Heterossexualidade Compulsória e Existência Lésbica (1980)


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II (cerca 9 páginas) conori
III (cerca 7 páginas e meia) user87
IV (cerca 2 páginas e meia) s_cum
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Notas user87
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Eu gostaria de falar um pouco sobre como “Heterossexualidade Compulsória” foi originalmente concebido e o contexto no qual estamos vivendo agora. O artigo foi em parte escrito para desafiar o apagamento da existência lésbica de boa parte da literatura feminista acadêmica, um apagamento que eu senti (e sinto ainda) ser não apenas anti-lésbicas, mas anti-feminista em suas consequências, contribuindo para distorcer a experiência das mulheres heterossexuais tanto quanto. Não foi escrito para ampliar os divisionismos, mas para encorajar as feministas heterossexuais a examinarem

I want to say a little about the way “Compulsory Heterosexuality” was originally conceived and he context in which we are now living. It was written in part to challenge the erasure of lesbian existence from so much of scholarly feminist literature, an erasure which I felt (and feel) to be not just anti-lesbian, but anti-feminist in its consequences, and to distort the experience of heterosexual women as well. It was not written to widen divisions but to encourage heterosexual feminists to examine heterosexuality as a political institution which disempowers women—and to change it. I also hoped that other lesbians would feel the depth and breadth of woman identification and woman bonding that has run like a continuous though stifled theme through the heterosexual experience, and that this would become increasingly a politically activating impulse, not simply a validation of personal lives. I wanted the essay to suggest new kinds of criticism, to incite new questions in classrooms and academic journals, and to sketch, at least, some bridge over the gap between lesbian and feminist. I wanted, at the very least, for feminists to find it less possible to read, write, or teach from a perspective of unexamined heterocentricity. Within the three years since I wrote “Compulsory Heterosexuality”— with this energy of hope and desire—the pressures to conform in a society increasingly conservative in mood have become more intense. The New Right’s messages to women have been, precisely, that we are the emotional and sexual property of men, and that the autonomy and equality of women threaten the family, religion, and state. The institutions by which women have traditionally been controlled—patriarchal motherhood, economic exploitation, the nuclear family, compulsory heterosexuality—are being strengthened by legislation, religious fiat, media imagery, and efforts at censorship. In a worsening economy, the single mother trying to support her children confronts the feminization of poverty which Joyce Miller of the National Coalition of Labor Union Women has named one of the major issues of the 1980s. The lesbian, unless in disguise, faces discrimination in hiring and harassment and violence in the street. Even within feminist-inspired institutions such as battered-women’s shelters and Women’s Studies programs, open lesbians are fired and others warned to stay in the closet. The retreat into sameness—assimilation for those who can manage it—is the most passive and debilitating of responses to political repression, economic insecurity, and a renewed open season on difference.
I want to note that documentation of male violence against women— within the home especially—has been accumulating rapidly in this period (see pages 30–3141, note 9). At the same time, in the realm of literature which depicts woman bonding and woman identification as essential for female survival, a steady stream of writing and criticism has been coming from women of color in general and lesbians of color in particular—the latter group being even more profoundly erased in academic feminist scholarship by the double bias of racism and homophobia.1
There has recently been an intensified debate on female sexuality among feminists and lesbians, with lines often furiously and bitterly drawn, with sadomasochism and pornography as key words which are variously defined according to who is talking. The depth of women’s rage and fear regarding sexuality and its relation to power and pain is real, even when the dialogue sounds simplistic, self-righteous, or like parallel monologues.
Because of all these developments, there are parts of this essay that I would word differently, qualify, or expand if I were writing it today. But I continue to think that heterosexual feminists will draw political strength for change from taking a critical stance toward the ideology which demands heterosexuality, and that lesbians cannot assume that we are untouched by that ideology and the institutions founded upon it. There is nothing about such a critique that requires us to think of ourselves as victims, as having been brainwashed or totally powerless. Coercion and compulsion are among the conditions in which women have learned to recognize our strength. Resistance is a major theme in this essay and in the study of women’s lives, if we know what we are looking for.


