Passionate resistance against heteronormativity

2010-04-08 13:37

The activists studied in Cathrin Wasshede’s doctoral thesis promote politics that move boundaries and give rise to new opportunities. At the same time, new power structures are formed in areas that were intended to be free of such mechanisms.

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– Researchers tend to like to emphasise what’s vague and changeable. I do too, but I also point to what’s more solid. I focus both on what the activists accomplish and on what’s ambivalent, says Wasshede.

Her thesis, titled Passionate Politics. Resistance to Heteronormative Gender Power, is based on interviews with 19-31 year old extra-parliamentary left-wing activists in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Challenge boundaries

The activists are active within, for example, anarchist-feminist, queer activist, syndicalist and animal rights groups and within the global justice movement. They challenge the heteronormative gender order, with a goal of changing the world.

– These individuals are deeply engaged. I was very moved by their incredibly strong commitment. By pushing the envelope of what’s considered to be normal and what’s considered to be deviant, they expand our opportunities to act in society. However, the norm also strikes back at them, says Wasshede.

What she means is that one specific action may both change and reproduce a norm. She exemplifies by a group of interviewed heterosexual men who do not adhere to the norm of how men are expected to dress.

– They are changing the norms regarding male clothing, but are at the same time careful not to step outside the boundaries of heterosexuality. Their outfits can’t be too feminine and they don’t want to come across as homosexuals.

Lack of free environments

The activists’ ideal is a more free society where people have more room to express themselves, yet Wasshede concludes that no environment is free from power structures.

– There are norms concerning how a good feminist ought to behave and dress, and many people perceive there is a homonorm in the lesbian movement, she says.

– We may form free environments, but all people will not be welcome in all environments. I still believe these environments are important, though. If you belong to a group that is excluded, it is important to have access to a free environment, and they serve as bases for political activism.

Author Charlie Olofsson
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