Saturday, April 22, 2006

Down with Practically Everything

Today is Blog against Hetronormativity Day. I was going to join in, but I just discovered that Hetronormativity doesn't mean quite what I think it does. It almost means what I think it did, but it's different enough that I'm just not sure what I think of it as analysis. I have some things I'd have to think through before I could agree that I thought that Hetronormativity exists, at least in the sense of that being a useful way of grouping together a set of phenomena. It seems a little silly to blog against something if you're not even convinced that it existed.

I decided to post the post I'd already written anyway. I'm writing about female friendships, and even if I'm not convinced I'm talking about heteronormativity, I think it's an interesting topic of discussion.

I have two female friends who are raising a baby together. They've never slept together. They were friends and flatmates before the baby was born, and now they're looking after him together. It's not easy, for many reasons (not least of which is the general lack of sleep and stress that comes from looking after an 8 month old), but part it is our very limited idea of the roles involved in raising a child.

A few years ago my best friend had a double hip replacement, it didn't go well. She was allergic to various pain-killers. One hip got infected. She was in hospital for five weeks, when they'd originally said she'd be in for a week to ten days. I visited her almost every day, and it's so draining to see someone you love that sick.

But a lot of people just didn't get it. She was 'just' a friend. If I'd slept with her, even if I'd only known her for a few months, my reaction would have made more sense to them. Instead I was being nice and kind.

Under the Holidays Act you get 3 days' paid bereavement leave on the death of a set of named people, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, spouse and spouses parents. For a friend you can get one day's paid leave if your employer accepts a bereavement.

Our society does not value, or even really recognise friendships, particularly friendships between women.

It hasn't always been like this. People have critiqued Carroll Smith-Rosenburg's 'The Female World of Love and Ritual' quite throughly since it came out, but it does show places where it was socially acceptable to value relationships with your female friendships as much as your relationship with your husband.

I don't have any solutions to this, at least not right now. While forming strong relationships with women is a fantastic thing to do, it'll make your life better, and you'll feel stronger, having them doesn't change the fact that society doesn't value them. My friends' relationship challenges ideas about what relationships can be, but it isn't easy for them.

But what I want to try and look at is why female friendships are devalued, in what context the priviledging of certain sorts of relationships happens, and who benefits.

A couple of days ago I was talking about Homosociality:

Now, homosociality is one of them 10-cent words that can take an awful long time to explain (I took something like 5 pages in my dissertation), and it's roughly the idea that men's relationships with women are secondary to men's relationships with other men, and that women are used as currency of exchange in male relationships, that women are used by men in various ways in order to negotiate their relationships with other men, etc.
I agree with this analysis. Men are supposed to put other men over women. But even with men, this isn't about valuing those friendships and relationships as individual people, but valuing men over women, becuase they are men.

Women are also supposed to put men first over other women, which means putting sexual relationships with men, over frienships with women.* I actually think most of the privilidgeing of sexual relationships in our society is about reinforcing male power. But I'd been interested in other explanations. Anyone got any.

*Obviously lesbians do subvert the underlying idea of valuing men over women. But this doesn't mean that they stop valuing sexual relationships over other relationships, this norm is particularly pervasive.


  1. Actually it really winds me up that sexual couple relationships are privileged over all other kinds of relationship. Everything else is supposed to make way for them.

    Don't feel constrained by wikipedia - at the end of the day it's only a compilation of peoples' opinions. I think you should go with what "heteronormativity" means to you.

  2. Brava!

    What a terrific post/contribution. Thank you for the thoughtful read.

  3. The problem is more that hetronormativity doesn't mean anything much to me, because I don't know that much about queer theory. I thought it's meaning was more similar to hetrocentric, which is a term I did understand.

    But I wanted to post this anyway, I'm glad you liked it.

  4. My best friend and I were actually talking about that today. She's moving to New Zealand (she's a yank), and I was commenting on how a lot of people would think that it's weird that someone would move all the way to New Zealand partly on the basis of a friendship.

    I think in a way a lot of women are their own worst enemies when it comes to destroying female friendships.

    We've become so programmed into compteting against eachother for jobs, men etc. that the frienships we had even a generation ago are far more different.

    And winter your right, I think people place too much emphais on sexual relationships being the be all and end. I'd rather go throw life having my best friend in it, than being stuck in a so-so marriage.

  5. "I agree with this analysis. Men are supposed to put other men over women."
    Except that you're once again talking about some dumbass men as though they were representative of the entire set. I could read this kind of thing without complaining if there were disclaimers like "mostly" or "statistically more likely to" or suchlike, but instead it's bald statements like "Men are supposed to put other men over women." I've had the concept that I owed more to my male friends than my girlfriend/wife put to me on numerous occasions over the decades by men who were unquestionably broken in some important sense, and like many other men, recognised the people who think like that for what they are. I can't sit back and read that this broken attitude is somehow representative of me without comment.

    On the same basis, are women really supposed to put men ahead of other women? I see plenty of women putting a particular man ahead of other women, but that's what making a commitment to someone else is about. It's biology, not training. If you want a reason why sexual relationships are privileged over others, hormones and the evolutionary processes that put them there cover it completely. Any social theory we might want to throw in on top is strictly a garnish.

  6.'s not about ice cream? That's false advertising! But I've read it now..

    I totally dig what you say about institutionalised officially recognised bereavement. Same deal when next of kin have special privilages- even though this may bare no relation to your strongest bonds.

    But I agree with Milt too. And between the lines, Maia, you seem to be putting female fraternity somewhere up higher than male.