Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Heteronormativity and the white picket fence

download

Heteronormativity is a word that is getting an increasing workout in romance discussions, and most people use it to indicate a monogamous relationship and (especially) a family as defined by a married couple with children. But it’s also about the white picket fence. The idea of the family is about a particular societal structure, but that structure is supported (or not) by institutions and laws.

We’ve talked same-sex marriages. Let talk same-sex mortgages. Owning a home is part of the American Dream, and increasingly part of other nation’s dreams too. In 1918 less than 25 percent of British people owned their own homes, and the rest rented; this number slowly increased, but it took until 1971 for the population to be 50-50 between owning and renting. A lease could be for as long as 99 years, but it was still a tenancy relationship. So while a man’s home might be his castle, he didn’t own it. Now many Britons take for granted that they can own homes, but it’s a recent development. Nevertheless, they’ve embraced the “a man’s semi-detached is a man’s castle” just as vigorously as Americans always have.

In the US, mortgages are really important in a couple of ways. First, houses are most people’s major assets. They are the only form of wealth the vast majority of Americans have, and usually the biggest chunk even when a family has other assets. And these assets are most protected within marriage, because regardless of changes to estate and inheritance laws, surviving spouses pay no federal taxes when they inherit, even when the assets are held solely by the other spouse. It’s no coincidence that the DOMA case was about this tax provision.

Second, mortgages offer enormous tax benefits. You get to write off the interest as a tax deduction. The longer you own, the less your monthly payment goes toward interest, but for a good decade or two, you’re getting a sizable tax offset from your white picket fence. But two people only benefit jointly from that when they file as a married couple (again, why same-sex marriage matters). Two people can contractually buy a house as a partnership, but they won’t get the tax and inheritance benefits.

That’s government-sponsored heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is built into the tax code as surely as it’s built into the marriage license rules.

So to say that marriage is heteronormative but pride in home ownership is not is to fail to understand the extent to which home ownership and many of our other institutions reflect and strengthen certain types of intimate relationships.

Fifty years ago it was much more difficult for two men to live together, and if they did find a way to do so, they had incentives to keep their finances separated. It was somewhat easier for women to live together in a Boston marriage, but until the 1970s women were unlikely to secure loans and had even had difficulty holding financial assets in their own names. Knowing that, homeownership as the ne plus ultra of a creating a sense of home wouldn’t have been something same-sex couples automatically looked to as a goal, at least not the way heterosexual couples could treat it as an integral part of their life together.

[I'm focusing on the gendered aspects of access to home ownership, but it's worth noting that every minority group had less legal and practical ability to finance and purchase homes than white men did. The Alien Land Laws barred Asians from owning property in California until well after the end of World War II. Racial and religious covenants were included in real estate contracts to prevent blacks and Jews (and sometimes other groups) from buying houses. And if blacks did find a house to buy, banks practiced redlining, which automatically denied loans to blacks who lived in majority-minority communities. Even today, when redlining is illegal, black homebuyers are less likely, all other things being equal, to be approved for loans than are white applicants.]

Being a homeowner buys into heteronormative structures in the same way that taking out a marriage license does, it just doesn’t do so as obviously.

What does this have to do with romance novels, you’re asking yourself? Well, stop and think of all the books in which the need to secure property plays a role. Historical romance is chock-full of them, but contemporary romance has its share of couples fixing up their house, a rancher or farmer worrying about losing the family property, etc. etc. What Janet W. calls the “domestic life [that] plays an integral part in the development of the characters and the plot” is characterized, in her post, by home as much as by family.

Think about Pride and Prejudice: many readers argue that it is not a romance, and some maintain, only partially tongue-in-cheek, that Elizabeth fell in love with Darcy for good only after she saw Pemberley. But even in books we all agree are genre romance, tangible assets are the markers of success. And if you can best accumulate assets through families and pass those assets down across generations through procreation (as the historical romance genre continually reminds us), families and procreation are going to be seen as superior choices.

Within the LGBT community there are debates over the same-sex marriage focus of the gay rights movement. There are concerns that some of the gains people in same-sex relationships have made in terms of equality and social justice will be harder to sustain when those relationships are folded into the current cultural framework that shapes our ideas of “good” monogamous committed relationships. We don’t see those debates much in romance because heterosexual romance’s focus on the monogamous, child-filled HEA has been transferred to a surprising extent to m/m romance. It’s commonplace now to see monogamous, committed-relationship HEAs and increasingly frequent discussions about children.

