Gender Roles: Still neccesary? The heteronormativity issue

Posted: October 15, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

So if you stopped by yesterday, you saw a pretty heated debate both here and on the Twitter (I like adding the word “the” in front of stuff for no reason) about Morehouse’s new dress code. In summary, some supported it, some didn’t, but pretty much all the disagreement was centered around whether or not men should be allowed to wear women’s clothes on Morehouse’s campus. No one even touched the issue of sunglasses or gold grills or sagging pants or hoodies inside, so I’m going to have to infer that everyone’s fine with banning these things. After all, these are accoutrements of the underclass, and no one wants to be associated with poor blacks. It’s fine to judge and look down upon people socio-economically, as long as it doesn’t infringe upon a gay person’s right to wear the new Louboutins (sp).

But what about a straight person’s right to do the same? Aisha1908 on Twitter made the point that dressing in women’s clothes and being gay aren’t necessarily synonymous. There are straight dudes who wear women’s clothes:

Do I have a problem with the above gentlemen’s choice of haberdashery? Nope. Do I respect the right of a private institution to say, “naw, folk, you ain’t fina come to class like that.” Yup. But we’ve already hashed out that discussion.

The question that lingers in my mind is just this: Is there any room for gender roles left in our society? Am I, and the people who agree with me, a bunch of out of touch dinosaurs hellbent on maintaining a heteronormative society by brutally squashing people’s right to express themselves?

Whooo! Fuck womens rights! Yeah!

Whooo! Fuck women's rights! Yeah!

If you were wondering, from Wikipedia:

Heteronormativity is a term for a set of lifestyle norms which indicate or imply that (1.) people fall into only one of two distinct and complementary sexes (male and female) with each having certain natural roles in life, and that (2.) heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation, thus making sexual and marital relations appropriate only between members of the opposite sex. Consequently, a heteronormative view is one that promotes alignment of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles to the gender binary.[1]

Those who identify and criticize heteronormativity say that it distorts discourse by stigmatizing and marginalizing some forms of sexuality and gender, and makes certain types of self-expression more difficult when that expression violates the norm.[1] Non-heterosexual and gender-variant people who transgress heteronormativity include homosexual, bisexual, asexual, intersex, and transgender people in addition to people who are married to or form pair-bonds with more than one partner such as polygamists or polyamorists.[citation needed]

By the above definition, I’m technically not completely Heteronormative in the sense that I don’t believe that straight relationships are the only valid relationships. I know enough gay folk to know that, well, they’re gay. You can’t pray it away, suppress it, destroy it, or treat it with medicine if you wanted to. I know at least one transgendered person. And for me to say that they CAN’T or Shouldn’t be with another person of the same sex would be ludicrous to me. You’re an adult, that’s your call.

But what about the gender role part of that equation? And let’s assume we’re talking strictly about straight people, since obviously the gender roles in non-straight relationships are going to be much more complicated. Since we’re saying it’s ok for gay people to throw off the yoke of societally acceptable gender roles, should straight people be allowed to do the same? Should they want to?

Let’s look at a couple constructs in dating. The homette Kimmy Frye did a blog a while back about a “Turnaround Party” in New York. Her take:

Hmm. let’s review the key points:

  • Ladies pay a stiff cover.
  • Ladies are encouraged to buy the man drinks.
  • Men’s turn to relax.

Ummm – No thanks, i’ll pass.

I have zero interest in meeting a man who thinks this is an awesome idea. That would give him a totally false perception of who I am.  Set all kinds of the wrong standards. I’m all about playing the role of a woman and my man being, well, a man, in all the most traditional ways.

OK, she’s not a fan. Let’s see what the commenters had to say:

2 Responses to “Turnaround Party?”

  1. where they do that at? @trgriff said this on August 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm
  2. I love that @trgriff commented…when I saw your “um no thanks Ill pass and I have zero interest in any man who thinks thats an awesome idea,’ I died laughing. Of course we will pass…not for me! xoxo missbridge said this on August 25, 2009 at 5:10 am

From another enlightened-esque woman, Blackie Collins:
I like men. Let me rephrase that: I like manly men. I do not like skinny jeans wearing, Zac Efron hair flipping, weird, non-prescription glasses sporting, take longer than me to get ready men. Nothing makes me feel more butch than feeling like I’m the guy in our union. And nothing makes me feel more feminine, than being with a man who is just that: a man. There’s something about broad shoulders, a nice suit or regular fitting jeans, maybe some crisp Tims, a few tattoos, those nice cuts along the abs…ok, you get it. If you’re the kind of guy who waxes his eyebrows, you’re out.

