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Heterosociality describes social relations with persons of the opposite sex or a preference for such relations, often excluding relationships of a romantic and sexual nature the opposite being homosociality.
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The term heterosocial can refer to either:
- an individual who prefers to befriend or socialise with the opposite sex, as opposed to homosocial (preferring same-sex social relations) or bisocial (enjoying social relations with both sexes)
- a social relationship between two people who are of different sexes, as opposed to homosocial (of the same sex).
Whether the term can be applied to groups of three or more people has been disputed. One possible argument is that such a group is homosocial if composed of people of a single sex, and bisocial if composed of people of both sexes, since in the latter case each member will be interacting with people of both sexes. On the other hand, Collins English Dictionary defines heterosocial as "relating to or denoting mixed-sex social relationships", without specification of whether it applies to relationships between two people or among larger groups, suggesting that the term can describe social interactions involving people of both sexes more generally.
The pervasiveness of heterosociality in (post-)modern life can lead to the obscuring of its social construction as a late development in human history. Writing of early society, Freud considered that there was "an unmistakable tendency to keep the sexes apart. Women live with women, men with men". Durkheim associated sexual totemism, binding men and women into two separate totemic corporations, with such a social division of the sexes. Even in the twentieth century, rules of etiquette in some traditional villages dictated that men and women do not greet each other when passing in public.
Urbanization and modernization have seen a gradual erosion of the barriers to male/female socialising, not without significant culture wars along the way over each particular new arena. Thus for example part of the hostility to the Elizabethan theatre lay in the fact that men and women freely intermingled in its audience; while dance halls and cabarets later offered similarly controversial new areas for heterosocial interaction, as too did amusement parks.
Impact on feminism
The 20th century opening up of the public sphere to women - work, politics, culture, education - both fuelled, and was fed by, the feminist movement; but the increase in heterosociality which accompanied it was seen as double-edged by many feminists. On the one hand, it served to undercut older feminist homosocial bonds and support systems; on the other, it split the new feminist movement, as calls for separatist feminism challenged heterosociality, let alone heterosexuality, in ways many found unacceptable.
Post-feminism has generally accepted heterosociality, along with a new strategy of gender mainstreaming, but not without reservations as to the exploitative aspects of (for example) raunch culture within the new 21st century public gender regime.
Different societies and different subcultures place varying restrictions upon adolescent heterosocial roles and opportunities. American teen culture in particular has been seen as aggressively promoting heterosocialty over homosociality - something which paradoxically may foster, rather than attenuate gender divides.
The advancement of culture was seen by Henry James as linked to heterosociality. Similarly, Kenneth Clark saw the flourishing of 18th-century French culture as rooted in the heterosociality of the salon.
- Postfeminist criticism of Buffy Summers as powerful female role model has centred on the heterosocial nature of her particular universe of social networks. Cross-sex relationships play a predominant part in the Buffy world, foreclosing more politicised readings from a feminist viewpoint.
- Virginia Woolf wrote an early essay on the pleasures of heterosociality - of finding "much to say to each other which neither would say to a person of the same sex". The Bloomsbury group as a whole can be seen as a heterosocial construct, formed in opposition to the more segregated sexual worlds of the late nineteenth century.
- Beere, Carole A. (1990). Sex and Gender Issues: A Handbook of Tests and Measures. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-27462-2.
- Ben Singer, Melodrama and Modernity (2001) p. 21
- Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 271
- Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1971) p. 165-6
- Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1971) p. 122
- Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World (2005) p. 186
- Mark P. Holt, Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History (2006) p. 152
- Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements (1987) p. 136
- N. Naghibi, Rethinking Global Sisterhood (2007) p. 110
- Jennifer Craig, The Face of Fashion (1994) p. 178
- Susan Layleff, Wash and be Healed (1991) p. 162
- Sylvia Walby, The Future of Feminism (2011) p. 3
- Walby, p. 20 and p. 88
- R. J. R. Levesque, Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011) p. 1302
- Levesque, p. 1297-9
- Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1972) p. 269-70
- R. Wilson/D. Lavery, Fighting the Forces (2002) p. 49-51
- Beverly Havilland, Henry James's Last Romance (1997) p. 168
- Kenneth Clark, Civilisation (1969) p. 251-8
- Lorna Jowett, Sex and The Slayer (2005) p. 50
- Wilcox, p. 49 and p. 60
- Quoted in Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (1996) p. 248
- Lee, p. 161 and p. 266
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