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Chapter 4: Conclusion Pg 51

Bibliography Pg 57


Chapter 1: What is Heterosexuality?

Heterosexuality is the dominant sexual discourse of our society. Since it is the dominant discourse, it tends not to be looked at or examined. Instead it is taken as a constant in our society, a fact. Men and women are presumed heterosexual until they state otherwise. So let’s explore heterosexuality. We will do this first by looking at the current definitions for heterosexuality. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of heterosexuality is broken down as follows: Main Entry: het·ero·sex·u·al

Pronunciation: \ˌhe-tə-rō-ˈsek-sh(ə-)wəl, -ˈsek-shəl\

Function: adjective

Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary

Date: 1892

1 a : of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward the opposite sex b : of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between individuals of opposite sex 2 : of or relating to different sexes

From this definition we learn two things: one that the origin of the word is scientific dating back to 1892, and second that to be heterosexual one has to be attracted and/or sexually active with someone of the opposite sex. But what makes up one’s sex? What defines an opposite sex?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica :

Science terminology: Sex

In both plants and animals, sex is determined by the reproductive cells (gametes) produced by the organism. The male produces sperm cells, and the female produces egg cells. Males and females may or may not have apparent structural differences, but they always have functional, hormonal, and chromosomal differences. Patterns of behavior, sometimes elaborate, may also distinguish the sexes in some species

Through this we have a clear understanding of what the definition of heterosexuality is, which is the attraction and or sexually activity between females and males. For the use of this paper we will limit this to human females and males.

Heterosexuality, however, goes beyond just this technical definition. It is not just another key word or phrase that is applied to sexual behavior in humans. It is an institution that is reinforced throughout society. The reason I say institution is because heterosexuality is all around us. It determines the normative in our society. It is the standard by which most people live. To continue in this understanding lets look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary, definition of Institution: 2

Main Entry: in·sti·tu·tion

Pronunciation: \ˌin(t)-stə-ˈtü-shən, -ˈtyü-\

Function: noun

Date: 14th century

1 : an act of instituting : ESTABLISHMENT

2 a : a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture <the institution of marriage>; also : something or someone firmly associated with a place or thing <she has become an institution in the theater> b : an established organization or corporation (as a bank or university) especially of a public character.

To apply heterosexuality to an institution may seem extreme at first, but by looking at the definition of institution it is clear that it does apply. The first part of the definition is “an act of instituting: Establishment.” Heterosexuality has been instituted and established in society as the social norm, the dominant sexual discourse, which most people in society live and identify with. The second part of the definition states “A significant practice, relationship or organization in a society or culture…” This applies to heterosexuality as well; it is a practice, a practice of being attracted and or sexual active (one could argue exclusively) to the opposite sex. It is a relationship, between two people and it is organized within our society and culture. The term was originally a scientific term, organizing people into a social constraint, heterosexuality.

To understand the definition and application of the Institution which is heterosexuality, is one thing, to understand where the terminology came from is another.

Where did the Term Heterosexuality come from?

The term heterosexuality has not always been around. As we saw in our definition it was developed in the late nineteenth century. The term itself has only been around for a little over a hundred years.

Where did the term come from and how did it become the dominant sexual discourse and institution it is today? According to Jonathan Ned Katz in his book the Invention of Heterosexuality, before the discourse of heterosexuality, there was the discourse in Europe and North America of true and false love:

True love was a hierarchical system, topped by an intense spiritual feeling powerful enough to justify marriage, reproduction, and an otherwise unhallowed sensuality. The reigning sexual standard distinguished, not between different-and same-sex eroticism, but between true love and false love-a 3

feeling not sufficiently deep, permanent, and serious enough to justify the usual sensual courtship practices, or the usual well-nigh immutable marriage (Katz, 1995, p.44).

With the discourse of true love also came the discourse of true men and true women. Katz explains this:

The early nineteenth century prescribed particular ideals of manhood and womanhood, founding a cult of the true man and the true women… the special purity claimed for this era’s true women referred not to asexuality but to middle-class women’s better control than men over their carnal impulses, often conceived of as weaker than men’s. True men, thought to live closer to carnality and in less control of it, ideally aspired to the same rational regulation of concupiscence as did respectable true women (Katz, 1995, p.43-44).

What Katz is explaining is that within this true love discourse there were roles for women and men, based on restraint, not on sexual orientation. He also points out the class divide in this discourse:

“Holding strictly to true love was an important way in which the middle class distinguished itself from the allegedly promiscuous upper class and animalistic lower class”(Katz, 1995, p.44) In the Victorian Age, before the term heterosexuality was coined, the social ideals of one’s sexuality had to due with true compared to false love. True love, only being between a woman and a man, with social ideals of what true women and true men were, differentiating between the classes, having the strongest hold on the middle class. So how did this change?

According to Katz, in the 1860’s a German writer, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, started to reclassify and organize sexual terms, in defense of same sex love:

In a letter to Ulrichs on May 6, 1868, another early sex law reformer, the writer Karl Maria Kertbeny, is first known to have privately used four new terms he coined… ‘Momosexual’ refers to masturbation, practiced by both sexes. ‘Heterogenit’ refers to erotic acts of human beings with animals. “homosexual” refers to erotic acts performed by men with men and women with women.

