Speaking of hegemonic heterosexuality, as I have been lately, there’s a certain narrative that’s part of it. It’s one of those pervasive cultural narratives, one of the ones that’s in the subtext of so many different things that it’s hard to argue against; it’s just one of those things everything vaguely knows.
The domestication narrative is the idea that men are intrinsically wild, anarchic, uncivilized creatures, and women are intrinsically nurturing, organized, settled beings, and the nature of heterosexual relationships is for women to “civilize” men through marriage, a process that men resist but eventually surrender to, which is a sign that they’ve “grown up”.
When you state it baldly like that, it sounds a bit stupid, but there’s evidently a lot of people who don’t fear looking foolish in the public sphere. People who expect to be taken seriously will state this narrative as bald fact and look startled when you call them on it. Hell, I’ve heard academics cite this narrative as the intrinsic underlying conceptual structure of Westerns, and while, okay, it’s a decent fit on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that doesn’t make it objectively true.
That’s the thing about narratives. Our minds are hardwired to make sense of the world through stories, so the stories we tell about the world become the way we understand it. If we think we’re the hero of a story about a person who makes everyone laugh, we become funny. If we think we’re hero of a story about a person who does the right thing against widespread opposition, we become self-righteous. If we think we’re the hero of a Neil Gaiman story, we become a bit of a wanker.
Narratives like this are the stories we tell ourselves as a culture, the stories that make up and support that culture. None of them are exactly true in any literal sense, but some are more toxic than others. “The United States rebelled against an oppressive monarchy to replace it with a democracy, which is totally better” is, yeah, not actually true per se, but it’s a basically healthy narrative. “American culture used to be racist until we fixed it in the early 60s and now there’s no more racism” is another popular narrative, but one that’s a lot more harmful.
The domestication narrative is one of those ones so deeply encoded that people often don’t even see it. It’s just one of those things people take for granted. Guys are wild and troublesome and live like pigs until they get married and settle down, everyone just kind of knows that. Otherwise all those jokes and magazine articles and movie plotlines wouldn’t make any sense. Since they make sense, the domestication narrative must be true. Don’t laugh: that’s literally how human minds rationalize the world.
You can see the pervasiveness of this narrative every day; even putting aside the direct references, there’s all the concepts and advice that, like the jokes, simply don’t make sense if one doesn’t assume the validity of the domestication narrative. All the constructions about guys who “sow their wild oats” before “settling down”. All the movies about men choosing between a life of hijinks and adventures or a life of stable domesticity, with the moral being that the latter is the “mature” choice. Kay Hymowitz’s ugly, misandrist stereotypes of “rooms decorated with Star Wars posters and crushed beer cans”, these rooms belonging to unmarried men, and her explicit prescription for fixing them being marriage.
Further proof: recently there’ve been a few movies and TV shows about female characters who drink, sleep around, party, and cuss. I know there have been such things because I’ve seen half a dozen articles absolutely pissing their pants with amazement at this bold new frontier in comedy, the idea that some women might be as “immature” and raunchy as all men are assumed to be! Holy fucking shit, some gals are neither housewives nor housewives-in-training, doesn’t that blow your freakin’ mind? Seriously, Ozy’s Law has more predictive value than betting against the Washington Generals.
And yes, let’s take a moment to look at how this despicable narrative harms women. Ladies: you are apparently against fun. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. By virtue of having a uterus, you are opposed to video games, sexual promiscuity, wild parties, and basically anything that you want to do but some old white man in a tie once said you’re not supposed to do. What you’re into is neatness, blandness, and predictability. Please disregard any observed females who like beer or random party hookups, or who have giant piles of junk all over their room. They are statistical outliers and may be safely eliminated from the dataset.
This is a manifestation of hegemonic heterosexuality, of course, because it implies, as do all such assumptions, that heterosexual relationships are necessarily antagonistic. Men all, by definition, want to wallow in lint-encrusted bacon grease, orgies, and Batman. Women all, by definition, want to force men against their will to be Ward Cleaver. Endless comedic hijinks ensue! Non-heterosexual people don’t exist!
I’m sure that there are couples out there for whom this narrative is a great fit. That’s great, and I wish them all the best. There are also couples out there whose sex life is based around DPing a plush wolf with two masturbation sleeves sewn into it, and you know what? I wish them all the best too. In fact, I kind of like the second couple better, because at least their weird-ass dynamic isn’t sold to me a hundred times a day as an ideal to which I should aspire. I’m sure if I’d had to sit through ten years of sitcom jokes about “Oh my god, you used MY end of Wolfy? It’s like I don’t even know you any more!” then I’d be equally sick of them.
What’s odd is that most people’s real lives don’t actually resemble the domestication narrative, especially if you correct for folks who are trying to live up to it because they think they’re supposed to. Men are frequently low-libido, women are frequently slobs, everyone can like video games, Star Wars, and whatever else is supposed to be immature this week. What we need to do is generalize the non-generalizability of our experiences. To remind ourselves that not only do we not fit this convenient cultural storyline, but neither does (almost) anyone else. We may be women who actively prefer internet porn to a physical boyfriend, we may be couples who fuck around with open consent, we may be single men who hope to find a woman as organized as we are, we may even, goodness gracious, not be cis het people at all. And we need to stand up and say that this is our culture too, and stop thinking it’s just us who aren’t Doing It Right.
Because seriously, men as unhappy children and women as unhappy nannies? Let me be clear here: fuck that noise.