George Weinberg first coined the term “homophobia” in 1967 (Britton 1) as “a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for—home and family” (Herek 7).
Regardless of particular standpoints that individuals may hold, society as a whole shares the understanding that homosexual desires are taboo and subordinate to heterosexuality. Generally speaking, women tend to be less homophobic than men and I hypothesize believe that it is simply because women are considered the inferior sex and are therefore hold less power in society.
Since females have little power to begin with, they feel less threatened by those that who may attempt to expose or humiliate them for not being feminine enough. Therefore, the majority of homophobia occurs between men and is a result of their fears of being emasculated and deemed weak.
Homophobia is socially constructed and its prevalence or decline is determined by the reformation of rigid masculinity ideals enforced by the Western culture. If the prefix homo- is traced back to its Latin roots, the word homophobia translates literally into “fear of man” rather than fear of “the same” (Herek 9).
Presently, the widely accepted definition today is the latter. The categorization of this term as a phobia naturalizes the hatred of homosexuals by declaring this fear as a psychologically unavoidable reaction found in every human being.
But at the same time, it shifts the “blame” of homosexuality to heterosexuals who are intolerant of same-sex relationships by suggesting that they are mentally disturbed and diagnosing them with a “‘phobia”’. Regardless, negative behaviour towards same-sex love is rarely ever irrational. It is produced through complex interactions between gender, class and racial inequalities that stem from colonialism and the binary construction of gender and sexuality (Murray 6).
An early psychiatric concept called “homosexual panic” described cases where men developed uncontrollable homosexual desires when placed in intensively same-sex environments (Murray 23). This “disorder” was eventually perceived by the general public as a surface manifestation of homophobia, which contributed to the naturalization of homophobic tendencies. However, if the concept of “homosexual panic” were to be perceived in the context of racism or sexism, it would not make sense or be accepted.
For example, if a White supremacist murdered an African-American for no reason, “race-phobia” would certainly not be an acceptable excuse to explain this behaviour. On the basis of these given examples and contrary to popular belief, the fact that homophobia even exists implies that hatred of homosexuals is in fact more public and typical than discrimination against any other minority group (Murray 24).
In my opinion, it is easy for many people to justify homophobia because it is not an equal-opportunity concept like racism or sexism is so it appears to be “normal” and inevitable to human nature. Unlike many other oppressed groups, one cannot immediately identify whether or not someone is homosexual or not. As a result, “one way to protect one’s heterosexual credentials and privilege is to put down lesbians and gay men at every turn, to make as large a gulf as possible between “we” and “they”” (Smith 100).
Personally, I feel that homophobia is largely a result of sexist views that have been implemented in Western culture for hundreds of years now. Furthermore, if homophobia is a social problem rather than a pathological one that means it must originate from feelings of disgust and contempt, not fear or anxiety.
Therefore, in order to eliminate homophobia, sexism must be eradicated, which will require intensive attitude reformation. In our culture, the first question that any parent is asked about their newborn child is most typically, “Is it a boy or girl?” The moment the answer to this question is given, assumptions are made regarding the child’s life based on rigid gender norms that promote male domination over female.
For women, requirements to belong in the female gender category generally focus on physical factors such as body shape and breast size (Lipkin 3). As a result, there is more flexibility allowed in terms of gender expression and same-gender intimacy than males have. This gives leeway for sexual fluidity, which is “a situation-dependent flexibility in sexual responsiveness” (Diamond 3).
Often times, we assume especially for men that there is a straight -gay binary that is biologically determined (Diamond 246). This The basis of this argument is valuable on a political level as it can be used to counter those that oppose gay rights because they believe that it is something that can be controlled.
However, the validity of this argument relies on the false assumptions that if something is biological or fixed, it should be accepted and advocated for, while if something is variable or chosen, discrimination against it is reasonable and should be expected.
This flawed logic gives people the distorted notion that consistency is better than ambiguity and that one’s sexual orientation should be absolute and unchanging. In our society, it is typically more acceptable for women to be sexually fluid which contributes to lesser negative attitudes towards lesbians.
Personally, I believe men are capable of the same fluidity in their sexual preferences but are discouraged by our culture to do so. Same-sex affection between males has been more accepted over the past few years with the media embracing “bromance” as an acceptable concept.
However, at the same time, men are still very careful and quick to defend themselves as the idea of “bromance” lies on an ambiguous line between affection and homoeroticism.
For example, the saying “no homo” which originated from East Harlem slang in the early nineties (Weiner 1) is now a ubiquitous term that many young men now use excessively after saying something that could have implied homosexual desires in slightest manner.