And ‘heterosexual’ refers to erotic acts of men and women, as did another of his new terms,

‘normalsexualitat’ normal sexuality (Katz, 1995, p.52)

Karl Maria Kertbeny was Austrian and against the anti-sodomy laws, having had a friend who killed himself after being blackmailed due to his same sex practices. He started writing anonymous pamphlets against the anti-sodomy laws using his new terms ( In essence, the term heterosexuality and homosexuality came out of the defense of same sex love. It was not the terms heterosexual and homosexual that created the divide. It had long been there, the divide being that, opposite sex love/heterosexuality, was and is seen as legitimate while same sex love/homosexuality was seen as evil and now as illegitimate. The reinforcement of opposite sex love as the only rightful love in society had been instituted through different means than the current day one of heterosexuality. Heterosexuality as a lifestyle and the normative ideal took a while to develop.


According to Katz, Sigmund Freud had a big role in the dichotomy and governance of heterosexual/homosexual identity:

The initial appearance of ‘heterosexual’ in a discussion of homosexuality is a typical practice of Freud’s that later becomes typical of others. Heterosexuals, it turns out, most often owe the explicit, public mention of their existence to talk of homosexuals. Though the heterosexual category came to signify the dominant standard, it remained oddly dependent on the subordinate homosexual category.

Heterosexual and homosexual appeared in public as Siamese twins, the first good, the second bad, bound together for life in unalterable, antagonistic symbiosis (Katz, 1995,p.65).

Through Sigmund Freud, a leading psychologist of his day, whose findings still hold relevance in the psychiatric sphere and beyond, the ideals of heterosexuality and homosexuality emerge; heterosexuality being the norm and homosexuality being the other: “In Freud’s modern usage, hetero feelings defines hetero being, whether or not one acts heterosexually” (Katz, 1995, p.66). By this, Freud explains that feelings, attraction to the opposite sex means more than the actual acts. So to be heterosexual, one has to feel like a heterosexual, attracted to the opposite sex, the significance being, that for someone who feels attraction to the same sex, even the acts of heterosexuality does not make him or her a heterosexual.

In the book Masculinities by R.W. Connell, he explains the impact of the instituting of Heterosexuality:

As gay historians have shown, the late nineteenth century was the time when ‘the homosexual’ as a social type became clearly defined. This involved both a medical and a legal discrimination. At earlier periods of history, sodomy had been officially seen as an act which might be undertaken by any man who gave way to evil. Homosexual desire was now viewed as defining a particular type of man, the

‘invert’ in the most common medical view. New laws criminalized homosexual contact as such (called

‘gross indecency’ in the 1885 Labouchere Amendment in England), and routine police surveillance of

‘perverts’ followed (Connell, 1995, p.196).

As Connell further explains the conceptualization of homosexuality started to become a characteristic of someone, instead of an act. Yes, sodomy was outlawed; those who regularly practiced it were in danger of punishment and or blackmail (, but now under the new heterosexual/homosexual discourse the person took on the identity of the act. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are feelings, therefore possessing the person who has them. No longer was someone just succumbing to socially deemed inappropriate acts. They were considered an invert and perverted; it was aligned to the person, who they were, no longer what they did. The opposite- sex love structure has a long history of control and supremacy over all other types; one could argue 5

dating back to the emergence of patriarchy. For the means of this paper, I will focus on the current state of heterosexuality, understanding that it is the present underpinning of opposite- sex love being the overriding societal normative sexual discourse and impacting and determining the views on other sexual discourses; such as homosexuality.

Current State of Heterosexuality

Heterosexuality is now the modern societal norm of sexuality. But it does not stop at that. The institution and emphasis of the modern interpretation is all around. In our current society there is a dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality, in other words two categories that society pressures people to align too. In modern slang, straight meaning heterosexual and gay meaning homosexual, the question is: Are you straight or gay? This idea of either/or is rigid, leaving little room for people who do not identify with either category. What about people who do not identify with either category, due to their attraction to both sexes, such as bisexuals. Bisexual is another category, but one that does not hold as much legitimacy as heterosexual or homosexual. A lot of the time in today’s society, by both straight and gay people, bisexuality is looked at as a phase of straight people or a transition of gay people: “For example, the category of bisexual challenges the binary discourse of the dominant sex/gender system that requires subjects to locate themselves as either gay or straight (Ault, 1996)”( Blume and Blume, p.788, 2003). The questioning of bisexuality highlights the need of society to have men and women align to a category.

When one looks at the current political policies in the United States, the right to gay marriage is still a hot button issue, which people are either for or against. The right for gay’s to serve in the military, repealing the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, is another heated discussion. The argument over gay rights in numerous countries is still going on. When we look to our media we see heterosexuality and social conditioning on a regular basis. This is done through what is mirrored in TV and movies, which is a straight world. There is representation of homosexuals in movies and TV, but they tend to be side characters, supporters of the main straight character, and their sexuality is a defining trait. In the book The Male Body, by Susan Bordo, she comments on the depiction of straight and gay men in the movies:

Straight masculinity could only bend so far. In every film in which the hero treads just a little too close to what straight audiences might identify as the gay man’s world- American Gigolo, for example (1980), in which Richard Gere plays a narcissistic male prostitute-extra insurance is required to make sure that audiences don’t get confused. That might mean making the character ostentatiously heterosexual… In these films, and many others, the homosexual is invisible yet powerfully present- as the shadow of the straight man’s sexuality, a constant unseen specter, alluded to through jokes and imitations, the figure against which the heroes must establish their difference. When the homosexual 6

character did appear as a full, flesh-and-blood screen presence, it was as what philosopher Simone de Beauvior has called “the other.” Unlike straight characters, who get to have exciting adventures in which their sexual orientation is irrelevant, the homosexual character has been continually marked by his or her sexuality (Bordo, 1999, p.157)

Even more than what is depicted in mass media, what is happening socially needs to be examined.