This may be because so much m/m is written by women, who are culturally judged by their ability to fulfill home and family expectations, or it may be because many people do want that “married with a nice home and children” future. But not everyone, man or woman, wants a white picket fence anymore than everyone wants children.

We judge people by their houses. People are expected to live in houses that befit their station and their incomes. McMansions are the most obvious sign of this: square footage correlates with success, whether you need it or not. And we rarely stop and think about what the consequences of this unconscious evaluation are. Not everyone can afford a house of their own, and not everyone wants a house of their own. Yet we don’t question that outcome, in romance or elsewhere, the way we’re learning to question the married with children outcome as perfect, or even possible, for everyone.

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

47 Comments

  1. Sirius
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 06:40:27

    I definitely thought about heteronormativity being so prevalent in m/m romances – 19 and 20 year olds dreaming of marriage and nothing else often makes me want to kick something ( yes, some do, but I will be so bold as to suggest that at that age at least most don’t). However thank you for making me think about it in the context of home ownership – I never did. Great article :).

  2. Deljah
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:08:14

    I’m having trouble following that mortgage interest writeoffs = benefits for married male/female couples = heteronormativity. I am a woman who lives in the US, and I bought a house years before I got married. I still have that home in my own name. Every one of my friends that owns a house today, whether they’re currently married or not, was a homeowner as a single woman. We all bought for the tax benefits and pride of ownership that we’d experience as individuals. I’m Black, and knowing the stats about marriage prospects for Black women, I knew it would’ve been unwise for me to wait til a possible marriage to buy.

  3. jmc
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:34:12

    Long, long ago, I did tax and estate planning. It was no secret then and probably still is no secret today: when it comes to estate and inheritance taxes, the biggest deduction you can have is the marital deduction. So many tips/tricks/practices hinged on the use of that deduction; treatises were (are still?) written about it and CLE was offered around how to best utilize it. At the time, I didn’t think of it as heteronormative per se, but it was definitely something I was aware of as a disadvantage for people who were either unmarried by choice or who were unable to marry their partner of choice.

  4. Beth
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:43:07

    I’m not sure you’re right about the tax and inheritance issues. I think that depends on how a couple will take title to a property. I’ve been selling real estate for about 18 years now and my understanding is that if you take title as Joint Tenants with Full Rights of Survivorship, if one person dies the other automatically inherits and does not have to probate. Now this could be just in MS but I doubt it. (This is not legal advice, ask Jane about that I’m not a lawyer, ) now I have seen couples with children from previous marriages take title as
    Tenants in Common. Also I think that’s how business partner take title. If one party dies, their portion of the property goes to their heirs and not the other title owners. This can get sticky, I had a house that took almost a year to close because the adult children on both sides could not agree. Judge finally let us close.

    I don’t believe there are any requirements to being Joint Tenants. I sold a house recently to a couple where one got the mortgage because the other was still in school. As soon as he graduates, they plan to quit claim him half as a Joint Tenant. The house does not need to be in his name because he will lose his student loans, stipends etc. However, should they break up before then (Which I highly doubt) I still think he would be protected under homestead rights. The partner on the deed can’t sell the house without other partner signing. But this I a gray area that we discussed. Fortunately with this couple it was not an issue.

    But its still heartbreaking that we even have to discuss these things.

    Deljah brought up something interesting and its a trend I’m seeing. We have been selling houses left and right to single women. Some starting there first job out of college. Several of them have gone on to get married and husband moved in with them. I LOVE it. Talk about girl power. :-)

  5. Beth
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 08:52:26

    There is another form of Joint Tenancy that protects a spouse from creditors but not sure it would be necessary for a couple that’s not married since I don’t think creditors could hold the non spouse responsible for debts. But I’ve never seen anyone take title this way.

