Published: April 14, 2023

Name: Trinity MacArthur  
Advisor: Prof. Kira Hall, TA Emma Bornheimer
Class: LING 1000: Language in US Society
Semester: Fall 2022
LURA 2023


The ways that people discuss different topics have both intended and unintended consequences on their audience.  Although it may not seem to be a prominent issue in western culture, many everyday phrases and ways of thinking about romantic love that are portrayed in the media often have negative effects on the aromantic community. My project for the course Language in US Society explored these effects through survey studies and an analysis of popular culture.  

Specific phrases are used commonly in the media and in everyday life that create a hierarchy of love as well as a society that isolates and devalues aromantic people.  The transformation of the phrase “in a relationship” into one with only romantic connotations is just one example of how aromantic people are made to feel isolated by society as the idea of romantic love surrounds them often in popular media.  Yet another example of society reinforcing a hierarchy of love comes from the usage of the word “love.”  When the term “love” is used to automatically refer to romantic love, aromantic individuals feel cast aside or separated from society as they do not experience romantic attraction.  The hierarchy of love that language creates means that friendships and family relations are valued less than romantic relationships. This makes the bonds and relationships that aromantic people form feel less valuable even to themselves, due to societal norms.  

A study from 2018 looked into how both aromantic and asexual students felt on campus and whether or not they felt included or isolated (Stucki 2018).  Being a part of a large college campus meant that the participants had a multitude of opportunities to meet various types of people and experience various types of situations.  The constant barrage of romantic love and relationships overshadowing platonic or familial relationships resulted in the aromantic and asexual participants feeling “exhausted” and “isolated.”  The never-ending advertisement for romantic love above all else in western society has made many aromantic people feel isolated due to the fact that romantic love and the pursuit to get married is, in fact, not a universal experience, but the media refuses to acknowledge this.  

Amatonormativity was coined by Elizabeth Brake in 2012 in order to explain the idea that society, the media, and western culture all reinforce the idea that people will be happiest if they can achieve an exclusive, romantic love.  The constant presence of amatonormativity in the media and other places through the phrases discussed earlier has decidedly negative impacts on people who do not experience romantic attraction.  The negative stereotypes that amatonormativity enforces through language result in aromantic people devoting a lot of attention to the way their own relationships are devalued: “This is what W.E.B. DuBois called double consciousness: the constant awareness of the ways the dominant culture sees you” (Barrett et al. 2023: 22).

For example, consider the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog. The plot of the movie follows Tiana, a woman in her early 20s, as she strives to start her own restaurant but gets transformed into a frog in the process and eventually falls in love in the end.  Early in the movie it is established that Tiana has plenty of friends, and through her song “Almost There” it is evident that working towards her goal of owning her own restaurant, while exhausting, is fulfilling to her as she truly enjoys what she does. However, Tiana’s mother overlooks the fulfillment that Tiana gets from her close friends and career and assumes that Tiana would be happier in a romantic relationship, despite the fact that, even from a young age, Tiana had never expressed any interest in a romantic relationship.  The Princess and the Frog is just one example of the influence that amatonormativity has on the media and society. 

 Language in the media reinforces amatonormativity, resulting in stereotypes which negatively affect aromantic people who do not desire a romantic relationship.  Specific phrases have integrated into society’s vernacular to continue promoting the idea that romantic love should be valued over other forms of love.  Amatonormativity has resulted in the aromantic community feeling isolated and can be seen in a myriad of places, including Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.  The lack of aromantic representation in the media combined with media that continually produces amatonormativity means that aromantic people must fight and strive to feel comfortable with who they are.


Image Credit 

Trinity MacArthur, 2023.


  1. Barrett, R., Cramer, J., & McGowan , K. B. (2023). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States, 3rd edition. Routledge.

  2. Brake, Elizabeth. 2012. Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law. Oxford University Press.

  3. Stucki, E. (2018). Compulsory Sexuality and Amatonormativity in Higher Education: A Photovoice Study with Asexual and Aromantic Students. Oregon State University.