When a boy is not acting enough like a straight boy should act, he is called a name, such as a homo, pussy, fag or a girl. When a girl is not acting enough like a straight girl, she is called a dyke, butch or manly. All of these words are used to reinforce the notion that men and women are straight, therefore boys and girls are straight. If you do not follow a certain role, then your sexual identity will be questioned, you will be questioned through these social reinforcements. The categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality for men/boys and women/girls have defined traits, attributes and roles that go with each. Gender roles, roles that are aligned to people based on one’s sex, reestablishing heterosexuality on a continual basis, is the current state of heterosexuality. In the books Masculinities by R.W. Connell, he writes about how the term heterosexuality changed the image of masculinity:

From the point of view of hegemonic masculinity, the potential for homoerotic pleasure was expelled from the masculine and located in a deviant group, symbolically assimilated to women or to beasts.

There was no mirror-type of ‘the heterosexual’. Rather, heterosexuality became a required part of manliness (Connell, 1995, p.196).

The same could be said for the requirements of women and femininity. Women who are aligned to other women, not men, are seen as less of a woman. Unable to “get a man”, deemed an old maid, someone people should feel sorry for, unfeminine. Heterosexuality is a rigid system that has been institutionalized all around us, using gender roles as expectations for behavior. Reinforced throughout society by religion, education, history, television, movies, books, music, laws, just to name a few. Think about ways in which heterosexuality is reinforced as the dominant social norm on a daily basis. To understand the hold of heterosexuality we must look at what continues the need for heterosexuality. Gender roles play a huge part in the furthering of heterosexuality.

Gender Roles and Heterosexuality

Gender roles in the simplest explanation are the roles aligned to men and women based on masculinities (male traits) and femininities (female traits): “Masculinity and femininity are socially desirable attributes that are stereotypically considered to differentiate males and females (Spence and Helmreich, 1978)”(Galambos, Almeida, Petersen,1990, p.1906). To understand gender roles, one first must understand the dichotomy of masculinity/femininity. If to be masculine one has to be aggressive, strong, dominant, then to be feminine one has to be timid, soft, and supportive. They are 7

closely linked; one defines the other. Masculinity and femininity are not the biological differences between men and women, they are what help define one’s gender and gender identity. Gender is constructed and is changeable throughout society. What is considered masculine today may not be so 50 years from now. What is considered feminine may not be so 50 years from now, “…the term sex is used to refer to physical differentiation (i.e., male-female) whereas the term gender is used to refer to a social construction (i.e., masculine-feminine)” (Blume and Blume,2003, p.785). The trouble is that ones sex aligns them to ones gender identity. When someone is biologically female or biologically male, the female is expected by society to be feminine, and the male is expected to be masculine. I am a female because I have long hair, I wear a skirt, wear make up, paint my nails. I am a male because I have short hair, wear paints, I am rugged and I do not wear make up or paint my nails. Except none of those aesthetics have anything to do with biology. They are all socially constructed gender requirements. For a biological man to walk around in a dress and makeup (which happens in society) he is openly challenging the gender status quo. As a result, he may be in danger of being ridiculed by strangers as well as by friends and family questioning his choice. For a woman to walk around in pants, without make up with short hair (which happens in society) she too is openly challenging the status quo of gender. However in many societies, such as the one in the United States, a women dressing “like a man” is more socially acceptable than that of a man dressing

“like a woman”. One could argue this is because masculinity is more valued then femininity, which if this is the case, then it makes sense for a women to want to be a man. It does not make sense for a man to want to be a woman: “Widely held gender beliefs are in effect cultural rules or instructions for enacting the social structure of difference and inequality that we understand to be gender”(Ridgeway&Correll,2004, p.511). Gender parallels biology. This is seen every time a biological woman identifies her gender identity as female, therefore feminine, and a biological man identifies his gender identity as male, therefore masculine.

In the book The Sexual Construction of Latino Youth, by Jacobo Schifter and Johnny Madrigal, the authors explore sexual and gender identity in two communities in Costa Rica. In two sections labeled

“Sex Roles are Grounded in Biology and Role Determines Function”, they write:

…it is not particularly surprising that most of the research participants (whether male or female) believed that men, by virtue of their sex, were naturally strong, aggressive, assertive, and hardworking, whereas women were submissive, passive, vain, and delicate. In Katia’s words, ‘it’s simply natural that this is the case.’… Along similar lines, many of the young people involved in the study indicated that women’s natural environment is the home, while that of men is the (wage-paying) workplace and the street ( Schifter&Madrigal, 2000, p.69-70).


In these sections Schifter and Madrigal show how linked one’s sex is to masculine and feminine traits, leading to expected gender roles of men and women. Women are seen as passive and delicate, their “natural” role being in the house, whereas men are seen as aggressive and assertive there for their “natural” role is being in the work force and street.

