaming and expectations set upon women; toxic environments- schools, families, friend groups and athletics - which foment equally toxic mentalities leading to self-harm and, finally, the interpersonal, institutional and structural stigmatization that women face when coming to terms with their self-harm. The purpose of my research is to understand female self-harm within a greater sociocultural context in which patriarchal dynamics affect women, so they learn to internalize and become their own biggest critic. Self-harm, borne out of internalized misogyny and subordination, is a form of gender violence manifesting itself in a self-inflicted way. This research also seeks to give simple and practical solutions for the ways in which we, as an audience, can engage in healthy dialogue surrounding the issues presented.

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