  6. jmc
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 09:10:19

    @Beth: Generally speaking, avoiding probate based on titling of property as JTRWOS does not exempt those assets from inheritance or estate taxation unless the co-owner is a spouse and qualifies for the marital deduction*. It merely means that the assets are not part of the probate estate and are not among the assets the executor or administrator must marshal and retitle manually. The right to inherit by operation of law is not identical to the right to inherit tax-free.

    *In my local jurisdiction, inheritance tax is the state tax, while estate tax is the federal tax. My state has legalized gay marriage, so there’s no dissonance between the definition for the two tax schemes, in terms of the availability of the marital deduction, although I assume there’ll be some scramble to clarify things. I have no idea what states that have not legalized gay marriage will do (or will have to do) in light of the Windsor ruling, although I’m assuming there will be some sort of reconciliation between the state and federal tax filings.

    With the usual caveats: state probate law varies, property law is complex, and I’m not giving advice or creating an attorney-client relationship based on this comment.

  7. Beth
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 09:33:48

    @jmc: I think most residential real estate property value in my area is probably not high enough to hit the inheritance tax issue. we’re relatively new real estate market so there’s not a lot of high end property owned free and clear. I think there’ s a million dollar excemption in Mississippi.
    But this is definitley good to be aware of

  8. lawless
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 09:52:24

    Some couples will be worse off, not better, filing jointly. Joint filing is a way of equalizing the circumstances of those who live in community property states, where state law property rights lead to the equivalent of joint filing, and those who live elsewhere. It benefits couples with one spouse who works or earns the majority of income and one spouse who doesn’t work or earns very little in comparison. Couples who both earn a good income are hurt by it; hence the term “marriage penalty.”

  9. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:22:03

    When I moved in with my then fiancee in 1987, he had just bought a house and it was in only his name. We went to the bank and asked that my name be added to the title. (This was in NC.) The bank, at first, told my now husband, while I was sitting there, that they recommended against such a thing because we weren’t married. We insisted and they said I was the first client they’d done this for. They asked what my married name would be and I said it wouldn’t change. This also caused a flurry of concern.

    North Carolina is a duel-property state which does indeed benefit spouses who earn far less than their partners. For me, it has made the difference between feeling anxious during the years I didn’t work and feeling as though, even if I were to divorce, I wouldn’t be destroyed financially.

    In NC, a “no gay marriage” state, gay couples are penalized across the board. It’s become a disincentive for many to move here. The ramifications of Sunita’s post are depressingly clear here. The state has so many laws on the books that support a very narrow definition of a legally strong marriage. Our alienation of affection law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alienation_of_affections) is particularly demeaning.

  10. Jayne
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:26:15

    @Deljah: I bought my house 2 years out of college. The tax benefits were enormous and I’ve enjoyed owning my own place. The day I paid off the mortgage, I celebrated with some sinful chocolate.

  11. Carolyne
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:43:40

    When I had to give up my house (moving to a different state for work and having to sell at a barely break-even price), the double blow of no more tax benefits, plus paying twice as much per month for a rental in a city where I and most residents will never be able to afford to buy, has made me pretty bitter about home ownership. And about the idea of the normativity of home ownership, hetero or otherwise. (That first year of tax returns as a renter really hit hard at a time when way more money was going out the door than ever went into the house.)

    And yet, and yet. I’ve just finished writing a manuscript with home ownership as the end result and reward for the couple. Part of it is surely wishful thinking and wanting to give a solid ending to the (not straight) characters. But I honestly don’t recall even giving it much thought before falling right into the pattern.

  12. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:54:10

    @Deljah: jmc responded better than I could have, but I’ll just add that if you had remained unmarried, both your tax benefits and your inheritance options would have been constrained (most likely in the tax case and certainly in the inheritance case) compared to your options as a married person (assuming you want to leave your property to your spouse).

    Like you and like others responding in this thread, I bought my house as a single woman. But that’s a fairly recent option, historically speaking, and it took the feminist movement and civil rights changes to make it happen. And despite legal protections, on average women and minorities have a harder time getting loans. That doesn’t mean some of us don’t get them, of course.

    @Beth: @jmc: Thanks very much for the expert contributions. There are, and always have been, ways around the default system to some degree. But even when they provide parity with married, middle-class couples, they usually take more work.

    @lawless: That is definitely true, and thanks for the reminder.

