Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
Define what Rich means by “compulsory heterosexuality” and “lesbian existence” using specific evidence from the text.
Compulsory: obligatory, mandatory, or required.
Heterosexual: straight; the relationship between a male and female.
Compulsory heterosexuality as a dominant ideology indicates that the relationship between a man and woman is essential and without it, we would not be able to reproduce and grow. Compulsory heterosexuality assumes that everyone is straight, that all women are attracted to men sexually and financially, forcing those who do not identify as “straight”, to “hide in the closet” and hide their true sexual orientation. Rich adds that in Nancy Chodorow’s book she explains “This heterosexual preference and taboos on homosexuality, in a addition to objective economic dependence on men, make the option of primary sexual bonds with other women unlikely” (84)… That women will turn to marriage as a “hoped-for protection” from some of the economic disadvantages they face in comparison to men (87).
Rich says that although heterosexuality is simply a choice, it is not seen like one because it is so compulsory, chosen and developed for us with all the forces, in our culture. Rich acknowledges that “constraints and sanction which historically have enforced or ensured the coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized women’s coupling or allying in independent groups with other women”(84). He goes on to explain that the “closing of archives and destruction of documents relating to lesbian existence, idealization of heterosexual romance in art, literature, the media, advertising”, male power, etc. are forms of heterosexual compulsions that monitor the way people express their sexual orientation and with that tries to erase the existence of lesbians (85).
Moreover, Rich goes to explain that in The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise, by Dorothy Dinnerstein, Dinnerstein tries to state that “there is a mystical/biological heterosexual inclination, a “preference” or “choice” which draws women toward men” (84). Rich says that “it assumes that women who have chosen women have done so simply because men are oppressive and emotionally unavailable, which fails to account for women who continue to pursue relationship with oppressive and/or emotionally unsatisfying men”, but Rich does not agree with that (84). I feel like this monitors compulsory heterosexuality by giving an excuse for a lesbian’s sexual preference. So to say that it is not a choice or a desire that they are with other women, but because men have done them wrong so they have turned to women. When in reality they were probably women who were lesbians forced to stay in the closet by our cultures heterosexual compulsions. With that I leave you with these quotes.
“Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life.” - RICH
“Feminism is the answer to compulsory heterosexuality and used as a tool to break out” - CHRIS
In the beginning of the semester we learned that in the first wave of feminism, feminists through out black women and now we read in Adrienne Rich’s text that it throws out lesbians.
(Compulsory means obligated so its saying that heterosexuality is required)
- The idea that there is such thing as heterosexuality, that it is required to function and to reproduce and progress. It is mandatory because it is deep down in the roots
- It’s the assumption that all women are attracted to men not just sexually but romantically, financially, economically, everything
- Lesbians are seen as “girl version” of men
- Men are always present as powerful
- Rich says that heterosexuality is merely a choice
- Heterosexuality is so compulsory in our culture that it is almost not seen as a choice
- Rich says that in fact heterosexuality is not always there, it could be something chosen or developed in us because of the forces of the culture.
- Ex) Dr. Bogad’s son is only 8 months old and every one has already decided that he is going to be a ladies man because of his long eyelashes. That is compulsory heterosexuality
-There are a lot of ways that heterosexuality is compulsory
-Media, male power, literature
- The erasure of lesbian existence happened because of the powerful source of compulsory heterosexuality. It is policed by society
- If you have a son and he wears a pink bib, everyone will tell you to take it off
- Compulsory Heterosexuality is a form of dominant ideology.
- Pronoun use (he, she) is another way it is policied
Compulsory Heterosexuality is maintained:
- Assumes everyone is straight
- People are forced to hide “in the closet”
- They are silenced, made absent, and invisible
- Closets around sexual orientation are small, dark, and have one door
- The closet is the result of compulsory heterosexuality
- Compulsory heterosexuality is a system that policies how people express their sexual orientation so it forces people to hide in the closet
- Feminism is the answer to compulsory heterosexuality and used as a tool to break out