Negotiations of power take place in all relationships. In heterosexual relationships, men often take the ‘dominant’ role whereas women take the ‘submissive’ role. However, what happens when the relationship involves two gay men? Sunita writes for Dear Author.
If I hear one more time that readers turn to the m/m genre because it is free of “gendered power relationships,” I will throw a large heavy object across the room. The worst thing about this statement is that it is often made by intelligent people who seem to have some familiarity with feminism and gender theory. If they were in class on the day that the professor lectured about how male roles are also structured by gender assumptions and patriarchy, they seem to have forgotten it. Gender is not just about women. Gender is about everyone.
I apologize to readers who know this very well already, but just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the World Health Organizations’s definition:
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
In a heterosexual romance, the ways the hero and heroine behave are conditioned on how the author chooses to portray these socially constructed roles. The heroine may act in ways that reinforce “traditional” gender norms, or she may rebel against them. An Alpha hero is considered to embody “traditional” gender norms of masculinity, while a Beta hero, while still masculine, will be less “manly” in a stereotypical way.
In an m/m romance, the substitution of the heroine with a second hero does not mean that gendered power relationships disappear. It means that we now have two protagonists whose socially constructed roles are drawn from the same side of the gender binary rather than one each from opposite sides.
Yes, the male-female power dynamic, which is structured by social expectations and patriarchy, is absent. But now we have a male-male power dynamic that is structured by social expectations and patriarchy. What are some possible ramifications of that? A short paper prepared by a social work professional offers a few:
Some problems within gay male relationships reflect the deficits inherent in the male gender role:
- Some men have learned to be husbands who strive for competition for power and differentiation.
- Some men are socialized to equate their value as a person with the power, prestige, and income of their work, and to see other men, at best, as worthy competitors and, at worst, as the enemy in this game of status and power.
- Neither man in the relationship may be aware of how he is communicating either excess value or devaluation to his partner and himself based upon income and status criteria.
- Power plays (subtle, obvious) will get acted out if not talked about, mainly through competition and negotiating tasks, duties, household, & finances.
- Some men have been raised to be in control (of self and other). Thus, they will tell the other person in the relationship other what he should feel/think/be/do.
These attitudes and behaviors are part of being socialized as a male, regardless of sexual orientation (and that socialization begins at birth for most people). Not all men exhibit these attributes, of course, because response to socialization is conditioned on the individual. And gay men may fight certain aspects of gender conditioning more than straight men do. But gay men grow up in the same gendered world as straight men, women, and everyone else.
Featured Image: Mark S. King