  13. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:55:28

    @Dabney: @Jayne: Thank goodness for the 1970s/1980s and the ability for women to control their own finances.

  14. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:58:21

    @Carolyne: You’re quite right to say it’s “hetero or otherwise” when it comes to normativity. It’s very difficult to disentangle gender, race, and class analytically, because they reinforce each other in a lot of aspects. And your point about writing home-as-happy-future into your book speaks to the power it holds for us. I’m definitely not saying it’s wrong, it’s human nature to want to ensure your home, I just wanted to take note of the fact that we don’t subject the homeowner default to the same scrutiny that we do the parental default.

  15. Ridley
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:00:31

    I’m not going to make a long comment or anything here because of reasons, but this Ta-Nehisi Coates article on how contract buying created the ghettos we have today seemed relevant.

  16. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:06:30

    @Sunita: The assets vs. income issue in wealth makes state law matter hugely. Here, child support is based on income not assets. I have several friends whose spouses took lower paying positions just to avoid higher child support. In general, NC is still punitive to women in divorce cases.

  17. Deljah
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:15:18

    @Sunita:

    So you’re saying that even though single women are buying homes themselves and benefiting from the associated tax writeoffs, their homeownership is ultimately heteronormative b/c at the end of the day (or their lives, as it were), single women can’t transfer their homes tax-free to another person, like one spouse could do to another spouse?

  18. Beth
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:23:29

    @Deljah:

    I may be wrong but I really think this depends on the inheritance tax exemption.

    Life estates may be the way to go for older singles, although it will affect their homestead exemption.

    The government is going to get their take one way or another. :-)

  19. jmc
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:51:47

    @Ridley: Thank you for the link.

  20. Kathryn
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 12:20:23

    Two quick thoughts
    1. Ruthie Knox tackles some of the issues around marriage, gender roles, and home ownership in her recent novel, Making It Last. The H/H, Tony and Amber have been married a decade and together for 13 years. Tony builds houses for a living and Amber is a housewife. The crash in the housing market has had a direct effect on their economic situation and part of the problems that they need to solve revolve around their lovely, large, very expensive house that Tony built for his family and in which Amber feels increasingly lost.

    2. On the most recent Slate Political Podcast they discussed Sarah Stillman’s article on civil forfeiture (the seizing of someone’s assets by law enforcement officials because the person is deemed to participated in a crime or assisted a criminal), which is published in The New Yorker. One of the depressing things that was mentioned in the discussion is the way that civil forfeiture (like drug SWAT Teams in the 80s) is being used as way to enforce informal segregation and prevent middle-class blacks/hispanics from gaining home ownership access into certain neighborhoods.

  21. SAO
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 13:05:10

    @Dabney
    Oh, the flurry of concern. My husband and I bought a house together and recently refinanced it. All through the process we got stuff like “HisName and MyName, an unrelated person” or “HisName and MyName, unmarried”. Never once did any one ask if we were married, they just leaped to the conclusion we weren’t. I suspect if I bought property with my brother, they’d never have put any of that in, assuming, given our shared last name, that we are married.

  22. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 13:20:01

    @SAO: I have complete legal power of attorney for my spouse and I am routinely told I need his signature on legal documents. And, even when an account is started by me (and my name is first in the alphabet), if he’s on the account, it’s always listed first under his name. It’s irksome.

  23. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 13:54:09

    @Ridley: Thanks for linking, that’s a great piece; following him as he reads the scholarship on structures of racial inequality has been terrific.

    @Dabney: Ugh, I did not know that. Of course it creates perverse incentives of the type you mention, and it also puts many minority-group members at a disadvantage, because they tend to have less wealth than whites even if they are at parity in income.

    @Deljah: I would say that single woman buying a house isn’t engaging in heteronormative behavior, because she’s paying a tax now and in the future that married people don’t pay. Some benefits are available to non-married couples (like the mortgage deduction) but some are not (like the joint filing benefit and the estate/inheritance and other tax exemptions).

  24. Mara
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 13:59:59

    Very interesting post. I remember quite a number of domestic m/m romances in slash fiction and now they seem as plentiful in original m/m romance. I always wonder how well they sell compared with m/m romances that don’t settle into a conventional m/f romance groove.

