25 June 2009


It is one of the hallmarks of modern education to tend towards needless obfuscation. I find this to be intrinsic to the university structure, which favours novelty, even over truth. If, for example, you wish to get a PhD you must write on a topic that has not been covered, or cover an old topic in a way that it has not been covered. An Academic cannot, for instance, take a piece of received wisdom and say: "What he said" and leave it at that. (Actually, modern academia frowns on assuming that it was a "he" who said anything, and that there are "he"s out there who still insist on calling themselves "he"s, so one should refrain from using the neutral "he/she" or even "s/he". In deference to academic standards, I will use the new neutral pronoun "she/it". Please pronounce it accordingly.) This is with good reason. Academics are supposed to add to the field of knowledge, and not leave it standing where it was. The she/it's of today are to add to the she/it's of the past and create a brighter, smarter world for us all.

Except few will ever understand it. Part of the newness of academia is shown in a fondness for neologisms- a new word which means "new word". Many modern she/it's will create a new word even if it to explain an old concept, in an attempt to legitimize their ideas, or to give their ideas an air of gnosticism- knowledge solely for the initiates. Esoteric knowledge. It's like a secret handshake; welcome to the club. We're very exclusive.

Which brings me to the new neologism, heteronormativity. Literally,this would seem to mean "representing hetero (something) as normal." If you would assume that the she/it who coined this phrase was aiming at heterosexuals, you would be correct. So, first and foremost: a math lesson for sociologists: A phenomena that occurs 90+% of the time is normal. Secondly, apparently the full term "heterosexual" is not to be mentioned in polite conversation among she/it's. So, just where did this she/it pursue and identify this naughty heterosexualization? What was the object of study that added to the knowledge of the world? Disney cartoons.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have concluded that the love stories told in classic Disney and other G-rated children's films - such as the Little Mermaid - are partially to blame for the pervasiveness of what they label "heteronormativity."

"Despite the assumption that children's media are free of sexual content, our analyses suggest that these media depict a rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape," wrote researchers Emily Kazyak and Karin Martin, in a report published in the latest issue of the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) publication Gender & Society.

Kazyak and Martin said they studied the role of heterosexual relationships in several of the highest-grossing G-rated films between 1990-2005.

The results, say the researchers, illustrate two ways that the children's films "construct heterosexuality": through "depictions of hetero-romantic love as exceptional, powerful, transformative, and magical," and "depictions of interactions between gendered bodies in which the sexiness of feminine characters is subjected to the gaze of masculine characters."

"The male gaze"- that's dated. I used to run into in feminist analyses of sonnet sequences which treated how the male gaze was a form of control over the female subject. There were some sequences for which what they said was true. There were some for which it was not, but they claimed it was so anyway. The "gaze" idea became a structure that was placed upon every book, whether it fit or not.

In the case of Disney, the male characters do often gaze at the female characters, but in the one movie they single out, Little Mermaid, it is the mermaid who gazes upon the male, and the male loves her not for her beauty, but because she rescued him and because of her voice.

There is also a secondary question: who gazes at the gazers? The audience of most of the Disney cartoons, and the buyers of most of their paraphernalia, are girls. Male control, or little girls deciding for themselves what they like?

No, it's heteronormalization. The films are insidiously constructing heterosexuality as the norm.

Actually, the films are rather non sexual. Only someone who is obsessed with sex, who sees it everywhere and defines themselves according to it, would see it as sexual. And here they are, the she/its.

Time, money, spent on this. A study which says, in effect, little girls like movies about princesses and princes and magic, and that's bad. Thank you, you she/it's. The world is a dumber place for your contribution.

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