Towards The Social Categorisation Of Sexualities


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Towards The Social Categorisation Of Sexualities

  1. 1. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities “Lesbian albatrosses to raise chick” the title of a newspaper article proclaims. This is a problematic title as these albatross are only engaging in cohabitation as stated in the article itself. This cohabitation with the raising of an albatross chick is assumed both by the journalist as well as by the reader to be of a lesbian nature (Leach 2010). To them this same sex cohabitation behaviour comes naturally to the lesbian, thus being a identifying sign of same sex sexual interaction regardless of genital contact. However questions could be raised over whether the journalist and readers alike would also consider two female flatmates, who are raising children, would also be deemed as lesbians. It is no wonder that these people would want to try to categorise these two non gender-conforming albatrosses into known descriptive terms that they ‘naturally’ and inescapably fall into. This is because humans are evolutionarily “wired for categorization” as it is to help in our interpretation of the world around us, and also our reaction to it (Branan 2010: 11). The problem arises from the fallacies of the paradigm of seeing sexuality as having natural categories of the likes of heterosexuality and homosexuality acting in an almost eastern philosophy-esque yin and yang duality. A opposing paradigm is seeing sexuality as social categories, in which each category is socially constructed by the society at large. This begs the question, what then are the benefits of perceiving sexualities as socially constructed categories. This will be answered Through the examination of the problems that arise from not perceiving sexualities as social constructs. Women’s rights 1.
  2. 2. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities The assertion and promotion in patriarchal society that masculinity, gender and heterosexuality are exclusively interconnected with each other, is detrimental to the placement of females in society and the quality of their life (Robertson & Oulton 2008: 12). This is connected to a second assertion that males should be active and females should be passive both in daily life happenings, and in personal relationships, especially sexual relationships (Wong,, McCreary, Carpenter, Engle & Korchynsky 1999: 23). These patriarchal assertions encourage females to be passive in sex, not to express any type of sexual desire and to behave almost like a living sex doll; reduced purely to a sexual object (Robertson & Oulton 2008: 10). In contrast the heterosexual, and therefore masculine, male is deemed to be acting mostly uncontrollably and in aggressive wild animalistic passion due to their supposed stronger sex drive. For younger (heterosexual) males engaging in coital sex for the first time is a life achievement; an important step on the path towards full masculinity (Robertson et al 2008: 9); this along with aggressive behaviour during sex shows the strong link between heterosexual sex and masculinity. The passivity of females and the sexually aggressive activeness of heterosexual males means that during sex, in which open sexual expression is deemed wrong for females, the line between consensual and non-consensual sex can be blurred (Robertson et al 2008: 8-9). An example of this is seen in a report by Myra Hird and Sue Jackson in which they retell how young British and New Zealand men’s sexual desires were so strong and overwhelming, and in such a uncontrollable manner, that the desires would “override what their girlfriends wanted”. This could be seen as emotional abuse through the exploitation of the concept of love (“If you really love me you’d have sex”). It may also lead towards more violent coercing behaviour, where the female’s reluctance to have sex is seen as an accomplishment to win over; in which “‘no’ may not necessarily mean ‘no’” (2001: 37; Robertson & Oulton 2008: 10). Outright rape also shows signs of heterosexual masculinity; this subordination of women celebrates the most horrific of patriarchal power. Other graphic celebrations of patriarchal power, such as those that also promote social bonding and are public displays of heterosexual masculinity, are Homophobic violence and gang rape (Robertson et al 2008: 13). The foundations or “scaffolding” that help to create such terrifying behaviour is claimed by Associate Professor Nicola Gavey as “normative forms of heterosexuality”, a concept which is 2.
  3. 3. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities supported by its status as a natural category (2005: 2). The teaching of these behaviours can come not only from the home, but also worryingly from pornographic materials which are increasingly used as sexual guides for young people (Frankham 2006: 240; Gagnon 2007: 5). The merger of gender, gender roles and sexuality in the minds of some alongside the paradigm of ‘natural’ categories, has created an oppressive situation for some females and an outright horrific one for others. Safe Sex Another promotion by patriarchal society that may promote negative factors for females is the way in which coital sex is deemed not only the most important form of sex, but superior to all other forms of sexual acts such as foreplay. Examined alongside the paradigm of ‘natural’ sexual categories and the roles that they are believed to entail, this can help to create a sexually unsafe world. As mentioned above, for young (heterosexual) males, engaging in coital sex for the first time is an important step on the path towards full masculinity; the coital sex juxtapositioning them from “wusses” (Robertson & Oulton 2008: 12). This and other types of behaviour (both of a heterosexual and homosexual nature) are dictated by socially constructed gender-based behavioural norms or “cultural scripts” of how to perform in social and sexual interaction (Laub, Somera, Gowen & Díaz 1999: 194). These ‘cultural scripts’ can often be at odds with safe sex practices due to the confines of gender roles, which has created difficulties in HIV prevention (Laub et al: 186). For example, females could be made to feel like a ‘sluts’ if they are knowledgeable about condoms, equally a male could be made to be seen as ‘gay’ if he decides to pass on a sexual interaction he might feel to be risky. As mentioned earlier, pornography and parental teaching can create gendered sexual roles and norms; in so, these sources also promote the normalcy of coital sex . This is also true of main stream sexuality text books, which have been attacked by feminist for marginalising non- coital sex as “alternative or minority techniques”. They fail to report seriously other on means of protection and contraception such dental dams or only engaging in non- penetrative sex; continuing to emphasis the importance of coital sex and procreation (Myerson, Crawley, Anstey, Kessler & Okopny 2007: 104-6). An example of this focus 3.