Gender is with us from the moment we are born:

From the moment babies are born, they are defined and categorized according to their sex. Indeed, as Kaschak (1993) argues, perceptions of babies’ size, intelligence, and level of activity have all been shown to vary widely depending upon the sex of which they are thought to belong”(Schifter&Madrigal, 2000, p.46).

This is how the gender system works. A baby’s sex is important; to know the sex is to be able to apply gender. This is seen when expecting parents find out the sex of their baby and begin getting ready for that baby by buying gender associated clothes, colors and toys. The gender script is continued for that baby when the parents start to think about their baby boy playing sports in the future, how smart and strong he is going to be. Or thinking about their baby girl being a ballet dancer, how beautiful and elegant she will be. These examples show how parents enact and write the gender script for their child:

For example, Eccles (1993) found that parents’ gender stereotypes, in interactions with a child’s sex, mediated how parents thought about their child’s performance of sex-typed activities. Parents formed an impression of their child’s abilities and interests that depended on the child’s biological sex to a greater extent than was justified by their actual performance, and this impression subsequently influenced the types of experiences that parents provided (Eccles). Thus, the differential experiences provided to boys and girls resulted in a pattern of sex differences in actual skills that was consistent with gender stereotypes (Eccles and Bryant, 1994),(Blume&Blume, p.788, 2003).

What this quote is highlighting is how parents influence their children’s gender identities and roles.

Parents gender their children when they determine their child’s interest and abilities on their own views of what a boy should be interested in and good at and what a girl should be interested in and good at. This is one element why boys may be more assertive, because when a boy is assertive he will commonly receive praise. When a girl is assertive she may commonly receive criticism. This type of socialization that builds individuals gender identities and roles comes from more then just parents: From a very early age, boys and girls are taught how to act, think, and speak in ways that are

‘appropriate’ to their gender. Their teachers are many, ranging from parents, siblings, and peers to television, popular music, and magazines. Not only are theses messages ubiquitous and multivariate, but they are constantly reinforced through the threat of ridicule, humiliation, and physical violence should an individual fail to abide by them(Schifter&Madrigal, 2000, p.95).


Because we are continual y gendered from society from both interpersonal interactions and outside societal influences, it is hard for people to understand what part of their gender identity is theirs, due to their own feelings, likes and dislikes, and what is due to the socialization of the interpersonal interactions and societal cues.

In the article “Unpacking the Gender System: A theoretical Perspective on Gender Beliefs and Social Relations,” the authors, Ridgeway and Correll, discuss how gender becomes a background identity, stating that everything someone does is influenced on some level with the identity of their gender. It is always in the background of their actions:

Since gender usually functions as a background identity, the effects of Cultural beliefs about gender in a social relational context are most often to moderate or exaggerate (i.e., to bias in gendered directions) behaviors and evaluations that are largely determined by more context-relevant identities and roles. This, in most contexts, gender becomes a bias in the way one enacts the role of manager, clerk, flight attendant, or student rather than a coherent and independent set of behaviors in itself This is another way of understanding the insight that gender is something one “does” rather than “is” (Ridgeway&Correll, 2004, p.516).

Blume and Blume in their article “Toward a Dialectical Model of Family Gender Discourse: Body, Identity, and sexuality” highlight the postmodern feminist view that gender is a performance, something that one does rather than something one is: “…postmodern feminists suggest that gender is performative, that gender reality is created through sustained social performances and repeated cultural discourse.”(Blume&Blume,2003,p.788). If gender is something one does, rather than something one is, what is wrong with that? If gender is a performance, something people consciously and unconsciously perform, then it is something you do and not something you are, and the performance can change. The problem is that within gender there are power structures that go along a multilayered system that continually impacts and reestablishes the gender system and the inequalities within it,

…the evidence so far indicates that the most obdurate features of our current gender system, such as the household division of labor, the sex segregation of jobs, or gender differences in status and authority are over determined in the gender system (Reskin, Branch Mcbrier, and Kmec 1999; Ridgeway and Smith-Lovin 1999; Risman 1998). That is, they are created and maintained by multiple, complementary processes acting simultaneously, often at different levels of analysis, such that the elimination of any single process will not be sufficient to eliminate the phenomenon.(Ridgeway&Correll, 2004, p.512).


Even though the roles of men and women may change, and identities may change, the gender system is so ingrained in our society that it will take more then changing roles and identities to affect the power structure that has been established:

What is interesting about the age old gender system in Western society is not that it never changes but that it sustains itself by continually redefining who men and women are and what they do while preserving the fundamental assumption that whatever the differences are, on balance, they imply that men are rightly more powerful. The essential form of gender hierarchy-that is, the cultural assumption that men have more status and authority than do women-has persisted during major socioeconomic transformations such as industrialization, the movement of women into the paid labor force, and more recently, the movement of women into male dominated occupations such as law or medicine (Ridgeway 1997). While a complex of social and historical processes has been responsible, we suggest that the interplay of gender belief and social relational has played an important part in this persistence (Ridgeway&Correll, 2004, p.522-523).

