Heteronormativity of Valentine’s Day (From the Archive)

Sacchi Patel

Co-Founder MasculinityU

February 14, 2011

Today marks an important holiday for Americans as we spend close to $18,000,000,000 to make up for not showing others we love them the other 364 days out of the year. A simple Google search for “Valentine’s Day Gifts” promises to yield more red heart-shaped merchandise than even Cupid intended for. All this isn’t my issue as I no longer contribute to this substantial one-day consumer financial deficit due to low wages and no partner; aka I’m a broke and single grad student. What troubles me much more than spending my textbook money on a sterling silver necklace is the fact that one of our nation’s largest holidays (and one that most Americans seem to observe indiscriminately of religious affiliation) is only intended for part of our population. You see, Valentine’s Day only actually exists in a heterosexist and patriarchal framework also known as “everyday American life”. Valentine’s Day is one of the most Heteronormative displays of our country’s message: members of the LGBTIQ community are not welcome here. This of course is hidden behind chocolate, roses, hearts, and more chocolate.

Capitalism encourages websites and stores to neatly categorizes their items “Gifts for Him” and “Gifts for Her”. This makes life easier for many of us, however it does not make it easier for all of us. In fact, it can actually lead to people feeling out-casted and worthless. Today, I saw a “His & Her” matching pajama set for sale online. Though accommodating for heterosexual couples, imagine how some people of the LGBTIQ community would feel if they saw this at every store or every website that they visited to find something for their partner. Some relationships may have no one who identifies as either a man or a woman. What options would they have? Should this just be their problem since they are gay? Should they have to feel the constant disapproval of their relationship from all of our society with every offer of a blue and pink pajama set? In short, the answer is no.

The fact of the matter is that heterosexuality is a privileged identity, which by virtue of its definition encourages us never to think about anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Heteronormativity encourages us to live life with its advantages and never stop to think how those advantages come to us so easily nor does it allow us to think about who is systemically suffering when we accept those privileges.

Further, Valentine’s Day allows our society to harbor dangerous beliefs that contribute to a system of hegemonic masculinity. The holiday not only teaches us that boys must like girls and vice versa, but it teaches our youth that boys must be the providers for needy girls who must remain submissive. With this thought it is no wonder that these simple ideas can manifest themselves into adulthood that at times can be filled with violence. Additionally, we must challenge all the ways that Valentine’s Day forces us to conform to a binary system as it pertains to gender. We are declaring that only men/boys and women/girls exist or should exist, when in actuality we know that we are leaving many people out

Though it may seem that I am a bitter person who hates love, I assure you that my intent is to spread love. A love to be spread every single day of the year, to every one of us (without leaving anyone out).


“Ally Alert: Interview with Sacchi Patel, Co-Founder of MasculinityU”

[preview] via nicole-clark.com   …I first found out about Sacchi via Twitter (follow Sacchi here…and MasculinityU’s Twitter here ), and I love the work that he’s doing! It’s always refreshing to see more men standing up for women while encouraging more men to challenge accepted societal norms of masculinity.

I can’t think of a better person to kick off Ally Alert. Read more about Sacchi, how he navigates his role as an ally to women, and his work with young men in helping them to re-define masculinity.

MasculinityU works to help men and boys rethink what it means to be a man, to challenge the societal perceptions that limit and restrict their growth, and to encourage men and boys to develop their own definition of masculinity. What was the driving force behind MasculinityU’s creation?

Marc Peters (co-founder) and I learned early on that sexual assault and rape is much more about masculinity than we ever had considered.  In understanding that, we must challenge dominant ideology and target potential perpetrators of rape rather than potential victims/survivors, we figured out that we needed to work with our own population: men and boys.  At first we were passionate about encouraging each other to “redefine masculinity” but after taking some time to reflect, we realized that we’re advocating for a much more fluid and self-defined definition of masculinity.  We need not to tell men how to act; that’s been the problem. We’ve found that masculinity is so rigid in definition and can absolutely harbor the foundations of violence and rape culture. ….Read More Here 

Now Trending: #itaintrapeif

As you may have seen, the hashtag #itaintrapeif (it ain’t rape if) trending on Twitter recently.

As men, we have a responsibility to not only identify this as an injustice, but we must also speak out and get pro-active.  We know that rape impacts all of us whether its directly or indirectly.

