Lotions and potions: The meanings college women make of everyday practices of femininities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari Knopp Biklen


College women, Everyday practices, Femininities, Meaning-making, Women students, Popular culture

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Sociology of Culture


This is a qualitative investigation of college women's body routines, things they do everyday to construct a particular raced, classed, and sexualized feminine embodiment. Specifically, this is an examination about how college women negotiate an ongoing production of femininity and how they think about their everyday practices of femininity in relation to their roles as college students.

The three part study was completed at a large private Northeastern University. First, data was collected from focus groups with a diverse sample of female freshmen who were followed over two years. Second, a diverse sample of female juniors was interviewed over two years. The 50 informants were asked a wide range of questions connected to gender identity. The third aspect entailed in depth interviews with 23 diverse female college students about specific material practices of femininity.

Informants' narratives were analyzed. Femininity as a part of the hidden curriculum of college life was central to the educational experiences of the young women. Informants became students of the feminine in order to learn how best to "fit in" to the campus culture that was heavily influenced by practices of consumption. Feminine embodiment was shaped by race, class, and sexual orientation. Due to the power relations that existed on campus, informants were forced to negotiate their own feminine presentations. Femininity was not performed outside of issues of power and oppression. Because they learned about femininity through multiple sources, which in turn yielded conflicting messages, the informants faced a variety of competing desires that had to be worked through. In addition, part of their education involved learning how to negotiate their identities in the name of student success.


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