  4. 4. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities on coital and other forms of penetrative sex is in a study of asexual individuals by Kristin Scherrer. In this study one subject stated that he was “romantically attracted” to woman but did not desire sexual contact but continued on to state that he enjoyed “cuddling, and kissing and even pleasing” his wife, but did not “desire sexual intercourse”. Scherrer picked up on this contradiction and stated that he “characterize it as non-sexual because of the lack of penile penetration and (presumably) male orgasm” (2008: 627-8). These assertions of gendered behaviour roles brought about through the paradigm of ‘natural’ categories, may increase the likelihood of individuals engaging in dangerous sexual interactions, and also marginalises safer non-penetrative sex as an alternative behaviour. Same-sex rights The assertion that masculinity, gender and heterosexuality are exclusively interconnected with each other can also negatively effect homosexual (and bisexual) individuals. Heterosexual men who have engaged in ‘one off’ same-sex acts, as well as those that have experimented with homosexual behaviour in their youth, can also be effected negatively. They may subsequently feel guilty, shameful or effeminate for not following socially accepted gender based roles. This creates the idea that homosexual men can not be masculine and are rather effeminate; thus stereotyping homosexuals. This stereotyping of course is wrong, and can negatively effect equity for all homosexual individuals. For young gender-conforming homosexual men, those that act in a masculine fashion (Rosenfeld 2009: 621), may deal with shame, internal homophobia and stress caused by their fear of a supposed feminie appearance. In contrast to this young gender-non- conforming homosexual men, who are effected more by homophobic harassment, sexual abuse as both children and adults and domestic abuse by their partners (Sandfort, Melendez & Diaz 2007: 182-3) This can also create confusion in the public as to who is a homosexual, and who is not. The public using the natural categories paradigm foresee homosexual men as having female identities and female gender roles in society. This is due to the belief that masculinity, gender and heterosexuality are exclusively interconnected, therefore because their sexual interests are the same as women, these men must really be women (Wong at al 1999: 20-1). There is also another effect of this belief, heterosexuals suffer from a “one-time rule”, meaning that even one same-sex sexual act 4.
  5. 5. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities (as a ‘one off’ or acts in their youth) equates them to a homosexual. The “one-time rule” is related to the “one drop” rule in which anyone with even a small portion of black heritage is then seen as black and in both cases the reverse is deemed untrue (Anderson 2007: 105). Eric Anderson in a case study on two male cheerleading squads and sexuality, shows an example of this. When a subject stated that he did not have a “problem” with homosexual men, but rather did not understand why some “prance around like little girls” being “flamers”. He went on to sate that “being masculine isn’t about who you sleep with; its about how you act”. As retold by Anderson, the subject later admitted that he and others regularly engaged in some forms of same-sex sexual acts (as the active partner) with some of their homosexual team mates. Anderson explains the contradiction by stating that the subject and other team members managed “their same-sex sexual behaviours within a heterosexual framework, [thus] avoiding discussion of a gay or bisexual identity” (2007: 109). The stereotype of homosexuality that comes from the paradigm of ‘natural’ categories, creates problems both in giving social support to homosexuals and explaining the same-sex acts of heterosexuals. Cultural Understanding The belief in the duality of heterosexuality and homosexuality created by the paradigm of ‘natural’ categories, can cause problems with understanding different cultures. The modern Western stereotype of homosexuality is assumed to also apply to both non- Western cultures and historic Western cultures (Andrson 2007: 105). These should rather be seen in plural, as a multitude of heterosexualities and homosexualities, which are shaped by their “socio-historical contexts” (Bagemihl 1999: 44; Lingiardi 2002: 15). In contrast to North America, where as earlier mentioned one same-sex act will deem an individual as a homosexual, Latin America is rather different. So long as a man is the active partner, he can engage in full same-sex activity, and even use it to “promote” his heterosexuality and masculinity (Andrson 2007: 108). However this behaviour is conducted within the framework of heterosexuality, unlike the Sambia tribe from Papua New Guinea, who have no notion of the duality of heterosexuality and homosexuality. The same-sex practises that the Sambia tribe engages in are strongly connected to their male culture, and act as initiation to masculine social status. This is where males who are 5.