So perhaps we can counter this “trending topic” by starting our own. Let’s post these as our twitter hashtags and Facebook status updates. We can also be ready to use these and spring into action when another pro-rape topic trends.

Here are some suggestions:





i.e. #itaintlove if you get her drunk to have sex

1 in 4 women are the victims/survivors of attempted or completed rape. Speak out. #rapeisntajoke

When she says “no”, I didn’t take that as “keep trying”. #MenVsRapeCulture

When we take part in any activism, we always need to keep in mind how we’re saying things and what they might mean coming from men. (remember, we hold societal power over women and the things we say or do may have a great deal of weight behind them… In other words – remember not to be overbearing, more patriarchal, or hyper-masculine when trying to speak out.) Also, remember – try to keep it as positive as possible!  We need a nice balance of a healthy display of activism, while being radical, and not disrespectful. — Easier said than done = )

Let’s make this trend!


Sacchi Patel, Co-Founder MasculinityU

Fine allegations | Campus advocacy groups hope to learn, foster conversation from scandal (preview)

MasculinityU gets interviewed by SU paper on Bernie Fine, and next steps. Check out the preview below and continue to read by clicking the link directing you to the Daily Orange website.

Syracuse, NY.

By Meghin Delaney (Daily Orange – Syracuse University Student Newspaper)

The news of sexual abuse allegations against Bernie Fine hit close to home for some advocacy groups at Syracuse University.

MasculinityU, a group with roots at SU, is a movement to spread knowledge on how to prevent violence and to encourage gender equality among males. The group was founded at SU by Marc Peters and Sacchi Patel, two alumni, in fall 2010.

Rather than attempting to assess who is guilty and who is telling the truth while this scandal continues to rock SU, the group is reaching out to the community to try to find ways to empower one another, Patel said. An interactive segment on MasculinityU’s national blog asks readers to reflect on potentially abusive behaviors and preventative solutions.

“We are extending an offer to anyone who wants to write a guest blog based on their thoughts and experiences on the Fine situation, why men need to be a part of the work or abuse prevention in general, to submit their piece to us for consideration to be displayed to our readers on an international level,” Patel said. ….

Read the Full Article Here

We Can All Take a Page out of Joe Paterno’s Book….and burn it.

We Can All Take a Page out of Joe Paterno’s Book….and burn it.

According to Yahoo! News, Penn State University Students responded very maturely to the firing of Joe Paterno by shouting:

“We want JoePa,” “One more game” and “F*** the media!,” rioting students flipped over a television van, knocked a lamppost onto a car, threw toilet tissue and rocks at police and set off fireworks.

The students who took part in this campus-wide riot are making their stance clear: We care much more about winning football games than the well-being of our fellow students. This is a depressingly too common stance when it comes to any sexual abuse or rape case in our society. If the “accused” also known as the abuser or rapist has any value (as assigned by our white, middle-upper class, male, ableist, hetero-normative – dominated society) like clockwork, a set of dynamics take place without fail. In this case it is a world-renowned football coach. For each win he has under his belt, die-hard fans are willing to make excuse his actions.
Assistant coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with abusing at least 8 boys over a span of 15 years. Additionally Athletic director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz were charged with not reporting the sexual abuse and of course lying under oath.
The background of the case is that a graduate assistant saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a locker room shower in the Penn State football department. He then told Paterno what he saw, and Paterno alerted Curley and Shultz. None of the men reported anything.

Having experience working directly in the domestic violence and sexual assault professional realms, the Clery Act is something that I’m very familiar with – it is also something that ALL colleges and universities should also be very familiar with. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges to report and disclose this type of sexual abuse (and other criminal offenses) on campus. In other words, Sandusky, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno are all mandated reporters and they clearly did not say a word.

There is a saying that speaks to there being “two types of bad people…people who do bad things, and people who see bad things happen and don’t say anything.” So if Paterno knew about Sandusky’s abuse, does he not have a moral obligation to himself, the victims/survivors, and the entire PSU campus to do something?
We will never make progress in our society if we don’t give up this pathetic notion of what we have labeled “the innocent bystander”. Somehow we are all innocent in all the cases that we may witness or know about. Perhaps this is that precise attitude that is keeping us from moving forward. Rather than ever accept being an “innocent bystander” how about we strive to be empowered bystanders and arm ourselves with tools to act when we see or hear out potentially harmful situations?
Paterno told the press:

“I am disappointed with the board of trustees’ decision, but I have to accept it,” he said in a statement. “A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed.

