- Victims, Protectors, and Possibilities for Change: White Womanhood and the Violence of Heteronormativity
Gust Yep’s renowned article, “The Violence of Heteronormativity in Communication Studies: Notes on Injury, Healing, and Queer World-Making,” offers a theoretical foundation for understanding the intersectional borders of heteronormative violence that implicates us all.1 Yep assembles an intersectional skeleton of heteronormativity as it intersects with race, sexuality, class, and gender asking us to build towards a queer futurity. I first met this article in my graduate program where Yep showed me how my white, straight, cisgendered, feminine flesh meets his theoretical landscape. Yep’s article revealed to me the complex matrix of power my white straight body occupies. His words exposed how I am simultaneously harmed and privileged through whiteness and heteronormativity. In the years since my first reading, Yep’s article continues to play a large part in my understandings of whiteness and heteronormativity.
Whiteness2 and heterosexuality share the same cultural workings of power. In many respects, the workings of whiteness rely on the frameworks of heterosexuality to maintain its power. In other words, they need each other to sustain their power. Yep summarizes their mirror workings best when he writes, “Both heterosexuality and whiteness are everywhere and strategically invisible, universalized, naturalized, and taken for granted, seemingly formless, shapeless, and without content, and normalized to evade theoretical scrutiny and [End Page 162] critical analysis.”3 Heteronormativity is inherently white and, in many accounts, theoretically whiteness in action. Yep claims their interdependence is bound through normalization. Whiteness and heterosexuality are “normal,” “taken-for-granted,” “default” identities.4 What becomes complicated here is flushing out whiteness in and through heteronormativity because of its seamless overlap with heterosexuality. The remainder of this article discusses the lessons Yep taught me in experiencing, enacting, and transforming white heteronormative violence. I examine my embodied extensions of Yep’s initial contributions by interrogating the relationship of white, straight womanhood to heteronormativity through narrative reflections.
“Don’t give away the milk for free or he’ll never buy the cow.”
I can remember the first time my father compared me to a dairy cow. I was ten years old at the dinner table watching him fill his glass with the thick white liquid. At the time, I understood his lesson logically. No one pays for things they can have for free; I had no clue he was talking about my sexuality. But as that lesson was repeated to me over many years, I came to believe that I did not deserve love, but rather, I must earn love. I was to desire marriage and attain it by being pure or appearing “pure.” And companionship was something I might desire but not something I could acquire. Because I had my purity taken from me. In the end, my father’s dairy cow comparison laid the foundation to my lifelong battle with my self-worth in relation to white heteropatriachy.
Years later Yep’s words validated the violence I endured. “Heterosexuality is a patriarchal institution that subordinates, degrades, and oppresses women. As such, it is hardly surprising that heterosexually-identified women can readily identify sites of emotional, psychic, physical, and economic suffering in their relationships.”5 White women’s6 bodies are assumed to be heterosexual and therefore obligated into cultural expectations of white straight femininity (innocent, pure, helpless, and nurturing). Yep adds that the violence of heteronormativity casts women into the obligatory roles of girlfriend, wife, mother, homemaker and, I would add, daughter and sister, that reduce us to not see ourselves as anything but in (singular) cultural roles that are always in service to men.7
For white women, heteronormativity obligates them to the cultural burden of reproducing whiteness and heteronormativity. Yep refers to this [End Page 163] burden as “compulsory heterosexuality.”8 These obligatory roles weigh prominently on white straight women because we have access to the power of whiteness and the protection of heteronormativity. So we must appreciate, respect, and recenter white heteropatriarchy. White straight women’s bodies are violently obligated to whiteness and heterosexuality. Yep’s article finally brought me to accept that white straight women also experience the violence of heteronormativity...