The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.


Adrienne Rich’s essay “Compulsory Heterosexual and Lesbian Existence”, composes a strong challenge to some of our sexual assumptions. Rich exposes familiar arguments that may arise in women’s heads: If the first erotic bond is to the mother, she asks, could not the “natural” sexual orientation of both men and women be toward women? Her radical questioning has been a great force in feminist reorientation in sexual matters. Her conception of “lesbian continuum” arises the question whether lesbianism is defined by all interactions among women or is it an erotic choice?
What I understand from Rich’s assumptions is that the phrase “compulsory heterosexuality” refers to the idea by male dominated society that the only “normal” sexual relationship is between a man and a woman. In her essay she argues that heterosexuality is not innate in humans.
“If we think of heterosexuality as the natural emotional and sensual inclination for women, lives such as these are seen as deviant.” (Rich,233) The quotation refers to the description of both Emily Dickinson’s and Zora Neale Hurston’s “life styles”. Adrienne Rich argues that patriarchal, male dominated society insists on “compulsory heterosexuality” because men benefit from male-female relationships not only in the physical but in the emotional. Therefore, she argues that since the heterosexual relationship is romanticized men see any other type of relationship as deviant.


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