How about you listen to your [now former] PSU Quaterback Matt McGloin, [now former] coach?
McGloin tweeted Thursday:

“This is a tough time But the outrage we are feeling now is nothing compared to what the victims are going through.keep them in our prayers.”

Sacchi Patel, M.S. November, 2011
Co-Founder MasculinityU

For more information about bystander intervention work, please contact us at MasculinityU and we can provide you with national organizations and already established programs.
For this information and all other feedback on this blog please e-mail me at Sacchi@MasculinityU.com

Superheroic Masculinity – The Incredible Hulk

Guest post by Joseph Voltz.

We’ll continue our look at masculinity in the modern superhero by taking on the unstoppable force himself, Marvel’s Incredible Hulk. There have been several different interpretations, origins, and incarnations of the Hulk, depending on the writer’s vision. I will be speaking in general terms that reflect across most notions of the Hulk.

The Hulk, of “HULK SMASH!” fame, draws most of its narrative premise from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” and applies a modern dose of superhuman origin story. Bruce Banner, fictional genius, creates a gamma bomb with his considerable talents. Through an ironic twist, he winds up exposed to the gamma radiation. Though Banner does not die, he finds that moments of extreme stress and anger cause him to undergo a physical (and mental) metamorphosis until he is completely transformed into the Incredible Hulk, a green rage-driven engine of destruction.

Widespread destruction ensues until the Hulk reverts back to his alter-ego of Bruce Banner. The hero’s major conflict comes from this dichotomy and the havoc the Hulk wreaks on Banner’s personal life.

Bruce Banner possesses a brilliant mind, even in a world populated by superheroes and otherworldly intelligences. He is remarkable enough in the world that other superbeings come to him for advice and solutions to scientific problems. Bruce Banner delights in solving the problems of the world using his bright intellect.

Beyond that, he finds himself emotionally withdrawn from people for a number of reasons, chief among them being his alter ego. Despite this lack of social emotion, Bruce does harbor feelings of shame, panic, and fear. He simply wants to be able to live his life without the Hulk persona. Underneath all that, Banner represents logical thinking and positive emotion.

On the other hand, the Hulk uses his vast strength to punch things, mostly. When Banner transforms into the Hulk, he typically loses control over his thoughts, reverting to a primal state of mind, where survival supersedes all other thoughts, and rage seems the only emotion. Not only that, but the Hulk draws his power from his rage, actually increasing his strength in direct proportion to the level of anger he feels at the time.

The Hulk is a destructive force to such a degree that his presence necessitated the formation of the Avengers team of superheroes in order to stop him from senselessly rampaging across the country for no particular reason. He has been exiled to space because he cannot be stopped, either by force or by reason. The Hulk is brute force incarnate, driven by instinct and negative emotions like anger and hate.

On the one hand, we have Banner, master of cool intellect and rational problem solving. On the other, we have the Hulk, a mindless rampaging monster who regularly defeats the entire U.S. Armed Forces as par for the course.

Banner has limited to no control over when he transforms into the Hulk. His role in the change is passive, as he relies on outside stimuli to effect the emotions that fuel the change. Once he’s the Hulk, he makes no effort (having no control) to change back, instead using his time and energy to destroy all that upsets him.

How does all this reflect on masculinity?

I believe the Hulk persona represents a hyper-masculine interpretation of power. Power in the Hulk’s world means the ability to solve problems by causing the problem to cease existing. Where Banner would like to solve problems by puzzling them out, the Hulk would punch it out. Additionally, the Hulk completely consumes the Banner persona, rendering it incapable of making rational decisions or complicated reasoning.

Banner’s personality complicates things further. Various writers have depicted Banner as a recluse, a survivor of abuse, and a stew of psychological problems. Though Banner may attempt to treat these issues in a healthy fashion, they usually act as triggering mechanisms for his incredible transformation. Rather than teaching comic readers to deal with their problems in a constructive way, the writers show that resorting to brute strength produces results quicker and often “solves” a problem, however temporarily.

This seems to be a stereotypical example of a man hiding his emotions and putting on a strong front. “Hulking out” represents taking this to the extreme, as Banner loses every part of what makes him a person in favor of a mindless, one-emotion force of aggression and destruction.

