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Normativity on the throne

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By Somayeh Sadat Makian

 In this short essay, I had a look at five concepts that are some aspects of the politics of sexuality, and I tried to incorporate them together in a short argumentative and critical text. From my point of view, all these five terminologies: Invention of Heterosexuality, Politics of Sexual Shame, Bivalent Conception of Justice, Politics of (Queer) Values, and Gender Panics, can be related to the process of recognition, and consequently, they have a mutual relationship/dialogue.

While normativity sits on the ‘throne’ and says: “tell me who you are if you deserve my respect? tell me what is your preferences if you want to be recognized?” if you want to be yourself, you should be out of yourself and encounter with the politics of shame. And this is a very fragile and vulnerable position, while normativity has a strong and stable chair; on the stage, in front of the whole world, and you don’t have a voice.  Normativity, hand in hand with moralizing, is a process of shaming others. Consequently, in the world of shaming and naming, shame becomes political and acts as a self-regulation tool. So, shame can be an innate feeling with an internalization process and a cultural weapon, and consequently economic one too, that can threaten people, but not those who sit on the throne of normativity, just the others who experience huge social and political consequences. In other words, our subjectivity becomes saturated with self-censorship and somehow unthinkable desires, a silent and dark hole that leads to shame.

Unthinkability of our desires can be hazardous while growing up in compulsory heterosexuality, and the world of expectation is heterosexual. So, it needed to be regulated. Therefore, the issue of recognition cannot be overlooked. Fraser (1995) states that in an institutional society, lack of recognition is big injustice and inability to participate in society because of the institutional framework of injustice. As a matter of fact, “misrecognition is an institutionalized social relation.” (Fraser,1995, p.141) and depending on social relation.

Recognition acts differently in characterizing injustice. We should review the idea of justice and recognition as an institutional issue. Based on that, all member of society has the opportunity for equal participation. It gives a possibility to participate in society, and it is not just a duty. Therefore, based on the bivalent conception of justice, she argues we have to recognize that all the social categories that order the society are bivalent. We need to articulate a new conception of justice which is called two-dimensional participatory justices. Fraser analyzes the hybrid nature of injustice and the social and economic roots of injustice (hence recognition and redistribution), which are present together in most socially relevant categories. Neither dimension (economic or cultural) is more original than the other.

Regarding the issue of the institution, another argumentation is, when we focus on the invention of heterosexuality, it is evident that “the rise of the hetero notion is associated with the development of a historically-specific heterosexual identity and institution. Since heterosexuality didn’t exist, it had to be invented.” (Katz,1980, p.349). In other words, heterosexuals designate a norm and a peculiar sexual-political institution. The issue of recognition becomes more vivid when we talk about minorities (non-heterosexuality). If we have laws that discriminate against some minor groups, we should be sure the legal system is set up so all people can exercise their parity. It can be related to the politics of shame when we talk about queer people. Politics of shame act differently regarding queer. We can see how in some cultures and institutions, such as law or science, everything that is queerness can be pathological, which is also related to the way heterosexuality became erotic apartheid.

Queer views fall into silence and self-hatred in this process, and queer people internalize homophobia as a coping mechanism. They internalize that and turn it into homophobia, and shaming turns into a symptom. It is the consequence of politics of shame, and mandatory heterosexuality and institutions need to regulate them with this process. As Warner states, the legal and political systems(institutions) routinely produce shame (Warner,1999, p.13). So, based on Fraser, in an institutional society, lack of recognition is a huge injustice; it is the inability to participate in society because of the institutional framework of injustice. The problem of misrecognition is the problem of unequal institutional social recognition. For instance, gender is a bivalent mode of collectivity. “It contains a political-economic face that brings it within the ambit of redistribution. Yet, it also contains a cultural-valuational face that brings it simultaneously within the ambit of recognition.” (Fraser,1995, p. 79).

Regarding the issue of gender, one of the main points is how gender panic is central to public debates.  It centers on the necessity of culturally defending a rigid male-female binary that is simultaneously framed as stable and innate (Westbrook & Schilt,2014, p. 43), and it shrinks the space for queer people. In the sex/gender/sexuality system, all bodies are presumed heterosexual. It can be related to the idea of politics of shame that I mentioned before. Gender-integrated spaces are more likely to use identity-based criteria, while gender-segregated spaces are more likely to use biology-based criteria. But The main point is “we are not all the same because we do not configure our specific sexual and emotional desires in the same way, which leads to some challenges for our group and communal identity” (Alexander,1999, p.295).

This diversity of sexual expression is shaming (as mentioned before based on warner’s arguments) and politically disturbing for others.  As such, to play the game of identity politics, then our identities must be presented and understood as “normal”- and most importantly, fixed and stable-and too much diversity isn’t “normal.” So, we should think critically about how sexuality is politicized in our culture. Expanded boundaries must include not only bisexuals and transgendered individuals but also racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity within our society. But one limitation of this theory is if the debate over values and identity politics is taken to a global level, it will look very different and culturally non-transferable.

I come back to the first part of the essay and the metaphor of the throne.  Normativity on the throne doesn’t work well with such “in-between identities,” primarily because these identities question the stability, naturalness, and inevitability of the fixed identities upon which identity politics rests. So, lack of queer visibility and limited conceptualizations of identity politics can be conducive to politics of values. Whatever values we affirm, they hold a sense of plurality, diversity, fluidity, and versatility alive. (Alexander,1999, p.309). Alexander critiques the politics of identity as divisive and exclusionary. His emphasis is not on what we are but who we can become, through shared values and aims, which we can strive for together despise our different self-identification and self-conceptualization.

Also, It can be related to Warner’s arguments about desires. Warner states that sexual autonomy requires more than freedom of choice; it requires access to pleasures and possibilities since people commonly do not know their desires until they find them. (Warner,1999, p.7). To summarize, sexuality is a viable option for a creative life. And, to create that life, we must first and foremost be able to affirm and validate our values. Values are a way of actively shaping our place in the world, of shaping the world we want to live in.

Note: Somayeh Sadat Makian is a Persian novelist who has published three novels (in Farsi) in Iran. She is a clinical psychologist and registered member of the Psychology and Counseling Organization of Iran (PCO) and manager of her private clinic (Ravi Psychology Clinic) in Tehran. She has 14 years of experience in consultation, research, and teaching. She is living in Prague and studying at Charles University in gender studies.

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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