Sunday, April 11, 2010

Heteronormative Dichotomy

As I sit here at work too tired to concentrate on reading my French novel, I feel the need to instead write about my issues with the binary view of sexuality our society maintains as a whole. I have a whole list of issues that feminists bring up regularly that I hope to write my views on eventually, and this is one of those simply because most people have never thought about sex in a different way. Unfortunately because so many of these issues interact it is such a challenge to me to remain focused, so bear with me...

Mary Hawkesworth, a gender theorist, writes of five assumptions, which I include to show that what I am saying and thinking is backed up by the research and conclusions of others.
1. There are two and only two genders
2. Gender is invariant
3. Genitals are the essential signs of gender
4. The male/female dichotomy is natural
5. Being masculine/feminine is natural and not a matter of choice

These assumptions make up much of heteronormative thought. Heteronormativity refers to the general assumption that certain traits or choices fall a certain way because of one's biological sex. By this I mean an individual born with female genitalia is classified as a female, and is expected to be feminine and be attracted to men. This assumes that sex will match gender and sexuality, and that there is simply a right way for these three to interact. Not only is there a right way to connect the dots, but there are only two choices - male is to female as masculine is to feminine.

Sex is not gender. Sex is biological; gender is a social construct. Nothing exists that is inherently feminine, but society makes it so. There is no reason for girls to like pink and play with Barbies and for boys to like blue and play with Tonka trucks but we raise children that way. We reduce sex to equal gender and we reduce these categories to a dichotomous relationship. Instead of accepting infants are born with a variety of genitalia, people expect only two choices labeling those who differ as inter-sex or hermaphroditic. When a child is born whose outsides do not conform to one of two choices, some parents opt for gender-reassignment surgery and simply choose a sex for their child. While I am not sure on the medical rules for this currently and can only assert it has happened in the past. If I had some of my notes from random classes I could give some stats on the prevalence of inter-sex individuals, but alas, you will have to take my word for it that the number is higher than you (or I - not trying to sit on a high horse here) would guess.

How barbaric to perform surgery on your newborn simply because their organs don't match what you want them to. This is the problem of a binary view of sex - it does not allow for variation. Besides that, the relationship between sex and gender is naturalized. Gender is not natural, it is performed. Children learn to act the way they are "supposed to" based on simple social cues and they learn early on how to be a good girl or a good boy.

That is gender. The performance of certain traits that are for some reason or another associated with the sex of the body.

Genderqueer individuals are not all that visible in the community, and I'm in Minneapolis. Get out to the suburbs or rural areas and that presence is further repressed. Regardless of sexuality, if one identifies with a gender that does not "match" their body, they inevitably run into all sorts of issues, for example, whether to check male or female on forms or which bathroom to go in. These simple daily functions become a stressful and complicated because of society's narrow view of sex and gender.

There has been a "five sex" system proposed by some, which is separated as male, female, homosexual male, homosexual female, and bisexual. This is not much better than a binary system. What is up with our need to label everything?! Why can't people just be who they want to be without fear of teasing? No more taunting of the "tomboy" or the "effeminate" boy... If gender were less policed by society and there was more freedom allowed, people could find their niche easily instead of waiting for the "right role model" to show them who they want to become. What is so wrong about a girl not wanting to wear dresses or a boy wanting to play house? I see no problem and I wish there was a way to get over the need for a label, and thus a way to move away from narrow views of gender.

Unfortunately humans have an obsession with the dichotomy: Good vs Evil, God vs Devil, Love vs Hate, Master vs Servant, Male vs Female.

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