Power Relationship Between Heterosexuals Sociology Essay Example
Power Relationship Between Heterosexuals Sociology Essay Example

Power Relationship Between Heterosexuals Sociology Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 10 (2748 words)
  • Published: October 1, 2017
  • Type: Essay
View Entire Sample
Text preview


The survey uses function theory and contact theory to examine the prejudice of straight individuals towards homosexuals and lesbians. Role theory explains that this prejudice arises from the belief that homosexuals violate societal roles. On the other hand, contact theory suggests that positive attitudes towards homosexuals and lesbians are formed by straight individuals through their interpersonal interactions with them.

The text discusses the power dynamics between straight individuals and homophiles, as well as the impact of heterosexism on society. It explores how extremist feminism theory examines heterosexism and the mistreatment of homophiles. Additionally, it integrates function theory and contact theory into the concept of heterosexism.

Role Theory

"Role theory is a scientific discipline that examines behaviors exhibited by individuals within specific contexts and procedures that appear to generate, describe, or be influenced by those beha


viors" (Biddle, 1979). Biddle (1979) defines roles as "a behavioral repertoire characteristic of an individual or a position; a set of rules, descriptions, norms, or concepts that exist and are maintained for the behaviors of an individual or social position; or (less commonly) a social position itself."

In simpler terms, people have specific roles based on their personal characteristics or social positions. Personal characteristics such as age, race, and sex are relatively fixed while behavior traits and social positions can be more adaptable (Biddle, 1979). This means that physical features can impact power dynamics. Furthermore, there are certain expectations individuals must meet to fulfill their roles. These expectations are commonly shared and learned through socialization.

The outlooks discussed here are acquired from various sources such as parents, household members, and co-workers. Moreover, these outlooks can also be imparted by societal institutions like schools an

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

religious establishments (Eagly 1987). In addition to outlooks, reactions to these expectations are also shared among individuals. Those who conform to the expected behaviors are likely to receive rewards, whereas those who deviate from them are likely to face punishment. It is important to highlight that social behavior expectations place significant emphasis on sex and gender classifications (Eagly, 1987).

According to Eagly (1987), gender roles are the collective beliefs and actions that individuals are expected to have according to their socially recognized gender. In the past, women were typically viewed as responsible for caregiving and household duties, while men were seen as authoritative figures and main earners. However, Twenge's (1997) study revealed a change in these roles over time. Since 1973, both men and women have become more masculine, but women's levels of masculinity have changed at a faster rate.

The masculinity scores for both men and women have undergone some changes, resulting in a decreasing trend. This means that women are displaying more masculine attitudes and becoming more androgynous. In contrast, men still face strong negative reactions when they acquire feminine traits, while women face fewer social constraints in adopting masculine characteristics (Feinman 1981; Twenge 1997). Kite and Deaux (1987) conducted a study on stereotypes associated with homosexuals. The findings revealed that heterosexual individuals tend to associate gay men with feminine traits typically associated with heterosexual females, and lesbians with masculine traits typically associated with heterosexual males.

To exemplify, tribades exhibit more masculine features, such as short hairs, while effeminate gay men behave femininely, speak with a high-pitched tone, and wear jewelry. In their study, Moulton and Adams-Price (1997) analyzed the behavior of heterosexual and homosexual men

towards heterosexual transvestites, homosexual transvestites, and non-cross-dressing homosexuals. Heterosexual men did not differentiate the level of masculinity among the three groups and held negative attitudes towards them. These findings demonstrate that heterosexual men perceive effeminate gay men as feminine, similar to transvestites. Moreover, bisexual men are seen as deviating from traditional male gender roles instead of exhibiting traditionally female characteristics. Consequently, heterosexual individuals express negative attitudes towards feminine gay men and masculine lesbians due to their perceived breach of or deviation from traditional gender roles.

Recent research suggests that the perception of homosexual individuals is becoming more complex. According to Clausell and Fiske (2005), respondents when asked about gay men, identified both masculine and feminine traits. They described feminine traits such as cross-dressing and flamboyance more frequently than masculine traits like hypermasculinity, physical fitness, and being straight-acting. In a study on stereotypes about lesbian women, Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert (2006) found that respondents held both positive and negative views. Positive stereotypes related to lipstick lesbians, who were seen as beautiful, sexy, attractive, and career-oriented feminists. Negative stereotypes centered around hypersexuality, sexual deviance (such as being dirty, gross, or immoral), and anger. Heterosexual individuals not only have perceptions of gender non-conforming homosexuals but also gender conforming ones. Hence, straight individuals may show more negative attitudes towards feminine gay men and masculine lesbians compared to masculine gay men and feminine lesbians.

The research conducted by Schope and Eliason (2004) examined whether the attitudes of heterosexual individuals varied towards feminine and straight-acting gay men. The respondents were asked how they would react in different situations such as studying in their room, hanging out at a bar, and introducing the gay

man to their parents. Although they discovered that gay men who exhibited cross-gender behavior received some negative judgments, the final results did not support these patterns. Rather than attributing the negative attitudes to the violation of traditional gender roles, the authors argued that homosexuality itself fostered negative attitudes among heterosexual respondents. These findings contradict previous studies, but Schope and Eliason (2004) did not account for the traditional gender role beliefs held by their respondents, which explains their unusual results.

