gender study

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How does heterosexuality work, in theory and practice?

Respond to this question in 200-300 words, discussing how heterosexuality functions according to either Michel Foucault in History of Sexuality or Adrienne Rich in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”

Be as specific and nuanced as you can be in your response. Zoom in on a particular passage or example that you find compelling, rather than trying to summarize the entire text. Include inline citations as appropriate, following APA or Chicago Style.


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Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence Author(s): Adrienne Rich Source: Signs , Summer, 1980, Vol. 5, No. 4, Women: Sex and Sexuality (Summer, 1980), pp. 631-660 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: REFERENCES Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article: You may need to log in to JSTOR to access the linked references. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at The University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Signs This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence Adrienne Rich I Biologically men have only one innate orientation-a sexual one that draws them to women,-while women have two innate orientations, sexual toward men and reproductive toward their young.1 ... I was a woman terribly vulnerable, critical, using femaleness as a sort of standard or yardstick to measure and discard men. YesIn its first issue (Autumn 1975), Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society published Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's now classic article, "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America." The following summer appeared Joan Kelly's "The Social Relation of the Sexes: Methodological Implications of Women's History (Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 1, no. 4 [Summer 1976]). Among scholarly articles, these two provided, in different ways, a point of departure for my thinking in this essay. I am deeply indebted also to the growing body of lesbian research in other journals, including Blanche W. Cook's "Female Support Networks and Political Activism," Chrysalis 3 (1977): 43-61; and Lorraine Bethel's "'This Infinity of Conscious Pain': Zora Neale Hurston and the Black Female Literary Tradition," lecture given at the Harlem Studio Museum, May 1978, forthcoming in Black Women's Studies, ed. Gloria Hull, Elaine Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1980); by several books published in the last few years: Kathleen Barry, Female Sexual Slavery (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979): Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978); Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The RoaringInside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Diana Russell and Nicole van de Ven, eds., Proceedings of the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women (Millbrae, Calif.: Les Fem- mes, 1976); and by Susan Cavin's dissertation in sociology, "Lesbian Origins: An Hystorical and Cross-cultural Analysis of Sex Ratios, Female Sexuality and Homo-sexual Segregation versus Hetero-sexual Integration Patterns in Relation to the Liberation of Women" (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1978). 1. Alice Rossi, "Children and Work in the Lives of Women" (paper delivered at the University of Arizona, Tucson, February 1976). [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1980, vol. 5, no. 4] ? 1980 by The University of Chicago. 0097-9740/80/0504-0001$01.00 631 This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to 632 Rich Compulsory Heterosexuality something like that. I was an Anna who invited defeat from men without ever being conscious of it. (But I am conscious of it. And being conscious of it means I shall leave it all behind me and become-but what?) I was stuck fast in an emotion common to women of our time, that can turn them bitter, or Lesbian, or solitary. Yes, that Anna during that time was ... [Another blank line across the page:]2 The bias of compulsory heterosexuality, through which lesbian experience is perceived on a scale ranging from deviant to abhorrent, or simply rendered invisible, could be illustrated from many other texts than the two just preceding. The assumption made by Rossi, that women are "innately sexually oriented" toward men, or by Lessing, that the lesbian choice is simply an acting-out of bitterness toward men, are by no means theirs alone; they are widely current in literature and in the social sciences. I am concerned here with two other matters as why women's choice of women as passionate com co-workers, lovers, tribe, has been crushed, invalida ing and disguise; and second, the virtual or total n tence in a wide range of writings, including femin ously there is a connection here. I believe that muc criticism is stranded on this shoal. My organizing impulse is the belief that it is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/ political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less "natural" phenomenon, as mere "sexual preference," or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations, is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. 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. In this exploratory paper, I shall try to show why. I will begin by way of examples, briefly discussing four books that have appeared in the last few years, written from different viewpoints and political orientations, but all presenting themselves, and favorably reviewed, as feminist.3 All take as a basic assumption that the socia 2. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (New York: Bantam Books [1962] 1977), p. 480. 3. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise (New York: Harper & Row, 1976); Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Anchor Press, 1978); Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976). This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to Summer 1980 633 Signs relations of the sexes are disordered and extremely problem disabling, for women; all seek paths toward change. I have l from some of these books than from others; but on this I am one might have been more accurate, more powerful, more t for change, had the author felt impelled to deal with lesbian a reality, and as a source of knowledge and power available t with the institution of heterosexuality itself as a beachh dominance.4 In none of them is the question ever raised, wh different context, or other things being equal, women would erosexual coupling and marriage; heterosexuality is presume ual preference" of "most women," either implicitly or explic of these books, which concern themselves with motherin relationships, and societal prescriptions for women, is comp erosexuality ever examined as an institution powerfully these; or the idea of "preference" or "innate orientation" ev questioned. In For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, the authors' superb pamphlets, Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, and Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, are developed into a provocative and complex study. Their thesis in this book is that the advice given American women by male health professionals, particularly in the areas of marital sex, maternity, and child care, has echoed the dictates of the economic marketplace and the role capitalism has needed women to play in production and/or reproduction. Women have become the consumer victims of various cures, therapies, and normative judgments in different periods (including the prescription to middle-class 4. I could have chosen many other serious and influential recent books, including anthologies, which would illustrate the same point: e.g., Our Bodies, Ourselves, the Boston Women's Health Collective's best-seller (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), which devotes a separate (and inadequate) chapter to lesbians, but whose message is that heterosexuality is most women's life preference; Berenice Carroll, ed., Liberating Women's History: Theoretical and Critical Essays (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976), which does not include even a token essay on the lesbian presence in history, though an essay by Linda Gordon, Persis Hunt, et al. notes the use by male historians of "sexual deviance" as a category to discredit and dismiss Anna Howard Shaw, Jane Addams, and other feminists ("Historical Phallacies: Sexism in American Historical Writing"); and Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz, eds., Becoming Visible: Women in European History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977), which contains three mentions of male homosexuality but no materials that I have been able to locate on lesbians. Gerda Lerner, ed., The Female Experience: An American Documentary (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1977), contains an abridgment of two lesbian/feminist position papers from the contemporary movement but no other documentation of lesbian existence. Lerner does note in her preface, however, how the charge of deviance has been used to fragment women and discourage women's resistance. Linda Gordon, in Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America (New York: Viking Press, Grossman, 1976), notes accurately that: "It is not that feminism has produced more lesbians. There have always been many lesbians, despite high levels of repression; and most lesbians experience their sexual preference as innate . . ." (p. 410). This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to 634 Rich Compulsory Heterosexuality women to embody and preserve the sacredness of the home-the "scientific" romanticization of the home itself). None of the "experts"' advice has been either particularly scientific or women-oriented; it has reflected male needs, male fantasies about women, and male interest in control- ling women-particularly in the realms of sexuality and motherhoodfused with the requirements of industrial capitalism. So much of this book is so devastatingly informative and is written with such lucid feminist wit, that I kept waiting as I read for the basic prescription against lesbianism to be examined. It never was. This can hardly be for lack of information. Jonathan Katz's Gay American History5 tells us that as early as 1656 the New Haven Colony prescribed the death penalty for lesbians. Katz provides many suggestive and informative documents on the "treatment" (or torture) of lesbians by the medical profession in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Recent work by the historian Nancy Sahli documents the crackdown on intense female friendships among college women at the turn of the present century.6 The ironic title, For Her Own Good, might have referred first and foremost to the economic imperative to heterosexuality and marriage and to the sanctions imposed against single women and widows-both of whom have been and still are viewed as deviant. Yet, in this often enlightening Marxist-feminist overview of male prescriptions for female sanity and health, the economics of prescriptive heterosexuality go unexamined.7 Of the three psychoanalytically based books, one, Jean Baker Miller's Toward a New Psychology of Women, is written as if lesbians simply do not exist, even as marginal beings. Given Miller's title I find this astonishing. However, the favorable reviews the book has received in feminist journals, including Signs and Spokeswoman, suggest that Miller's heterocentric assumptions are widely shared. In The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise, Dorothy Dinnerstein makes an impassioned argument for the sharing of parenting between women and men and for an end to what she perceives as the male/female symbiosis of "gender arrangements," which she feels are leading the species further and further into violence and self-extinction. Apart from other problems that I have with this book (including her silence on the institutional and random terrorism men have practiced on women-and children-throughout history, amply documented by 5. Jonathan Katz, Gay American History (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1976). 6. Nancy Sahli, "Smashing: Women's Relationships before the Fall," Chrysalis: A Magazine of Women's Culture 8 (1979): 17-27. A version of the article was presented at the Third Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, June 11, 1976. 7. This is a book which I have publicly endorsed. I would still do so, though with the above caveat. It is only since beginning to write this article that I fully appreciated how enormous is the unasked question in Ehrenreich and English's book. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to Summer 1980 635 Signs Barry, Daly, Griffin, Russell and van de Ven, and Brownmille obsession with psychology to the neglect of economic and oth realities that help to create psychological reality), I find utter Dinnerstein's view of the relations between women and men as "a collab- oration to keep history mad." She means by this, to perpetuate social relations which are hostile, exploitive, and destructive to life itself. She sees women and men as equal partners in the making of "sexual arrangements," seemingly unaware of the repeated struggles of women to resist oppression (our own and that of others) and to change our condition. She ignores, specifically, the history of women who-as witches, femmes seules, marriage resisters, spinsters, autonomous widows, and/or lesbians-have managed on varying levels not to collaborate. It is this history, precisely, from which feminists have so much to learn and on which there is overall such blanketing silence. Dinnerstein acknowledges at the end of her book that "female separatism," though "on a large scale and in the long run wildly impractical," has something to teach us: "Sepa- rate, women could in principle set out to learn from scratch- undeflected by the opportunities to evade this task that men's presence has so far offered-what intact self-creative humanness is."9 Phrases like "intact self-creative humanness" obscure the question of what the many forms of female separatism have actually been addressing. The fact is that women in every culture and throughout history have undertaken the task of independent, nonheterosexual, woman-connected existence, to the extent made possible by their context, often in the belief that they were the "only ones" ever to have done so. They have undertaken it even though few women have been in an economic position to resist marriage altogether; and even though attacks against unmarried women have ranged from aspersion and mockery to deliberate gynocide, including the burning and torturing of millions of widows and spinsters during the witch persecutions of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries in Europe, and the practice of suttee on widows in India.10 Nancy Chodorow does come close to the edge of an acknowledg- ment of lesbian existence. Like Dinnerstein, Chodorow believes that the fact that women, and women only, are responsible for child care in the sexual division of labor has led to an entire social organization of gender inequality, and that men as well as women must become primary carers for children if that inequality is to change. In the process of examining, from a psychoanalytic perspective, how mothering-by-women affects the psychological development of girl and boy children, she offers documentation that men are "emotionally secondary" in women's lives; that 8. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975). 9. Dinnerstein, p. 272. 10. Daly, pp. 184-85; 114-33. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to 636 Rich Compulsory Heterosexuality "women have a richer, ongoing inner world to fall back on.... men do not become as emotionally important to women as women do to men."'' This would carry into the late twentieth century Smith-Rosenberg's findings about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women's emotional focus on women. "Emotionally important" can of course refer to anger as well as to love, or to that intense mixture of the two often found in women's relationships with women: one aspect of what I have come to call the "double-life of women" (see below). Chodorow concludes that because women have women as mothers, "The mother remains a primary internal object [sic] to the girl, so that heterosexual relationships are on the model of a nonexclusive, second relationship for her, whereas for the boy they recreate an exclusive, primary relationship." According to Chodorow, women "have learned to deny the limitations of masculine lovers for both psychological and practical reasons."'2 But the practical reasons (like witch burnings, male control of law, theology, and science, or economic nonviability within the sexual division of labor) are glossed over. Chodorow's account barely glances at the constraints and sanctions which, historically, have enforced or insured the coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized our coupling or allying in independent groups with other women. She dismisses lesbian existence with the comment that "lesbian relationships do tend to re-create mother-daughter emotions and connections, but most women are heterosexual" (implied: more mature, having developed beyond the mother-daughter connection). She then adds: "This heterosexual preference and taboos on homosexuality, in addition to objective economic dependence on men, make the option of primary sexual bonds with other women unlikely-though more prevalent in recent years."'3 The significance of that qualification seems irresistible-but Chodorow does not explore it further. Is she saying that lesbian existence has become more visible in recent years (in certain groups?), that economic and other pressures have changed (under capitalism, socialism, or both?), and that consequently more women are rejecting the heterosexual "choice"? She argues that women want children because their heterosexual re- lationships lack richness and intensity, that in having a child a woman seeks to re-create her own intense relationship with her mother. It seems to be that on the basis of her own findings, Chodorow leads us implicitly to conclude that heterosexuality is not a "preference" for women; that, for one thing, it fragments the erotic from the emotional in a way that women find impoverishing and painful. Yet her book participates in mandating it. Neglecting the covert socializations and the overt forces which have channelled women into marriage and heterosexual romance, 11. Chodorow, pp. 197-98. 12. Ibid., pp. 198-99. 13. Ibid., p. 200. This content downloaded from on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 19:13:55 UTC All use subject to Summer 1980 637 Signs pressures ranging from the selling of daughters to postindus nomics to the silences of ...
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