heterosexuality: political institution that disempowers women. guide to adrienne rich’s article compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. about the. The phrase ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ calls attention to society’s assumptions about relationships. Read about Adrienne Rich’s explanation. COMPULSORY HETEROSEXUALITY AND. LESBIAN EXISTENCE. Adrienne Rich. Originallypublished in , when the relationship between lesbianism.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Along with an explanation of the designated term and compuosory uses I shall illustrate its importance in contemporary criticism, particularly in the fields of gender, feminist and queer studies.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence

Firstly, one must take note that the surrounding contexts cause this to be to some degree a reactionary text, following and taking up arms against essentialist second-wave feminism.

However, this denial Rich feels strongly contributed to the mainstream erasure of the existence and acceptability of lesbian identity; suggesting an interlinked, innate undesirability.

As such, Rich avows: Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of “lesbianism” as an “alternative life-style,” or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue. Sex and Sexuality Chicago: This binarisation of sex as a masculine desire and dependence as a feminine is encouraged even today, as respectively male and female approaches to a romantic relationship.

This can be seen particularly in the media of television and films in which a standard pairing of characters is a voluptuous and long-suffering wife to an unattractive and troublesome man, to whom she is nevertheless devoted and to whose desires she ultimately accedes. Men are expected and encouraged in these media to desire women only for procreation, sexual pleasure, and physical good looks, while if a woman has these desires for a man, outside of a series aimed specifically at a female-only audience, it is treated as at best a punchline or at worst, the character is looked down upon by the rest of the cast, implying that the audience should join in the judgement.


Rich aims in this piece to increase attention given to and recognition of lesbian desires and those outside of the complex of submission to men. As such, feminists to Rich indirectly endorsed the right of males to define female desires and to police intra-gender relationships.

These self-identifying female liberators feared to question the boundaries around their own desires, so convincing was created the menace of the lesbian Other. Conclusively, women feared to raise the issue of female-female relationships and desires for fear of losing social status both amongst women and men.

Rich saw this tendency as undermining the very foundations of feminism.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence by Lixxie Polk on Prezi

The implicit desirability of heterosexuality creates an equally implicit binary belief that to not-desire in a heterosexual manner is definitively wrong.

This not-desire can be formed as a lesbian desire or a desire for female-female sexual or romantic relations, but it can also be conceived of as a simple lack of desire for men. Rich further quotes from Kathleen Barry that: Furthermore, the female learns, from the denial or her sexual agency by maternal, authoritative, and peer figures, that her role in this created sexual binary is simply to submit to males and surrender satisfaction as a male-only prerogative.

However this seems fallacious due to majority opinion — if there are assortments of ways to desire that adriemne not-heterosexual; it seems strange that heterosexuality alone is held up as the ideal and everything else as wrong or mistaken. It almost illustrates a cognitive bias towards heterosexuality that shapes all other modes of being as wrong, simply in order to safeguard heterosexual hegemony.


This pre-civilised idea of physical dominance nevertheless forms a Foucaultian power-threat to which women learn from a young age and from the experiences of their mothers and grandmothers to submit. These compulsoyr furthermore to Addienne, obviously formative elements in the creation of compulsory heterosexuality to the point that it is accepted by both men and women in modern Western society as a given.

Rayna [Rapp] Reiter New York: Monthly Review Press,pp. Consistent male control of female relationships and desires, through male-helmed media, advertising, and entertainment exists, she continues, to assuage a male fear: Furthermore, her essay deconstructs what many would have considered necessary and natural links between sexuality, reproduction, and social attachment; illustrating these institutions and behaviours to be socially constructed and merely performed as if they had always been adriemne.

In this way I feel her text to be important in demonstrating the power of deconstruction to shed light upon social conventions that seemed before to be essential and unchangeable.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence – Wikipedia

The implications of compulsory heterosexuality as an institution have since been heavily analysed by feminist and queer theorists such as Judith Butler, Donna Haraway and Bonnie 9 Ibid. University of Chicago Press,pp.

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