For me, the most important concept to understand the relationship between sex and society is heteronormativity. The Oxford dictionary defines heteronormativity as “denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation.” Throughout the semester we have seen how much this concept plays out in our modern world despite burgeoning support for the LGBTQI community.
Heteronormativity runs rampant in the media–in our song lyrics, music videos, movies, billboards, TV shows, magazines, advertisements, etc. But its not just present in the media, we also see the role it plays in our social scripts. For example, how men are the gender expected to pursue a hook up or the fact that most prom couples tend to be heterosexual. Heteronormativity is everywhere; as innocent as the families on Disney channel shows all the way to the Cosmopolitan magazine covers that declare their magazine holds the “secrets to pleasing him.” Heteronormativity plays a large role in crafting and dictating societies’ beliefs and perceptions of sex.
Heteronormativity also works under the presumption that most people occupy cisgender bodies, which we’ve also learned is far from accurate. In fact, 1 or 2 babies in 2000 is/are born as transgender. Another example of the complete disregard for varying sexual identities is in the CASA bill, which does not mention transsexual individuals. Ultimately, leading these persons to feel unprotected, simply because of their gender/sex. Furthermore, we’ve learned that gender and sex are not synonymous and for some people they don’t always match up. The gender spectrum that people identify with is far broader than our heterocentric society portrays, which leads to people feeling invalid in a society obsessed with binaries.
I did not even realize how deeply ingrained heteronormativity was in our culture until taking this course. Subconsciously, I was guilty of seeing heterosexuals and cisgendered bodies as the “norm.” This dangerous ignorance fails to recognize the validity of thousands of people who do not fall under societies’ strict prototypes for what is considered “normal.”
Don’t get me wrong– we have come a long way in embracing different sexual orientation and genders. At the local level, for example, the Vanderbilt campus now has many more gender-neutral restrooms. On a bigger scale, the popular sit-com Modern Family includes a family with two dads. And on an even larger scale, same-sex marriage is becoming legalized in more and more states. Now, over half the nation allows same sex marriage! We continue to see steps towards embracing all types of bodies and couples regardless of gender, but there is still much to do to grant all people the same feelings of acceptance that heterosexuals do.
While we learned about many concepts that help us better understand the relationship between sex and society, I feel that heteronormativity is the most important. Rigid definitions and beliefs about gender and sexuality still dominate our social scripts. Hopefully, society and the media will one day be more inclusive to non-normative identities. However, until then, it starts on an individual level. I realized that rather than relying on society to declare what is “normal” and “abnormal,” it’s crucial for all members of society to be wiser than that and think on their own. Heteronormativity currently dominates our beliefs about sex, but through a better understanding of the diversity within sexual identities, hopefully this will one day be an antiquated concept.