In the book The Sexual Construction of Latino Youth, Schifter and Madrigal also highlight that even though gender roles have changed, comparing the two communities in which they have researched, the power of those roles have not:

As our research in Villa del Sol has shown, the existing gender system can undergo change without threatening the fundamental power imbalance between men and women. Thus, regardless of the fact that the women of this community are now able to go to university and pursue a career, they are still the ones who do most of the work in the home, as well as providing emotional support to their partners (Schifter&Madrigal, 2000, p.47).

The power hierarchy of the gender system has been established. It is everywhere, not just at work or home or in social settings, but in every interaction that takes place: between men and men, men and women, women and women. Gender is reinforced constantly, and along with these gender roles, the power structure that goes along with gender is reinforced too. One of the strongest controllers of the gender system is hegemonic gender beliefs.

Main Entry: he·ge·mo·ny (merriam-webster dictionary) Pronunciation: \hi-ˈje-mə-nē, -ˈge-; ˈhe-jə-ˌmō-nē\

Function: noun

Etymology: Greek hēgemonia, from hēgemōn leader, from hēgeisthai to lead — more at SEEK

Date: 1567

1 : preponderant influence or authority over others : DOMINATION <battled for hegemony in Asia> 2 : the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group <extend their own hegemony over American culture as a whole — Mary K. Cayton>

heg·e·mon·ic \ˌhe-jə-ˈmä-nik, ˌhe-gə-\ adjective 11

Hegemonic masculinity and femininity are the dominant gender schemas, the standards for men and women to follow. Every time you turn on the TV you see hegemonic masculinity and femininity.

Hegemonic masculinity and femininity are not just traits, but roles as well. In the United States, think about the all-American man, he could be sporty, works with his hand or he could be a business man wearing a power suit. What attributes and personalities go along with these pictures of manhood?

Think about the all-American woman: Is she a business women and mother, a housewife, a teacher, a nurse. What attributes and personalities go along with these pictures of womanhood? When you think about what men and women should be, look like, act, these are all hegemonic ideals, built in us from the time we are babies from both interpersonal and outer experiences: Hegemonic cultural beliefs about gender act as the rules of the gender system, and theses beliefs have self-fulfilling effects on perceptions and behaviors that give them a remarkable ability to persists in the face of social change that might undermine them. The core aspects of gender beliefs consist of both a hierarchical dimension that associates men with greater status and instrumental competence and a horizontal dimension of fundamental difference that associates each sex with what the other is not. Consistent with our analysis of the resilience of gender beliefs, current and longitudinal studies of gender stereotypes show that the core structure of these beliefs about the attributes of the “typical” man or woman are still largely shared and largely unchanged since the 1970s (Fiske et all. 2002; Lueptow, Garovich-Szabo, and Lueptow 2001; Spence and Buckner 2000),(Ridgeway&Correll, 2004, p.527).

One of the biggest beliefs of hegemonic masculinity and femininity is that to be truly masculine and therefore a man, and to be truly feminine and therefore a woman, one also has to be heterosexual.

Throughout all of the different types of gender socialization, what is a current is that heterosexuality is dominant and enforced. When one is thought to be a boy or a girl, the underlying message is heterosexuality. Masculinity and femininity define each other; they need each other to exist. When society says, men are masculine and women are feminine, the underlining message is heterosexuality: Thus, despite the fact that traditional gender discourses may upon occasion undermine the existing social order, or the most part they sustain it, with two of the most significant means in this regard being sexual orientation and sexual role enforcement. As one might imagine, the former seeks to ensure that women and men “complement” one another positing heterosexuality as the only legitimate expression of sexuality, while the latter provides individuals with norms for how they should act, feel, and express themselves. Needless to say, men as a group derive significant benefit from this gender system; they also help to sustain it, through their monopolization of the country’s political, social, and economic resources(Shifter&Madrigal,2000, p47).

The power dynamic that controls gender, needs to be reinforced through heterosexuality.

Heterosexuality requires gender roles to make sure that the power dynamic is that of men having more and women having less. Masculinity valued over femininity; the coupling of men and women 12

together. Men cannot be women and feminine and women can not be men and masculine, how do we know this, through heterosexuality validating the need for one and the other: Cathrine Mackinnon…in numerous sources (Mackinnon, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989) has consistently posited that one must look at heterosexuality in total to understand it’s true meaning; a socially constructed form of power…At the interpersonal level ‘sexuality does not have gender; it creates gender’ (Stoltenberg, 1990; 33); and the gender scripts found in heterosexuality prescribe male dominance and female subordination. In turn, heterosexuality provides the underpinnings of a system where women are controlled in all settings (Schacht&Atchison, 1993, p.121).

Power is a complex thing. What I am trying to emphasize is the fact that gender roles and heterosexuality reinforce, on multiple levels, the idea that men are more powerful than women. This does not mean that every couple has this dynamic, or that every man wants to dominate a woman.

What I am saying is that through the societal reinforces of gender and heterosexuality this is the discourse being taught. One could argue that men are more controlled through masculinity, than women are through femininity. A woman can challenge her gender role more freely in our societies than men. A woman, a powerful woman, a woman with “masculine” traits, as long as she is aligned to a man, is fulfilling her role. If she has a baby she is “complete”. But a man cannot give up his masculinity the way a woman can give up her femininity. In a sense it is society saying, how dare you give up your masculinity. In the Book Masculinity and Power, by Arthur Brittan, the author explores the impact of the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s on sexuality and societal use of it to reinforce heterosexuality and masculine dominance:

What happened to the gay community, therefore, is seen as a terrible warning, a kind of portent of the end of male domination and legitimacy. And this is what is at issue. If men depart from heterosexuality scripts, if they flee from family responsibilities, if they hand over power to women, then the whole moral basis of our society is at risk (Brittan, 1989, p.64).