    The appeal for me in reading or writing any romance is an HEA *not* patterned after my own life. I’m fully familiar with the conventional. I live it every day. If a romance ends with mortgage, kids, and dog, I don’t mind, but I’d rather have an HEA that hints at adventure still to come; adventure that isn’t necessarily mortgage, kids, and dog (which is part of why I loved Cecilia Grant’s “A Gentleman Undone” so much. And why I like setting stories in NYC. It seems so much more an adventure-filled world than the McMansion towns that surround me.) I’m not sure what this says about me, other than my life may be somewhat less exciting than the average m/m or m/f author.

  25. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 14:08:29

    @Kathryn: Thanks for the information on the Knox book; it’s great to see authors in the genre grappling with these issues. I read the New Yorker piece on civil forfeiture and found it frightening and deeply disturbing. Yet another way we are deepening class and racial disparaities, as well as financing state services off the backs of people who don’t have the means or information to fight these actions, and it is almost entirely under the radar.

  26. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 14:15:05

    @Mara: I raised issues of heteronormativity in a couple of reviews and found that commenters disagreed with my take because they liked the trope. Basically they saw it as a pleasant fantasy rather than reinforcing the idea that m/m was very much like m/f.

    I also got yelled at on Twitter a year or two ago because I complained about an m/m book that was entirely about a couple’s angst over planning a wedding. I made a comment to the effect that of all the things to port from m/f to m/m, Bridezilla behavior seemed to be at the bottom of the list. A gay man took umbrage, assuming that I was opposed to gay marriage rather than my real aversion, which is to large, splashy, expensive weddings. I’m Indian; I’ve seen and heard of too many dowry & wedding expenditures that bankrupt families, and while I support everyone’s right to have the wedding they want, huge productions make me uncomfortable.

  27. cleo
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 14:46:08

    @Sunita: For some reason your comment reminded me of this Autostraddle article – the comments are fun because of the “wait, people really do that at straight weddings?” type comments.

    http://www.autostraddle.com/19-ways-our-queer-weddings-wont-suck-178967/

  28. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 15:14:16

    Sunita, this is such a great post!

    Not only has there been the gift tax problem if one same sex partner tries to transfer a home to his or her spouse, but there are a variety of ways in which house is considered a male possession. In some states the law still recognizes a so-called “king of the castle” defense to defense against an intruder. It’s skewed toward the idea that the man is the head of the household, which reflects the way that women have not historically had the same real property ownership rights as men. Probate law in general is full of these kinds of assumptions, as well. States that still largely adhere to common law are still struggling with these issues, as well.

    This discussion also reminds me of legislation like the Dawes Act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawes_Act), which provided plots of land to Native Americans who who were willing to move off the reservation. Not only did the government want the land some of the tribal nations occupied, but more importantly, they wanted to “assimilate” indigenous people into American capitalistic society. For some individuals and families, these individual plots raised their standard of living and provided a basis of independence and social mobility. But systemically, the Act resulted in the diminishment of cultural values among tribal nations, as well as their political power.

    Real property has always favored “majority” standards, which have, historically, been white and heteronormative. Charles Beard wrote a now-old but still-great book about how property interests shaped the Constitutional Congress. It’s called An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Economic_Interpretation_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States), and I highly recommend it.

  29. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 15:38:06

    @cleo: That is great! I haven’t experienced most of those, thank goodness, but then most of the weddings I went to were non-standard by today’s measure.

    @Robin/Janet: Oh, the Dawes Act, that definitely applies. If I remember correctly, quite a few families lost their land and wound up being dispossessed both materially and culturally. And that Charles Beard book is great. It’s funny to think how controversial it was when it came out; I think today’s citizens would have much less trouble with the thesis.

  30. Kathryn
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 16:20:24

    Small correction, Making It Last, is a novella not a novel. My apologies.

  31. Beth
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 16:32:29

    @cleo:

    Dang it! Cats as ring bearers. That is bloody brilliant. Now I really want to renew my vows. (I am not being sarcastic, here. I love the idea. Of course, you would need a cat bearer because the cat would want to recline on the pillow with the ring and be carried down the aisle. :-)

  32. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 17:19:24

    @Sunita: Oh, yeah, the Dawes Act yielded horrific fallout. Tribal people are still paying the price for it.