Biologicamente, homens possuem apenas uma orientação inata — uma sexual que os atrai às mulheres — enquanto mulheres têm duas orientações inatas, sexual em direção aos homens e reprodutiva em direção a seus pequenos. 2

“Eu era uma mulher terrivelmente vulnerável, crítica, usando mulheridade como um tipo de modelo ou medida para descartar os homens. Sim – algo desse tipo. Eu era uma Anna que convidava derrota dos homens sem nem estar consciente disso. (Mas eu estou consciente disso. E ser consciente disso significa que eu devo deixar tudo isso para trás e me tornar – mas o que?). Eu estava apegada a uma emoção comum às mulheres do nosso tempo, que pode deixar elas amargas, ou Lésbicas, ou solitárias. Sim, aquela Anna durante aquele tempo era….>
  I was a woman terribly vulnerable, critical, using femaleness as a sort of standard or yardstick to measure and discard men. Yes—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 . . .

A propensão da heterossexualidade compulsória, por meio da qual a existência lésbica é percebida em uma escala que varia do desviante ao repugnante ou simplesmente tornada invisível, pode ser ilustrado por muitos textos outros que os dois que apenas precederam. As suposições feitas por Rossi, que mulheres são “inatamente” orientadas sexualmente apenas à homens, e aquelas feitas por Lessing, de que a lésbica está simplesmente atuando sua amargura por homens, não são de forma alguma apenas delas – essas presunções são amplamente correntes na literatura e nas ciências sociais.

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 texts other than the two just preceding. The assumption made by Rossi, that women are “innately” sexually oriented only toward men, and that made by Lessing, that the lesbian is simply acting out of her bitterness toward men, are by no means theirs alone; these assumptions are widely current in literature and in the social sciences.

Estou preocupada aqui com duas outras questões também: primeiro, como e por que as escolhas de mulheres por mulheres como companheiras passionais, parceiras de vida, sócias de trabalho, amantes, comunidade, vieram sendo aplastadas, invalidadas, forçadas a serem escondidas ou disfarçadas. E segundo, a negligência virtual ou total da existência lésbica em uma ampla variedade de escritos, incluindo a academia feminista. Obviamente há uma conexão aqui. Eu acredito que muito da teoria e crítica feminista está encalhando na rasidão.

I am concerned here with two other matters as well: first, how and why women’s choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners, coworkers, lovers, community has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise; and second, the virtual or total neglect of lesbian existence in a wide range of writings, including feminist scholarship. Obviously there is a connection here. I believe that much feminist theory and criticism is stranded on this shoal.

O impulso que me organiza é a crença de que não é suficiente para o pensamento feminista de que textos lésbicos específicos existam. Qualquer teoria ou criação cultural/política que trata a existência lésbica como um fenômeno marginal ou menos “natural”, como mera “preferência sexual”, ou como a imagem espelhada de quaisquer relações heterossexuais ou homossexuais masculinas, é profundamente enfraquecida desse modo, quaisquer que sejam suas outras contribuições. A Teoria Feminista não pode mais permitir meramente vociferar uma tolerância ao “lesbianismo” como um “estilo de vida alternativo” ou fazer alusões token às lésbicas. Uma crítica feminista da orientação heterossexual compulsória para mulheres é datada. Neste artigo exploratório, eu tentarei mostrar por quê.

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. 

