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.
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?
Karin Martin produced an extremely interesting study that is perfect for our class. Karin Martin’s study, in summary, depicts how gender is human nurture and is taught to us versus being pure biology or human nature. In her study, her key methods were observation and ethnography, or the way the teacher interacts with the students. Her driving research questions included how males and females are treated differently from a very young age, how socialization happens at a very young age, how socialization and gender characteristics are produced from schooling, and how boys and girls are taught to act differently. In Martin’s study, she focussed on preschools because in most studies on gender, the age studied are adults. Focussing on preschools describes that what we know about gender is taught to us an extremely young age. Martin studied on the hidden curriculum, or what is taught in schools that is not obliviously written the lesson plan, throughout her studies in preschools. What she found is that males and females are treated differently throughout preschool, with a distinct difference appearing between ages 3 and 5. She found that when teachers touch their students, their reasoning behind them teaches gender to the children. When the teachers touch the boys, they were preventing violence by taking the boys away from each other, in turn teaching the boys that masculine behavior includes violence, competitiveness, and dominance. On the other hand, when the girls were touched it was mainly to fix their clothing or hair. These actions teach the girls that they should, and are expected to, look nice and maintain an appealing appearance. In addition, girls were touched more often and taught to be quiet in relation to men. This idea then in turn leads to the lack of females in Fortune 500 companies. Teaching boys and girls these differences at a very young age is what produces gender characteristics later in life. The fact that these boys are taught to speak out their feelings at such an early age is why so many males are executives in Fortune 500 companies. Fortune 500 companies look for someone to is confident in their ideas and isn’t afraid to say them in a business and meeting type setting, which is how these young boys are taught in the hidden curriculum of their preschools.
Of course males and females are biologically different. We contain many physical and genetic differences. But specifically the idea of gender is socially constructed. Gender is taught to children at as young of an age as pre-school, making gender human nurture as opposed to human nature. Much discrimination against women is because people think gender is human nature. The consequences of thinking gender is completely human nature makes women looked at as “less” than men and less powerful. This idea is taught to children throughout preschool through the hidden curriculum, and so if our society is going to make a change, it needs to start from the beginning.
In addition to the misunderstanding of gender as human nature, and relating to other topics we have talked about in class, another topic we have discussed is the misinterpretation of the words “feminism” and “feminist”. How these two topics relate is that as the idea of looking at gender as human nature makes women look bad, so does the misunderstanding of the words “feminism” and “feminist”. As described in the dictionary (dictionary.com), the word “feminism” is described as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men”. Notice the word equality in this definition. Many people believe that feminists strive to make women the dominant sex, but in reality, feminists strive to have no dominant sex. They solely strive for equality of the two sexes. This relates to the fact that people think gender differences and stereotypes are human nature. Yes, men are more physically strong than women and this part is human nature, but people believe that the fact that women strive to look nice all the time and don’t speak out their feelings as much as men is solely human nature. This is completely not true because, as Martin’s study shows, it is taught as early as preschool throughout the hidden curriculum. This is the reason that one gender is dominant over the other gender, and the fact that people think one gender has to be dominant over the other is why people misinterpret feminism.
An example throughout our society and in the media are the multitude of housewives. A perfect example of a housewife in our media who is very well known is Gloria Delgado-Pritchett from Modern Family.
Played by Sofía Vergara, Gloria is a stay at home mom who is married to Jay. Jay is much older than she is, reinforcing her image as the stereotypical trophy wife. She is beautiful and always dressed in low-cut tops with stilettos and makeup on, a typical feminine trait. Also, she is known for using phrases incorrectly, reinforcing the stereotype that women are dumber and have less common sense than men. Also, she is loving, caring, and a great mom.
Many questions can be discussed when thinking of the topics throughout this article. Why do you think people don’t believe that gender, specifically gender characteristics, are human nature rather than human nurture? Why do you think feminists are misinterpreted? Are figures like Gloria on Modern Family hurting the female gender by reinforcing the stereotypical “feminine” characteristics?
Monkey see, monkey do.
Though this is just a silly saying, we are often victim to its truthful dictum. I often find myself going with the trend of the day in my choice of clothing, hairstyle, and even pastimes.
Our culture’s idea about what a conventional relationship is has been expanding for years. This expansion is influenced greatly by what we see in the media: specifically in the TV and movie industry. This is social constructivism: the idea that a dominant group creates knowledge or norms for another. Though this isn’t a bad thing, it can be very limiting especially when one is facing a situation in which they are out of the social norm.