Introducing Bambanani Gwedla

Written by Bambanani Gwedla

Growing up, I always had a passion and desire for helping others and using my knowledge to be of service to others. Enrolling and completing a BA degree in Social sciences at the University of Johannesburg fueled this long childhood dream of mine. More than that, it opened my eyes to different ways of understanding the challenges that our society faces and different ways of relating to people.

From early on in my university career, I would get particularly excited whenever I attended a module with a gender component. I felt particularly strongly affiliated with topics discussed in these lectures. Within the social sciences, I soon found my area of interest: gender and feminist studies.

During my Honours degree in Industrial Sociology, I delved deeper into gender and feminist studies in my honours research project. In this project, I looked at the attitudes that students have towards family planning, and by the time I had completed my research project, I was more than convinced that gender was the area I wanted to focus on! My research interest in gender continues in my Master’s research dissertation, where I will explore another area of gender. I will be looking at gender within spaces and how gender and space work together. More specifically I am interested in gender norms and gender dynamics and whether these have changed or have been impacted by the move to the virtual learning space as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In short, being part of the fruSTRAIGHTingthenorm team was an opportunity I could not miss! The project both aligned with my career aspirations as well as my ambition to help improve the world. The fruSTRAIGHTingthenorm project is one way in which I challenge the issues that our society faces and have made a norm regarding gender, sexuality and sex. I also see it as a learning opportunity for myself as I gain knowledge from experts in the field of heteronormativity, gender and sexuality and work towards fruSTRAIGHTingthenorms regarding heteronormativity in South Africa.

Introduction to Celene Coleman

Written by Celene Coleman

I am honoured to be a part of this team researching and challenging heteronormativity in South Africa, early in my career. I obtained my Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology, BA honours in Sociology and am currently working on my MA in Sociology (RD), all at the University of Johannesburg. In my undergraduate studies my research focused on the perceptions of female bus drivers. During my honours I explored how social media is used to gain an understanding of current affairs. My MA research focusses on students’ perceptions of menstruation at the University of Johannesburg.

During my honours year, I had the privilege to worked closely with Dr Smuts as her intern. Through her expertise and research I was introduced to the world of heteronormativity and sexuality. I soon gained a keen interest into the field of sexuality and feminist studies. Studying heteronormativity aligns with my interests of researching areas which I feel are undergoing change, or are in need of change within society.

I am very excited to be working with such a diverse team and the broad array of knowledge I will be able to gain from the interaction. I look forward to growing as a researcher and young academic and am confident that the lessons I will learn throughout this research will help me grow in my sociological career.

What is Heteronormativity? And why should we care?

By Letitia Smuts

What is heteronormativity?

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality (the physical attraction between a man and a woman) is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. This creates a hierarchal norm that privileges heterosexuality and constructs any type of sexuality that falls outside of this norm as deviant. More so, it is the idea that there are only two sexes and genders, which comes with certain restrictive expectations on how to look and behave.

This project is interested in ways to deconstruct the norm, smash gender binaries, and rewrite the normative sexual script.

When does something become the norm?

When the majority says so. When a group of individuals take ownership of the script and force it on all people.

Why is it problematic to talk about norms and ‘the normal’?

Because it excludes any individuals that do not fall within said norm. The thing about exclusion is that it purposively (and often violently) prohibits certain people from being themselves in different social spaces, loving who they want to love, and expressing said love in public for all to see.

Why is it important to frustrate and disrupt the norm?

Because if we want a transformed and progressive society, where everyone’s gendered and sexual preferences are celebrated – rather than ridiculed – we need to actively build towards such a society.  

Is it possible?

We think so. And, we will continue raising pertinent issues that challenge heteronormative and gender normative views to make this a better South Africa for all.

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common” – Dorothy Parker

If you want to hear more on this topic, please check out Dr Smuts’ presentation titled: ‘Heteronormativity: What is it & why should we care?’ presented on 24 March 2021 at the UJ Wednesday Seminar.