Eu vou começar através de exemplos, brevemente discutindo quatro livros que apareceram nos últimos anos, escritos de diferentes pontos de vista e orientaççoes políticas, mas todos apresentando a si mesmo como feministas, além de terem recebido crítica favorável destas. 4

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.[4] All take as a basic assumption that the social relations of the sexes are disordered and extremely problematic, if not disabling, for women; all seek paths toward change. I have learned more from some of these books than from others, but on this I am clear: each one might have been more accurate, more powerful, more truly a force for change had the author dealt with lesbian existence as a reality and as a source of knowledge and power available to women, or with the institution of heterosexuality itself as a beachhead of male dominance.[5] In none of them is the question ever raised as to whether, in a different context or other things being equal, women would choose heterosexual coupling and marriage; heterosexuality is presumed the “sexual preference” of “most women,” either implicitly or explicitly. In none of these books, which concern themselves with mothering, sex roles, relationships, and societal prescriptions for women, is compulsory heterosexuality ever examined as an institution powerfully affecting these, or the idea of “preference” or “innate orientation” even indirectly 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 to 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 judgements in different periods (including the prescription to middle-class 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 controlling women—particularly in the realms of sexuality and motherhood—fused 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 proscription against lesbianism to be examined. It never was.

This can hardly be for lack of information. Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History6 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.7 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 Marxistfeminist overview of male prescriptions for female sanity and health, the economics of prescriptive heterosexuality go unexamined.8

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 book 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,9 and her obsession with psychology to the neglect of economic and other material realities that help to create psychological reality), I find Dinnerstein’s view of the relations between women and men as “a collaboration to keep history mad” utterly ahistorical. She means by this a collaboration to perpetuate social relations which are hostile, exploitative, 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 (their own and that of others) and to change their 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 widely impractical,” has something to teach us: “Separate, 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.”10 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.

Nancy Chodorow does come close to the edge of an acknowledgement 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 “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.”11 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 many 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 the nonexclusive, second relationship for her, whereas for the boy they re-create an exclusive, primary relationship.” According to Chodorow, women “have learned to deny the limitations of masculine lovers for both psychological and practical reasons.”12

But the practical reasons (like witch burnings, male control of law, theology, and science, or economic nonviablity within the sexual division of labor) are glossed over. Chodorow’s account barely glances at the constraints and sanctions which historically have enforced or ensured the coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized women’s 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.”13 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 relationships lack richness and intensity, that in having a child a women seeks to re-create her own intense relationship with her mother. It seems to me 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, pressures ranging from the selling of daughters to the silences of literature to the images of the television screen, she, like Dinnerstein, is stuck with trying to reform a manmade institution—compulsory heterosexuality—as if, despite profound emotional impulses and complementarities drawing women toward women, there is a mystical/biological heterosexual inclination, a “preference” or “choice” which draws women toward men.

Moreover, it is understood that this “preference” does not need to be explained unless through the tortuous theory of the female Oedipus complex or the necessity for species reproduction. It is lesbian sexuality which (usually, and incorrectly, “included” under male homosexuality) is seen as requiring explanation. This assumption of female heterosexuality seems to me in itself remarkable: it is an enormous assumption to have glided so silently into the foundations of our thought. The extension of this assumption is the frequently heard assertion that in a world of genuine equality, where men are nonoppressive and nurturing, everyone would be bisexual. Such a notion blurs and sentimentalizes the actualities within which women have experienced sexuality; it is a liberal leap across the tasks and struggles of here and now, the continuing process of sexual definition which will generate its own possibilities and choices. (It also assumes 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.) I am suggesting that heterosexuality, like motherhood, needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution—even, or especially, by those individuals who feel they are, in their personal experience, the precursors of a new social relation between the sexes.


