I was exposed to the gay community at a young age. My mother’s boyfriend – Stuart – lives in a very old neighborhood in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, called Wilton Manors. This neighborhood (somewhat) recently became a “gay neighborhood”; each house has a vibrant rainbow flag patriotically hanging from the exterior and same-sex couples are constantly walking and biking around town, exchanging smiles with everyone they pass. I was exposed to this community and environment when I was in elementary school. Luckily, I grew up with the idea that non-hetero couples were just as equal as hetero couples.
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.
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.
Sociologist Kathleen Bogle, a woman who experienced the early stages of the hookup scene herself in the early 1990s, found herself intrigued after trying to explain the hookup culture to a fellow member of the sociology department who was a member of the dating-era. Upon this episode, she was urged to follow up and do a study on it. To do so, she conducted a series of interviews throughout northeastern college campuses, and began to collect data. All of the information that she gathered was organized, forming her book, Hooking Up. She seeks to reveal many aspects of the current hookup scene on college campuses today, including what hooking up is, the shift from the dating scene, the existing double standard between men and women, and life after the hookup scene. the most interesting aspect of all of the studies to me personally is the question of what it means to hookup.
The main assertion in Bogle’s chapter about what it means to hookup is that there is no concrete definition; the definition can change based on the people involved, the situation, and the environment. This chapter features an interview with a man named Tony who attends a State University and helps explicate this idea further. In the interview upon being asked to define a hookup, he said that it could be taking someone home, spending the night with them, and having intercourse- but it could also mean just kissing, having sex, or other sexual acts. In Bogle’s dissection of this interview and others, it became clear that the term, “hooking up,” is very ambiguous. It can refer to multiple things, such as having sex, oral sex, making out, sexual touching, and just kissing. Students are aware of the ambiguity of this term, and it is clear that different people use the term differently. Because of this, saying that you have “hooked up” with someone begs follow up questions to clarify exactly how far the hookup went.
This is the problem with the term “hooking up”. The obscurity leaves room for people to make assumptions and form ideas of what happened when they really cannot be sure unless follow up questions are asked. Because of this obscurity, it is easy for people to blur the lines of hooking up, embellish stories, and downright make up stories of what happened during a hookup. The issue with this term is not what constitutes as a hookup, because clearly, the definition will shift based on the person that is asked and the situation, but it is the uncertainty that follows the term because of the ambiguity of the term itself. A person saying that they hooked up with someone is normal, and expected of college students; however, problems can begin to arise when others make assertions about someone else’s hookup.
In class when asked to define hooking up, most everyone had different answers, similar to Bogle’s interviews, yet some were the same. The definitions really do vary based on a student’s age, friend group, environment, social scene, upbringing, etc; agents of sexual socialization could also play into this. The definitions also shifted between males and females. From these discussions, it has become evident that the “bases” metaphor to hooking up no longer stands and has shifted, and that there is a disparity between what these terms and ideas mean whether you are a man or a woman. It seems as if the bases are beginning to go further than they have previously. What is now “first base (making out accompanied with sexual touching” is what used to be second, and what is now “second base (oral sex)” used to be third. Some might even argue that oral sex comes with first base, but not necessarily both male and female oral sex; oral sex performed on males is now expected to happen prior to oral sex performed on females in heterosexual relationships.
Relating all of the assertions made in Bogle’s book, formed and class and made by me, myself, proved to be very interesting when relating them to the social groups I am involved on here on Vanderbilt’s campus as well as other college campuses across the country. Once again, the definition of hooking up varies based on the person. In my friend group here, hooking up seems to mean having sex to the more sexually experienced girls, whereas to the less sexually experienced girls, it could mean kissing, making out, or possibly oral sex. To those who are more sexually experienced and hooking up means sex, they would say they just made out if that is all that happened rather than saying they “hooked up.” This is very normal here on Vanderbilt’s campus, but compared to other schools, there are disparities on the hookup scene and definition of hooking up. My three best friends go to Arizona State University, University of Kansas, and University of Portland. At Arizona State, my friend said that the hookup scene is so prevalent that hooking up, regardless of who the person is, almost means sex. The same goes for at Kansas, yet not quite to the same level ASU. However, at Portland, the scripts are much like here at Vanderbilt.
Why do think that the hookup scenes vary from campus to campus? Why is Vanderbilt’s so unique? Does region and prestige play in a role in this? How influential are the agents of sexual socialization in someone’s definition of hooking up?
Upon going home for Thanksgiving, I spent the majority of time in my house with my 10 year old sister. As a mode of compromising, we would spend part of the time watching the shows she wanted to watch, then the sows I wanted to watch. We probably watched at least five DIsney Channel shows a day.
Watching these shows as a kid, you are unaware of the true plot, implications, and meaning of situations and dialogue in the show. After watching these shows as a college student, it has become evident that all these children that star in the shows are over sexualized and the content of the show lends itself to heteronormative ideals.
There are multiple times throughout the shows where there are subtle sexual jokes and innuendos present; some are ever extremely inappropriate, yet it goes unnoticed by the viewers because they are far too young to understand. Also, if one of the characters in the show is in a relationship, it is a very standard, stereotypical, and heteronormative relationship that is to be expected of any typical American teenager.
The fact that all of the of the relationships featured in these shows are so heteronormative is curious, especially considering the strides that have recently been made in the acceptance of homosexual relationships. Thinking about why this could be, it seems as if displaying a homosexual relationship in Disney Channel for young kids to see would be “inappropriate,” and many parents would probably not approve. Also, it would be far too “controversial’ for the executives of Disney to do such a thing.
