What’s Sex Got to Do With…Heteronormativity?


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?

Expression of Sexuality: Male vs. Female

The world is made up of multiple gender schemas, ideologies that account for the particular way that males and females are expected to behave. These schemas are easily a primary source for double standards. Doubles standards spark because society deems certain qualities and behaviors as normal in one gender, yet rejects this same behavior in the opposite gender. This idea becomes especially complex when breaking down different areas of sexual and social expression.

Most particularly, the response around sexual orientation revolves around this same discourse. Females have much more leeway when it comes to projecting more fluidity in sexual orientation.

In a passage in NSS, LeMare states that heterosexual woman may have very different interpretations of what heterosexuality means. This underscores the complexity of sexuality and the narrowness of contemporary discourses regarding heterosexuality. On the one hand, the interviews, conducted by Lemare, illustrate that some women are able to experience desires and fantasies that are not limited by normative expectations of heterosexuality. Based on sexual orientation alone, “straight” women have little in common sexually aside from their self identification of heterosexuality.

Is this sexual orientation dynamic the same for males?

While woman, in essence, are free to express their sexuality, this same principle is seen as faulty in males. While this may undeniably have something to do with the way society portrays gender roles and expressions, it is also noteworthy to dig deeper into the societal expectations of the genders.

Females are expected to maintain a sense of emphasized femininity. While this term encompasses an array of meanings from domestication to a river of emotions, the term also clings on to the ideas of heteronormative ideologies. Societies view females as being “girly” and, as a means, expect them to participate in activities that correspond with the girl species. This includes playing dress up as a toddler, and eventually evolves into adolescent activities like playing with make up. This linear system set up by society also contributes to the personality traits and mannerisms, both positive and negative, that are linked to females. For example, when considering the word “slut,” what gender comes to mind? When considering the act of prostitutions, what gender also comes to mind? These ideas, of gender traits and contributions, are shaped, in part, by society and leads to the crafting of gender schemas.

When considering the portrayal of negative behaviors possessed by females, one is bound to view Girls Gone Wild as a major source for this depiction. Girls Gone Wild is an adult entertainment company created by Joe Francis in 1997. The company is known for its early use of direct-response marketing techniques, including its late-night infomercials that began airing in 1997. The videos typically involve camera crews at party locations engaging young college aged women who willingly expose their bodies or act “wild“. Since 2008, the Girls Gone Wild (GGW) products have been sold primarily through their website as streaming videos, downloads, and DVDs.

This adds to the conjecture that woman are subjected to sexual exploitation. The Girls Gone Wild sequence also adds to the “slut discourse” that lags behind the perception of many women. With girls making out with girls, and males encouraging the act in the background, the sequence also embraces the acceptance of female fluidity in sexuality and often molds this fluidity into something “hot” and acceptable.

Moreover, men are not expected to maintain this same image of fluidity in sexuality. Societal norms construct an ideology called Hegemonic masculinity, which entails its own separate dynamic in comparison to females. Conceptually, hegemonic masculinity explains how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women, and other gender identities, which are perceived as “feminine” in a given society. This specific ideology also calls for expression in early ages. Boys are expected to like manly things, like cars, “getting dirty,” and being rough. This same belief carries on through adulthood where men are expected to carryout sexual intercourse, being overall dominate over their partners, and projecting a sense of supremacy over females. While society considers lesbian expression as “normal and hot,” males going against anything heteronormative leads to labels like “fag” and “undercover gay (DL).”

In the passage Secret sex and the down low brotherhood, Gayle Rubin argues, “sexual behavior can sometimes be placed on a moral continuum. Some types of sexual behaviors are labeled as good, and some are labeled as bad. What is labeled as good and what bad depends greatly on which individuals and groups have power. In American society, wholesome sex is often limited to consensual sex between same-race couples, preferably married and definitely heterosexual. Individuals whose sexual practices deviate from this ideal are disapproved of to varying degrees, from mild disapprovement to criminalization (382).”

Though Rubin clumps together men and women into the term “individuals,” it is crucial to understand that men and women do not experience this ideology to the same degree. The moral continuum is also shaped by gender expectations, which places a rigid restriction on the sexuality of males. Failure to comply with what is considered masculine or acceptable results in those males being marginalized and considered “gay.”

These differing expectations are not only limited to expressions of sexual orientation, but also remain the center of other social, and even physical, debates. Males and females are always placed in separate categories, which contain their own principles for what is considered immoral and moral.

How does this ideology also play into the bisexual menace and the differing views of men and women expressing bisexual tendencies? How does this argument also play into the idea that females can “outgrow” lesbian tendencies yet males are confined to only their innate sexuality?

Shondaland: A Fantasy of Interracial Coupling

In Kumiko Nemoto’s article, Interracial Romance: The Logic of Acceptance and Domination, we learn how the idea of racial mixing represents an ideal of integration while it denotes whiteness as a sign of normalcy. In fact, 92 percent of all interracial relationships include White partners, and this statistic is reflected in popular culture through hypersexualized racial images that reinforce the theme of White normalcy and the exoticization of people of color.

The article poses the idea that interracial relationships in American society (especially when shown on television) give the false impression that race is no longer an issue for us; but crossing the color line does not equate to progressiveness, instead, in many cases, it illustrates larger issues of domination.

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