The perception of heterosexual individuals towards those attracted to the same sex is often that they possess characteristics opposite to their own gender and are seen as breaking traditional gender roles. Consequently, straight individuals who hold traditional views on gender roles may develop negative attitudes towards same-sex attraction because they believe these individuals should be punished for not conforming to societal expectations.

Contact Theory

Gordon W. Allport (1954) introduced the contact theory in his book The Nature of Prejudice. According to this theory, biases held by a majority group towards a minority group can be diminished through interaction and communication with members of that minority group. However, for this theory to effectively work, four conditions must be met: first, there must be interaction between groups of equal status; if one group is perceived as having higher social standing than the other, the interaction will not contribute to reducing negative attitudes.

Secondly, it is crucial for group members to work together towards a common goal, fostering unity. Additionally, placing cooperation above competition is vital. Moreover, the support provided by institutions can enhance the impact of interaction. Researchers have examined contact theory in various group settings, including interactions between White individuals and

Blacks (Fine, 1979), as well as interactions between the general public and homeless individuals (Lee, Farrell, and Link, 2004), among other groups. These studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of contact theory in understanding and reducing prejudice.

Many researchers have reconstructed contact theory and presented significant challenges to the theory. One important challenge proposed by Pettigrew (1998) is that personalized interaction should be a crucial requirement for successful reduction of biased attitudes. Causal order is a major issue associated with contact theory. It remains uncertain whether individuals who have had previous contact with members of prejudiced groups develop more positive attitudes, or if those with more positive attitudes have more interactions with group members (Baunach et al. n.d., Van Dick et al. 2004, Herek and Glunt 1993, Pettigrew 1998).

According to Pettigrew (1998), there are three methods for determining the causal order: observing situations where respondents are unable to voluntarily clarify with prejudiced groups, utilizing specific statistical measures, and conducting longitudinal studies. Van Dick et al. (2004) conducted two studies using the first and second methods to examine the correspondence between the causal order from contact to prejudice and from prejudice to contact. They believed that students were unable to avoid interacting with racial minorities when in racially diverse workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.

The study revealed that contact with co-workers increased familiarity and reduced antipathy towards racial minorities. Statistical analysis suggested that contact had a stronger impact on improving attitudes than positive attitudes themselves. Eller and Abrams (2004) conducted a longitudinal analysis and found that contact with prejudiced individuals led to positive attitude changes. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the main causal relationship is from contact to

bias, rather than from bias to attitudes.

Another limitation of contact theory is the challenge of generalization. Contact theory suggests that interacting with members of a biased group influences attitudes towards the entire group. However, it is unclear how to apply personal experiences with specific individuals or a small number of people to the entire group of prejudiced individuals (Pettigrew 1998; Rothbart and John 1985). Hewstone and Brown (1986) proposed one method of generalization, while Brewer (1984) and Miller (1988) proposed two methods of generalization. Pettigrew argued that these three methods could be effective when used in the recommended order: (1) decategorization, (2) high group position saliency, and (3) recategorization. Brewer (1984), Miller (1988), and Brewer (1996) supported "decategorization" as a potential method of generalization.

According to Brewer (1996), individuality is considered the most effective basis for categorizing respondents, replacing class individuality. Ideally, individuals should develop friendships through interpersonal communication. However, the biased membership status prevents the development of close friendships and should not be discernible. When interacting with homosexuals and lesbians, gay individuals can develop friendships with straight individuals without disclosing their sexual orientation. Hewstone and Brown (1986) observed that individuals can generalize their interactions with members of a biased group to the entire group when group saliency is obvious, as it continuously reminds respondents of their membership differences.

Once a certain level of friendship is established, the group's prominence encourages a reduction in bias towards all group members. The participants acknowledge that they belong to different groups and are able to appreciate their differences. Specifically, heterosexual individuals must be aware of their homosexual colleagues during their interactions. When heterosexual individuals view their homosexual friends as distant

friends or co-workers, their friends' homosexuality may be perceived as a defining characteristic. Finally, "recategorization" refers to the idea that by emphasizing the common classification shared by both the in-group and out-group within a single social group representation, individuals pay less attention to the different hierarchical positions (Brewer, 1996:294).

In this phase, participants acknowledge that members of minority groups and themselves belong to the same larger group. Therefore, heterosexual individuals may categorize their homosexual friends based on the larger category of human beings, and as a result, they share different social statuses. Consequently, the biased social position, which in this case is homosexuality, does not hinder interactions. Eller and Abrams (2004) conducted a study on Britain's bias towards French people and Mexican people's bias towards Americans, utilizing contact theory.

They also consider whether the levels of classification captured the impact of contact on reducing bias. Mexican and British participants who had contact with American and French individuals classified their friends either in the interpersonal category, referred to as "decategorization", or in the superordinate category, known as "recategorization". These two variables did not serve as mediators of contact. Instead, each variable independently and directly influenced the reduction of bias towards outgroup members. Participants who classified their friends in either the interpersonal or superordinate level displayed a more positive attitude towards all outgroup members. Eller and Abrams (2004) found that the levels of classification reflect the quality of friendship.

