“Normative” – meaning as used in social justice

We see the words …

  • heteronormative
  • cisnormative
  • amatonormative
  • etc

What does “normative” mean? This word combines two things:

  • The root word, “norm.”
  • The suffix -ative, meaning “tending to.”

So “normative” means tending to the norm.

What norm? Cultural norm. What is a cultural norm?

The definition of cultural norm:

Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society. – Cultural Norms: Do they Matter? @ http://www.globalcognition.org/cultural-norms/

Before I continue any further, see the word “cultural?” This word combines two things:

  • The root word, “culture”
  • The suffix -al, meaning “of or relating to.”

So, standards we live by that are related to the culture(s) we live in. That’s what cultural norms are. But what does culture mean?

Broadly, social heritage of a group (organized community or society). It is a pattern of responses discovered, developed, or invented during the group’s history of handling problems which arise from interactions among its members, and between them and their environment. These responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think, and act, and are passed on to the new members through immersion and teaching. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behavior, dress, and language. What is culture? http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/culture.html

So, let’s sum up everything so far that I’ve written:

Standards in a culture – cultural norms – exist in context of how a cultural group handles problems. These standards are determined to solve problems within members or between them and the environment, and they are perpetuated through immersion and teaching. Because these standards solve those aforementioned problems, they are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think, and act. Standards – cultural norms – are one part of a culture, which also includes all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, values, attitudes, behavior, dress and language.

But Kylie, what’s wrong with cultural norms? Why do we have heteronormative, cisnormative, etc if  your summary says that problems were solved through heteronormativity, cisnormativity, etc?

Nothing is wrong inherently with cultural norms! The problem with heteronormativity, cisnormativity, and the like is that they are oppressive. In context of this Western White supremacist capitalist abled cisheteronormative patriarchy, all people are exposed to oppressive cultural norms that harm Black people, Indigenous people, other people of color, non-Western people, non-monied people, disabled people, queer and trans people and non-men.

When a cultural norm is combined with prejudice and power to impose these prejudices systematically, that is where they can be harmful. Hence heteronormativity, cisnormativity, amatonormativity, etc.