Heteronormativity: Patriarchy’s Product or Patriarchy’s Tool?

Author: Airene Ganguly, 2nd year student at Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi.

When we talk of patriarchy, the common misconception is that its prejudice begins at women and ends at women, too. While it does stand to argument that patriarchy essentially begins at women, saying that it ends at them as well couldn’t be further from the truth.
With more number of people coming out of their closets, it is plainly visible to the impartial eye that patriarchy is, unfortunately, armed against any community that challenges its ideas of male-superiority, toxic masculinity and every other socio-cultural jargon that outlines and defines the impediment to our civilization that patriarchy is.
Now, if we come to heteronormativity, it is the belief that heterosexuality, predicated on the gender binary, is the default, preferred or normal mode of sexual orientation. It assumes that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between people of opposite sexes.
And before we jump to the most obvious peril of this facet of patriarchy, which is, that the homophobia is as glaring as daylight in this ideology, it might be interesting to also note how heteronormativity is also used to enable such homophobic people in turning a blind eye to any existence of a homosexual or non-heterosexual relationship. Not only is it used as a tool against the homosexual or otherwise community, but it is also used in strengthening the roots of patriarchy itself, which believes that two men in love or two women in love with each other, is an idea so inconceivable and unsavory that it needs to be held in utmost contempt.
For example, the society at large will ignore all indications of two, let’s say actors, of the same sex of being romantically involved even if the indications are as bright as a rainbow (pun intended) right in front of them but the minute either one of them is seen even simply grabbing lunch with someone of the opposite sex, this section of the society, previously so blind to any hints or indications, will suddenly become the manifestation of Cupid himself and even go as far as to look for and make up connections, even where here are none.
So basically, the homophobic society would rather draw satisfaction in an imaginary, heterosexual relationship than open their eyes and see the existence of a non-het one.
All the above has been spoken of in a broad narrative, where we have seen such instances of heteronormativity prevailing in first world or so-called developed countries. But, what is the status quo in developing countries such as India, where the most progressive step taken for the Pride Community in its 73 years of independence has been to decriminalize what was termed “unnatural sex” which included physical relations between people of the same sex?
On the 6th of July 2015, the Supreme Court of India ruled that all single, unwed mothers could obtain legal guardianship of their children. The victory of unwed mothers might be a triumphant moment but it underscores the heteronormativity of the Indian society. On the one hand, we have the non-legalization of homosexuality that marks a step towards regression and on the other hand we see the legal rights of single mothers that promote a movement towards gender equality. It is important to deconstruct the paradoxes of the Indian Justice system since any prospect of normalization of any kind begins with the legalization of it.
The Supreme Court’s verdict not only indicates the inherent heteronormativity of the legal system but also mirrors a heteronormative Indian society. In a recent interview with a single mother in Youth ki Awaaz, a 31-year-old woman emphasized that she was “both a mother and a father” to her twin children. This statement reinforces the deeply embedded necessity of having a father and a mother for child rearing.
Why is it not normative to assume that there can be both a mother and a mother or a father and a father who are capable of being fully functioning parents?
Where this was just one instance of a legal example of heteronormativity, the Indian society is teeming with such instances from every, single day. What is worse, is that one does not even have to go to the extreme of romantic relationships being sabotaged to understand the bane of heteronormativity. It can be seen just as easily in instances of men being ridiculed for wearing dresses or gowns or make up, or in women being labelled ‘undesirable’ if they have unshaved body hair or in non-binary folk just being mocked for their use of pronouns.
The biggest hilarity of patriarchy, however, is that it can accept the idea of aliens and other human creatures in distant parts of the universe but cannot accept the differences amongst them on Earth.

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