Is this a good interpretation of masculinity? Decidedly not. Using power to satisfy base and animal instincts is not a good representation of masculinity, even less so when triggering emotions or situations are covered up in the process.

However, the Hulk story captures more than simply aggression and power. When the Hulk is not leveling city blocks or headbutting meteors, Bruce Banner is left to deal with reality and the consequences of the Hulk. The conflicts of Banner reveal a more nuanced interpretation of the dichotomy between force and thought that the Hulk comic book focuses on.

Which persona is more popular with readers? Just look at the title of the comic.

See also: Superheroic Masculinity – Captain America

 This guest post was authored by Joseph Voltz, a recent alumnus of Lehigh University, with a degree in history and a minor in sociology. He is a current graduate student at Lehigh, pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in public history. Joe has worked as a congressional intern, and actively participates in the gender equality movement. His interests include science fiction, gaming, alternative popular culture, and comics, which he hopes to examine in future posts. In short, he is a bit of a geek, with a feminist twist.

Joining the Anti-violence Movement? Not So Fast, Bro. –What to Avoid (Tip #1)

Men, here is one of several elements to avoid as we begin to join the gender equality movement:

TIP# 1 [Continuing to] Take up too Much “Space”

Historically, men take up too much space in the public realm.  Yes. this can certainly mean physical space, but it especially applies to “whose voice is being heard?” Or “Who matters?”.  Picture the following scenario: A well intentioned man joins a Women & Gender Studies course. Time after time, he is constantly speaking. He doesn’t even have to embody the characteristics of a stereotypically defensive and questioning man in a WGS course. The content to his comments could be exactly “on point”. None-the-less, nine times out of ten, he is speaking.  Sounds pretty good huh? He’s a man willingly taking a Women & Gender Studies course who is also actively participating. How could this possibly be a bad thing?
Well, if he is constantly speaking, that means there is a huge population of people who aren;t talking. Thus they are being silenced. That group of people are women and yes, once again, even in a WGS course, they are being silenced by a man. Further, this also perpetuates the control men have on everything from everyday conversations to important laws being passed.  I argue that this type of silencing (seemingly unintentional and benevolent) may actually be worse that overt misogyny.  Why? Because this action is subject to going undetected and men go not being held accountable for these actions.
Now picture this scenario: Its the early 1900’s and a Heterosexual couple is starting their morning. The man is putting on his suit while his wife is on the verge of having breakfast done for him. He reads the paper and shouts out  a couple headlines and asks,”can you believe that?”….without waiting for any response from his partner and he gets up as he completes the meal promoting the women to get up and kiss him while wishing him a great day. He drives the one car that the family owns to work, where he meets several other men. They all discuss current news, work, trade jokes, talk about women, and make important discussions that impact their entire community.  He returns home to a prepared meal, and is asked how his day was. After sharing what he did, they go to bed and do it all over again. How many times did this women talk or interact with anyone in her day? (maybe 2 lines?) — This is one place it began. Men have been taught to control everything and experience everything by being in the public sphere.  This gives them so much more to talk about naturally and if we juxtapose this with his socialization, its no wonder men easily take over in public spheres currently.
So men who are getting involved in the gender equality movement: You have to work extra hard to be sure you are not perpetuating this problematic and ultimately patronizing behavior.
If men continue to talk over women, constantly (solely) share their opinions in this space, and make decisions that are based off their thoughts, we may actually do more damage than good in the gender equality movement.
Warning: This does not mean that we as good allies should be silent in the field either. A healthily balance of sharing our opinions when necessary while being sure to actually listen to women’s’ thoughts is ideal.
–Stayed tuned for more “tips” for men entering violence prevention work, coming up right here at MasculinityU. —
Sacchi Patel, M.S.    Co-Founder MasculinityU.   September 2011.

What is Heteronormativity?

by Sacchi Patel

MasculinityU Co-Founder

Heteronormativity is a term that’s becoming widely used not just by the academic community, but by activists, social justice advocates and well, really everyone.

Let’s break it down. Hetero means “different” and even further in this definition it implies “heterosexuality.”

Normativity, or something being normative, means that it’s the everyday or mainstream way of life.  In other words, it is normal.

When we put these two concepts together, we can easily see this means that heterosexuality is the normal or natural way of life.  When we use the word normal to describe something we are not only saying that it is something that we are most closely familiar with, but we are also assigning a value system to it.

