“What’s wrong with heteronormativity anyway?”

This question recently came up in a conversation I was involved in on facebook. What’s wrong with heteronormativity anyway?

The context was a straight cis dude expressing some typical straight cis dude sexual fantasies, and some people being eyeroll-y about it, thus prompting his question.

At the time, and given the context, I simply pointed out that no one was saying anything was wrong with heteronormative desires, just that, well, we are all inundated with them all day long, and for those of us who aren’t into those particular fantasies, it can be a bit much, y’know?

But then I thought about it some more. And the thing is, while there really was nothing inherently wrong with this particular dude’s particular desire on this given day, (or more generally, there is nothing inherently wrong with many fantasies that happen to be heteronormative), there’s hella problems with heteronormativity.

[Edited to add: For starters, (and as genderroling pointed out in the comments) pretty much all hetero norms are actually cis hetero norms – heteronormativity is almost always part and parcel of cisheteronormativity.]

And the thing is, most normative models of [cis] hetero sex are incredibly misogynistic. It is, very often, entirely focused on men’s pleasure, often to the point of forgetting that women have sexual desires and drives of their own. [Cis]heteronormative sex is so focused on penile-vaginal penetration that it is still common to have people genuinely confused about how it is possible for two people who don’t have penises to even have sex at all.

Heteronormativity as we know it today grew out of a culture where men literally owned their wives, where being married to a man was considered legal consent to sex whenever he wanted, where any kind of non-penetrative sexual contact is considered foreplay and not really sex at all, where having sex reduces a woman’s value to other men, etc etc etc. It has a lot of cultural baggage, is what I’m saying, and all of these values have contributed to hetero norms of sex today.

So while specific instances of heteronormative desires and behaviours could very well be benign, heteronormativity [and especially cisheteronormativity] itself is fucked, mmkay?

14 comments

  1. The biggest problem I have with heteronormativity is not the hetero part so much as the normativity part. Our culture assumes, brainwashes and forces us to think that hetero is “normal” and everything else is sick, perverted, not real, a fetish, sinful, etc. This does real damage to the psyche of anyone who does not identify as heterosexual. It does real harm to those that do identify as heterosexual as well as they perceive themselves as above others because they are “normal” and we are “other”. It creates self hate and hate towards what is not “normal”. It creates fear that maybe, just maybe, some of the “normals” aren’t completely normal if they have any leanings towards the “other”. Fear and hate, fetishizing, belittling, disowning for not conforming, for being different than expected. Expectations of heteronormativity. That is what is most destructive about heteronormativity in my mind.

  2. I agree when this whole post, and the first comment too, but also hereronormativity encompasses ideas about so much more than sex itself. It perpetuates harmful ideas like “a man could never be ‘just friends’ with a woman” and… just… yeah idk. It’s a huge topic, and there’s a lot wrong with it. Heterosexuality isn’t the problem, but everything tied intuitive hereronormativity is.

    1. Yes, this too! It is a huge subject and so much more than sexuality. Our whole society is based on it. It’s every where we go and intertwined in every thing we do no matter what our sexuality or identity might be.

  3. So many thoughts! First I totally agree with what Lesboi says; it’s the “normativity” that is the issue. Secondly, this: “Heteronormativity as we know it today grew out of a culture where men literally owned their wives…” Heteronormativity in this way is tied strongly to feminism and female liberation.

    There are many many fantasies that can be made reality by two consenting adults: people have rape fantasies, bondage fantasies, daddy/little girl fantasies… these have their basis in far worse things than heteronormativity but can nonetheless be played out in healthy ways if both people are into it. So if someone desires heteronormative sex, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the fantasy carries over to reality, where one person’s needs are put in front of the other’s (in sex or a relationship), where one person has to unwillingly/begrudgingly sacrifice her pleasure, or her career, or her health for the sake of maintaining a certain body, or anything else… once the fantasy of the man being in control becomes a reality, that’s when it becomes problematic.

    One last angle: lots of people want to control their partners in some way (I’d love for mine to stop smoking…) but when a certain body of people (based on, let’s say, gender) are told from birth that they’re ENTITLED to control or dominate their partner, regardless of their partner’s needs, it’s that sense of entitlement that can play out in not just unhealthy but downright harmful ways.

  4. Always love your posts, just wanted to ask if you could specify cis-heteronormativity? although, I suppose heterosexuality is intrinsically tied to cisgenderness, because not being cis automatically queers heterosexuality; and likewise, not being hetero queers cisgenderness in ways. cisgender and heterosexuality were always expected defaults and never even supposed to be labeled. Everybody else is othered….but, if we are talking about penises and vaginas aligning with heteronormative gender roles, it wouldn’t hurt to specify cisness. That’s all.