    Re. Beard, even though he was ahead of his time, I still recommend the book over more recently written books, if for no other reason than he does such extensive analysis, precisely because at the time he was constructing such a controversial argument. Heh.

  33. Joopdeloop
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 17:37:35

    Awesome post and comments… Lately I’ve been thinking about how money/wealth plays out in romance. Here is my tldr; rambling on money and romance.

    For my day job, I get to develop and conduct outreach around Equal Pay (which is a mixed blessing since… okay in the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was signed, on average women have [only!] caught up to 77% of what men are making (tho Black women trail after and Latinas actually fare worse that where women started 5 decades ago. Despite strides in education—in fact, the wage gap starts with new grads fresh out of school http://www.aauw.org/article/graduating-to-a-pay-gap-not-on-their-watch/),… and we don’t have a very impressive caseload under EPA b/c… how many people actually know how their wages compare to others? It’s hard to do outreach for a law with such few examples that sing out to people, and the ‘news’ seems old, familiar and depressing.)

    Anyway, last year, a colleague of mine conducted an Equal Pay outreach event involving high school students. Her observation was that the boys seemed to generally have a more realistic sense of what they might be earning, whereas the girls seemed to be less aware of what their earning potential would be AND seemed to assume that it didn’t matter since their husband would make more. Ok, not a scientific sample to be sure, and second hand info at that… but it made me wonder if its possible that even today, we can be raising a new generation that is still so deeply steeped in… not simply heteronormativity, but old skool ‘Man is the breadwinner, woman seeks/needs sugardaddy”! Where are they getting this message from? (as the mother of young, preteen daughters, I really want to know.. and to counter this. Plus, this is the fun part of my day job.)

    It also made me think through my personal assumptions about money and romance – 10 yrs ago I remembered buying a house together and getting engaged. The process forced me to take a really clear-eyed look at my fiancé and our very different approaches to money. So not romantic, right? I actually do remember thinking, ‘But it wasn’t like this in all those romances’ (those copious amounts of categories, historicals, gothic suspense, you name it, that I slurped down in high school – alas, no sweeping me off my feet and wallet, into the lap of luxury)

    I’ve resumed romance reading again in the past five years, after a 15yr hiatus. And lately, when I read romance, part of my brain is fixated on how integral [the hero’s] wealth and property is to the romance, sometimes so much so that money sometimes seems like a whole other character. This is clear with HP billionaire fantasies as well as historicals, but even in UF/SF F I can’t think of many heroes who weigh in with less $$ than the women. Can you have a convincing romance where the woman is the primary breadwinner? Does money color and pervade m/m and f/f romance as much it does in het romance?

    I think that’s one thing I have really liked in Cara McKenna /Meg Maguire – Making Him Sweat made the heroine the property owner and hero her supplicant/tenant. I loved how Cecilia Grant captures Kate’s response to the architectural grandeur her father’s erstwhile milieu, the sheer breathless covetousness, wistful want and ambition, in A Woman Entangled… it raised the stakes for the choices she winds up making. I’m fascinated by Martha Wells’ Raksura series, where the tale is told from the male narrator’s 3rd person pov, in a matriarchical society — but Cloud Roads and Serpent Sea lean more towards fantasy than romance overall, I think. So would love more examples of romances that upset (or rearrange) the apple cart.

    I have a feeling your musings and some of these comments links are going to keep percolating in my reading brew for a while

  34. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 18:48:23

    @Joopdeloop: I don’t spend much time around pre-teens and high school kids, but I find that even with my elite college students, the women don’t internalize a *need* to work the way the men do. But that’s always been my experience. As someone who was determined to make enough to be financially independent since my teen years, it was always striking to me, because these were often children of divorce, where they had seen uncertainty up close.

    Interestingly, the m/m romance I’ve read has not grappled much with financial power issues (which certainly play a role in Real Gay Lives that I’ve observe). Either both characters are comfortably employed, or it’s not a big point of conflict or discussion when there is an asymmetry. The characters will argue about career choices, but not money decisions. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I can’t think of any offhand.

  35. Susan
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 19:12:09

    @cleo: Um, I suspect gay weddings have as much potential to suck/be outrageous as het weddings. I think it’s almost a wedding requirement.

