Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Talking Points #4: Quotes

Discussion on Rich in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"


The distinction of "Compulsory Heterosexuality" is one credited directly to Adrienne Rich.  The word heterosexuality defining the traditional (though this is questioned) relationship between women and men, and compulsory, meaning required or necessary.  The required or necessary spoken of in this context is related specifically to patriarchal society and control of culture.  Rich explains the mainstream belief of heterosexual relationships being sacred and most significant as a result of psychological dominance of women by male oppression.  The goal of such domination over relationship restriction is the male preservation of sexual, economic, and emotional access to women.  The idea that Rich not only entertains, but seriously enforces in this literature is the expectation that if not restrained by patriarchal control, women experiencing what she defines as a lesbian relationship will ultimately find greater significance and support in such relationships.  Women in Rich's opinion would find greater comfort, emotional bonding, and possibly romantic satisfaction in lesbian relationships.  She states that such is evident throughout history, though as a result of male action against such "deviant" behavior, historical documentation has been routinely erased from existence.  From birth it is explained that female bonds are strongest between one women and another, and only due to the sexual and reproductive drive of men has this been forced away in place of heterosexual values.  Rich also explains women's need of men, or belief of this, for the purpose of motherhood as another angle of ensnarement.  The arguement here is that it is in a woman's true nature to find greater companionship with another woman, rather than a man.  It has been the position of men over the ages to deter, shame, and ultimately eliminate this instinct. 

"Maternal affection is used to establish male right of sexual access, which however, must ever after be held by force (or through control of consciousness) since the original deep adult bonding is that of woman for woman."
This quote speaks of something I touched on in opening.  The belief is that men use the institution of reproducing and mothering a child provides necessity of heterosexual involvement and physical or sexual access.  After all, in order to procreate, intercourse between a male and female is required...or so men would have women believe.  This quote continues to infer that once such reproductive partnership is complete and mother has child, such access must then forever be maintained through other methods of force.  It is argued here that once the utility of a man is no longer needed, it is only natural for a woman to revert to a relationship among other women.  This enforces her discussion of the expected fear of men in loosing unlimited physical access while being rendered nearly insignificant.

"Men feel they can take advantage, so they want to, so they do."
This statement speaks on the issue of sexual harassment and the consideration of such actions being a result of men's arrousal from the vulnerability of women.  In this instance men are being dominant, placing women in a subordinate role, as Rich argues is the classic or traditional roles between man and woman.  Men, as a manner of taking control, feel conquest in the forcible advances on women.  As mentioned above, the possibility of being denied access by a women is an issue relating to loss of patriarchal control.  Harassment is a method of securing dominant satisfaction against the fear of female dismissal.

"The lie keeps numberless women psychologically trapped, trying to fit mind, spirit, and sexuality into a prescribed script because they cannot look beyond the parameters of the acceptable."
The lie spoken of here is the idea that heterosexuality is the natural course of a woman's sexual or relational nature.  Women in this case are "psychologically trapped" by cultural ideology, which is in origin patriarchal ideology.  Rather than living free to fulfil what Rich claims to be women's true nature of lesbianism, those under the constraint of male and mainstream dominance must remain entangled withing a sexual identity which they don't belong.  As a result of this entrapment all facets of their being are compromised and stifled from their true potential.  This acceptance of the defeat of true natural order is simply due to the inability of women to see the possibilies which lie beyond what male control has established for them.  This ultimately encompasses the idea Rich presents as patriarchal authority over the female psyche, which assumes that male control has extended to the overall influence of women's innacurate understanding of themselves and their potential. 

Questions/Comments/Point To Share:

While I truely believe in the right of all to decide for themselves how to live and socialize within the world, I also believe that sexual orientation though for some or many can be self doubted, it as I believe, is determined at birth rather than simply as a matter of personal choice.  I feel that at times this point is shaky in Rich's piece.  This discussion seems to infer overall that women are naturally inclined to be drawn to other women by bonds far beyond sexual in nature.  At points though, this seems considered more a question of decision than nature. 

It is made to account that by Rich's definition, all bonds and relationships of significance between women are a form of lesbian interaction.  Would this also mean that all male friendships are in reflection homosexual in nature?  I would argue that this is only amending an established definition to encompass her arguement.  I realize that she clearly states the problem with tying male and female homosexuality into one group, but I can't help but question placing the significance of one over the other.  Is it to say that females are more dynamic and as such lesbian relationships are more dynamic?  As a straight male my comprehension of Rich's interpretation and experiences are far from solid and may be little more than assumptions outside of what I might understand in her literature.  I do feel though that making the stride to assert that all women are lesbians at heart and by nature may be a bit of a stretch at self validation.  This idea seems to slight all women who truely identify themselves as heterosexual as being unaware of themselves, their relationships, their wants and goals.  It questions their very identity.

Speaking beyond this piece....while researching for a hopefully clear understanding of the literature I came across some interesting stats and information related to the parenting of children in a two woman household which some may find worth a look.


  1. hey!...your blog helped me clarify some points. I used your idea that you quoted from Rich's article, about men using their power because they can.