    I haven’t posted in forever because I’ve been dealing with a lot of crazy emotions and school stuff, but I hope to get back to posting soon. Thanks for all your opinions <3

  5. I really like what you have to say on this topic! I’m currently writing a research paper on heteronormativity and I was wondering if I could interview you through email.

  6. Another thing I have been thinking about recently when it comes to heteronormativity and the fact that the Gilmore Girls revival is coming out, is that when I first watched Gilmore Girls, I didn’t notice the fact that it was laughable and considered not even possible for any of the main characters to actually be non-straight. Reading this: http://www.fandomfollowing.com/college-construction-gilmore-girls-season-4/ reminds me

    Yes, Paris and Rory actually kiss on the show for like two seconds. This legitimately happens, and in the worst way possible – to get attention from guys at a party when Paris is desperate to do Spring Break “right”. Yuck.

    and see that picture where one character says they’re sleeping in the same room as another girl, and the other character jokes “how very The L Word of you” after the reviewer wrote:

    This season is a bit weird with Paris. It’s almost like someone on set did pick up on, you know, all the homoerotic context and sexually charged fencing that was totally not just in our heads last season. It pulls a case of the Super Straights on us and also dials Paris’s character back to just being obnoxious.

    It happens in other TV shows I grew up watching, like in the pilot of Smallville (a pilot which inspired some “slash” fandom fans to start shipping Clark & Lex after, among other things, Clark saves Lex’s life by doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), Lana takes Clark to her parents’ grave to “meet” her dead parents, and then speaks for her dead parents.

    Lana: Come on, I’ll introduce you. Mom, Dad? This is Clark Kent. Say hi.

    Clark: [silently waves to the gravestone]

    Lana: Yeah, he is kind of shy. How should I know? Mom asks if you’re upset about a girl.

    Clark: [shakes his head no]

    Lana: Dad asks if it’s about a guy.

    Clark: No! No.

    Lana: [Chuckles] He has a twisted sense of humor.

    Like… why is it a twisted sense of humor to wonder if Clark might have feelings for a guy? Why use a word like that, so casually in the pilot of a show. I think that kind of thing would be less acceptable on TV now, 15 years later, but back when this show first aired, that was something no straight person would think to bat an eye at. And that’s all part of heteronormativity.

    You know?

    1. 1005 I feel you. I just watched all of Gilmore Girls for the first time in the last year or so, and the general gender normativity of the whole thing is sometimes grating. Weird shaming around the idea of men having feeligns, absurdly utdated morals specifically around women being sexually active, lots of other stuff. Just, like, yeah.

      These things definitely show their age!

      1. Yeah apparently the creator originally wanted to make Sookie a lesbian, but the network wasn’t having any of that. Honestly, since people who look like Melissa McCarthy in real life often are stereotyped as more likely lesbian but you know, people like Melissa McCarthy herself are actually straight, I’m glad that SHE got to play a straight character and represent the truth that plenty of obese straight women do exist, okay? XD But yeah idk. Michel and the way they represent him is a bit cringe-worthy, etc.

        When that same reviewer, btw, reviewed season 3: http://www.fandomfollowing.com/gilmore-girls-season-3/

        I loved her commentary:

        Things take a turn for the really uncomfortably bad though when Lorelai comes home, overhears Rory ascertaining her virginity, and gets very, very happy about it, muttering “I’ve got the good kid” to herself. She’s even going to take Rory shopping just for that, she’s so happy.

        Why not sign her and Christopher up for the next purity ball while you’re at it? Blergh.

        Lauren Graham herself hated the scene, by the way. Good on her. Writers should listen to their actors more on occasion.

        And she linked to this:

        and this:
        http://www.fanforum.com/832501-post53.html

        And that’s the first I learned about that being Lauren Graham’s opinion of the scene!

        It seems like all TV shows push the message that kids shouldn’t have sex “Till their 30” even nowadays and that does frustrate me as a viewer way more now that I’m… much more informed. I like the parents-buying-their-kids-condoms much less used plot device way more, okay? XD

        I think it’s interesting that this show actually brought up abortion as a possibility in season 3 during the flashbacks to when Lorelai was 16 and pregnant, and interesting the way they brought it up, how Emily was 100% against it and Lorelai’s opinions on the matter were kind of… avoided.

        I currently watch Jane the Virgin on The CW, and Jane & Xiomara’s relationship reminds me a lot of Lorelai & Rory in quite a few ways, including That Xiomara was 16 when she got pregnant with Jane. They deal with the topic of abortion in a way much more reflective of the fact that the show’s first season aired in 2014-2015, in my opinion. But they still have no canonical moments of any women making that choice… so… idk, it’s still iffy how progressive they’ve really gotten.

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