What is heteropessimism?


  • Heteropessimism can be defined as public declarations of dissatisfaction with heterosexual relationships, by people who continue to be in those relationships.

About heteropessimism

  • The term was coined in 2019 by American gender theorist Asa Seresin, who described it thus: “Heteropessimism consists of performative disaffiliations with heterosexuality, usually expressed in the form of regret, embarrassment, or hopelessness about straight experience… That these disaffiliations are “performative” does not mean that they are insincere but rather that they are rarely accompanied by the actual abandonment of heterosexuality.”

    What is heteropessimism?
    Source: NCRB Report
  • In India, it is easy to dismiss “disaffiliations with the straight experience” as social media antics by a very small, privileged, ‘woke’ minority. And yet, heteropessimism has causes and effects that are relevant beyond those who practise it consciously.
  • A recent example of heteropessimism in India is men trending #MarriageStrike on Twitter when the Delhi HC was hearing a plea to criminalise marital rape.

What causes heteropessimism

  • Put very simply, the realisation for heterosexual people that dating is really hard (and in many cases, violent or even fatal), and the hard-won prize of marriage is not what it was touted to be, can lead to disillusionment from romantic relationships.
  • Here, the disillusionment works at two levels – the simple realisation that the first flush of romance does not last, and the deeper, structural problems of heterosexual relationships, which stem from patriarchy, gender inequality, an unfair burden of housework on women, and the pressure of ‘provider and protector’ roles on men.
  • In this respect, heteropessimism serves as anesthesia – it numbs you to the actual pain of unfulfilling relationships.

But how many are actually feeling this?

  • On social media, heteropessimism is consciously expressed by a small, liberal, and in the American context, White minority. However, that is not as much a marker of how pervasive the experience is as of how little heterosexuality, or any dominant identity, is studied.

The factors causing heteropessimism

  • Heteropessimism has been caused and shaped by larger social, economic and political currents.
  • Traditionally, marriage was between the “provider” and the “homemaker”. While more women are economically independent, our social conditioning remains rooted in these traditional roles. Thus, girls taught to expect Prince Charmings and knights in shining armour are disappointed, angry women, while boys raised to expect an angel in the house who worked like an army of little elves are angry, aggrieved men.
  • In a capitalist culture, the ‘couple’ was the ideal spending unit who bought property, raised children, and splurged on consumer goods. Now, with both men and women earning and property prices prohibitive, the ‘disillusioned single’ is the great consumer, who bemoans relationships and spends money to feel better.
  • To a more limited degree, in a world with deepening polarisation, positions on all kinds of issues can depend on which political side you are on. Thus, to some, heterosexual relationships can feel like a flat experience — hard work, only to sustain an old, exploitative system – as opposed to other more egalitarian, boundary-pushing bonds.

Dangers of giving in to heteropessimism

  • The disillusionment of heteropessimism can take the form of apathy or disavowal, where you drift along your disappointed life with the help of jokes, memes and rants about heterosexuality, instead of walking away from it or taking steps to fix it.
  • While the issues in heterosexual relationships are very real and societal, heteropessimism makes it about the individual’s experience of and reaction to romantic relationships, thus not meriting organised examination and action.
  • The dangers in this are obvious — the problems of heterosexual bonds, such as misogyny, inequality, domestic violence, have consequences beyond relationships and need urgent attention.

Reference: IE

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