If women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would seem 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; why species survival, the means of impregnation, and emotional/erotic relationships should ever have become so rigidly identified with each other; and why such violent strictures should be found necessary to enforce women’s total emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men. I doubt that enough feminist scholars and theorists have taken the pains to acknowledge the societal forcers which wrench women’s emotional and erotic energies away from themselves and other women from woman-identified values. These forcers, as I shall try to show, range from literal physical enslavement to disguising and distorting of possible options.
I do not assume that mothering by women is a “sufficient cause” of lesbian existence. But the issue of mothering by women has been much in the air of late, usually accompanied by the view that increased parenting by men would minimize antagonism between the sexes and equalize the sexual imbalance of power of males over females. These discussions are carried on without reference to compulsory heterosexuality as a phenomenon, let alone as an ideology. I do not wish to psychologize here, but rather to identify sources of male power. I believe large numbers of men could, in fact, undertake child care on a large scale without radically altering the balance of male power in a male-identified society.
In her essay “The Origin of the Family,” Kathleen Gough lists eight characteristics of male power in archaic and contemporary societies which I would like to use as a framework: “men’s ability to deny women sexuality or to force it upon them; to command or exploit their labor to control their produce; to control or rob them of their children; to confine them physically and prevent their movement; to use them as objects in male transactions; to cramp their creativeness; or to withhold from them large areas of the society’s knowledge and cultural attainments.”14 (Gough does not perceive these power characteristics as specifically enforcing heterosexuality, only as producing sexual inequality.) Below, Gough’s words appear in italics; the elaboration of each of her categories, in brackets, is my own.
Characteristics of male power include the power of men:

  1. to deny women their own sexuality — by means of clitoridecotmy and infibulation; chastity belts; punishment, including death, for female adultery; punishment, including death, for lesbian sexuality; psychoanalytic denial of the clitoris; strictures against masturbation; denial of maternal and post menopausal sensuality; unnecessary hysterectomy; pseudolesbian images in the media and literature; closing of archives and destruction of documents relating to lesbian existence.
  2. or to force it male sexuality upon them — by means of rape (including marital rape) and wife beating; father-daughter, brother-sister incest; the socialization of women to feel that male sexual “drive” amounts to a right;15 idealization of heterosexual romance in art, literature, the media, advertising, etc.; child marriage; arranged marriage; prostitution; the harem; psychoanalytic doctrines of frigidity and vaginal orgasm; pornographic depictions of women responding pleasurably to sexual violence and humiliation (a subliminal message being that sadistic heterosexuality is more “normal” than sensuality between women).
  3. to command or exploit their labor to control their produce — by means of the institutions of marriage and motherhood as unpaid productions; the horizontal segregation of women in paid employment; the decoy of the upwardly mobile token woman; male control of abortion, contraception, sterilization, and childbirth; pimping; female infanticide, which robs mothers of daughters and contributes to generalized devaluation of women.
  4. to control or rob them of their children — by means of father right and “legal kidnapping”;16 enforced sterilization; systematized infanticide; seizure of children from lesbian mothers by the courts; the malpractice of male obstetrics; use of the mother as the “token torturer”17in genital mutilation or in binding the daughter’s feet (or mind) to fit her for marriage
  5. to confine them physically and prevent their movement — by means of rape as terrorism, keeping women off the streets; purdah; foot binding; atrophying of women’s athletic capabilities; high heels and “feminine” dress codes in fashion; the veil; sexual harassment on the streets; horizontal segregation of women in employment; prescriptions for “full-time” mothering at home; enforced economic dependence of wives.
  6. to use them as objects in male transactions — use of women as “gifts”; bride price; pimping; arranged marriage; use of women as entertainers to facilitate male deals—e.g., wife-hostess, cocktail waitress required to dress for male sexual titillation, call girls, “bunnies,” geisha, kisaeng prostitutes, secretaries.
  7. to cramp their creativeness— witch persecutions as campaigns against midwives and female healers, and as pogrom against independent, “unassimilated” women;18 definition of male pursuits as more valuable than female within any culture, so that cultural values become the embodiment of male subjectivity; restriction of female self-fulfilment to marriage and motherhood; sexual exploitation of women by male artists and teachers; the social and economic disruption of women’s creative aspirations; 19 erasure of female tradition 20
  8. to withhold from them large areas of the society’s knowledge and cultural attainments — by means of noneducation of females; the “Great Silence” regarding women and particularly lesbian existence in history and culture;21sex-role tracking which deflects women from science, technology, and other “masculine” pursuits; male social/professional bonding which excludes women; discrimination against women in the professions.

