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SOSC 1350 Lecture Notes - Sperm Bank, Alimony, Neoliberalism

Social Science
Course Code
SOSC 1350
Julie Dowsett

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February 8, 2012
1. The Social Construction of “Normalcy” and “Deviance
a. Heteronormativity relates to the social construction of “normalcy” and “deviance”
(think about our discussion of “culture” and “multiculture”)
Refer to lecture on multiculturalism normalcy/deviance dichotomy
The dominant” (i.e., white) culture is constructed as normal and civilized, abnormal,
backward, traditional or even deviant
b. Importance of taking apart the center (white, male, west, heterosexual) as well as
the periphery (black, brown, east, woman, “homosexual”)
Jackson Katz (Tough Guise) Gender is often equated with women; race is often equated
with people of color; sexuality is often equated with lesbians, gays etc.
This study of Heteronormativity involves taking apart the center.
While the periphery is taken apart, the center remains uninterrogated whiteness,
masculinity and heterosexuality remains uninterrogated
c. The study of Heteronormativity is one way of taking apart the center
It involves taking apart a concept that is heterosexuality that remains largely
We spend a lot of time thinking about queerness, but not a lot of time thinking about
heterosexuality it remains “normal”.
This is similar to the way we view whiteness as “normal”, and men as “normal”
2. What is Heteronormativity?
a. A system of social relations in which heterosexuality is institutionally and
ideologically privileged at the expense of queer sexualities
Heteronormativity: A system of social relations in which heterosexuality is institutionally
and ideologically privileged at the expense of queer sexualities
“Institutionally and ideologically” – the government, school law; worldview, ideas
Heteronormativity pervades both institutions (i.e., law, the school, state, politics) as well as
It often manifests itself in families as the unconscious or explicit assumption that
heterosexuality is the only “normal” form of sexual relations, and it regularly manifests
itself in discussions on the family
b. Heterosexuality assumed to be “normal”
Heteronormative assumptions are very much tied up in the ideology of motherhood.
It’s very much tied up with the ideas like:
o Women do less work than men
o Women should prioritize physical and domestic work over waged work
o The best family structure is a single income family with a stay-at-home mother
o Lesbian/gay and other queer relationships have less value
o Parenthood should be defined by biological (i.e., who’s the biological
mother/father), and not by who is undergoing the reproductive labor and caring for
the child on a day-to-day basis
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c. Relates to the older term “compulsory heterosexuality” (Adrienne Rich, 1980)
Heteronormativity is predated by compulsory heterosexuality
She argued that heterosexual marriage was the only legal location for long-term intimate
relationships. It was the only socially and legally sanctioned activity for the conceiving,
bearing and rearing of children, and it was the only means through which a woman can be
guaranteed support for her and her children
Therefore, she coined the term “compulsory heterosexuality” to encapsulate all of the
social, political, legal and cultural imperatives that close off all sexual options for women
except monogamous heterosexual coupling (marriage)
Heterosexuality is not natural but compulsory for women
This term is important because it sets the stage for later discussions of Heteronormativity,
and it overturns the common sense of view that heterosexuality is natural and therefore
requires no explanation
E.g., T-shirt slogan heterosexuality is not natural, just common
d. Critiques the idea that “homosexuality” is always the “problem” in need of
Heterosexuality is not a problem that we’re supposed to interrogate it’s supposed to be
normal and natural and not a problem that we’re supposed to interrogate
Heterosexuality as a term has only been in the English language for about 150 years, but
practices associated with heterosexuality have always been around
It’s only been 150 years that the law as been interested in regulating sexuality
e. Recent research asks us to investigate the social construction of heterosexuality for
a change
3. The Social Construction of “Heterosexuality” and “Homosexuality”
In the 1800s, sexologists from across Europe and North America compiled lists of sexual types and
sexual behaviors
Out of all of the possibilities they talked about, the most profound decisions in present-day
western culture, was between straight and gay, and the term heterosexuality and homosexuality
were coined in 1868
After the coining of these terms, the construction of the dichotomy between these two terms was
based on heterosexuality being “normal” and homosexuality as “abnormal” or “deviant
a. Contemporary understanding of both heterosexuality and “homosexuality” are of
recent origin
Homosexuality entered the English language during this time to describe a new form of
erotic attraction between men and women
This new heterosexuality was different than previous forms of social organization because
it was defined as this essential and important erotic orientation not simply engagement in
reproductive sex or gender division of labor
b. Dichotomous sexuality is a social construction specific to modern European/Anglo-
American culture
It’s only been about 150 years that the sexual behavior associated with homosexuals and
bisexuals has been constructed as a problem by dominant institutions and professions (i.e.,
medical, biological, psychological and other forms of scientific research etc.).
These terms didn’t exist as terms until 1868; sexual behaviors associated with the terms
always existed
Heterosexuality is a social and legal construction
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