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  • Normativity refers to the fact that some actions, attitudes, or mental states are seen as justified, a state that people ought to be in.
  • Normative practices include relationship structures, gender expression, choice of activities, task distribution, etc.
  • Suppressing non-normative genders/sexualities/relationship structures was a tool for colonialist endeavours.
  • People falling under the non-normative umbrella don’t have access to the same privileges and safety as normative people do.


Every society guides itself by certain values, attitudes, and mentalities in order to create a conventional mindset and perception. These practices are split into normative practices, the kind that are normalised and perceived as part of everyday life, and non-normative practices, the ones that are perceived as unusual, sometimes even weird, or wrong. Geographical settings, religion, and cultural and social background are all factors that influence what is perceived as normative and what not.

6.3.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC Normative practices

Normativity refers to the fact that some actions, attitudes, or mental states are seen as justified, a state that people ought to be in (Normative and non-normative influences, 2022). Normative practices represent the practices that are thought to fit inside of that normativity, while leaving everything else that does not fit to the criteria, on the outside. The concept of normativity can often be related to ethics, making people perceive certain behaviours more ethical because they fit into the norms and criteria that are considered to be justified. A good example for a normative practice and attitude is how people perceive heterosexuality. Because it fits into the categories that people placed into the box of normativity, being heterosexual is perceived as a given, as the “normal”, while having any other sexuality is considered outside of the norm, while having a stigma attached to it because non-heterosexual people could not fulfil the criteria of being labelled as normative.

Another example would be the perception of neurodivergent people. Neurodivergence is the different development or functioning of the brain, placing people with any type of different development outside of the norm and normative practices. Often the needs of neurodivergent people are not being considered because they are expected to adapt to the normative practices and attitudes. Heteronormativity

Heteronormativity is the concept that describes heterosexuality as the norm in our society. It assumes everyone’s heterosexuality as a given on the gender binary (man or woman). It is also associated with ethical concepts, wrongful behaviour, virtue, and well-being (Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, n.d.). This assumption also comes with expectations related to people’s gender expression, task distribution (care work, tasks at work, manly vs womanly hobbies etc.), social position, etc.

Our media consumption is shaping the way we look at the world, making us perceive it in a heteronormative way. This heteronormativity is so deeply embedded in us and became part of what we perceive as the norm that we hardly ever question the practices, attitudes and mentality that we are following.

A good example for this is the media representation. In most of our stories, films, series, social media channels and children’s books a heterosexual orientation is depicted. Princes marry only princesses and children almost always have a mother and a father. We see heterosexuality as ‘the norm’ and heterosexual people are considered ‘straight’.

We hardly ever stop and question why certain practices, such as care work is attributed to women or why we assume that women are often helpless or more vulnerable without the presence of a man. While everything is rooted into colonial history and our cultural background, it is time to start questioning the assumptions we took as a given, instead of following them for the sake of social convention.

You can read more about heteronormativity on the topic 2.3. Representation

Normative mentality affects everyone that does not fall into the normalised behavioural patterns. This includes people who do not fall into the gender binary, normative sexuality and sexual/romantic practices, monogamous relationships and/or lifestyle, people whose gender expression is not the same as their gender identity, etc.

By perpetuating normative mentality and assumptions, the identity of people who do not fall into normativity is being erased. This can happen every time when a heteronormative assumption is being made. For example, the assumption that women wear skirts vs men wear pants erases non normativity because what it does is to:

There are lots of different sexual orientations, ways to express your gender or ways to customize your relationships. Assumptions and misconceptions only spread and fuel misinformation. Privilege and Safety of Normativity

A privilege is a special right, advantage, or benefit of a restricted group of people to the detriment of the rest of the society. Although no-one can choose their privileges, what they can do is to acknowledge them instead of pretending that they are not there. Being aware of your privileges is a way to stop perpetuating them and to contribute towards a more gender equal world.

Here are some privileges that can be taken for granted and that we should be aware of if we want to live in a more just and equal world:

  • Privilege of not coming out

Coming out is the process of disclosing any other type of sexuality that is not part of the norm. People inside of the LGBTQ+ community usually have to go through this process, by discovering, accepting, and sharing their sexuality. More often than not, this includes mentally and physically dangerous situations, depending on the geographical zone, religious and cultural background, social norms, and a lot of other factors that they have no influence over. Through the process of coming out, people put themselves in a vulnerable position, having to disclose personal information without having any guarantee about a positive result of the process. While some people can be accepting and open minded about it, others can react by distancing themselves from the person, isolating them or mentally and physically abusing them.

Sometimes, people inside of the LGBTQ+ community choose to hide their sexuality or identity for their families and/or friends for their own safety, while heterosexual people do not have to go through any part of this process.

You can read more about coming out on the topic 1.1.

  • Privilege of being affectionate with your partner in public

Being affectionate with your partner in public spaces is a privilege that is usually overseen by heterosexual people. People who are not heterosexual or practice any non-normative practices do not have the luxury of showing affection towards their partner(s) in public space without risking their emotional or physical safety. Depending on the place where this is happening, religion and cultural background can play an extremely important role when it comes to censorship of behaviour.

  • Privilege of sharing important moments with your partner(s)

Whether it is because of their sexuality or their relationship style or any other practice, non-normative people do not benefit from sharing important moments with their partners in the same way that normative people do. For example, people who are polyamorous (have multiple relationships), people who are not open about their sexuality or people whose sexuality was not accepted by friends and/or family, do not have the privilege to have their partners by their side during important moments in their life if those events take place in public spaces (graduation ceremonies, celebrations, birthdays, etc.).