Brittan, goes on to explore the impact of the denial of male femininity on male behavior: These psychological implications, namely the peculiar divorce of reason and emotion in male conduct, are echoed in the split between masculinity and femininity. To say that men are split between or alienated from themselves is not to say anything that has not been said before, In objectifying nature and women, men cut themselves off from a part of themselves, they deny their femininity. There is obviously a problem here. The belief that men have lost the capacity for emotional experience appears to be contradicted by the fact that frequently their passions break through the barriers imposed by the rational ego. This contradiction between their violent aggressiveness in particular contexts, and their supposed inability to express tenderness and intimate feeling needs some kind of explanation (Brittian, 1989, p.68-69).


In order for men to control women, they too need to be controlled. Their dominance takes a toll on the male psyche as well. To be a man one must disconnect with anything deemed feminine, leaving them with limited emotional outlets, especially around other men. Men are expected to be powerful, emotionally controlled. If they don’t fulfill these roles there are supposed consequences, such as the moral unraveling of our societies. To be a true man one must take part in certain actions, weakness not being one of them. There are not just threats towards men and their sexuality, but also threats of not being dominant enough in straight relationships, a threat of being considered a weak man, even if fulfilling the heterosexual role:

If there is any widely shared image of a non-masculine man functioning in an actively heterosexual situation-a ‘sissy archetype’ – then it’s Caspar Milquetoast, a mild-mannered ineffectual married man dominated by his wife. He does what she wants him to do… If the conventional male’s sexual interests are constructed first around the fear of being gay and the need to prove otherwise, they are further shaped by a desire to avoid the fate of Caspar Milquetoast, who probably married her because that was the only way he was ever going to have any access to heterosexual erotic experiences. The applicable epithet is ‘pussy-whipped’ (Hunter, 1993, p.160-161).

This highlights two issues: one the idea that a man even in a heterosexual relationship can still be viewed as weak and ineffective if he has not asserted his dominance over his wife. Second that, a dominant woman is to be avoided, unless that is the only means into heterosexuality.

If both men and women are being controlled through the power dynamic imposed by gender roles and heterosexuality, why then does it continue?


Main Entry: pa·tri·ar·chy (marriam-webster dictionary) Pronunciation: \-ˌär-kē\

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural pa·tri·ar·chies

Date: 1632

1 : social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power 2 : a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy

Patriarchy is a system based on the lineage of the father, the male. We can see this in Western cultures by looking at surnames. It is still customary for the wife to take the husband’s last name, and the children to take the father’s last name. This simple act that families do, is a patriarchal practice, stating that the wife and children belong to the father’s clan, family and history: “Patriarchal kinship is the core of patriarchy. Paternity is the central social relationship…In a patriarchal kinship system, 14

children are reckoned as being born to men, out of women.”(Rothman, P89-90, 1989) The key here is that women produce the offspring of men. Women’s reproduction is seen as being for men; to continue their lineage and pass on their wealth. Therefore, a woman’s sexuality must be aligned to a man, just one man, to insure paternity. In today’s modern world, we have paternity tests to prove who the father is, but this is a recent practice. Thousands of years ago, there where no such tests, so then how did people know who the father was? One always knows who the mother is; the baby come out of her, but what about the father? This had to be proven by virtue. The woman’s sexuality must be confined in order to insure male paternity as absolute. How our system got this way is something historians, anthropologist, sociologist, writers, theorist and others have all wondered about,

…Engels’ (1970) The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Although it was first published more than a century ago, its line of reasoning is plausible, and has provided the basis for much subsequent writing on this topic. Engels argues that prehistoric societies were characterized by systems of governance that were once matriarchal and communist and, despite the existence of a sexual division of labor, women’s status was in no way inferior to that of their male counterparts. However, all this changed as agriculture replaced gathering and hunting as the principal means of subsistence, with men taking it upon themselves to keep any surplus generated, and ultimately, to pass it along to their descendants…Engels’ thesis was greatly developed by feminist scholars in the 1970s and 1980s…Many of these writers posited a biological basis for patriarchy. Scherfey (1970), for example, sought to explain the domination of women by men in terms of the women’s capacity to experience multiple orgasms and her capacity to perform with more partners (no need of keeping an erection).

Within this frame of reference, women were subordinated in order to circumscribe and control their procreative potential (Schifter&Madrigal, 2000, p.93-94).

If Engel’s and other’s theories are correct, then in order to insure the new order and new opportunity for wealth, the man must guarantee his lineage with control over his family: “The principles of a patriarchal kinship system denigrate all nurturance, that of women and that of men, in favor of genetic ties”(Rothman, 1989, p.92). Think about the concept of genetic ties over nurturance, how this notion is continually reinforced, in literature, movies and television. The long lost relative, who no one has ever met, but leaves his fortune purely based on the genetic tie. The long lost, (wealthy), father coming back for the abandoned son, (who has been adopted by a poor family), to bring his son to his rightful place in the world. These are two of many circumstances that spotlight in our society this idea that genetic ties override nurturance, especially in cases of wealth. People may think that wealth equals nurturance. It does not although monetary wealth provide things, which can aid in nurturance. True nurturance is emotional, mental, physical support. Patriarchal lineage runs on the idea that genetics, who the father is, is more important, than who is taking care of the child emotionally, mentally and physically. The financial burden, of taking care of the mother and children 15

rely on the father. With such an obligation to be powerful, successful, able to provide money and therefore security, the father does not want to be financially responsible for children that are not his.

