Tag Archives: heteronormativity

The L Word, Progressive or Heteronormative

After reading Samuel Chamber’s “Heteronormativity and the L Word,” and investigating his claims during a class discussion, I was curious how the show was portrayed in promo commercials to audiences. Chambers criticized the show for presenting lesbian characters as having a very homogenous identity. Succinctly, he argued that “The narrative structure of the L word, despite its central cast of characters – often serves to perpetuate, preserve, and sustain the normatively of heterosexuality.” With this in mind, I analyzed the promo clip for Season 1, which is intended to function as a glimpse into the show’s main story lines without revealing too much. Although it can not encapsulate an entire complex and fluctuating season, promo clips are recognized as indicative of a show’s content.
This season 1 promo begins with two very attractive blonde white women speaking to each other. One says, “Why is it important for you to believe that everyone is sleeping with everyone else?” The blonde characters responds somewhat seductively, “Because they are,” implying that the show depicts rampant sexual affairs. Next it highlights the committed relationship between Tina and Bette and their desire to have a child. Chambers identifies this dynamic as heternormative forcing traditional expectations of behaviors on lesbians. The rest of the clip shows beautiful lesbian women constantly kissing and seducing each other. The clip also alludes to erotic affairs between some of the lesbian characters and a white male heterosexual character. With this brief 1:40 clip, it appears that many of Chambers’ claims are valid. Rather than portray the lesbian community as extremely variable, their representation appeals mostly to heterosexual men; men have ultimate fantasies of threesomes with two women, and watching women interact in sexual behavior. Thus, the behavior of the characters’ onscreen alludes to this; it is tantalizing. Near the end the voiceover says, “Sexuality is fluid, whether you’re gay or you’re straight you just go with the flow.” This line which is intended to project the main idea of the show implies that the lesbian characters are not strictly lesbian. Instead they are free and liberal and open to having affairs with men as well. It reduces the lesbian identity to an extremely sexual one with the objective of drawing in male viewers.

Sources
Chambers, Samuel A. “Heteronormativity and the L Word: From a Politics of Representation to Politics of
Norms.” Reading The L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. By Kim Akass and Janet McCabe.
London: I.B. Tauris, 2006. N. pag Print.

What is Privilege?

Privilege is something hard to define and very difficult to detect if you’re in a place of it. I find that in trying to answer what privilege is, it is often much easier to look at experiences one has not had.

intersectionality

In Ellen Jean Samuels’s essay “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse” I was faced with the difficulties of simplifying the intersectional approach to feminist discourse. I’m very used to picking out white privilege and male privilege in the world, but am still a novice at examining heterosexual privilege and able-bodied privilege. So my running list of “have you evers” that signify privilege (the fewer you check, the more privilege you have) was full of items like this:

Samuels, despite her argument that we must be careful in finding broad similarities, caused me to add another broad term to the list:

Have you ever had to come out?

The mere statement “come out” without the preposition “to” is open as it allows for the interpretation of the phrase to apply to one’s personal grappling with an identity they’re not sure they can share with the world (237). Though I may have thought of this as an item on my mental list for heterosexual privilege, I never would have thought of it as something that could cover the experiences of the invisibly disabled or even myself as a racially-ambiguous mixed-race girl.

Samuels, “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse”

Time for a (normative) holiday?

This advertisement for Thomson Holidays, a UK-based travel agency, portrays several families and couples on picturesque, joyous vacations in a variety of locations. The advertisement urges the audience to take a break and cherish time with family. Unfortunately, the advertisement does not feature any non-normative people or relationships. Every single person featured is white, presumably upper class, and in a heterosexual relationship. This kind of advertising perpetuates the idea that the ideal, happy family has to fit into a certain mold. In reality, all types of families could probably benefit from this kind of vacation; as Belkin notes, even though most lesbian couples do not argue about the same issues as heterosexual couples, they still do bicker (Belkin 10). The advertisement advocates some positive ideals: spending time with family, putting away technology, and taking a break from the daily grind; it’s a shame that the creators of the advertisement did not care to portray non-heterosexual, non-white families partaking in a relaxing vacation as well.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” 2008.