Let’s be honest, if you’re too busy at your waxing appointment, you won’t be around to protect me (and maybe you should be protecting Steve instead). I need to feel protected. I need for you to be the dominating animal in our pack. I need to know that if something goes down, you’re on it, or at least we’re in this together. Even my gays can remember they’re men when shit pops off (have you seen those guys fight!), so I know you can do it too, punchanella, punchanella.*

Jackies real life boyfriend, Earl

Jackie's real life boyfriend, Earl

Guess that vastly unscientific poll of women says no, this does not rock. But why not? I mean, over the last 30-40 years, we’ve seen a dramatic crumbling of “gender roles.” Women now have the right to equal pay (whether or not that’s fully realized), economic equality to buy what they want and start businesses, be CEO, run for President, run for Vice President, and all kinds of other stuff that I think most people agree is a good thing. I’ve had women bosses before, most of whom were just as if not more competent than male bosses I’ve had.

But let’s look at what else has happened over the past 30-40 years. Divorce rates have shot through the roof, something like 70% of black kids are now born into single parent households, black men trail black women in huge numbers in college and graduate school admittance and achievement. Are the two linked? NO idea. I’m not a sociologist, and don’t pretend to be.

But it does occur to me that if we’re going to throw out some facets of gender roles, why not throw them all out? Here are some things that would happen:

1. Men would no longer exclusively approach women. As equals, women would now also have to approach men.

2. Men would not pay for first dates. you have a job, we’d split the cost.

3. Men would no longer walk on the outside, open doors, or pull out chairs. These would be seen as an insulting infringement on a woman’s independence.

4. Men would no longer help build bookshelves, move furniture, or mow women’s grass, nor change their oil. This would be patronizing and assume women are too weak or mechanically ill-inclined to do things themselves.

5. Forget about Alimony. Leave with what you came with.

6. Men would have the option of being house husbands. It would be insulting to assume that women are somehow naturally better child-rearers than men.

7. Women should no longer expect any show of chivalry, sacrifice, or romance by men to garner their affection.

8. Engagement rings would no longer be purchased by men to propose to women. When the parties agree to enter a marriage, they would exchange watches.

9. Women would no longer be expected to be good cooks or have any household skills. Attempting to seduce a man with cooking skills would be looked down upon as an archaic celebration of oppressive gender roles.

10. Fathers will no longer tell their sons ridiculous things like “Boy, take the trash out!” or “Don’t you let your mother carry those groceries in here by herself” because these would suggest that the woman is incapable of doing manual labor and feeds into the stereotype that men should do “man’s work” or help “weak” women.

So is this a better construct than the current state of heteronormativity that so many people feel is so bad and so oppressive? Would you prefer to enjoy a freedom from gender roles, or would you just laugh if a man expected you to pick him up and pay for his meal? Discuss:

Comments
  1. Brittany says:

    Okay so I hinted at this in twitter, and I’m kinda annoyed that I’m actually typing up a response here b/c I am stubborn and once I say I don’t want to do something I normally STICK to it (I know, that could or could not be a very bad thing). Anyway, before my ensuing commentary I’ll throw out the following context:

    – I am a woman, born to a married couple that quickly after divorced, raised by a single Black mother in a Black American (i.e. our ties are to Tennessee, not an island) family. All of these people lead lives that generally prescribe to heteronormative rules.
    – I am Christian.
    – I am straight, very straight. I check in on this with myself from time to time. I’m always just very heterosexual.
    – I graduated from a liberal arts college.

    And here’s the big one-

    I DO NOT BELIEVE that sex is a binary, nor do I believe that it is appropriate for sexuality to be treated as such.

    Okay, so I guess that leads up to what I was saying via twitter (http://tr.im/BSLZ)- I think that there’s a great deal of merit in us as a country and PARTICULARLY as a community (Black) to really sit down and dissect this conception of sexuality as an entirely binary construct. When it comes down to it, it’s really just problematic (how do we define women such as Caster Semenya or other ‘cross-sex’ individuals? What do we do with people who were born with the consciousness of one “sex” but the body of another?) and leads to unnecessary marginalization.

    Yes yes penises fit quite nicely into vaginas (and thank goodness for that lol) and lead to the miracle that is procreation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the only way to be. There are animals that engage in physical/sexual acts with other animals of the same sex (http://tr.im/BSOB , http://tr.im/BSOO), and in many societies (particularly in more ancient times) homosexuality was often seen as not only acceptable, but a natural part of life (http://tr.im/BSQ8).

