Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reflections on Mono-Normativity

There's an inhernet mono-normativity (the 'normalness' of monogamy) that runs rampant in western society. Our society is repleat with mono-normativity. In fiction, as Saxey (2010) points to, literature examples of romance have a defined end-point of monogamy, with that as an ideal goal and anything non-monogamous is just a transitory point to monogamy. This is also reflected in relationship/dating vernacular. A man or woman who has non-monogamous behaviors is considered to have 'not settled down'. 
Movies have a similar track record. Movies tend to depict capsular images of mono-normativity. The first image of mono-normativity that is portrayed is with the main character being portrayed as morally upstanding in spite of temptation and his (often non-monogamous) peers. The second image is that of the reformed main character, with a character who has non-monogamous tendencies but is molded through love to be monogamous.
Advertising speaks in the same way. Often advertisements will indicate that love can be purchased in some fashion, but the kind of love that the advertisements imply (or overtly state in some cases) is the monogamous one-true-love kind.
When individual characteristics become normative (believed to be 'normal') in a society, individuals in that society start to perceive anyone acting in a non-normative way as being against human nature. This can be an exceptionally dangerous characterization. Pointing to gender roles and women's rights, it was normative for women to be in the realm of the home and family and men to be in the realm of the outside world. Yet, looking today it's clearly the case that women can be just as effective as men at the outside world, and vice versa (though there are more examples of the former than the latter).
There's a very large danger coming from policy decisions, as often policy decisions are informed by these normative standards. For example, consider that, despite the reality of women's political effectiveness, women weren't granted the right to vote in the US until 1920. Normative assumptions informed policy when only men had the right to vote, norms that have been shown to be incorrect.
Can not the same be true of non-monogamy?
Saxey, E. (2010). Non-monogamy and fiction. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 23-33). New York, NY: Routledge.


  1. It's clear that women can be just as effective as men, to a well-informed feminist, but it's still widely unclear to most people, it seems.

    It's going to be a long haul for mononormativity as well, which will likely continue to intersect with other -normativities in wave patterns of inequalities...

    "When individual characteristics become normative (believed to be 'normal') in a society, individuals in that society start to perceive anyone acting in a non-normative way as being against human nature."

    One thing I find intriguing is the way that discourse around policy already begins with an assumption that it's "OK" for society to set policies in the first place relating to other people that one perceives as "non-normative." Is there something fundamentally wrong with a culture/system that begins from the notion that it's OK for some people to not be treated as human beings; to not have rights and liberty?

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