  • Privilege of being able to openly talk about your relationship

Talking about your relationships and romantic/sexual partners can be a privilege if you are not open about your sexuality or your relationship style. People practicing non-monogamous relationships or having a different sexuality (or being asexual/aromantic) may sometimes be left out of these conversations. This can be connected to the fear of not being accepted, being labelled and/or isolated or being in environments that put your health (both mental and physical) at risk.

  • Privilege of feeling represented and having role models

When most of the content that we consume aligns with the values of heteronormativity, it is easier for heterosexual people to find role models and people they can relate to. On the other hand, queer people, and people inside of the LGBTQ+ community have a more difficult time in feeling represented, seeing characters in movies and/or books that they can relate to or even knowing people that have the same believes or lifestyle. This can lead to them distancing themselves or believing that something might be wrong with them because they can hardly see anyone that is like them. Whether it is about gender identity, sexuality, gender expression, relationship style or any other non-normative practice, representation plays an important role in how that specific practice or attitude is perceived.

Taking this into account, wrongful or distorted representation contributes to the perpetuation of stereotypes and misconceptions, facilitating the spread of misinformation. For example, this can happen when LGBTQ+ characters are represented in a stereotypical way in movies (and by heterosexual people, instead of having someone who identifies as the character to represent them).

  • Privilege of having access to information and resources

When learning about yourself, your identity, sexuality, and romantic/sexual relationships, having access to information and having resources you can choose from contributes a lot in your growth process. Most of the resources available are being interpreted from a heterosexual perspective (Sumara, 1999). Often people who do not fall into the normative category do not have the same access to information or as many resources that they can choose from. An example for this can be the representation of building healthy non-monogamous relationships or learning about sexual pleasure and sex education as a female or as a queer person. Having a harder time in finding reliable information sources can slow the learning process and expose people and put their mental and physical wellbeing in danger.

Apart from contributing to a lifestyle that does not face the challenges listed above, normativity also offers safety. If a behaviour or attitude fits inside of the norms, the safety of the person is not in danger. This is why it is really important to acknowledge that this safety (i.e., mental, emotional, physical) is not a given for non-normative people. Often non-normative people have to choose between safety and being themselves, which is why normalising non-normative practices and attitudes is a valuable step towards achieving equality.


S. and R. are 15-year-old twins going on a school trip together. S. is heterosexual while R is exploring their sexuality. After trying to talk to one of their parents about their sexuality, R. was told that they are confused and that it will pass if they focus on being attracted to the opposite gender (inside of the normative gender binary that rejects other genders). When going on the trip, S. had the chance to explore a connection they felt with one of their classmates and to openly talk about their crush while R. felt ashamed to share any of that information.

Being shamed for feeling a certain way can never have a positive result over somebody. The most likely result would be in them hiding their feelings and experiences, being left out of conversations and sometimes even being isolated.

What you could do instead would be to try to have an open mind and a clear communication with the child/teen. If you need more information on the topic, you can always take advantage of the resources or experts in the field that can help you understand more. Try to reassure the child/teen that nothing is wrong with them for feeling like they do not fit inside of the conventional norms and that diversity and exploration are things that should be encouraged, not feared.

6.3.4. BEST PRACTICES Ask instead of making assumptions

When talking to someone, try to avoid making assumptions related to their gender, sexuality, preference of relationship type, religious background, pronouns, etc. Just because someone seems to check some criteria that you are used to associate with a certain label (for example if they look feminine, their gender must be female and their sexuality heterosexual), does not mean that they identify with it. By assuming these things about them, you are only perpetuating the heteronormative mentality and erasing their identities by not recognizing them and giving them space to exist. Be inclusive in your language and behaviour

  • Keep an open mind to diversity of any kind (sexual, gender, relationships, etc.).
  • Use gender neutral language.
  • Use varied examples in conversations that are not tied to heteronormativity.
  • Try to think about making conversation topics and games inclusive for everyone (neurodivergent people, queer people, etc.).
  • Ask for people’s pronouns. The privilege flower/The power flower (Edactivism: The power flower)

TRIGGER WARNING: This activity might be triggering for people lacking privileges and might also trigger privilege guilt. Be aware of it and be prepared to offer support.

The privilege flower is an activity that illustrates privileges, power, and oppression inside of society. It is a way of reflecting on one’s own privileges.

It consists in asking participants/students to draw a flower with 8 or more petals, each petal displaying a category related to privilege (chosen by you). Some of these categories can be age, race, ability, gender, biological sex, sexual orientation, country of residence, education, religion/spirituality, language, socioeconomic status, etc. Additionally, they can choose to also leave some petals blank in case they would like to add other categories. After writing the categories down, each person has to write the answers that correspond to them (for example their age, the languages they speak, their gender etc.). The last step of the activity is for everyone to colour the petals up to the amount they feel their answer if offering them a privilege. For example, in the petal of ability, if you have an abled body, you should colour the whole petal and that represents that you have a privilege that people with disabilities do not have. You do this with every petal and when you finish you can take a few moments to process and acknowledge what happened during the exercise and the emotions you might have felt.

Disclosure: This activity does not have a purpose to shame, guilt or blame people for their privileges. However, its purpose is to help people reflect and understand the privileges they have and which they might have taken for granted so far.


Normative and Non-normative Influences (2022). Study.com. Retrieved from https://study.com/learn/lesson/non-normative-life-events-overview-types-examples.html.

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (n.d.). Normativity. Retrieved from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/normativity/v-1.

Sumara, D., & Davis, B. (1999). Interrupting Heteronormativity: Toward a Queer Curriculum Theory. Curriculum Inquiry, 29(2), 191–208. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/0362-6784.00121.

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