I get excited over this concept. It was my friend Carla Douglas who first introduced me to it, and it stuck with me, so I decided to write a blog about it to spread knowledge of what it is.
Part of my excitement has to do with the fact that it sounds incredibly science-fiction – ‘chrononormativity’ sounds like a normalised state of time when time can be manipulated. Very Time Lord-y. “I cannot change the situation, it’s a Fixed Point in Time, changing the situation would upset the chrononormativity of the neutron flow!” – something like that.
It isn’t that, of course, because I am not in physics research, and chrononormativity is not a fictional concept.
Those of you familiar with concepts like ‘heteronormativity’ know where this is going.
A normative state is a state of being which is the norm in society, a constructed norm of course, a state of being following the dominant ‘norms’ of a society or a group.
Heteronormativity, for instance, is the assumption that a ‘normal’ (in the sense of following social norms, not per se ‘normal’ in the common meaning of the word) relationship is heterosexual, and that gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer/asexual/etc relationships are non-‘normal’, that is, deviations from the heterosexual norm (and thus identified as such – in terms of “how are such relationships different from heterosexual relationships?”) rather than relationships with independent statuses (in terms of, “what is this [just the one, really, because otherwise you'd be imposing norms still] relationship like?”) (Heteronormativity is a lot more than that, too, but that would require a separate post).
Chrononormativity indicates normative states with regard to time (the Greek word for which is, as you may guess, chronos). I suppose technically speaking chrononormativity could be applied to physics, in terms of relativity – the way we experience time here on Earth, travelling at non-lightspeed, is the norm against which the “slower time” of travelling at near-lightspeed is measured.
Chrononormativity is the concept of the social expectations of the things you are supposed to do at a certain point in time.
Chrononormativity from a macro point of view is what makes Spotify play ads to me about going travelling to party places, and about popular music, and about babies – because I am linked to Spotify through my facebook account, on which I am registered as a 23-year-old female, and of course ALL 23-year-old females care about pop music and parties, and/or babies. This is a massive generalisation on the part of advertisers, based on the social norm that 23-year-old females are into partying and/or babies. (see also the opening paragraph of this Guardian article, which marks perfectly what chrononormativity is)
A while back I was reading the biography of Patrick Troughton and I was somewhat astonished to read that at the age of 23, he was off fighting in World War II, and getting married, and all those sorts of things. Of course, back in the 1940s – especially during a time of war – this was a completely ‘normal’ age to get married at (and fighting in wars at relatively young ages has unfortunately throughout history been relatively ‘normal’ for men). Norms have shifted since – the average age of first marriage has risen to about 30 in the UK (and many people aren’t getting married at all nowadays), and since Western Europe has been experiencing a rather long stretch of relative peace, going off to fight wars at any age hasn’t been the norm for a while now.
My astonishment in itself over doing such things at the age of 23 is relatively indicative of shifting norms when it comes to doing things at certain ages. In fact, it was also this astonishment that caused some problems when I posted about it on facebook. Due to poor phrasing on my part, some of my facebook friends who have gotten married before or around the age of 23, or who are making plans to do so, felt that at expressing my astonishment, I was expressing disapproval over their decisions. Given the current, different, norm of age of marriage, I should have reckoned with the fact that they probably receive enough flak in daily life about their decision that my expression could easily have been construed as one of disapproval.
Because that’s the thing with norms. Norms don’t just exist – they influence, and can do harm at times. Some of this harm is relatively innocent, some of it is not.
One norm in academia, for instance, is the norm of the academic being white/male/middle-aged. This doesn’t mean that all academics are white/male/middle-aged, but it means that generally, when asked to picture, in their minds, an academic, people picture someone who is white/male/middle-aged, and this can influence social expectations for what academics generally should be like, and can therefore hold back the recruitment of non-white, non-male and/or non-middle-aged academics, leading to a loss of talent.
This is part of what makes up privilege. Often enough, privilege is misconstrued as being something active – for instance, articles about male privilege/non-male non-privilege often see replies of “yes, but men still get beat up relatively more often in the streets at night than women, and there are plenty of men in poverty” – which are all valid points, but not what is usually meant with privilege. Privilege, in this case, has to do with not having to make up for the fact that one does not adhere to the norm. In the sense that non-male, non-white and/or non-middle-aged academics, for instance, will have to expend some extra effort in making up for the fact that they are not what people first think of when picturing an academic. Privilege, in this regard, is simply not having to go through the extra effort of justifying your preferences and decisions (and yes, males do also lack privilege in some cases. Males going into traditionally female jobs, like nursing or primary school teaching, for instance, constantly have to defend their choices, while female nurses and primary school teachers do not. And this too is a problem).
Back to chrononormativity, then. If the norm for getting married is late twenties/early thirties, then everyone marrying at different ages will to some extent have to justify their decision to society, which can be annoying if not actually quite emotionally draining. My friends marrying at, or before, the age of 23, probably have to do so as much as people marrying at, say, age 50 (“it’s their second/third/fourth marriage, see”). Find any Daily Mail article on (celebrity) women deciding to have children beyond the age of, say, 40, and you’ll find a deluge of disapproval, showing that the norm for having children lies in any case at a lower age, and which means that older Mums have to not just put up with the abuse put forth by Daily Mail readers, but also will probably have to justify themselves to friends and family and consequently will probably get really fed up with having to do so.
Chrononormativity is also what makes my Mum ask me now (as my gran has done since I was 15) whether I have a boyfriend yet (which is also a form of heteronormativity, of course).
From a micro point of view, chrononormativity is also what tells us how to spend our days, weeks and months. The social convention of getting up in the morning (which used to be at the break of dawn in pre-artificial light times, and currently is anywhere between 5 and 11am) and going to bed at night (previously at sunset, since artificial light any time between 7pm and 3am), of having breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, supper and dinner at relatively set times (supper, for instance, happens ‘normally’ at 6pm in many Northern European countries, but ‘normally’ quite a bit later in Southern European countries). It includes taking a certain day off (whether this is a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or any other day, differs per social group, but is still a norm). The harm is not in these patterns, but in shaming people for not adhering to them – anyone whose biorhythm dictates sleep until 11am or noon is usually made to feel ashamed (and is generally forced to adhere to a more ‘normal’ sleeping pattern by employers not generally accepting such late starts), even though they may work until late at night and be just as productive as early risers. In fact, some sleep studies show that forcing people to adhere to sleep patterns their biorhythm doesn’t agree with can seriously reduce productivity and can therefore be harmful.
Adhering to a norm isn’t bad (because, you know, it can save an awful lot of hassle at times). Not adhering to a norm isn’t bad, either (sometimes it can actually be really courageous, such as being gay and choosing to come out in social groups in which homosexuality isn’t accepted [actually it's really courageous in all circumstances]). But normativity, whether heteronormativity, chrononormativity, or any other form thereof, can be really tiring, if not actually harmful.
Elizabeth Freeman, 2011, ‘Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories’, Duke University Press (Amazon)