Student Research Review by Timothy Ward
The Cultural Significance of Homophobia on Heterosexual
Women’s Gendered Experiences in the United States:
A Commentary by Meredith G. F. Worthen
Meredith G.F. Worthen extends research examining relationships between homophobia, masculinity, and gendered experiences of heterosexual women in the United States. She asserts that decreasing homonegativity and increasing masculine fluidity in the United States contribute to a greater diversity of gendered experiences.
Initially, she contrasts perceptions of homophobia in the Victorian and Edwardian eras with current levels of homophobia in the United States. She asserts that during these eras hyper-femininity was highly promoted and that any behavior that might be interpreted as masculine on the behalf of women was stigmatized as having a preference toward homosexuality. Women who did not conform to this expectation were often labeled “deviant”. She notes that, attached to this hyper –femininity was the formal and informal expectation to marry heterosexual men. If women during this time failed to achieve these expectations then they ran the risk of being labeled as “old maid” or “spinster”. Worthen, explains that with the growing acceptance of LGBT communities in the United States, this hyper-femininity expectation has been reduced.
Worthen also argues that, with greater acceptance of LGBT communities in the United States, has come the ability for heterosexual women to be more assertive. “Women in the U.S. now constitute 24 % of chief executives and 34 % of physicians and surgeons (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011). Among U.S. leadership roles, women comprise 18.5 % of the U.S. Congress (compared to 3 % in 1979), 22.6 % of statewide elective executive offices (compared to 11 % in 1979), and 24.2 % of state legislature positions (compared to 10 % in 1979) (Center for American Women and Politics 2014).” Worthen takes great pains to emphasize that while there are many factors that have advanced and contributed to the rise of women in positions of power, greater acceptance of LGBT communities has been a significant contributor.
Worthen offers some important contradictory evidence lest we fall into the assumption that equality for the LGBT community and women has been reached. Specifically, she addresses the fact that much research does not address Transgender Communities. While increased acceptance of gay men and lesbian women has progressed significantly, Trans* communities still face heighten stigmatization. Furthermore she argues that sexual expression for women is still limited. While women are better able to be fluid in their sexuality and sexual expression, for heterosexual women, same-sex sexuality still has negative social consequences. Ultimately, things have changed, for the most part, for the better. However, progress should never become a deterrent to progress. Both heterosexual women and LGBT communities must take the advancements that have been made and use that momentum to continue the fight against discrimination, stigma, and homophobia.