Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence
Adrienne Rich explains that in our society lesbianism is often seen as deviant and pushed from scholarly literature. This is done through the media, religion, and politics. She defines a bias of compulsory heterosexuality as the assumption that all women must be sexually oriented towards men. She also argues that heterosexuality should be seen as a political institution. Thus, heterosexuality is often considered what women want, yet Rich argues that it may actually be that our society is forcing these views and decisions on us. Marriage, and heterosexuality have been forcibly imposed on women and thus heterosexuality cannot be considered a preference but rather a duty or necessity on behalf of women.
To offer examples of the ignored lesbian existence in scholarly literature, even feminist literature, Rich critiques several books. Some books ignore the idea lesbianism entirely. This leads the reader to believe that heterosexuality is expected as well as favored. Other authors, such as Nancy Chodorow, ignore the historical suppression of lesbianism and the effect of society enforcing heterosexual relationships. Chodorow explains negative feelings that can be associated with heterosexual relationships while still offering a view that leads us to believe that heterosexuality is preferred over lesbianism.
Rich also gives descriptions of the ways in which males demonstrate their power over women such as through physical confinement, rape, male abortion control, and pimping. Through such demonstrations, males are able to enforce a society in which heterosexuality is preferred. This leads women to believe that their only option is heterosexuality; furthermore, this is essential to their womanhood. Also, through the concept of male identification, Rich argues that women are taught that men are superior and more important than them.
Rich introduces the term “lesbian continuum” as a new way to view and expand upon the term lesbianism. Thus, if the concept of lesbian experience is viewed on a continuum, it will be broadened to include things such as female friendship and comradeship. She explains that with this view, all women would be placed on this continuum.
Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality
This article by Leila J. Rupp emphasizes that ideas concerning love, relationships, and sex acts must be viewed within their historical context. Different cultures and time periods viewed same-sex sexuality with unique perspectives. Globally, our views still differ today. Rupp explains that historically age and status differences structured sexual acts. Thus, these acts were often considered acceptable and normal. Furthermore, in some cultures same-sex relations were institutionalized and used to promote masculinity or a “warrior-personality”. Other same-sex relations are found in history as well, for instance in India as well as Brazil some men were found to either remove genitalia, or take drugs that could enhance their femininity. Often these individuals occupied low status roles. Sometimes in history women dressed as men with the hopes of obtaining the privilege associated with the male gender. For instance, women dressed as men to get a male job with higher prestige. This was frowned upon by society as a type of counterfeiting and warranted great punishment.
Rupp explains that her historical cases demonstrate that although we use the term “same-sex relations” to explain sexual relations between genetically alike people they may be more accurately coined “different-gender relations”. Rupp also questions what exactly we mean when we use the term “sexuality”. What constitutes a sexual act? What is considered to be a sexual act to some may actually be viewed as a spiritual act or an example of male dominance or power to other societies. Thus these acts have different meaning and significance depending on their context. Examples during the 1800s demonstrate that to many women, romantic friendships were not seen as violating any cultural sexual norms. Rather these acts were more acceptable and were not considered to be sexual as they may be today. Furthermore, it is necessary to look at the cultural context of the act, for instance although kissing in our culture is considered a sexual act, it is not and was not universally so.
The article ends asking many more questions concerning our perception of sexuality and the how we can define and think about same-sex interactions. Rupp emphasizes that not all same-sex interactions are considered sexual, some are for power and status purposes, institutionalized practices, or have spiritual implications. To better understand the implications of same-sex interactions it is important to look at them in their historical and cultural context.