    So, if one takes on the logic that sex and sexuality exist within a spectrum rather than a binary, it kind of throws out the idea of heteronormative rules/cultural regulations as illogical and unnecessary. This really just goes to say that our ideas of heteronormativity are based almost entirely on our cultural conceptions of propriety and morality rather than science (i.e. women aren’t just expected to be primary care givers b/c we hold children in our wombs for just under a year).

    And all THAT goes to say that I disagree with your jumping to “throwing out” of heteronormative practices, at least the way you’re suggesting it. To just throw out these things that we do without throwing out the entire conceptual structure upon which our thoughts and actions are based, would really kind of be beside the point. For us to truly move beyond these norms we’d have to start with new generations, which would have to in turn work very actively to indoctrinate their children into this hetero-homo-whatevero-normative way of thinking. So not just having all men cease paying for dinner and all women throw out their pots and pans, but by raising young men to be as good at nurturing others as we currently teach them to be proficient at defending themselves physically; by raising young women to find as much pride and necessity in working with our hands to build, fix and deconstruct as we are taught to be proud of fine tuning our appearance and raising children.

    I know that was long winded and I’d have much more to say- but I think that the jist of this all is that the issue of sexuality is incredibly layered, and would take a lot of open, honest critical thought to adequately address in a way that would leave everyone feeling free to just… be.

    • Hmm. I want a beer and a nice cut of rare steak. And some football. There was a lot of all-encompassing theory in there but there was nothing I particularly gleaned out of that to actually suggest change. We’re not going to turn into the ancient Greeks. And isn’t the whole point of a society to have traditions, norms, and values?

      Here’s a question. Back to the Ancient Greeks, the men were bisexual as hell. And yet, in our society, most women would throw a fit if they found out their dude was diddling with another dude’s dingle. My guess is you would too, despite all this normative chatter. What say you?

      • Brittany says:

        See- this is exactly what I was NOT saying. Of course I’d be upset (but this is primarily because of my views on relationships & fidelity) but I’m also a PART of the society to which I was referring. I definitely think we need to change, but what I was saying that it’s not so cut and dry as people (and at some points, your blog post) would like to suggest.

        The point of society isn’t necessarily to have traditions/norms/values- those are just a result of the way that we communicate & transfer knowledge. And of course we’re not turning into the Ancient Greeks. They were kind of f*cked up.

        Then again, so are we.

  2. Tunde says:

    you can call it what you want but as far as gender roles there is a double standard. i don’t have a problem with it either. its just the way the world is. yes (as far as the black community) women make up the vast majority of students in college and grad school but does that mean that women make more money vs their counterparts? not really.

    i don’t have a problem with being chivalrous. i don’t think that its infringing on a woman’s independence. its just how i was raised so i’m going to do what my parents taught me and i will not waiver. how would i feel as a man if i expected a woman to pick me up, take me out and basically pursue me? i have entirely too much pride for that. keep gender roles the way they are if you ask me (which you did lol)

  3. 1) Great post.

    2) I don’t think it’s a matter of “the feminists care about the gays and not the poors”. Most of the Black college kids wearing grills and sagging jeans are just middle class kids gangsters posturing. Furthermore, I personally had a problem that ALL woman’s clothes were banned, but some “street wear” was allowed. I think the dress code was a great idea that was poorly executed.”

    3) I don’t think that people like yourself are so antiquated in your thinking so much that ALL OF US are confused about how to proceed in a world that is so different from what history and religious texts describe in terms of gender.

    As far as male female/relations go, I reccommed doing what works in terms of personal tastes. As open minded as I am about men wearing tight jeans, that doesn’t mean I want to see them on my bedroom floor. But I respect another woman’s right to be enticed by that and a man’s right to wear them.

    4) I’d abdicate my expectation of free dinners and free club admission IF I lived in a world that were truly equal to women. I don’t. So long as I know that I am more likely to get raped, be underpaid for the same work and subject to patriarchy, I will gladly walk my happy ass in the club for free before 12, holla. In terms of my personal relationships, there is a give and take that I require with my lovers. On emotional and financial levels and in terms of effort, what I give should compliment what he gives. No one should be spent in one way or another and feel that the other person is not giving. It so happens that in my past relations, there has been a “traditional” arriangement where he paid for most events and I cooked, cleaned and nurtured. That’s because I personally am better at those things than I am having a bunch of money to court a man. And because I like to do them.

    5) I don’t know how to fix all this, but I think straight people need to seriously pump their breaks in trying to tell gay folks what is too gay.

  4. Reina says:

    A good, provoking post, sir.

