When we began discussing social constructions in class, I was wowed. Of course, I have been living my whole life immersed in society and accepting all the messages it was sending me, but I never realized that all of it was just made up. We do, know, and think so many things that allow us to function within society, but most of this was learned. I didn’t inherently know that I was supposed to wear clothes when I left my house, brush my teeth twice a day, or eat three meals a day. I wasn’t born knowing that I was a white, German-blooded, Catholic female who lived in the US, and yet, I’ve grown up with these things as facts of life. Really though, those are all social constructs that have been made up by people and societies who’ve lived before me and taught to me by the people around me. Continue reading
For me, the most important concept addressed in this class was something we encountered early on, and I found to actually be applicable to most of the issues we talked about. This concept was Foucault’s philosophy that the groups in power – that is, the group which holds dominant social power – dictates the language used within society.
Upon being asked the question of what the most important and influential concept to understanding the relationship between sex and society covered in this semester, I began to think about all the different concepts talked and read about in class. When thinking about everything, I began to see connections between different terms that came up throughout the semester that were discussed that I had never seen before. The concepts are all fairly different, yet are all still related in some ways because of the manner that society has been formed over the years. Agents of socialization, sex education, social constructions, and heteronormativity have all become interconnected, creating an environment of hostility towards people who do not identify as heterosexual.
The agents of socialization people are exposed to impact their views on everything in life. However, their views on sex are affected more so than some other aspects of life are. The socialization of sex and sex education has a more prevalent impact on how a person forms their ideas and views on sex. The environment a person was raised in, their religion, schooling experience, family, friends, and the media all heavily influence the formation of what sex means and should mean to a person. But, this can be dangerous- with the amount of societal constructions (such as what “good” or “normal” sex is, gender, etc.) that exist today, it is easy for the manner in which a person was socialized to negatively affect their views on sex or gender. For example, many religions do not condone homosexuality, so if someone is raised in that environment, it is likely they would judge and discriminate anyone who is homosexual.
SInce gender is a social construction, it easy to stereotype and discriminate against those who do not fit into the gender binaries that exist today (boy and girl). So, those who appear as lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, or transgender are easily stereotypes and judged. The heteronormative ideals that are held by the majority of the people in this country also lead to stigmas and discrimination. When people who have other sexual orientations other than heterosexual, they are often mistreated by society and can even be susceptible to violence, sexual violence in particular (as seen in the video of the transgender man who used the bathroom of a New York McDonald and was beat for it by the manager, yet was charged for a misdemeanor when in actuality he was the victim ).
Over the years, this problem has perpetuated. It has become easier for discrimination and violence to occur without any repercussion on the perpetrator. The connections between these terms and these societal constructions and manifestations all lend to why society is as it is today and why people discriminate, act violently toward, and outcast nonheterosexual people. Having a good understanding of all these terms allows for a person too see the interconnectedness and understand why these horrible things occur. It allows for people to be aware of the problem and not lend to it or be an enabler.
Throughout the course of the semester, we have learned about and discussed a wide variety of sexual orientations and how western culture has normalized a sex and gender binary. We traversed through the LGBTQI alphabet soup, learning how each identity has to navigate through society and the common dangers they face by merely existing as an unconventional body. Homosexual bodies, particularly gay men, are learned to be feared from a young age through the existence of the “fag discourse” perpetuated in schools. Bisexual individuals are also often viewed as predatory and dangerous because of their refusal to cooperate within the straight/gay binary that society has constructed. Further complicating sexual binaries are transgender individuals, whose by definition identify as a gender different to the one they were assigned at birth. Intersex individuals, who were born with ambiguous genitalia, can fit into any one of these categories, or none at all. Completely removed from the sexuality spectrum in which all of these other identities exist is asexuality, which can be defined as a lack of sexual drive. Since around the 1960’s, when sexuality shifted from a behavior to an identity, heteronormative attitudes have emerged and worked to confirm heterosexuality as the “correct” form of sexual identity while marginalizing all others.
One of the preoccupations with a heteronormative society is to scrutinize the identities of non-hetero people. A clear example of this can be seen among the bisexual population, where the straight (and sometimes gay) populations discredit the “bisexual” identity. Some claim that bisexuals are just “gays in denial” or straight, but “going through a case.” For some, that may be the case. For others, not at all. The bottom line is that it really should not matter what someone identifies as. Everyone has their own definition of their own orientation, and it is ignorant and presumptuous to simply say that one’s identity is “incorrect.”
One identity that has come under considerable scrutiny for lacking a clear definition is asexuality. In the documentary (A)Sexual, we are introduced to a number of people who identify as asexual, but very few of them conduct their romantic and sexual activities in the exact same way. Some maintain a long term romantic partnership devoid of sexual interaction. Some acknowledge that they do engage in some sexual behaviors, but prefer to do so without the presence of a partner. Because asexuality itself seems to be a spectrum, people are very hesitant to accept someone’s identity as an asexual body because it differs from their own prototype of an asexual in their mind.
One of the most important and lasting lessons I have learned this semester is that people will attack and scrutinize the legitimacy of a sexual identity far more than any other personal identifier. Because heteronormative constructions have deemed “straightness” the norm and every other identity as degenerate and ultimately “abnormal”. This dichotomy has allowed those who identify as “straight” to incorrectly assume privilege and marginalize others. The only person who can declare someone’s sexual identity is that individual. We must end our preoccupation with accusing others of having “false” identities if we truly want a just world.