What is Heteronormativity? And why should we care?

By Letitia Smuts

What is heteronormativity?

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality (the physical attraction between a man and a woman) is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. This creates a hierarchal norm that privileges heterosexuality and constructs any type of sexuality that falls outside of this norm as deviant. More so, it is the idea that there are only two sexes and genders, which comes with certain restrictive expectations on how to look and behave.

This project is interested in ways to deconstruct the norm, smash gender binaries, and rewrite the normative sexual script.

When does something become the norm?

When the majority says so. When a group of individuals take ownership of the script and force it on all people.

Why is it problematic to talk about norms and ‘the normal’?

Because it excludes any individuals that do not fall within said norm. The thing about exclusion is that it purposively (and often violently) prohibits certain people from being themselves in different social spaces, loving who they want to love, and expressing said love in public for all to see.

Why is it important to frustrate and disrupt the norm?

Because if we want a transformed and progressive society, where everyone’s gendered and sexual preferences are celebrated – rather than ridiculed – we need to actively build towards such a society.  

Is it possible?

We think so. And, we will continue raising pertinent issues that challenge heteronormative and gender normative views to make this a better South Africa for all.

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common” – Dorothy Parker

If you want to hear more on this topic, please check out Dr Smuts’ presentation titled: ‘Heteronormativity: What is it & why should we care?’ presented on 24 March 2021 at the UJ Wednesday Seminar.

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