Heteronormativity operates in our society with the understanding that heterosexuality is the only natural form of sexual orientation and it is the only orientation that is of value to us. Value can then translate into the world being shaped with onlyone type of person in mind; heterosexuals.  Examples of this can be seen everywhere, including marriage and partner benefits, biology and psychology texts, restrooms, living accommodations and rules, holidays like Valentine’s day, and even who can be allowed to raise children.  All of these examples are shaped to only accommodate the “normal” people who identify as heterosexual.

Let’s imagine how difficult it may be to never have your state recognize you loving the person whom you are in an intimate relationship with, or school biology lessons only speaking to “two kinds” of people (male/man and female/woman) and absolutely nothing else and adding that according to nature, they should be having sex with their “opposite match.” Imagine a holiday not recognizing that you could want to give a card or gift to someone that you love intimately rather than someone who “looks the opposite of you.” Imagine getting dirty looks or feeling uncomfortable when using one of only two types of bathrooms “males only” or “females only”.

Heteronormativity assumes that all people are heterosexual. My advice? Let’s not be quick to assume. Use words like “partner” instead of “boy/girl friend.” Don’t assume someone understands your experiences and don’t assume what feels natural or normal for you is natural and normal for someone else.  Let’s be open to talking about this!

A Quote For All of Us

Today, we take some time out to honor the women who have dedicated their careers and life-work to bringing the quest for justice to the forefront.

We at MasculinityU are truly humbled by all of you and we are here to stand with you.

Feminist politics aims to end domination, to free us to be who we are – to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace. Feminism is for everybody. ~ bell hooks

What Can YOU Do to Reduce LGBTIQ-Teen Suicides?

By: Sacchi Patel

Co-Founder MasculinityU

With the current climate, it is no wonder why this is on our minds, your minds, and in the minds of many people who have seen human lives vanish at rates seemingly much higher than “random acts of kindness”.

I have not been able to turn my television on and flip towards MTV  (for mindless entertainment of course) without seeing at least one, if not several news shows addressing the latest lives taken due to the sheer hatred spread by the victims’ very own peers.

The amount of hate in our society has either gotten to levels that are just too saddening to ignore, or have at least gained much higher visibility in the media in the past few months.  Every day I hear more and more folks discussing the “madness” and ask others what they ought to do with nothing offered as solutions in return.

I do not consider myself an expert nor can I speak for everyone, especially as a straight ally of the LGBTIQ Community.  I know this is actually declaring my heterosexuality and thus creating an “othering” effect however, I find it important to point out that since I am an ally, my actions can be rather oppressive due to how heterosexism operates in a systemic fashion.  In other words, I can neither speak nor impose my beliefs on behalf of any one group.  Given that, I do believe these are simple and seemingly small things we can all do to “make it get better”.

Here they are:

5.  EDUCATE YOURSELF: This is the first step.  You need to learn what the repercussions are of single actions and the misuse/abuse of language.  Understand that constantly using one’s identity to signify something is less than favorable, unwanted, stupid, or weird can harm others.  It tells them that who they are is not okay by you and by many others.  It tells them that something is seriously wrong with them and they are worthless.

4.  PAY ATTENTION: Keep your ears and eyes open (ableism not intended).  What are you seeing or hearing that makes you or others uncomfortable?  Chances are many others are not okay with it either.

3.  SPEAK UP & SPEAK OUT: Do something about it.  Tell someone that their actions were not okay.  Tell someone else so that they can  help out.

2.  SPREAD AWARENESS: Tell others what is going on in your community and in our society.  Get others to join the cause in support.

1.  STOP THE HATE: Don’t think hatefully towards yourself, any person, or any group.  Forget the “P.C.” term “Tolerance”.  It is not about tolerance.  Tolerance sounds like this, “I don’t care if people are gay.  Just don’t do it around me.  Don’t let me see it.”  We ought to strive to full blown acceptance, empathy, and compassion.

Where is the love people?

There are no such things as “innocent bystanders”.  Just people who don’t act and people who do act.  Which one will you be?

Be easy & Be well


P.S.  Here is a video that inspired this post.  Follow up of the infamous homophobic video-taping, tweeting, and out-ing of a gay Rutgers student.  Thanks to my brother Sammi Patel for finding the link.

See the video here