Compulsory Heterosexuality

“Compulsory heterosexuality” is a term coined by Adrienne Rich, in the essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980). It refers to the fact that heterosexuality, far from being an innate, natural tendency or a purposeful choice of sexuality, is constructed and enforced as a political institution, much like the institutions of motherhood and family. Rich attempts to deconstruct the power structures that maintain a normative heterosexuality and, in doing so, reveals the underlying supports for male supremacy and heterosexism. Though Rich assumes that identities, including sexual identities, are socially constructed, she also implies that women-centered relationships are more “natural” than male-centered bonds, since the mother-child relationship is primary. She asks “whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward ...

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