Why do you think it is that there are no other relationships displayed in Disney Channel shows rather than the heteronormative ones? Do you think that there ever will be any other types of relationships displayed? Why do you think it is that sexual innuendos are often included in shows?
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We all know what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what about other places? Is Vegas the only place where people go to ‘play’? Why is Vegas such a popular spot for tourists? I bet it isn’t just for the lights and shows…
Can you remember a time before you were who you are now? A time when society was not telling you who you are, innocuously, through seemingly inconsequential labels? Think about who you are, how you introduce yourself. For most of us, we say something like “Hi my name is X I am a girl/boy, I am gay/straight, I am a student/professor/parent” the list goes on and on, but there is almost always a qualifying label. The great, “I am,” phrase implies that your essence is inextricably tied up with that identity. However, this thinking can be very dangerous because, most often, individuals are not choosing their own labels, but rather are being labeled and then internalizing those labels.
Before taking this class; Sex and Society, I never really thought about sexual assault, how common it was, or understanding it from an academic stand point. I now know so much information that really has shifted my thinking in the best way possible. I feel like I have the knowledge to pass on to others and would be able to help anyone with questions in understanding various topics we have discussed such as; the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, intersex, asexual community, BDSM, sexual assault, the hookup culture, and how society influences sexuality. However, in my opinion, the most influential and most important topics that we discussed are LGBTQIA communities and the hookup culture. The reason why I believe these were the most influential is because of how prevalent they are in the college scene and within society.
Learning about LGBTQIA was incredibly influential because I wasn’t very familiar with what really goes on in the community and what everything exactly meant. I had no clue what asexual meant before this class, I didn’t fully understand the process of a transgendered person, I didn’t understand the difference between queer and gay or lesbian, and finally, I didn’t fully grasp the impact that legislation plays in a person’s life that falls into one of the LGBTQIA categories. I also think one of the most helpful and impacting parts of this topic was when the LGBTQIA group came to our class to share their stories and answer any questions that we had. It was great to hear first hand accounts about what their experiences were like when they came out and what motivated them to be in this organization. After listening to them speak, I quickly learned how important it is for these organizations to be on college campuses all around the country because it is the best resource for someone that needs guidance in trying to figure out who they truly are. Also, learning about this topic has made me more sensitive about what I talk about and how I phrase my words because I realize how easily I could offend someone if I’m not careful.
The other topic I felt was most beneficial and influential was discussing the role of hooking up, whether it is on campus or after college. Within this topic, I felt it was necessary to discuss the battle against sexual violence and how much of a role it plays on campuses. I had no idea that one out of five women would be sexually assaulted. That statistic shocked me and still shocks me to this day. Discussing how frequent sexual assault is was important for me so that I can be more aware of the people around me. I have also used this to be safer on campus and to watch out for my friends around me if we go out. We discussed the role alcohol plays in hooking up and how dangerous it can be. Learning about this is beneficial for every college student to learn, especially before they enter their freshman year. Overall, this class has been incredibly important and helpful in learning about sex and society. I have learned so much about the topics that really matter and really impact our society.
Thinking about the most important or influential concept to understanding the relationship between sex and society that we covered in class brings an array of ideas to mind because we have covered so many topics. After much thought, I have come to a conclusion: the most important concept is the idea of heteronormativity in our society. We have talked about many concepts, but the idea of heteronormativity seems to come to mind in every one of them. Our society is extremely heteronormative, meaning that people believe heterosexuality is the only sexual preference, completely leaving out the entire LGBTQ community. It comes down to something so simple as stating that heterosexuality is privileged in our society. Awards like prom king and queen are completely geared toward the heterosexual community and leaves out the LGBTQ community completely. In addition, the media is heteronormative through expressing heterosexual relationships at the forefront of the TV shows we all watch and love. Some TV shows like Modern Family are now starting to depict homosexual relationships in the shows to make a statement, but it is going to take a lot of time and hard work to make our society completely equal in sexual orientations.
In addition, the idea of heteronormativity completely enforces gender stereotypes in our society. Males are the dominant gender, and females are left behind them. Heterosexuality enforces this because in the relationship, males are the bread winners and are supposed to have traits like dominance, physical strength, toughness, and being emotionless. Females, on the other hand, are supposed to stay at home and take care of children, cook, and clean and have traits like care, love, emotion, and less physical strength than men. Heteronormativity enforces these stereotypes because in a heteronormative relationship, these traits and ways of life are how it’s “supposed” to be. This is in quotations because there are many relationships where the mother is the bread winner, but as we stand in today’s time, the father is the bread winner in the majority of relationships.
An example of a heteronormative relationship from the media that embodies gender norms in our society is Phil and Claire Dunphey of Modern Family.
Phil and Claire Dunphey are the epitome of the modern, heterosexual relationship because Phil works, while Claire is a stay-at-home mom. Phil has a great relationship with his son and frequently talks to him about girls. Claire is a loving mother who makes (or tries to make) dinner every night, and is caring and loving toward her children. In addition, she always looks gorgeous, wearing a nice outfit with makeup on throughout the show. This is the classic heterosexual relationship. As much as I love Claire and Phil, their relationship enforces heteronormativity and gender stereotypes in our society.
Do you think we will ever be able to have a society that is completely “sexual orientation neutral”? If so, how much time do you think it will take, and/or do you think our society will need to make some major changes before we can get there? Also, do you think we will ever have a gender neutral society?