    I’m fairly torn on the subject. I believe in freedom of expression, but I understand Morehouse’s position. People abhor change, and we (generally speaking) would be more comfortable if we stayed in our appropriate roles. Nowadays, who determine what’s appropriate though? The roles have changed. Women ask men for their hands in marriage now. And men have spa days. And on & on. I don’t know.

    As for your new facets, I’m only supporting #9. HUGE weight off my shoulders.

    And for the record, Prince does not wear women’s clothes. His clothes are designed to his specifications. Their similarity to female attire is just coincidental.

  5. true2me says:

    lol @ this post. I love how you post. I TRULY DO. You have a way of justifying the bullshyt idealistic way that the original european christian settlers want it to be. Men and women mate, get married and have kids w a picket fence.

    But you forget something, if America was the way they wanted it ORGINALLY, we would still be slaves and they would still run shyt and be a “pure” breed.

    Why we adapt to THEIR way of thinking and way of being, I DONT KNOW. But we do. We as humans seek acceptance. We do so by making sure we belong to the group and that everyone is just like us …if you are different, something is wrong with YOU. (Wow..sounds a lot like racism). FYI, I’m not much different..and i’m not proclaiming to be more enlightened…I’m just pointing out the obvious.

    Let’s go back further, Christianity was also used to oppress WOMEN (ha). We are supposed to be the weaker sex..we were made to be that. We women have accepted it. Fact is our brains are no more WEAKER than a mans. Physically we are weaker…but thats as far as it goes.

    I think that slowly, this society is moving away from their oppressive ways and the silly standards set forth. Sure some of them make sense, Men moving heavy equipment, men physically protecting a family, women nursing children, women cradling the baby. But some of them don’t, not anymore. Its not necessary for men to pay for dinner when men and women both make the same salary. Its not necessary for men to buy all the drinks at the bar when they both make the same per hour.
    opening doors and pulling out chairs are nice gestures ONLY.

    So I don’t know. Some of the rules set are in excess..some of them are just right.

    *Shrugs*

  6. Daydreamer says:

    I agreed with you yesterday and I agree with you today! Men should be men and women should be women- across all lines- clothing, dating etc. etc. The only place where I am completely and utterly OK with switching tradional roles in the bedroom. Yes, I will gladly take the top and ride big daddy. Oh sorry, it’s bee a while…. :-/

    Anyway, the point is if we took your list of ‘turnarounds’ and applied them to our everyday, women would be PISSED. Some women act like independence is the creme de la creme but they know good and dang on well they lovvveee a man to treat her like a lady. What woman doesn’t like to be taken care of- and I don’t mean Kobe and Vanessa. I mean a healthy, traditional hetero-relationships. Chivalry, protection, titles, endearment, etc….You know what I mean…..

    Yet, as I say all of this I have a Will in my life and I love him dearly. He’s Will, just like Will on Will and Grace. He’s gay but not Dwight gay. He’s gay but he doesn’t race me to the women’s section of Loehmans. As much as he loves the D, he’s still a man. I think this is why I can appreciate his level of gayness. It’s not exhausting like ‘Ms. J’ or Wig Man from RHOA.

    I can’t knock Will’s appreciation for the sholong but I also am not ready for straight men to lay down their manly responsibilities because a few bafoons- as you call them- decide to wear my Loubotins better than me- well if I had a pair that is.

  7. See, it’s not an either or proposition.

    I know women who like to pay for dates.

    I know of women who stay home and take care of the kids.

    I know housewives and men who’d never consider getting a pedicure.

    It’s about choice.

    Having the ability to live a heteronormative life or not.

    You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I you’re a man who wants june Cleaver you find a June, but don’t expect every woman you meet to be her.

    If you’re a man who wants Ward Cleaver – that’s fine – just don’t expect every man you meet to be him.

    I wouldn’t date a skinny jeans wearing man – but i don’t knock women who do or even question a man’s right to wear skinny jeans.

    The key isn’t turning all the “norms” on their head, but allowing there to be one than one “normal.”

  8. That should read, “I know of men who stay home and take care of the kids.”

  9. white woman says:

    I’m a young woman, but i’m also white, so take that how you will.

    When you suggest that women would be horrified if they were required to pay cover at clubs and buy drinks for men, you are missing the point.

    The “point” of feminism has never been to reverse the power structure – we just want to even the playing the field. Feminism is not anti-male and does not want to rule the world in the exact same way that men do today.

    I have ABSOLUTELY no problem paying my own half of dinner, my own drinks. Of course I would not be excited about always paying for my man, but neither do I support him always paying for me. When one person controls the money in a relationship – (and always paying IS controlling) – there is going to be an imbalance of power that is always, always going to result in some condescension. I don’t need to be condescended to in order to feel feminine, sexy, or desired.

