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Sexual self-concept when living between the hyphen

Association for Women in Psychology Conference

Paper Presentation by Nicole Ohebshalom

The paper invited women from an Eastern-Western culture to narrate their experiences about sexual identity. The paper offers a glimpse of the potential nature of women acknowledging their voices, desires, and pleasures. It also demonstrates possible outcomes when women's voices go into hiding, such as shame, silence and family.

Although cross-cultural influences on human behavior have been the subject of many scholarly works, few studies have focused on the life experiences of women from hyphenated cultural identities and how these experiences inform a woman's view of herself as a sexual being. In particular, the influence of cross-cultural experiences on women with combined Western and Eastern culture references, such as Israeli-Iranian women, is poorly understood. This paper analyzed four interviews with second-generation Israeli-Iranian women who described how their sexual self-concepts evolved as a result of living between both cultures, in the 'space of the hyphen.' I used the Listening Guide methodology to inform the interviews and the data analysis, which revealed the influence of family power, patriarchal social practices and the women's desire to distinguish themselves from cultural norms. This paper is presented as a case study. It introduces multilayered views and processes associated with each woman's outlook of her evolving sexual self-concept. I found that each woman's sexual self-concept took into account her behaviors, cognitions and emotions that were developed during each life stage and also that it informed her sexual subjectivity. I briefly discuss the implications that the findings have for how the combination of Western and Eastern cultures influenced the women's lives. I also discuss how the findings may assist academics, clinicians, policy makers and healthcare professionals in developing innovative interventions in which gender roles and sexual self-concept are addressed.

The current study invited women to narrate their experiences about sexual identity in their own words. The analysis supports the need for a multidimensional understanding of hyphenated cultural identities and a focus on fostering Eastern and Western social scripts and values of women's sexuality. The study also offers a preliminary glimpse of the potential nature of women acknowledging their voices, desires and pleasures, and it also demonstrates possible outcomes when women's voices go into hiding, such as an uprising of shame, family honor codes and silence.

The Listening Guide process exposed the women's cultural assumptions and the strategies they adopted to handle sexual and gender issues. The most prominent concept uncovered during the interview process was silence as a characteristic of the family honor code system. The deeply embedded cultural perception of silence reoccurs multiple times in the women's interactions with their family members, particularly with their mothers. Recognizing the role silence played was essential for understanding how the women wanted more agency and how they resisted and revised the traditional socialization strategies learned from their families.

The paper will begin with discussing sexual self-concept literature including body objectification due to psychosocial development, the impact of gender norm schema stemming from mother and daughter communication, and consequences of ownership for embodied desire. The paper will stress upon similarities and differences between gender roles in Eastern and Western norms. I will spend some time discussing family dynamics and gender roles from Eastern cultures, specifically Iran, based on academic research.