Husbands Resting Area: Heteronormativity and Shopping

Photo by Maria Heyaca.

This image stands as a cheeky but clever piece of visual sociology on the social construction of gender: wives shop while husbands rest away from their company. Conversely, husbands do not enjoy shopping. I also see that this photo belongs in the rubric of my beloved sociology of the mundane: shopping is not simply a boring, routine leisure activity, it is a way of doing gender. Women/wives live out or “do” femininity by shopping; while men/husbands do masculinity by not shopping. 

The gender-appropriate activities we choose to participate in, as well as the activities that we opt out of, are socially prescribed. Steering away from these gender-appropriate scripts that society expects of us can mark people out as being abnormal, or worthy of ridicule. Husbands provide women the funds for shopping and they should be rewarded with solitude – but men who enjoy shopping must not be “good” men.

The sign is an example of heteronormativity: the heterosexuality of the public assumed to inform only one reading of the activity of shopping. The shop appears to display glittery bangles, bracelets and necklaces which are items that Western culture associates with “women”. Husbands are men. Men don’t like this type of jewellery. In other cultures around the world, such as in various Central Asian societies, men wear a lot of coloured and glittery jewellery, sometimes as a sign of status or wealth. In some sub-cultures within Western societies, men wear various pieces of chunky jewellery, but often such pieces signal strength or character or the aesthetics of belonging, such as with some elements of rap culture. In other cases, men wear jewellery as a counter-hegemonic expression of identity, such as with some queer men. In other cases still, bracelets and necklaces are symbols of counter-culture or rejection of the mainstream, such as with goth sub-cultures.

The sign captured by this photo is meant as a joke, but the punchline works because it rests on the heteronormative presumption that there is only one way of being a husband – by rejecting women’s activities, like shopping.

There’s more to be drawn from this photo about the interplay between consumer culture, class and gender, but I’ll leave it to your sociological imaginations to take it further!

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