    • Hello “White Woman.” Welcome. We’re a welcoming environment here, so no need to assume that we’ll look at your whiteness as anything but equal. I don’t think it was that I suggested that women would be horrified so much as they themselves intimated that this wasn’t something they were cool with. I pulled those quotes from a couple women’s blogs. I get that feminism doesn’t seek to oppress and enslave men, I was just taking issue with some of the methods.

  10. nOObie_sauce says:

    One phrase: FREEDOM FROM GENDER ROLES FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Eliza says:

    1. Men would no longer exclusively approach women. As equals, women would now also have to approach men.

    I’m fine with that. I’m a woman. If I like a man, I’ll approach him. If I like a woman, I’ll approach her. I’m also fine with the opposite.

    2. Men would not pay for first dates. you have a job, we’d split the cost.

    That’s fine. Actually, I think whoever initiated the date should pay for it if you don’t split it. If someone really wants a chance with me, they’ll pay for the date. If I’m gunning for a chance to spend time with someone else, I’ll pay.

    3. Men would no longer walk on the outside, open doors, or pull out chairs. These would be seen as an insulting infringement on a woman’s independence.

    This is common courtesy. I hold doors for men all the time. They should return the favor to someone of either sex. Its a matter of convenience and politeness, not of gender.

    4. Men would no longer help build bookshelves, move furniture, or mow women’s grass, nor change their oil. This would be patronizing and assume women are too weak or mechanically ill-inclined to do things themselves.

    If you’re good with tools, you do it. I like playing with tools. I like reading the instructions. So, if I’m in that situation and no one else REALLY wants to do it, I’ll do it. My girlfriend is quite stubborn. She usually steals the darn project from under my nose.

    5. Forget about Alimony. Leave with what you came with.

    If a person relied on the union and the other person for support for a long time, a certain amount should be paid for a certain time period to help support that person while they get a job. Whoever has the kids, if there are any, should get child support. It should be applied to either a man or woman.

    6. Men would have the option of being house husbands. It would be insulting to assume that women are somehow naturally better child-rearers than men.

    I would love this. I don’t want kids, but I see no reason why a man shouldn’t be just as comfortable cleaning house as having a job. Except for socialization, that is.

    7. Women should no longer expect any show of chivalry, sacrifice, or romance by men to garner their affection.

    Sacrifice goes both ways. I sacrifice for my girlfriend, and she does the same for me. Granted, things are hardly ever equal in a relationship, but each party should be willing to sacrifice. Romance is subjective. My girlfriend and I like Star Trek. We consider having a Star Trek marathon romantic. Also, this just goes back to the date thing. If you want a chance with a woman and she isn’t giving you the time of day, you have to get her attention. The same is true of a woman who wants a certain man’s attention.

    8. Engagement rings would no longer be purchased by men to propose to women. When the parties agree to enter a marriage, they would exchange watches.

    I don’t like watches… or wear them often. I also hate rings. They hurt, they get stuck on stuff, and they don’t go well with charcoal and paint. An exchange sounds awesome. When and if my girlfriend and I can get married, we will exchange rings or necklaces or whatever we choose to use.

    9. Women would no longer be expected to be good cooks or have any household skills. Attempting to seduce a man with cooking skills would be looked down upon as an archaic celebration of oppressive gender roles.

    Good. I rarely like to cook. When I do, though, its because I want to make the person I’m cooking for happy. I want to do something nice, not seduce them.

    10. Fathers will no longer tell their sons ridiculous things like “Boy, take the trash out!” or “Don’t you let your mother carry those groceries in here by herself” because these would suggest that the woman is incapable of doing manual labor and feeds into the stereotype that men should do “man’s work” or help “weak” women.

    This father should ask the son (or daughter) to help with the groceries and the chores. The mother is a human being. One who, I assume, the family cares about enough to help her with household affairs. And, quite frankly, that’s what I find wrong with heteronormativity in general. People of both sexes are essentially human. You should treat them with the same common decency you would give to any other human. In summary, I, as a woman, think a removal of heteronormativity would be just peachy.

    As for the debate on the dress code, I think a person should be able to express any level of femininity or masculinity that they find appropriate. However, it must be expressed appropriately. Women shouldn’t be allowed to come in wearing ripped jeans and a trucker hat. Men shouldn’t be allowed to come in wearing sparkly halter tops and miniskirts. However, if a man can dress himself in an appropriately clean and professional way that involves a skirt, I’m all for it.

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