Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


CANCELLED - IAS Talking Points Seminar: Post-Feminist Versions of Equality?

18 March 2020, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

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Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, this event has been cancelled. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Join IAS Visiting Research Fellow Dr Marjo Kolehmainen (Tampere University, Finland) for this talk entitled 'Post-Feminist Versions of Equality? An Analysis of Relationship and Sex Counselling Practices'. Respondents: Dr Raluca Soreneau (Essex) and Dr Katherine Twamley (Institute of Education). Chaired by Professor Sasha Roseneil (IAS).

This event is free.

Event Information

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Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Forum
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL
United Kingdom

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, this event has been cancelled. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. 

Relationship and sex counselling are pivotal components in the ‘therapeutisation of society’, which refers to the pervasiveness of psychological practices and discourses in everyday life – this phenomenon has been identified as one of the key transformations of late modern Western societies and constitutes a significant transnational industry. Several institutions, organisations and professionals peddle advice, including health-care institutions, community colleges, parishes and LGBTQI organisations. These entities target their services at diverse groups, such as singles, the recently divorced and heterosexual, gay and lesbian couples. Further, also people who do not actively seek help may, for example, browse online advice columns or read self-help books. Therefore, these kind of practices and discourses extend beyond private counselling and therapy sessions. With their focus on intimate issues, these practices and discourses also constitute a significant site where gender and sexuality are addressed. However, little is known about how understandings of gender and sexuality shape the processes of seeking and giving advice. To fill this gap, I will explore how gender and sexuality are perceived and interpreted in the practices of relationship and sex counselling in contemporary Finland. Specifically, I aim to identify which discourses on gender equality and sexual rights counselling professionals and lay experts rely on in their work.

My data are derived from ethnographic investigations of more than 40 events, ranging from relationship enhancement seminars to a tantric workshop and from events catering for the recently separated to variously themed lectures by experts. During the events, equality was widely taken for granted and openly supported or referred to. This was not surprising, as equality is both a commonly accepted goal and forms part of official governmental policies in Nordic countries. Yet, a closer analysis reveals that there are several often contradictory and ambivalent discursive patterns identifiable in the data. First, there are statements holding that equality has gone too far, and these often portray men as victims or a suppressed group. Second, many experts mobilise the discourse of norm-criticalness to demonstrate that they are aware of sexual diversity even as they remain invested in deeply depoliticising views. Third, the discourse on resistance openly embraces diversity and seeks to expand everyday understandings of gender and sexuality. However, no consensus exists on what equality actually looks like. I argue that these contradictions are best captured by the term ‘post-feminism’, which describes these kinds of ambivalent and often contradictory positions towards feminism. This framework not only opens a new path to explore gendered and sexualised power relations in Nordic countries, it also sheds light on the mechanisms of inequality that go easily unnoticed.

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