I:M

Barbie and Ken: The Benefits of Heteronormativity

I:M
Barbie and Ken: The Benefits of Heteronormativity

On Halloween this year, with a face-full of make-up and enough tan to, at least superficially, change my ethnicity, I found myself (in a slightly intoxicated state) wondering if I was dressed-up as (in my opinion, a life-like) Ken-doll, why did I want a Barbie at my side? And this isn’t some plea to the wider world to find me a girlfriend; that in my very much single state I had thrown off the shackles of being gay and thought “fuck it. I’ll try girls”. But rather, why did I feel more comfortable having Barbie (ie my flatmate) at my side, rather than another Ken? I mean, this was a perfect opportunity to show the world I was a raging homo. I could make a make a joke out of it. I could in true UoB style, pretentiously laugh at the patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic, western-centered world we live in through the medium of pop culture.

Yet I didn’t want to. I wanted a Barbie to my Ken. I wanted to adhere to the heteronormative stereotypes I had grown up with.  In a world where we're pushed towards the ideal, that Ken can kiss Ken, and Barbie can kiss Barbie; where ‘heteronormativity’ and ‘gendered stereotypes’ are uttered under hushed voices, I thought — these words, which are now so emotionally charged, words which should work against me, are themes that actually have benefitted me. Now before one goes all manic, ultra-liberal, bra-burning feminist/queer-theorist on me, give me a chance.

The reason I like stereotypes, and possibly the reason I shall now be excluded from the LGBT+ society, is that they gave me an expectation which I could either adhere to or challenge. And as a closeted, skinny, white boy, I needed all the help I could get. Here's an example: football. I can’t stand it. It’s a male-dominated, macho-macho, gendered sport, full of egotistical footballers who probably still read ‘The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar’ to themselves at night. However, growing up it gave me an opportunity: I could play a sport (I detested) with my friends and foster relationships through this common interest, or I could not participate and prove that I was independent -- that I had other interests, which made more interesting, unique. I could sit at the sidelines, and like a true GBF (gay best-friend) interact with the girls about how boring football is, how the latest Britney scandal was soooooooo much more fascinating.

What I’m trying to say is, gender norms create expectations which allows people who might not otherwise have anything in common to relate, to bond, to form a relationship which might not otherwise occur. If we didn't have a concept of ‘gender’ how would your dad break the ice with a phrase other than ‘what team do you support?’ to your new boyfriend. So as my last article for InterMission Bristol before I am crucified by the local gay rights activist, I would like to say: don’t knock gender stereotypes, they benefited a closeted gay guy, I’m sure they've helped you too.