In “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” Adrienne Rich explores texts written about female sexuality and sexual preference. She argues that these texts, even those written from a feminist perspective, marginalize lesbians; she asserts that, “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” (632). I had numerous questions about this statement throughout the article, primarily because the issues in the cited texts are explained so well, but the there was so much background and foundational information missing that the message of the article got lost in a plethora of questions. It isn’t clear what the differences between lesbian, heterosexual, and homosexual are, and why they therefore they cannot be viewed as opposites.
I agree with Rich, that assuming that women become lesbians do so to escape from masculine oppression marginalizes the position of a lesbian. However, I did not understand why viewing being a lesbian as a sexual preference is a problem. She explains why heterosexuality is not really a choice, but I did not understand how going against the norms established by a patriarchal society would not be considered a choice. There are many reasons (economic, cultural, legal) why women may feel the need to enter into a heterosexual relationship, particularly since society is not conducive to female bonds. Rich engages various article, including Nancy Chodorow’s “The Reproduction of Mothering”, which explains how heterosexuality is not a real choice, but instead decision that society guides women toward using various factors. Rich cites Chodorow’s statement that, “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” (Rich, 636). While Rich realizes that Chodorow is implying that heterosexuality isn’t a real choice for women, she finds this article problematic because it aims at perpetuating a man-made system. Rich explains that arguments about sexual preference and choice assume that, “women who have chosen women have done so simply because men are oppressive and emotionally unavailable; which still fails to account for women who continue to pursue relationships with oppressive and/or emotionally unsatisfying men” (637). I would imagine that particularly in reading Chodorow’s article, the question of why women continue to pursue relationships with men is answered by the understanding that women have been guided into this choice.
Chodorow also implies that a heterosexual bond is counter-intuitive for females, since the primary emotional bonds are first made with the mother. Rich takes this even further by stating that, “If women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would be logical, from a feminist perspective at least, to pose the following questions: whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward women; why in fact women would ever redirect that search…” (637). I find this statement to be problematic in the same way she finds the arguments about sexual preference and choice to be problematic. If the natural impulse of both men and women would lead toward women, what does this say about homosexual men?