He has to protect his wealth and power.

In today’s world, due to science, women’s and men’s paternity are looked at as equal in western countries (Rothman, 1989, p.91). A child is seen genetically as having come from both the man and the woman. There are cases where the children are given both the mother’s and father’s surnames.

But patriarchy is well established and able to bend and transform: “Since men’s control over women and the children of women is no longer based simply in their (no longer) unique seed, their economic superiority and to her privileges of male-dominated social system become increasingly important”(Rothman, 1989, p.92). In Teresa L. Ebert’s article “The Romance of Patriarchy: Ideology, Subjectivity, and Postmodern Feminist Cultural Theory”, Ebert writes about patriarchy under capitalism, a system that relies on multiple forms of labor and work forces from both men and women:

Women are periodically required as a cheap and available source of wage-labor at various levels of the economy, from manual to professional, while some men in turn engage in aspects of non-wage domestic labor. In order to perform the work required of them as they enter the (wage) labor force, women find it necessary to acquire cultural attributes previously reserved for men (such as assertiveness, analytical thinking, ambition, and leadership) and to occupy positions and perform functions previously defines as masculine, while the men who become involved in the domestic economy assume traits usually assigned to females (such as nurturance, emotionality, and tenderness).

The differentiations between masculine and feminine increasingly collapse under the pressure of capitalism, yet patriarchy finds new ways to perpetuate male privilege, making sure the wages property ownership, control over production, and political power remain largely gender differentiated (Ebert, 1988, p.20-21).

The power differential can be seen in The United States, by looking at the ratio of men to women in the Congress. In the House of Representative there are 76 female’s to 362 males ( In the U.S. Senate, there are 17 females to 83 men ( Those numbers show that women hold 17% of the congressional and senate seats in the United States, men holding 83%. It has also been shown that even though women are in the work force in large numbers, they are not receiving equal wages for equal work. According to The National Network for Women’s Employment, a grassroots organization fighting for women’s rights within the economic (public) sphere: In 2006, the average full-time working woman was paid only 77 cents for every dollar that a man earned. This gap remains even after differences in age, education, geography, hours worked, and other factors have been taken into account. One year after college graduation, women are paid only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall further behind, earning only 69 percent of what men are paid. As women get older, the wage gap widens. The 16

wage gap is larger for women of color. African-American women are paid only 66 cents on the dollar compared to white men, while Hispanic women are paid just 54 cents for every dollar white men are paid (

In the United States, power and wealth are still mainly in men’s hands. But even this is not enough to truly continue patriarchy. I believe men keeping power and wealth is a result of the gender roles between men and women continuing these inequalities. This is done through heterosexuality and the romantic script:

In the face of these changing social and economic roles and attributes for women and men, how does patriarchy successfully maintain and reproduce the domination of one gender over the other?

…Patriarchy acts on individuals to reproduce gendered subjectivities through the consumption of commodities, notably texts. Especially effective in this process are what are called popular texts: mass-produced novels, films, television, comic books, and so on. The most powerful texts for reproducing gender distinctions are romance narratives, which are crucial sites for the operation of patriarchal ideology (Ebert, 1998, p.21).

These romantic scripts are instilled in boys and girls from very young ages. The little girl who wants to be a princess, the boy who wants to be a prince, action hero, soldier, the brave hero who saves the princess and or society:

Virtually all the archetypal fairy tales about boys involve the enactment of agency (e.g., solving a problem, finding a lost object, slaying the dragon), whereas traditional stories about girls almost always involve the renunciation of agency (e.g., being saved by the prince, being denied passage to adulthood, submitting to marriage) (Ortner.), (Blume&Blume, 2003, p.788-789).

From early ages, these romantic scripts, that are almost always heterosexual scripts, are told to boys and girls. These romantic scripts continue with us as we age. One of the biggest new fairy tales for teenagers, The Twilight Saga, is based on the idea that the male (an indestructible vampire) falls in love with the female (a venerable human) who he continually needs to save and protect. These romantic stories keep the power differences and gender roles of men and women alive through the ideology of heterosexual romance, desire and love. Not only do they establish the gendered power dynamics, they also reinforce hegemonic gender beliefs, steaming into sexuality. These romantic stories are based in heterosexualism, which is also monogamy, one man for every woman. The princess is waiting, virtuously, for her more powerful prince charming. Ebert argues all this is done through ideology creating requirements for desire:

Individuals are not coerced but willingly (‘freely”) enter the site of male or female in the already existing patriarchal system of difference, privilege, power, and exclusion signified by gender because ideology, particularly through the harnessing of desire, makes gendered subject positions seem not only desirable and pleasurable but also the way things are: the obvious that goes without saying (Ebert, 1998, p.26).


