Summary: How Heteronormativity Allows Us to Understand Systems of Oppression and How Hierarchies Are Constructed in Society

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The argument between what sexuality is natural and unnatural has been an ongoing debate since the invention of sexuality. Any abnormal sexuality identity, or often, any sexual orientation that did not fall under the category of heterosexuality was historically often viewed as ‘abnormal’. Society has dominated the notion that heterosexuality is the normal and the only accepted sexual orientation in society through heteronormativity. By exposing heterosexuality, historians can further understand why heteronormativity is so widely spread. 

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Heteronormativity reinforces heterosexuality as the conventional sexuality through the exclusion of the ‘other’ by constructing and presenting itself as the normal and natural. Heteronormativity can be defined as a societal hierarchical system that grants certain groups of individuals privilege and sanctions based on one’s sexuality. It is a system that enforces the idea that a hetero lifestyle is what should be deemed as “normal” in society. We currently live in a society where heterosexuality is the dominant and the criterion. Society gave heterosexual culture privilege and power to generalize itself and be represented as the ‘standard’ and ‘normal’ . Due to this discrimination based on an individual’s sexuality, any sexual act that varied from sex between people of the opposite sex was regarded as ‘abnormal’. The creation of the homosexual differentiated homosexuals from their heterosexual counterparts and subsequently marginalized them. They consequently became binary opposites from each other. It undoubtedly operates to the advantage of heterosexual individuals and to the disadvantage to anyone else that is alienated as the ‘other’. This system of power and privilege is reinforced by institutionalized justifications of discrimination such as white privilege, racism, and heterosexuality. “At the most general level, the social organization of sex rests upon gender, obligatory heterosexuality, and the constraint of female sexuality. The suppression of the homosexual component of human sexuality, and by corollary, the oppression of gay and lesbians, is therefore a product of the same system” . The presumption that it is natural for people of opposite sexes to be attracted to one another is the root of the notion that heterosexuality is the only normal and acceptable sexual orientation. Society’s enshrinement of heterosexuality is illogical and produces limitations on the population that restricts individuals from freely expressing one’s sexuality. This could therefore result in unnecessary guilt in and pressure on people who are reckoned as ‘abnormal’ . Heteronormativity promotes negativity towards sexual and gender minorities. It is, in a sense, built on the exclusion and repression of homosexuality.

By exposing heterosexuality, society can further understand why heteronormativity is so widely spread. Throughout history, heterosexuality has always been privileged and maintained a dominant position. In the past, heterosexuality was favored for procreation; hence, it was considered the ‘standard’. Any sexual act that was non procreative or premarital was considered deviant. Studying heteronormativity will expose systems of oppression and contribute to an understanding of how more general gender structures and hierarchies are constructed in society. Cultural restraints have has the biggest effect on the history of sex and sexuality. Cultural norms have restricted people from discussing sexualities or sexual desires that are considered taboo in their society. These cultural norms were developed over time, and engraved into certain societies. The mind interpreted what society will accept and what not, and restricted their own sexuality out of fear. These ‘norms’ that are taught from a young age creates an intolerance of those who do not fit into this category created by society’s ignorant views.

Television shows such as The Bachelor and The Bachelorette promotes heterosexual relationships and reinforces hegemonic masculinity and femininity. These shows promote certain notions of class, gender, and lifestyle, focusing mostly on heteronormativity. The Bachelor (The Bachelorette is spin-off of this show) is an American dating reality show / game show aired on ABC that revolves around a bachelor who starts off the show with a group of women and he is expected to select a wife by the end of the season. The Bachelor sells the image of an ideal relationship between two people of the opposite sexes to the viewer, reifying a heterosexual relationship and glorifying the concept of a traditional marriage. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette consistently reproduces and reinforces ideals of heterosexuality and traditional gender roles, whether it be through their hetero gendered presentation of cast members, their insistence on the importance of the hetero nuclear family, or their portrayals of relationship power dynamics . The females on the show are depicted as the perfect women; they are often very dolled up, eager for motherhood and marriage, and are looking for a man to ‘end their suffering’. The man, on the other hand, are muscular, successful, and family oriented. Most of the women on the show symbolize the need to “complete their feminine duty of finding a husband”. Televisions shows like such can be detrimental to society because it sells a heterosexual relationship, and since society usually accept reality television as ‘real’ life, audiences regard certain standards of class and portrayal of sexuality as the acceptable indicator for social norms and expectations. It violently pushes a heteronormative life onto us, brainwashing viewers into thinking that this type of relationship is idealized and respected by society.

The idea of heteronormativity also reinforced being heterosexual, living monogamously, being able-bodied, married, middle class and white. This is seen in social structures such as marriage and nuclear families. According to The Conundrum of Masculinity: Hegemony, Homosociality, Homophobia and Heteronormativity by Chris Haywood, we, as a society, organize families in a way that favors heterosexual men and women at the expense of other sexualities . 

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