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. This whole discussion has really struck a chord with me and I agree with @Joopdeloop: that it will continue to percolate. There were some things I was aware of, but others that I’d never heard/thought of.

  36. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 20:41:45

    That’s government-sponsored heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is built into the tax code as surely as it’s built into the marriage license rules.

    So to say that marriage is heteronormative but pride in home ownership is not is to fail to understand the extent to which home ownership and many of our other institutions reflect and strengthen certain types of intimate relationships.

    Such good points.

    In Canada, though I’m no expert, I’m pretty sure a mortgage doesn’t bring the same tax cuts as in the States. However, there are definitely some tax benefits (and other benefits) to being married (although how that varies from common-law marriage I also don’t know. So I suppose I should just stop here.)

  37. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 20:42:57

    I mean to add that the Janet W. link doesn’t work for me.

  38. JL
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 21:36:49

    @Sunita:
    There’s a fair bit of feminist sociological research suggesting that career/work identity is much more central to masculine identities than it is to women’s, and more rigid. Not to say that women do not identify by their careers, but the social pressure to identify that way is stronger on men. Women, in the middle-class heteronormative North American culture, are expected to be more flexible in their core identities , shedding old ones with each life change, or identifying with the emotional and personality traits that accompany their jobs.

    I’ll back off from my tangent to say that this was a very interesting, thought-provoking read. I’m academically fascinated by the entanglement between sexual respectability and social class, and this was an aspect I’ve never really thought about before.

  39. Sunita
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 22:01:59

    @Jorrie Spencer: Good points, thanks! Yes, the tax/inheritance aspects are very much about the US, although I think several other countries increased their percentage of home ownership like the UK did; but their incentives are probably not as strong and manifest themselves differently.

    And thanks for the heads-up, I fixed the link.

    @JL: I think you’re right; the under-emphasis on career in the abstract and the tendency for women to wind up disproportionately in jobs and careers that involve emotion work can mean that what women do both without and outside the home become meshed together.

  40. Fiona McGier
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 23:19:11

    @cleo:

    I loved this! When we got married 30 years ago, we did the deed in a courthouse because we aren’t religious. Our kiss lasted longer than the ceremony. Then we invited family and friends to eat ham sandwiches, drink and party in our backyard, under some huge tents, with a long liquor table, a keg of beer, and a porta-potty in the backyard of our rental house in case our one bathroom’s plumbing blew up. Our very traditional relatives told us it was “refreshing” that we “did it our way”. Many who had the huge church/expensive hall thing got divorced soon after. But we’re still celebrating every year.

  41. Nikki
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 20:12:08

    I think home ownership as heteronormative is an interesting concept. I have always looked as home/property ownership more to do with transitioning and transferring wealth. For example the first generation worked and saved and was able to purchase a home. This home then went to their only child male or female, and then because there was perhaps no mortgage expense, the second generation was able to parlay the funds into other investments such as business, education, or even further property ownership. By the time you hit the 3rd generation and on you have inbuilt financial advantages presuming no one lost the funds in some other fashion (aka the gambler father trope of historicals). It seems to be a method of concentrating wealth among the select or the dominant group who had the ability to make the law which would be the white males. I think historically the right to vote and own property was about allowing a select group the ability to gain and concentrate wealth. I think it is heteronormative because societally the concept has been that property transitions through marriage and children. But as women and minorities begin to purchase homes the methods to develop and transition wealth change.

    As much as I love a Presents novel the concept of the severe wealth disparities between the male and female leads really hits home how far we still have to go as a gender. I am not even asking for her to be wealthier than he is (Kelly Hunter – Untameable Rogue and Her Singapore Fling) but just to be comfortable from her own work (Kelly Hunter again in the One That Got Away). I want women who are working hard in their chosen fields and making a success of themselves. I have noticed that Sarah Morgan has had heroines who have worked themselves to success. I really loved the idea that Laurel was successful on her own before and after in Once a Ferrara Wife. I would love to see more books that examined the male response to a woman who was a higher or more dependable wage earner because honestly that is where we have been shifting for decades. I know a nurse practitioner who said “behind every successful ranch is a wife that works in town.” The only reason the family had kept the ranch as a going concern was because she worked and did so a lot. I know personally that if I get married, unless my spouse is in the same field that I am or another “white-collar” area it is highly probable that I will be the primary and most steady wage earner.