Romantic scripts continue into Adult hood. Let’s think about movies. For both female-geared films and male-geared films, there are romantic scripts that go along with the hegemonic gender ideals being shown. Think about the comedy romance: guy gets girl, loses girl, gets girl back, or the action hero flick: guy saves world and love interest. Our hegemonic gender ideals are heavily associated with the heterosexual romantic script. It is not just a heterosexual script, but the attachment of desire, longing, fulfillment through heterosexuality. Women are not just taught to be a certain way, but to also like a certain type of man. Same for men, they are not just being shown and taught what type of man to be, but also what type of women to like. Ebert in her article “The Romance of Patriarchy” explains patriarchal hold on heterosexual romance, through analyzing the romantic script’s found in romance novels. She connects them to the romantic ideals that are being institutionalized throughout society of heterosexual romance, occurrences that can be found in books, movies, television, music, art, etc. Ebert first shows how heterosexuality is constructed on the basis of men representing the phallus and women representing the other. Each time a women aligns with a man, it states to society that she is the other and he is the phallus:

To analyze the production of gendered subjectivity in patriarchy, we need first to identify the fundamental injunction organizing it. It is the law-of-the-father-described in psychoanalytic terms as the Oedipal and castration complexes-which in its broadest sense is the mandate enjoining the subject to line up on one or the other side of the opposition seeming to have or seeming not to have the phallus constituting gender difference. The phallus is the privileged signifier around which nearly all signifying practices in patriarchy circulate…The prescribed gender position in patriarchy is, of course, male: male, man, and masculine are all naturalized signifiers for seeming to have the phallus…But women, unlike man, is negatively constructed; she is relationally defined in the patriarchal symbolic order as not man, as the other, as the one lacking the phallus-penis and consequently the one excluded from power and subjected to the rule of patriarchy and the domination of the privileged male gender (Ebert,1988, p.31, 34, 35).

Elbert goes on to explain the impact of romance as the controlled sexual desire of women through these heterosexual romantic scripts:

Desire is not the automatic natural sexual response that romance narratives present. Rather, desire, as conceptualized in Lacanian psychoanalysis, is the effect of the patriarchal symbolic order…It is the unrealizable longing for wholeness of self and unity of oneness with another…In romances, the hero is represented as the sexual complement who completes the heroine’s lack, making her whole in the orgasmic unity and oneness of genital sexual relations, whether theses are actualized in the narrative or metonymically displaced onto a kiss… the hero as representative of the phallus and patriarchal power, instigates and controls the heroine’s desire (Elbert,1988, p.40).


In the end, Elbert explains, that no matter how gender challenging women are, meaning women whom she calls bi-gendered due to their careers, and personal access to power, through aligning to a man, subscribe to the patriarchal order:

The heroine objects not to male power but to male promiscuity…She thus insists that the hero permanently take up the place of her sexual partner in order to guarantee that relation. Such a demand is represented in the narrative as female power over the male, when in fact it reproduces female subjugation to the patriarchal order. By representing female resistance, power, and desire in terms of the demand for male commitment as a reliable sexual mate, patriarchal ideology locks women-and their precarious female subjectivity-into permanent monogamous sexual relations, thereby securing them in the position of not-male for life…(Elbert,1988, p.44).

Elbert, through her analysis of the heterosexual romantic script, via romantic novels, shows that patriarchy is perpetuated through the act of heterosexual monogamous relationships. Marriage between a man and a woman reinforces the patriarchal hold on society. This can be seen through the pre-fixes of names. A man no matter what is always a Mr. But a women is a Ms. until married, then she is a Mrs. Aligned to the masculine. Marriage between a man and a woman reinstalls the patriarchal structure of the male kin-lineage, that patriarchy is built around. Keeping the power aligned to the man.

Gender outside of Heterosexuality- The Question

If gender roles reinforce heterosexuality which reinforces patriarchy, then what happens when men and women do not identify with their supposed gender script? What happens to their gender identities and gender roles, power dynamics in relationships? Is the main catalyst for denying lesbians’ and gays to marry in the United States and other countries to not undermine patriarchy? If men could be men while dating other men, and women can fulfill all the power requirements and success of a man while being a women and dating a women, would this start to unlock genders hold on society, therefore unlocking patriarchy? I will in the next chapter analyze 8 interviews with 4 men and 4 women who identify with being lesbian, gay, bisexual and not straight, to see what gender is like outside of heterosexuality.


Methodology of Interviews

Over the course of three weeks, I interviewed 8 people; four women and four men. They will be referred to as F1, F2, F3, F4 and M1, M2, M3, M4. The interviews took place in a casual setting. The interviewees knew who I was and what I was writing on, Gender Outside of Heterosexuality. The interviewees could ask me questions at any point during the interview and I would ask them extra questions, exploring their answers. The interviews were done over the phone and in person. F1, F2, F3 and M2, were all interviewed over the phone. M1, M3, M4 and F4 were all interviewed in person.

F1 and F2 identified as Lesbian; F3 and F4 identified as bisexual/not straight. M1 and M3 both identified as Gay; M2 identified as Gay and Queer. M4 indentified as being bisexual/not straight.

The interview consisted of questions divided into six parts: Family Background, Gender Identity Background, Impact of Heterosexuality, Relationship Dynamics: Gender Roles and Power Dynamics, Biological Influences on Gender, and “What have you learned living outside of Heterosexuality.” The following is my analysis of their feedback.