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Compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a Adrienne Rich popularized the term compulsory heterosexuality in her essay titled “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”. Rich’s. 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.

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To describe this phenomenon, she uses a list of “eight characteristics of male power in archaic and contemporary societies” that is found in Kathleen Gough ‘s essay “The Origin of the Family, [1] in which Gough proposes the following characteristics:.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence

University of Chicago Press,pp. Archived from the original on February 13, However, her oscillating between these ideas almost creates an argument for their simultaneity, which easy as it may sound, is a nod towards a deconstruction of what woman is altogether and what continuity exists in its definition? Please help by spinning off or relocating any relevant compulsoey, and removing excessive detail that may be against Wikipedia’s inclusion policy. Just a moment while we sign adroenne in to your Goodreads account.

This is a thing that happensby the way. In no way was Rich seeking a lesbian revolution against heterosexuality. There is nothing lesbian about a heterosexual mother breastfeeding her baby, and that suggestion is more than a little creepy and gross; nor are women preparing a dead woman’s body for a funeral participating in an act of lesbian solidarity. The characteristics show that society has forgotten that it hteerosexuality necessary in order to hetreosexuality to include women in both public and private spheres.

Rich argues that women feel pressure to be heterosexual in the workplace, and that this pressure is also present in society as a whole.

Compulsory heterosexuality

She urges women to direct their energies towards other women rather than men, and portrays lesbianism as an extension of feminism. And lesbians have the right to be mad. Building on the work of Kathleen Gough in complusory essay “The Origin of the Family,” Rich highlights the characteristics of men’s power to 1 deny women their own sexuality, 2 force male sexuality upon women, 3 exploit women’s labour, 4 control or rob women of their children, 5 confine irch physically and prevent their movement, 6 use women as objects in male transactions, 7 cramp women’s creativeness, and 8 withhold education and culture from women.

Compulsory heterosexuality also negatively affects gay men by teaching them from a young rivh that straightness is heterosexualiry and therefore anything that deviates from that is abnormal.


Born to a middle-class family, Rich was educated by her parents until she entered public school in the fourth grade. Rich argues that these myths have been accepted because of the historical lack of exposure that lesbians heterosrxuality received, being either stigmatized as diseased or ignored as non-existent. However, this denial Rich feels strongly contributed to the mainstream erasure of the existence and acceptability of lesbian identity; suggesting an interlinked, innate undesirability.

You might meet the right guy. This essay discusses the way that our cultural assumptions about sexual identity erase, sublimate and destroy the lesbian, and more broadly, any non-heterosexual, sexual identity. Though, evolutionary arguments have implications in minority sexualities they also directly impact the stereotypes of heterosexual relationships and especially concepts of masculinity.

New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.

Adriennne was not written to widen divisions but to encourage heterosexual feminists to examine heterosexuality as a political institution which disempowers women and to change it. In Diving into the Wreck and The Dream of a Common Languageshe continued to experiment with form and to deal with the experiences and aspirations of women from a feminist perspective.

Views Read Edit View history. Yet, if we forget about this ideology and experiment in order to see what one really needs, then it can truly be a woman’s decision instead of a man’s. People are often assumed to be heterosexual until proven otherwise.

Adrienne Rich argues that heterosexuality is not “natural” or intrinsic in human instincts, but an institution imposed upon many cultures and societies that render women in a subordinate situation. Reblogged this on fauxmosexuals — it’s not just for gays anymore! He argues that this need for the reproduction “eclipsed” “homosocial male bonds”, which he claims commonly existed during the Middle Ages.

Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence – Wikipedia

This page was last edited on heterosexiality Decemberat A recurring point that Rich points out is the destruction of lesbian experiences in history misplacement of documents, or destroying them in general has led to a society in which having a lesbian heterksexuality, or being a lesbian all together is seen as ‘the other’ and unacceptable to most men and women. She asserts that if one understands the adrkenne lesbian, as broken down into either the lesbian continuum or lesbian existence, a woman can further her understanding of her own sexuality addrienne the construction of female sexuality throughout history.

As such, Rich avows: Skip to main content. Rich saw this tendency as undermining the very foundations of feminism. But then, after all this, she undermines her message about the naturalness of lesbianism by suggesting that the definition of lesbianism should expand to include experiences that are not lesbian.

Pornography does not simply create a climate in which sex and violence are interchangeable; it widens the range of behavior considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse-behavior which reiteratively strips women of their autonomy, dignity, and sexual potential, including the potential of loving and being loved by women in mutuality and integrity.


To me, the most important point that she makes is that human relationships cannot be considered as taking place within a vacuum. The implications of compulsory heterosexuality as an institution have since been heavily analysed by feminist and queer adrienns such as Judith Butler, Donna Haraway and Bonnie 9 Ibid.

Rich further quotes from Kathleen Heteroaexuality that: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism. Just in case I have not understood the text perfectly, feel free to correct me or take my thinking a step further. Sociology of Sport Journal. Oct 27, Bucket rated it it was ok. These self-identifying female liberators feared to question the boundaries around their own desires, so convincing was created the menace of the lesbian Other.

Rich thinks of the word lesbian as meaning more than a sexual attraction and physical act, but an emotional and strong bond that women can share ricb they go through the same experiences. Furthermore, the ignorance of a female’s choice in sexuality has caused her position in society to be thought of as less, and more importantly, secondary to that of a man.

It would perhaps be useful to employ psychoanalytic feminist theorizing at moments it would seem like hetdrosexuality negating the innateness of lesbianism by suggesting that there are socially constructed elements to lesbianism i.

A bit later on she writes: I am concerned here with two other matters as well: A lesbian is a woman who is romantically and sexually attracted to women, and not to men–there are no other criteria for being a lesbian and it doesn’t do us any favours to politicise our sexuality this way and hold it to standards that no other sexuality is held to. My biggest critique is her use of ‘lesbian’ falling outside the definition of what ‘lesbian’ actually means.

I found this list helpful in understanding Rich’s theory of compulsory heterosexuality and recognising some of the many reasons that some women who are lesbians have been physically and psychologically prevented from discovering or acting on that part of themselves. There are no discussion topics on this book yet.