  6. 6. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities ‘coming of age’ reserve masculinity in the form of seamen from engaging in fellatio with older males (Mclennan, McManus & Spoonley 2010: 114). Likewise some of the ancient Greeks in the historic West had similar initiation traditions, where a young adult would mentor a adolescent youth, which would include ‘practical’ sex education and possibly may involve romantic love (Percy III 2005:14-6). The philosopher Aristotle believed that this practice was created on the Island of Crete in a form of population control (Percy III 2005: 21. By this example it can be seen that the sexual behaviours of a culture are reflective of societal needs rather than by ‘natural’ categories. Conclusion The paradigm that sexuality is socially constructed is in contrast to the paradigm that sexuality is internal and a natural part of the individual. The acceptance of the well held latter paradigm rather than the former, creates oppressive situations for females that can lead to domestic abuse. Attempts by males to conform to gender roles may result in greater risks taken during sexual interaction, and whilst it also marginalises safer non- penetrative sex as only foreplay in favour of full coital sex. Perceiving sexualities in a natural manner that also views masculinity, gender and heterosexuality as connected can create stereotypes that make social support of homosexuals difficult. It may create feelings of shame and identity problems for heterosexuals whom have engaged in same- sex practices. Not viewing the sexual practices of other, possibly historic, societies in a socially constructed manner creates difficulty for individuals to study these sexual practices. Bibliography Anderson, Eric 2007, ‘“Being Masculine is not About who you Sleep with...:” Heterosexual Athletes Contesting Masculinity and the One-time Rule of Homosexuality’, Sex Roles, Vol. 58, No. 1-2, pp.104-115. Bagemihl, B. 1999, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, St. Martin’s Press, New York. 6.
  7. 7. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities Branan, Nicole 2010, ‘Wired for Categorization’, Scientific American Mind, Vol. 20, No. 7, pp. 11-11. Frankham, Jo 2006, ‘Sexual Antimonies and Parent/Child Sex Education: Learning from Foreclosure‘, Sexualities, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 236-254. Gagnon, G 2007, ‘Pornography On The Internet and The Consequences For Youth: How do We Intervene?’, The SexEducator, No. 9, spring, Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, Montréal, Canada. Gavey, Nicola 2005, Just sex? The cultural scaffolding of rape, Routledge, London. Hird, M.J. & Jackson S. 2001, ‘Where "angels" and "wusses" fear to tread: Sexual coercion in adolescent dating relationships’. Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 27-43. Laub, C, Somera, D.M., Gowen, K.L & Díaz, R.F 1999, ‘Targeting "Risky" Gender Ideologies: Constructing a Community-Driven, Theory-Based Intervention for Youth‘, Health Education & Behavior, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 185-199. Leach, Ben 2010, Lesbian albatrosses to raise chick, The Telegraph, Retrieved 23 April, 2010, from Lingiardi, V. 2002, Men in Love: Male Homosexualities from Ganymede to Batman, Translated by R.H. Hopcke & P. A. Schwartz, Trans, Open Court, Chicago. Mclennan, G, McManus, R & Spoonley, P 2010, ‘Exploring Society: Sociology for New Zealand Students’ 3rd edn, Pearson Education New Zealand, Auckland, New Zealand. Myerson, M., Crawley, S.L., Anstey, E.H., Kessler, J. & Okopny, C. 2007, ‘Who's Zoomin' Who? A Feminist, Queer Content Analysis of "Interdisciplinary" Human Sexuality Textbooks’, Hypatia, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 92-113. Percy III, William Armstrong 2005, 'Reconsiderations About Greek Homosexualities', Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 49, No. 3, pp. 13 -61 Robertson, Neville & Oulton, Heather 2008, Sexual violence: Raising the conversations, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New zealand. Rosenfeld, Dana 2009, ‘Heteronormativity and Homonormativity as Practical and Moral Resources’, Gender & Society, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 617-638. Sandfort, Theo G.M., Melendez, R.M. & Diaz, R.M. 2007, Gender Nonconformity, Homophobia, and Mental Distress in Latino Gay and Bisexual Men., Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 181-189. Scherrer, Kristin S. 2008, ‘Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire’, Sexualitie, Vol. 11, No. 5, pp. 621-664. Wong, F.Y. , McCreary, D.R., Carpenter, K.M., Engle, A. & Korchynsky, R 1999, 'Gender- Related Factors Influencing Perceptions of Homosexuality', Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 37, 7.
  8. 8. Towards the Social Categorisation of Sexualities No. 3, pp. 19-31. [1986 words without cite] 8.