At first, the concept of “bromance” seems to reassess homosexuality and show progress towards the elimination of homophobia. The classification of these relationships without the explicit use of stereotypes such as gay or straight allows for a group of men to be affectionate towards one another without the fear of being labeled as gay.
However, we should ask ourselves this question: why is it necessary to introduce a new label to replace a word like “friendship” that already describes that type of relationship perfectly? For many men, their fear of having evolving, fluid sexual desires is unconscious, which perpetuates homophobic behaviours as a means to justify their heterosexuality (Lipkin
1). Ultimately, this is a result of society’s requirement that everyone must be labeled strictly male or female and the pressure on them to conform to their assigned gender roles. In today’s male dominated society, the root of male homophobia lies in the underlying fact that there is a disdain for feminine qualities.
Gender roles maintain the sexist structure of Western culture and heterosexism acts as an agent that reinforces these norms. In ancient Greece and the early Roman Empire, men were allowed to have erotic ties with other men as long as they were more powerful than whomever they were dominating:
“All adult male citizens were free to penetrate whomever they desired so long as the passive partner was a woman, a slave, or a boy” (Lipkin 9). Although gender was not an issue in the above arrangement, power certainly was, as the weak were subjugated by the powerful.
The only thing that has changed since then is that now women constitute the majority of the category that is “lesser than man.” Masculinity is comprised of deterring all that is considered feminine which include men who do not meet the traditional heterosexual standard (Kimmel 104).
As a result, homophobia is cultivated because straight men must continuously express negative attitudes toward gay men in order to abide by the cultural norms of masculinity and prove that they are not homosexual themselves.
The socialization process begins from an early age for boys, especially through media, entertainment and sports. For example, in the world of professional wrestling, the WWE often discriminates very blatantly against homosexuals through offensive jokes and stereotypes (Mayeda).
Due to the fact that the audience for wrestling is predominantly male, the views that the WWE hold greatly influence the attitudes of men who watch it. By normalizing these prejudiced beliefs, we as a society are even less likely to criticize homophobia or see it as a serious problem. Therefore, homophobia has little to do with fear of homosexuals and everything to do with the fear of not being able to measure up to the standards of masculinity.
“We are afraid to let other men see that fear. Fear makes us ashamed, because the recognition of fear in ourselves is proof to ourselves that we are not as manly as we pretend” (Kimmel 104). Personally, I believe that it is feelings of shame that lead to silence and unwillingness to advocate for women’s rights or gay and lesbian rights.
Based on personal experience, I can conclude that it is often the case that my male friends are sensitive and considerate when they are alone with me but choose to act completely differently when they are in a group setting. It is unfortunate that when a group of young men are together, they, in a sense, police one another by constantly threatening to unmask each other as feminine or not manly enough.
In order for men to suppress their fears and prevent themselves from being emasculated, they attempt to overpower those that are regarded as lesser than them – mainly women and gay men. Homophobia is a social construction and its prevalence or decline is determined by whether or not the rigid masculinity ideals enforced by the Western culture are restructured.
For many, the fear of not being man enough is what drives their hatred and discrimination against homosexuals. However, society has constructed manhood so that only a very small portion of the male population will truly believe they are masculine and powerful enough (Kimmel 108).
Therefore, those that are left feeling inadequate resort to oppressing those who are considered even less significant than them. In today’s society, knowledge is power and can spread like wildfire through the unhindered potential of the Internet and social media. If we can transform the social construction of masculinity through education and enlightenment, we will undoubtedly be able to overcome homophobia.
As philosopher Hannah Arendt once said about the contradictory experience of social and individual power: “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together” (Kimmel 107). Works Cited
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“Masculinity as Homophobia.” Gender relations in global perspective essential readings. Ed. Nancy Cook. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2007. 73-82. Print. Lipkin, Arthur. Beyond diversity day: a Q & A on gay and lesbian issues in schools. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print. Mayeda, David. “Where Young Men and Boys Learn Homophobia: Wrestlemania Hype” The Grumpy Sociologist. Blogspot.
2 April 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Murray, David A. B.. Homophobias: lust and loathing across time and space. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Print. Smith, Barbara. “Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?” Women’s Studies 1020E. Course Pack: WS 1020E. Book No, M10111. Professors Erica Lawson, Mary Bunch, and K.J. Verwaayen.
Print. Weiner, Jonah. “Does This Purple Mink Make Me Look Gay?.” Slate. The Slate Group. 6 Aug. 2009. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.