Tag Archives: heterosexuality

Terms You Should Know #5: Heteronormativity

By Nicole Rizzo

 Here’s a brief definition of heteronormativity from Cathy J. Cohen’s insightful article “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?”

“By ‘heteronormativity’ I mean both those localized practices and those centralized institutions which legitimize and privilege heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships as fundamental and ‘natural’ within society” (Cohen, 440).

Why this term is relevant:

Any sort of “prescriptive ideal paradigm” has the potential to be exclusive. In the case of heteronormativity, the institutional and local practices that Cohen describes enact a type of violence against the “other” who does not conform to this hegemonic ideology. Assuming that heterosexuality is somehow the natural or essential mode of sexuality ultimately engages with Judith Butler’s critique of the “copy/origin argument” (See Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited by Henry Abelove et al., Routledge, 1993, pp. 307-20). If heterosexuality is “fundamental and ‘natural’” (Cohen 440), then non-normative forms of sexuality seemingly become “copies” of an ideal paradigm. This is a dangerous notion that replicates a series of violent and exclusionary acts against various groups of people.

This is not to say that heterosexuality is inherently bad, but rather the act of upholding one form of sexuality as the morally correct, ideal, or “natural” mode becomes incredibly problematic and does not capture the wide range of sexuality. As a dominant ideology, heteronormativity also promotes the “heterosexual nuclear family” as the ideal model for society. As a result, this restrictive notion devalues other family structures that are equally valid and supportive.

Here’s an example of heteronormative thinking:

Photo Courtesy: http://www.hamburgersnheroin.com/what-is-heronormativity/

The author of this post would like to acknowledge that the implications of heteronormativity are vastly complex and have not been covered entirely in this short blog post, which is not to say that they do not exist, since they clearly do.

Cohen, Cathy J. “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential Queer Politics?” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, 1997, pp. 437-65.

Seriously, it’s NOT about the nail.

This video is a pretty accurate representation of how many people explain the differences between men and women in society and why relationships fail.

Interpersonal communication can often be simplified into three different types, depending on one’s goal. There are task oriented, relationship oriented, and image oriented. Often communication between two people will be a combination of the three goals. Research has shown that the cause for miscommunications in a romantic heterosexual relationship is frequently a result of men and women having different goals. While men typically communicate in a task-oriented manner, women are more likely to communicate in a relationship-oriented manner.

In the Youtube video, “It’s not about the nail”, the couple demonstrates an occurrence of miscommunication where the male is seeing the woman as posing a task that she wants him to provide a solution for. He is viewing her communication as task oriented, when it is instead relationship oriented. As a result the woman becomes upset, the man does not understand what he is doing wrong, and nothing is solved.

Jason Headley portrays the subject in a light, humorous way: “Understand this and you’ll save your relationship”. The about section reads:

“Don’t try to fix it. I just need you to listen.” Every man has heard these words. And they are the law of the land. No matter what.”

The video reinforces the stereotype of women acting one way, and men acting the other. It sends the message that women are crazy, and men just accept this if they want t0 keep their relationship. At the end of the video, the man is still not listening, only nodding and agreeing with her so she’ll be happy.

I’d previously had a teacher send me this video and explain how accurate he found it to be about relationships. The teacher was aware that I was involved with this blog and thought I would be interested in it. I was glad the teacher had linked me to this video, but couldn’t stand the video itself. I proceeded to discuss the video for a good two hours with the teacher where I tried to explain why this video is such a poor example, however even after discussing it in extreme detail I don’t believe I made much headway.

The issue with videos like this one is that it stresses gender essentialism. The issue with the communication between this couple can not be reduced to the stereotype that all men think this one way and that all women think this other way. Miscommunication is clearly occurring in this conversation as a result of neither party understanding the goal and mindset behind the other’s comments, but should not solely be explained because one is a man and one is a woman.

I personally have had frequent conversations very similar to this one, where neither person could understand where the other was coming from. This miscommunication has occurred with men and women of a variety of ages. In some of the cases I’ve been the one saying “remove the nail” and in others I’ve been the one saying “don’t try to fix it, I just need you to listen”.

Dear Society,
Stop trying to reduce people to one gender role. Let people communicate how they want to. Maybe instead of simplifying someone into their gender category, you should focus on what they are trying to say.

Isn’t it about time?

It’s not about the nail, but it’s also not about gender and if you go with either mindset there’s never going to be successful communication.