Homophobia: a Definition
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Homophobia: a Definition Even well-educated people seem not to know what the word "homophobia" actually means outside the political arena where the word is said to be nothing but an empty political charge. I'm sure that the charge of homophobia is sometimes made purely as a political tactic. But that fact should not make us blind to the other fact--that real homophobia also exists, and sometimes the use of the word is denotatively correct. However, recognizing that the word is sometimes validly used in a technically accurate way requires that the hearer know the technical meaning of the word. So here's my attempt to explain the technical meaning of the word. The word "homophobia" was coined by a New York psychotherapist, George Weinberg, in 1972, based on his observation of a pattern of irrational behavior in patients he worked with. He noted in these patients a pattern of irrational fear, revulsion and distrust of homosexuals that was sometimes translated into hostility and even rage towards them. These feelings were irrational in the sense that they were not grounded in reality and were very resistant to change based on factual information that contradicted the false beliefs with which they justified their feelings. Irrationality Like phobias, these feelings are obsessive and irrational--that is, they are feelings that (1) are not based on real-world experiences or actual dangerousness of that which is feared or hated, (2) are resistant to change when the "reasons" for the feelings are demonstrated to be false, and (3) may involve an intensity of feelings that are disproportionate to any perceived problem about homosexuality. For instance, despite their strong feelings, homophobes did not develop their phobia from bad experiences they had with actual homosexuals. In fact, most homophobes report that they don't know any homosexuals. Their prejudices are, in other words, not based on real-world experience. That's one part of the irrationality of homophobia.
This term is later merged with words like "queer", "fairy", and "fag", in similar anxiety-laden situations as a masculine "out-group" identifier. Notice, that I am saying that the real referent of homophobia is not homosexuals, but fear of not being accepted as a normal member of one's gender category by one's peers. This is why people who have never knowingly met a homosexual can be homophobic--an important part of the "irrationality" of homophobia. The source of the feelings is not, in fact, real-world characteristics of homosexuals, but personal anxiety about not being a "real boy", not being "masculine", not being a "real man" in the eyes of one's peers. When the earlier words such as "sissy" are later equated with "fags", "queers", or the like, children transform their understanding of those feelings of personal inadequacy into feelings of disgust for "homosexuals". This is easy enough to do--even easier if one doesn't have any homosexual friends, since dislike for (supposedly) evil Others is psychologically more tolerable than feeling personally inadequate--especially when the potential inadequacy strikes as close to the root of personal identity as does "unmanliness". Homophobia develops when "(Everybody thinks) I'm a sissy" is sublimated into "We hate sissies/homosexuals". In homophobic thinking, one affirms one's own masculinity. This is why false stereotypes about the "effeminacy" of homosexual males is such a pervasive an element of homophobic thinking. And this is why the false stereotypes about homosexuals are so resistant to change--because they permit the believer in those stereotypes to feel better about themselves as men and members of their heterosexual reference group. Homophobic language not only also links the term "homosexual" (and all of its pejorative equivalents) with a variety of ideas that communicate nonmasculinity (e.g., "Homosexuals tend to prefer feminine occupations such as hairdresser, florist, and interior decorator."), but it also links the concept of "homosexual" with all those childhood feelings and anxieties that express our worries about not being "masculine" enough to be accepted by our male peer group.
to cramp their creativeness (e.g., witch persecutions, campaigns against midwives and female healers, definition of male pursuits as more valuable, the restriction of female fulfillment to marriage ad motherhood, sexual exploitation of women in pornography, erasure of female tradition), and (8) to withhold from women large areas of the society's knowledge and cultural attainments (e.g., noneducation of females--60% of the worlds illiterates are women, gender-role stereotyping that deflects women from science, technology, and other "masculine" pursuits, male-bonding in social and professional settings--so-called men's clubs that exclude women from upward social mobility, and discrimination against women in the professions). These and other social mechanisms limit women's roles to heterosexual bonding with men as the only acceptable means for personal fulfillment. The stigma of homosexuality is a part of heterosexism and it pervades all mainstream institutions. For instance, homophobia is taken for granted in government, the military, religion, and academe. CASE IN POINT: Homosexuals are discharged from the U.S. military for merely declaring their sexual orientation even if they have not been charged for homosexual behavior. In contrast, heterosexual behavior is tolerated and braggadocio about heterosexual exploits while on weekend leave is standard fare in barracks culture with no repercussions. In fact the inclusion of heterosexual conquest as part of the symbolism of true warriorhood is part of the informal socialization of men into their military roles and accepted as "morale building." An excellent illustration of this heterosexism are the traditional "Molly calls" that drill sergeants had their men sing to maintain the cadence of the march. Molly calls were replete with lewd lyrics about heterosexual sexual conquest. Similarly, the towns nearest military bases have long been hotbeds of heterosexual prostitution, and in foreign settings at war time it has been common for military policy to actually facilitate access with prostitutes, sometimes even routinely allowing them to come onto base to fraternize with the warriors. It is therefore unsurprising to know that the Pentagon regards the very presence of (even chaste) homosexuals as a threat to "unit cohesion" and military morale.
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