Apart from the hardly surprising presupposed hegemonic assumption of heterosexuality in most of the data, I would like to provide some illustrations (by no means exhaustive) of how hegemonic heterosexuality is constructed and how it is dealt with in relation to non-hegemonic constructs of masculinity. Each of the texts takes a different slant, with Playboy presupposing a stereotypical crude and rampant masculine sexuality, self-pronounced ‘women respecting’ and appearance conscious Status dealing with the tensions of nevertheless having to assert a marketable ‘masculinity’, and Nitro breaking the general taboo on homosexuality in men’s magazines (cf. Benwell, 2003a: 18), but only to exorcise it through humour and exaggeration. Interestingly, whereas heterosexuality is linked to attraction, desire and sex, homosexuality is only constructed as (mainly) sex-unrelated lifestyle choices (in a form of ‘de-sexualising sexuality’ reverse to the heteronormative sexualisation of gender indexes mentioned by Connell), which, in my view, is yet another form of suppression through the tensions between hegemonic and ‘progressive’ elements in the data. At the same time, the ‘lifestyle’ perception of male homosexuality and its representation in contrast to heterosexuality can also be seen as a strategy for the promotion of consumerism and reflexivity, stereotypically associated with femininity, yet another tension to be dealt with.
Bucholtz and Hall define sexuality as ‘the systems of mutually constituted ideologies, practices, and identities that give socio-political meaning to the body as an eroticized and/or reproductive site’ (2004: 470, my emphasis). ‘Mutually constituted’ is key here in recognising that ideologies, practices (including sexual and also discursive practices), and identities influence each other, both in how we perceive ourselves and the others and how we act in any given social context. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the issues arising from using ‘identity’ as an analytical category (but see Valentine, 2008) – we may or may not want to focus more on the notion of ‘desire’ (see Cameron and Kulick, 2003a; 2003b). My take here is that whatever definition of sexuality we adopt, it is incomplete if we ignore ‘desire’ as part of it - indeed Koller, for example, aligning herself with Bucholtz and Hall’s definition, suggests that ‘to this it could be added that sexuality also encompasses desire and, potentially, sexual practice’ (2008: 17). At the same time, as I hope to show in my analysis, whereas we may question whether ‘identity’ is a relatively stable but flexible entity, or relatively fluid, or whether such a thing exists at all (replacing the notion with ‘acts of identification’ – see Brubaker and Cooper, 2000; Canakis, 2008; Valentine, 2008), in ‘commonsense’ understandings of gender and sexuality certain constructs are still perceived, talked about and represented as group identities. I argue that the inclusion or exclusion of sexualities, and specifically of desires and sexual practices in the discursive representations of gender is ideological (as well as the way they are represented when they are included), and thus of importance when it comes to struggles for equality, on the one hand, and the preservation of the hegemonic status quo on the other.
In critically analysing discourse then we may not be able to ‘read off’ actual practices and identities from the texts, but we can try to reveal underlying ideologies about gender and sexuality which, as pointed out above, may partly reflect and/or influence both the readers’ own practices but also their attitudes and behaviour towards ‘other’ groups. I am taking van Dijk’s definition of ideology as my starting point, namely that ideologies are clusters of socially shared factual beliefs (knowledge) and evaluative beliefs (attitudes) and thus parts of social cognition (van Dijk, 1998; 2003). What