What is privilege?

When I first heard of privilege, I thought of the idea that my parents had taught me — of earning something. Something that is not a right, but rather something that had to be earned. Of course the definition of privilege in a feminist context is a near opposite to my former definition. Privilege describes not a particular earned ‘thing’, but rather what is unearned, Privilege describes the things given to those who fit the ‘norm’. The norm describes simply the ‘better’ or ‘natural’ category that society deems best. And the opposite of privilege, oppression, being the deviation from said norm.

The norm of heterosexuality, the norm of whiteness (in America), the norm of cisness, the norm of maleness; all of these describe a quality in which a person is deemed normal, yet this normal is deemed superior. Those who fit these characteristics don’t have to face the problems that many ‘others’ have to face (for the most part). Thus, this privilege is not something given, but rather something not taken away.

In media, we see those who fit the norm — or as close to the norm as possible. We see those who succeed overwhelmingly possess this attributes, even when considering population size. Their privilege, their closeness to the ‘norm’, is what allows them the opportunities to achieve these positions. So is privilege giving the opportunities? Or is oppression taking them away?

Attack of the Shocking Kindle

This ad relies on the heteronormative presumption of heterosexuality to shock the audience. Although the ad does nothing to indicate sexual tension between the man and woman, the existence of a man and a woman on the beach plays upon heteronormative narratives of romance.  Chambers explains that heterosexuality is presupposed by heteronormativity; the default is heterosexuality and anything else is “other” (96). Thus, when the man asks if the woman wants to celebrate the arrival of his Kindle, the audience expects some sort of romantic conclusion. The audience is then surprised when the man says that he, too, has a husband on the way.

Despite its shock value, the ad includes no image or person that is subversive to the patriarchal order. Wan-Hsiu explains that when ads depict gay men, they are often represented as the “Gay Dream Consumer Stereotype” (13). These men appear to be “educated, wealthy, fashionable, and upper-middle class” (13). The man in the ad seems to fall into this category and also appears to be “happily married.”  Both the stereotype and the use of marriage allow the advertisement to use sexuality for shock value without being subversive. Marriage and consumerism are sanctioned by heteronormativity, and thus won’t threaten the patriarchy.

Chambers, Samuel A. “Heteronormativity and the L Word: From a Politics of Representation to a Politics of Norms.” Reading The L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. By Kim Akass. Ed. Janet McCabe. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006. 81-98. Print.

Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010) http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed July 31, 2012).

Big Question: What is Freedom?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/opinion/sunday/bruni-the-tumbling-boundaries-of-gay-rights.html?_r=0

This NYT opinion piece describes the “coming out” of slews of Republicans who have recently decided to support gay marriage, or the “freedom to marry.” Marriage equality has recently attained nothing short of momentous bipartisan support, a feat that speaks to great progressive shifts in public perception of gays and lesbians

Yet Samuel A. Chambers notes that members of the LGBTQ community are accepted only so long as they adhere to standards of heteronormativity (Chambers, 94). Such standards involve “narratives of straight romance,” and often necessitate gendered relationship roles and marriage to legitimate homosexual relationships (Chambers, 94). Additionally, such standards do not extend to public displays of homosexual desire, as they may threaten norms of sexual behavior (Chambers, 93).  The freedom to marry does not indicate that one has freedom of gender and sexual desire. One must still conform.

The freedom to marry normalizes only certain lifestyles with the LGBTQ community, privileging the wants and desires of some groups over others (Wan-Hsiu, 12). The creation of norms within the community may perpetuate an internal system of stratification, marginalizing some and and curtailing their freedom to express gender and sexual desire in ways more subversive to heteronormativity (Wan-Hsiu, 12).

Because freedom operates within preexisting social structures, freedom is conditional and often comes at a price.

Bruni, Frank. “The Tumbling Boundaries of Gay Rights.” The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2013. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/opinion/sunday/bruni-the-tumbling-boundaries-of-gay-rights.html?_r=0

Chambers, Samuel A. “Heteronormativity and the L Word: From a Politics of Representation to a Politics of Norms.” Reading The L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. By Kim Akass. Ed. Janet McCabe. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006. 81-98. Print.

Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010) http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed July 31, 2012).

Oppression: Rejection of Deviances to the Norm

Oppression is the rejection, often from a more dominant perspective, of a culture or an ideal. In modern Western society, this higher perspective is primarily that of white, heterosexual, cisgender men. Rejected elements include, but are not limited to, gender and sexual desire. Deviance to norms is denied through demoralization or assimilation as seen in Hill Collins’s analysis of African American masculinity. Black men who reject the White normative are labeled as threatening, while those who conform to norms are seen as weak within Black culture. Hill Collins claims White Americans justify this rejection by pointing to Black culture, thereby denying and oppressing its place among the normative (180). This oppression extends to those outside the heterosexual, cisgender normative through which Tsai observes the representation of bisexual women and trans women. Both are sexualized according to heteronormativity and binary gender. Bisexual women are depicted according to male heterosexual fantasy in which they have “the best of both worlds,” while trans women are characterized through their hyperfemininity, denying gender fluidity (Tsai 9-10). Their deviance to norms is rejected by assimilating their representation according to the normative. This rejection denies the place of people outside the norm, thereby oppressing them.

Sources:
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Tsai, Wan-Hsui Sunny. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11.1 (2010). Web.

Ad Critique: Amazon Kindle

This Amazon Kindle commercial reinforces many homosexual stereotypes represented in modern media. The stereotypical gay male represented in many television commercials is white, wealthy, upper class, and style-conscious. Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai writes, “gayness in the marketing discourse often is defined by high-end tastes and conspicuous consumption” (Tsai, 6). In this ad, Amazon is using the gay male’s approval of their product to portray it as high-end and fashionable.

The advertisement is also extremely heteronormative. In the advertisement, the man on the beach is portrayed as the “woman” of the relationship and the man getting drinks is the “man.” The man on the beach is not necessarily more feminine, rather his position in the relationship is represented through his likeness to the woman on the beach. The concept that one man must be the “woman” of the relationship and the other the “man” is a heteronormative stereotype. This aspect of the commercial contributes to the development of heterosexual norms. In Heteronormativity and the L Word, Samuel A. Chambers writes that a norm “implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, demands, presumes, expects and calls for the normal” (Chambers, 84). In this case, heterosexual positions in a homosexual relationship are the norm that the advertisement is reinforcing.

Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. Kim Akass and Janet McCabe, eds. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006: 81-98.

Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010) http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed July 31, 2012).

Ad Critique: Heinz Deli Mayo

Just like how Chamber describes The L Word as “a heteronormative show about homosexuals,” this recent Heinz Deli Mayonnaise commercial is a paradigm of the false depiction of gays in media based on heterosexual norms, desires, and family structures, though it has good intentions of increasing queer representation.

The scene begins with a little boy asking his “mum” for his lunch bag, which “strikes the straight viewer as comforting and familiar” since it is so relatable to everyday life (Chamber). However, the twist comes when “mum” is actually a lesbian man, and greets his daughter and partner in an overly feminine manner. This clearly replicates a “heterosexual romance,” and supports heteronormativity by assuming the family structure of a working father and a stay-at-home mother who takes care of the family. The producers are forcefully fitting all gays into the typical roles of what is considered a “normal” straight family in order to increase their acceptance among the predominantly straight audience. Analyzing further, the commercial’s stereotype of how a household mother and father should behave illustrates the reinforcement of the ingrained gender roles by the current media.

In addition, it is worthy to note that like Tsai suggests, the two gay men here are “white, upper-middle-class males,” which is commonly the most accepted type of queers as they are still ethnically, sexually, and economically superior. Though the commercial ends with a gay kiss hoping to desensitize the audience’s reaction to queers, it actually had the opposite effect when the producers agreed to ban the commercial after receiving homophobic responses.

Chambers, Samuel. “Heteronormativity and the L Word.” Trans. Array Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006. 81-98. Print.

Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1. 2010.