Heterosexual individuals who have close relationships with homosexuals categorize their homosexual friends based on the level of interpersonal connection, such as schoolmates or co-workers, or based on their human identity. In both cases, straight individuals emphasize the shared social position

they have with their homosexual friends. Many researchers have challenged and reassessed the contact theory. However, regardless of the various reformulations, it is evident that contact helps reduce bias.


The topic of heterosexism is regularly addressed in feminist theory.

According to Rich (1980), the subjugation of women is closely connected to heterosexual relationships with men. Rich argued for the recognition of heterosexism as a form of oppression, highlighting its role in illustrating power dynamics between heterosexual individuals and homosexuals, as well as assessing heterosexual individuals' negative attitudes towards homosexuals. Numerous theorists have drawn parallels between the power dynamics involving heterosexual individuals and homosexuals and those involving Whites and Blacks or men and women; in other words, heterosexism is comparable to racism and sexism.

Heterosexism is not only a personal issue but also a societal structural problem, according to Adam (1998), Lorde (1984), and Neisen (1990). Adam (1998) suggests that the same matrix that illustrates racism could be used to understand heterosexual-homosexual relationships. This means that sexual orientation influences the distribution of incomes, social structure, everyday life, and how individuals categorize people into different groups. Neisen (1990) adds that various institutions, such as family, religion, and work, shape individuals' acceptance of stereotypes, perceptions of privilege, belief in social stratification, and sense of group belonging, which ultimately result in heterosexual privilege over homosexuals. Feminist theories further illustrate one form of homosexual oppression, highlighting how society views non-heterosexual genders as unnatural (Schneider and Gould 1987) and promotes heterosexual norms and values through media platforms like television, films, advertisements, and song lyrics (Rich 1980).

According to Rubin (1984), gender that is considered "good", "normal", and "natural"

must fit within certain criteria such as being heterosexual, marital, moral, generative, and non-commercial. This societal expectation of gender roles leads to the reimagining of male and female homosexuals as "unnatural" (Adam, 1998). Gay men do not fit into this construct as they do not form relationships with women, while lesbians are disregarded because there is no man present to exert control. Another way to discuss heterosexuality in society is through the examination of law. One aspect of law is to establish public morality, which determines what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable (Leonard 1991).

According to Leonard (1991), a sapphic mother is denied trial rights and joint detention due to her homosexual relationship being considered inferior to a traditional male-female relationship. This court decision significantly impacts society's perception of same-sex relationships. Leonard (1991) argues that while the legal system may not be more homophobic or heterosexist than the larger society, its ability to control individuals' lives through discrimination and stigmatization makes legal homophobia and heterosexism even more harmful. These examples highlight how homosexuality is portrayed as negative, unnatural, and abnormal within social institutions.

Homosexual individuals living in the United States no longer consider obtaining a positive homosexual identity and revealing their sexual orientation as primary concerns. Instead, their focus has shifted to making friends, establishing relationships, gaining legal rights, and gaining recognition from their coworkers, close friends, and family members (Seidman, Meeks and Traschen 1999). While American society has become more accepting of homosexuals, they still have to be cautious about whom they choose to disclose their sexual orientation to due to the possibility of rejection. Heterosexism still exists in law, policy, and public culture (Seidman et

al. 1999). Despite any progress made, social constraints and assumptions that everyone is heterosexual lead many homosexuals to pretend to be heterosexual in order to avoid heterosexist prejudice.

Homosexual individuals must be cautious regarding their clothing choices, language usage, and outward expression of their gender. In summary, the power dynamic stemming from gender reinforces and rewards adherence to heterosexual norms while stripping privileges from those who defy them (Rubin 1984). The concepts of heterosexism and role theory are intertwined. Role theory proposes that individuals are designated specific roles based on personal attributes, such as gender. Once roles are assigned, individuals are expected to fulfill them in certain ways. Deviation from these expectations results in punishment. The assignment and shared expectations of roles are founded on heterosexism.

Therefore, homophiles are considered as going against expected functions and are punished for that. On one hand, heterosexism is perpetuated by enforcing people to adhere to expected functions and penalizing those who do not. On the other hand, heterosexism contributes to determining who should be assigned to specific roles and how they should fulfill them. In this thesis, I utilize this framework to examine the impact of respondents' attitudes towards gender roles on their prejudice towards homophiles. Heterosexism serves as the overarching framework that grants privilege to heterosexual individuals over homophiles.

People are often socialized to believe that heterosexual relationships are normal and may hold prejudiced attitudes towards individuals who are homosexual. However, contact theory suggests that individuals who have personal interactions with homosexuals tend to have less prejudice towards all homosexuals. While these interactions may not completely change their belief in heterosexism, it is likely to affect their attitudes towards homosexuals.

In this thesis, I aim to examine whether personal contact experiences can reduce prejudice towards homosexuals despite societal heterosexism.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds