Singlism? Feminism? What Gives? (Part Two) December 15, 2009Posted by Onely in Academic Alert!, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, Your Responses Requested!.
Tags: gender and sexuality, history of sexuality, michel foucault, sexuality and feminism, singles' sexuality, we're queer
In my last post, I wanted to highlight how the pro-singles movement, in targeting and attracting women as its main audience and voice(s), risks inadvertently framing itself as gender-exclusive. This potential problem, in turn, runs against our feminist goals of countering dominant and oppressive ways of thinking and being. It should be clear, from this and other posts, that we hope to solicit more male voices into our conversations and advocacy work. While both Christina’s perspective and my own will necessarily be limited by our positions as women, we are also committed to our feminist perspectives, which motivate us to read against the (heteronormative) grain and to hopefully recognize and articulate the limitations of our positions.
But I’ve been noticing another limitation that seems to have fueled some of the debate — and misunderstandings — about why men seem less prevalent in the pro-singles blogosphere: In many of our conversations about gender (at least here at Onely and in our cross-posts at Quirkyalone), it seems to me that when we talk about the relationships between men and women (or lack thereof), we are assuming that these “men” and “women” we speak of are heterosexual. And if we assume that, then we aren’t doing much to forward our feminist goals, either.
Making this assumption is easy to do, especially when one (such as myself) identifies as heterosexual. Take, for example, this post, which I wrote several months ago, in which I attacked research in evolutionary biology that sought to explain gender evolution through an obviously singlist lens. While I interpreted the research to be most problematic for its assumption that human evolution occurs through and because of coupling — therefore making single people and practices invisible — I barely say a word about the research’s equally problematic assumption that men and women evolve out of a heterosexual orientation toward each other. In my post, I asked a series of questions, culminating in what I assumed to be most significant:
What about all the single females who desire sex, but no commitment? What about the single men who value strong interpersonal relationships but see sex not as a necessity but maybe just a “bonus”?
The fact that I juxtaposed these final two questions next to each other suggests that I am assuming — just like the researchers I sought to critique — that men and women relate to one another in heterosexual ways. I wanted to reverse the gender stereotypes being promoted in the poor research, but I managed to maintain the heternormative assumptions behind the research.
In a similar way, the debate about the (in)visibility of men that we’ve seen going on here at Onely and over at Quirkyalone tends to revolve around assumptions that when we speak about “men” or “women,” we’re talking about heterosexuals. There are a few theories that keep popping up about the differences between men’s and women’s willingness or ability to advocate for singles’ rights. Men face unique challenges in that:
1. Those who are happily single are assumed to either be “avoiding” marriage (the heterosexual ideal) or dating around (the hetero-masculine ideal).
2. Men are judged more harshly by women for being open about their enjoyment of being single (I’m assuming here that part of the problem with this is that being open reduces the chances for finding a woman who will be “okay” with dating if it is not headed toward marriage or permanent coupling).
3. And finally: Being open about being happily single means that one’s masculinity – and heterosexuality – will be questioned.
I don’t want to dispute any of these theories. Instead, I want to highlight how grounded they are in thinking about singleness and coupling as a heterosexual endeavor. And these habits of thinking stem from marriage’s history as a heteronormative institution, combined with a long history of simultaneously hiding or punishing all other forms of sexuality. At the same time, it’s clear from the theories above that these (heteronormative) habits of thinking have also caused most of the problems single men and women confront today — so it’s in our best interests to fight not only stereotypes about gender, but also about sexuality.
Copious readers, it seems to me that if we aren’t careful about our heterosexual biases, we risk getting caught up in the same heteronormative rhetoric that is already used against us. Your thoughts?