    As a heteronormative tool – how many authors have women owning their own apartments or homes but then giving them up to move in with the male lead? I know that several books have turned the heroines ownership into an escape hatch and an example of a lack of commitment to the relationship. I would like to see books that flip that or even turn it into a discussion where they decide to go one way or another and keep the other property as an investment or for it not to be the issue the relationship supposedly hinges on.

    The purchase of a home and the deduction are actually two different things but only occur because of sequence. I remember in 2006 and 2007 people saying I was a fool for not buying a home. I knew the financial benefits and thought this will be nice in a few years but I was also watching how people made purchases and were then attached to homes they could not truly afford and regions where there was no work for them to do thereby perpetuating and worsening their financial crises. But home ownership has become something I am more interested in and have been actively researching and preparing for as a single woman. Whether or not I get married is irrelevant, I am looking to enjoy the tax breaks because as I was advised by my accountant my income was approaching the point where I needed to have a child or own a home because my taxes were getting too high. A spouse was not a requirement for either.

  42. Evangeline
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 01:08:11

    @Sunita: “As someone who was determined to make enough to be financially independent since my teen years, it was always striking to me, because these were often children of divorce, where they had seen uncertainty up close. ”

    I can answer that. It’s because I’ve seen uncertainty up close that even now I sometimes wish I didn’t have to deal with the struggle of earning and budgeting money, and that a wealthy man would sweep me off my feet (though, oddly enough, this isn’t my fantasy in romance–reading or writing ;D). Money issues in adulthood frequently seem like an extension of the money issues of my childhood.

  43. Mara
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 13:36:06

    @Sunita:

    I’m sorry you were yelled at on Twitter. I wish people weren’t so quick to assume the worst motives behind someone’s differing opinion. I don’t like splashy weddings, either (which is why I eloped) and an entire novel centered around planning a wedding would have me DNFing very quickly.
    I don’t know if the new burst of domestic m/m is a reflection of the rights being won by gay men and women, but I’d take it as a positive development and not something objectionable, that some m/m romance can be so closely aligned, plot point wise, with m/f romance. The process of meeting–>falling in love–>marrying is only natural, I guess, and I think it’s a positive direction for gay romance, even if I’d rather read less conventional endings, myself.

  44. cleo
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 14:22:14

    @Sunita: I’ve been thinking about m/m romances with financial power issues. I thought of Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton, where one hero is independently wealthy and the other is an upper middle class accountant. The idea of living off of Cole’s money really bothers Jonathon.

    And there are a couple books where the heroes work together that the difference in position and money are issues – Carol of the Bellskis by Astrid Amara and Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow. But it’s odd to me that there aren’t more. Especially given how many there are with a relatively big age difference, with the younger hero in his early 20s.

  45. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Licked by linkity
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 08:32:46

    […] “Heteronormativity and the white picket fence“. […]

  46. Sunita
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 19:44:04

    @Evangeline: It’s interesting how the responses to uncertainty can go two way: determine to control your future through your own income, or determine to choose someone who will do a lot to help you get there. And maybe the fantasy choices are inversely correlated; I read tons of books about women who don’t want careers outside the home. ;)

    @Nikki: It’s definitely privileging the marriage partnership over other types of partnerships (personal and not so personal). And it absolutely makes sense to buy a house in the US given the tax incentives, I just wish that there was more acknowledgment that you can have a happy life without owning your particular castle. Romance novels aren’t alone in this attitude by any means.

  47. Sunita
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 19:49:39

    @Mara: Eh, that’s Twitter, though, where total strangers can judge you based on 140 characters. I’m sure I’ve done it too! I think that domestic m/m (great term, BTW) predates the big gains of the recent past, but it definitely comes from authors’ desire to redress in fiction the unfairness in real life. I sympathize with that, I just don’t want it dominating the contemporary m/m subgenre the way it dominates m/f.

    @cleo: I haven’t read the Sexton, but I have read the other two you mention and thanks for the reminder. Some of KA Mitchell’s books also deal with this issue in varied ways.

%d bloggers like this: