Author: Tj Chiang, Drew University
Contributing Author: Zach Leezer, University of Illinois at Chicago
I am a constant user of the expression, ‘aww’. Why do people go ‘aww’ at certain cute things, but not others? For example, people go “aww” at the sight of gay couples holding hands or showing other types of public display of affection (PDA). However, we don’t go ‘aww’ if we see straight couples that are doing the same things.
This question bugged me for a long time after I watched a TED Talk called the “Commodification of Gay Men”, a passerby gasped and called the unnamed speaker and his boyfriend ‘cute’, as if she hadn’t seen love and affection in a million years! However, with reasonable certainty, a straight couple wouldn’t elicit the same type of reaction. Is it because we actually find the PDA cute and admirable or is it because of societal norms indirectly tells as that it’s the norm to do so? Zach and I will argue it’s a combination of both. Indeed, we do find it admirable that homosexuals are proud of who they are and that it is seemingly the norm to say ‘aww’ or ‘that’s so cute’ at the sight of a gay couple.
Zach believes that gay couples elicit these said reactions because “a gay couple is out of the ordinary.” However, straight couples don’t elicit these said expressions because “they’re so common.” Furthermore, he argues that our different reactions could be attributed to “the courage it takes to be a gay couple in public (due to lingering homophobia and prejudice), so we think it’s cute that a gay couple’s love endures no matter what anyone else thinks.” I would agree with this; we as a society do tend to have a stronger reaction toward things that are out of the ordinary. That is a similar response Professor Bonn of Drew University noted on the topic of accidents. According to Bonn, we tend to be fascinated with accidents because they don’t happen very often; they are very rare.
However, that leaves the question why does this reaction persist and could be considered commonplace in our society? I would argue that for some people, the societal norm is to say ‘aww’ or ‘that’s so cute’ when they see a gay couple. They see others around them doing it (their families, the media, and their friends) so they think it’s acceptable and expected to say ‘aww’ to a gay couple. It is similar to the phrase, doggy see, and doggy do. We learn from others and we do what we see.