What's bad about the way heterosexual people hold hands? There's a "dominant" position, and the man takes it. That's funny. I always thought there's a more comfortable position and the man lets me take it. Am I supposed to feel all subordinated retrospectively?
In 1971, the sociologist Erving Goffman wrote that while handholding appears egalitarian, “the details neatly allow an expression of the traditional [heteronormative] ideal.”What word got replaced by that distinctively un-1971 word "heteronormative"? Here's the context, in Goffman's "Relations in Public," and it turns out he just said "the traditional ideal." Slate's Katy Waldman barged in there with "heteronormative." Why? To keep us from thinking too positively about heterosexual couples for a second there? In case we're unable to realize that "traditional" in 1971 is a reference to heterosexual couples?
[Goffman] continues: “The insides of the two hands are pressed together, in mutual embrace as it were, but the outside of the male's hand typically faces the oncoming world, whereas the outside of the female's hand merely follows in the wake of projection." Goffman believes that the man can "let go at will, since he is the grasper, allowing him to deal with the enemy; she, however, must wriggle out to be free." But, he asks, "For what reason could she have for needing to free her hand?”Did you ever perceive that it was harder for one of 2 handholders to break loose? This gives new insight into the old Beatles song "I Want to Hold Your Hand." It meant: I want to dominate and control you.
In the new study, by Alison Che and Richard Wassersug in the Journal of Homosexuality, 340 women in same-sex relationships were asked to report on their handholding positions:
Out of that overwhelming stream of variables, exactly two made a difference: height (the taller partner was more likely to lead) and relationship history with a man (the partner who’d dated a guy was more likely to trail). “Our results suggest that handholding position does not reflect a dominance or power differential between partners, at least within a female-female relationship,” the researchers write. Instead, it is matter of anatomical expedience. Straight women should be so rational.Where is the evidence that straight women aren't going mainly on physical comfort? All I see here is the correlation to having previously been in a relationship with a man, but that seems to suggest that within some same-sex couples, one woman takes what we call the feminine role. And that raises a deeper issue in Waldman's concept of what is "better." Within a couple's physical relationship, do we know that it is "better" for neither to dominant? Waldman wields the pejorative "heteronormative" — the oppressive assumption that what heterosexuals do is the norm — but she's insensitive about insinuating that there's something bad about couples whose erotic feelings arise out of domination and submission.
Che and Wassersug take things a little further by theorizing a link between heights and dating history, suggesting that shorter (smaller) women may feel more “femme” relative to other ladies, which could lead them to adopt traditionally feminine gender roles. Those same roles would also dispose them to dating guys. So the same variable— shortness — that leads gay women to experiment with men might independently steer them toward taking the lower hand position in their same sex partnerships.Can we take things a little further by theorizing other explanations?! These researchers (and Waldman) are trying so hard to put some formal idea of equality first that they're loading bizarre meaning onto the phenomenon of being short. It would make much more sense to acknowledge that sexual feeling isn't about abstract concepts of equity. A man and a woman — or 2 women or 2 men — can have completely equal respect for each other's worth and still have a sexual relationship with elements of domination and submission. That could even be better. What do these people really know about what is better?
Waldman ends like this:
The life-altering effects of a few inches aside...Do you find it amusing — that idea that height affects your sexual orientation?
... what difference does it make how we entwine our extremities while meandering through the park? I guess it’s nice to be aware of when your expressions of affection are doubling as power displays.Why is that nice? So you can back off from enjoying what naturally felt good to you and align your behavior more with abstract ideals?
Same-sex couples have been held up before as examples of healthy egalitarianism. This study speaks, in one small, specific way, to lesbians’ ability to discard gender scripts that don’t suit them. If only their hetero counterparts were so good at knowing when to tighten a grip — and when to let go.Learn from lesbians, you hetero counterparts. The press will be leading the way, reporting studies that can be presented as showing that lesbians are teaching us as we progress along the historical arc toward equality.
ADDED: Helping me proofread, Meade read this out loud. At the Beatles reference he sang — "I wanna dominate and contro-o-o-ol you, I wanna dominate and control" — when he got to the end — he was all: "'Equality,' I spoke the word/As if a lesbian wedding vow/Ah, but I was so much taller then/I'm shorter than that now."