These are some of the methods by which male power is manifested and maintained. Looking at the schema, what surely impresses itself is the fact that we are confronting not a simple maintenance of inequality and property possession, but a pervasive cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness, which suggests that an enormous potential counterforce is having to be restrained.
Some of the forms by which male power manifests itself are more easily recognizable as enforcing heterosexuality on women than are others. Yet each one I have listed adds to the cluster of forces within which women have been convinced that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable—even if unsatisfying or oppressive—components of their lives. The chastity belt; child marriage; erasure of lesbian existence (except as exotic and perverse) in art, literature, film; idealization of heterosexual romance and marriage—these are some fairly obvious forms of compulsion, the first two exemplifying physical force, the second two control of consciousness. While clitoridectomy has been assailed by feminists as a form of woman torture,22 Kathleen Barry first pointed out that it is not simply a way of turning the young girl into a “marriageable” woman through brutal surgery. It intends that women in the intimate proximity of polygons marriage will not form sexual relationships with each other, that—from a male, genital-fetishist perspective—female erotic connections, even in a sex-segregated situation, will be literally excised.23
The function of pornography as an influence on consciousness is a major public issue of our time, when a multibillion-dollar industry has the power to disseminate increasingly sadistic, women-degrading visual images. But even so-called soft-core pornography and advertising depict women as objects of sexual appetite devoid of emotional context, without individual meaning or personality—essentially as a sexual commodity to be consumed by males. (So-called lesbian pornography, created for the male voyeuristic eye, is equally devoid of emotional context or individual personality.) The most pernicious message relayed by pornography is that women are natural sexual prey to men and love it, that sexuality and violence are congruent, and that for women sex is essentially masochistic, humiliation pleasurable, physical abuse erotic. But along with this message comes another, not always recognized: that enforced submission and the use of cruelty, if played out in heterosexual pairing, is sexually “normal,” while sensuality between women, including erotic mutuality and respect, is “queer,” “sick,” and either pornographic in itself or not very exciting compared with the sexuality of whips and bondage.24 Pornography does not simply create a climate in which sex and violence are interchangeable; it widens the range of behavior considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse—behavior which reiteratively strips women of their autonomy, dignity, and sexual potential, including the potential of loving and being loved by women in mutuality and integrity.
In her brilliant study Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, Catherine A. MacKinnon delineates the intersection of compulsory heterosexuality and economics. Under capitalism, women are horizontally segregated by gender and occupy a structurally inferior position in the workplace. This is hardly news, but MacKinnon raises the question why, even if capitalism “requires some collection of individuals to occupy low-status, low-paying positions . . . such persons must be biologically female,” and goes on to point out that “the fact that male employers often do not hire qualified women, even when they could pay them less than men suggests that more than the profit motive is implicated” emphasis added.25 She cites a wealth of material documenting the fact that women are not only segregated in low-paying service jobs (as secretaries, domestics, nurses, typists, telephone operators, child-care workers, waitresses), but that “sexualization of the woman” is part of the job. Central and intrinsic to the economic realities of women’s lives is the requirement that women will “market sexual attractiveness to men, who tend to hold the economic power and position to enforce their predilections.” And MacKinnon documents that “sexual harassment perpetuates the interlocked structure by which women have been kept sexually in thrall to men at the bottom of the labor market. Two forces of American society converge: men’s control over women’s sexuality and capital’s control over employees’ work lives.”26 Thus, women in the workplace are at the mercy of sex as power in a vicious circle. Economically disadvantaged, women— whether waitresses or professors—endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs and learn to behave in a complaisantly and ingratiatingly heterosexual manner because they discover this is their true qualification for employment, whatever the job description. And, MacKinnon notes, the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being “dried up” and sexless, or lesbian. This raises a specific difference between the experiences of lesbians and homosexual men. A lesbian, closeted on her job because of heterosexual prejudice, is not simply forced into denying the truth of her outside relationships or private life. Her job depends on her pretending to be not merely heterosexual, but a heterosexual woman in terms of dressing and playing the feminine, deferential role required of “real” women.
MacKinnon raises radical questions as to the qualitative differences between sexual harassment, rape, and ordinary heterosexual intercourse. (“As one accused rapist put it, he hadn’t used ‘any more force than is usual for males during the preliminaries.’”) She criticizes Susan Brownmiller27 for separating rape from the mainstream of daily life and for her unexamined premise that “rape is violence, intercourse is sexuality,” removing rape from the sexual sphere altogether. More crucially she argues that “taking rape from the realm of ‘the sexual,’ placing it in the realm of ‘the violent,’ allows one to be against it without raising any questions about the extent to which the institution of heterosexuality has defined force as a normal part of ‘the preliminaries.’”28 “Never is it asked whether, under conditions of male supremacy, the notion of ‘consent’ has any meaning.”29
The fact is that the workplace, among other social institutions, is a place where women have learned to accept male violation of their psychic and physical boundaries as the price of survival; where women have been educated—no less than by romantic literature or by pornography—to perceive themselves as sexual prey. A woman seeking to escape such casual violations along with economic disadvantage may well turn to marriage as a form of hope-for protection, while bringing into marriage neither social nor economic power, thus entering that institution also from a disadvantaged position. MacKinnon finally asks:

What if inequality is built into the social conceptions of male and female sexuality, of masculinity and femininity, of sexiness and heterosexual attractiveness? Incidents of sexual harassment suggest that male sexual desire itself may be aroused by female vulnerability. . . . Men feel they can take advantage, so they want to, so they do. Examination of sexual harassment, precisely because the episodes appear commonplace, forces one to confront the fact that sexual intercourse normally occurs between economic (as well as physical) unequals . . . the apparent legal requirement that violations of women’s sexuality appear out of the ordinary before they will be punished helps prevent women from defining the ordinary conditions of their own consent.30

Given the nature and extent of heterosexual pressures—the daily “eroticization of women’s subordination,” as MacKinnon phrases it31—I question the more or less psychoanalytic perspective (suggested by such writers as Karen Horney, H.R. Hayes, Wolfgang Lederer, and, most recently, Dorothy Dinnerstein) that the male need to control women sexually results from some primal male “fear of women” and of women’s sexual insatiability. It seems more probable that men really fear not that they will have women’s sexual appetites forced on them or that women want to smother and devour them, but that women could be indifferent to them altogether, that men could be allowed sexual and emotional—therefore economic—access to women only on women’s terms, otherwise being left on the periphery of the matrix.
The means of assuring male sexual access to women have recently received searching investigation by Kathleen Barry.32 She documents extensive and appalling evidence for the existence, on a very large scale, of international female slavery, the institution once known as “white slavery” but which in fact has involved, and at this very moment involves, women of every race and class. In the theoretical analysis derived from her research, Barry makes the connection between all enforced conditions under which women live subject to men: prostitution, marital rape, fatherdaughter and brother-sister incest, wife beating, pornography, bride price, the selling of daughters, purdah, and genital mutilation. She sees the rape paradigm—where the victim of sexual assault is held responsible for her own victimization—as leading to the rationalization and acceptance of other forms of enslavement where the woman is presumed to have “chosen” her fate, to embrace it passively, or to have courted it perversely through rash or unchaste behavior. On the contrary, Barry maintains, “female sexual slavery is present in ALL situations where women or girls cannot change the conditions of their existence; where regardless of how they got into those conditions, e.g., social pressure, economic hardship, misplaced trust or the longing for affection, they cannot get out; and where they are subject to sexual violence and exploitation.”33 She provides a spectrum of concrete examples, not only as to the existence of a widespread international traffic in women, but also as to how this operates—whether in the form of a “Minnesota pipeline” funnelling blond, blue-eyed Midwestern runaways to Times Square, or the purchasing of young women out of rural poverty in Latin America or Southeast Asia, or the providing of maisons d’abattage for migrant workers in the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris. Instead of “blaming the victim” or trying to diagnose her presumed pathology, Barry turns her floodlight on the pathology of sex colonization itself, the ideology of “cultural sadism” represented by the pornography industry and by the overall identification of women primarily as “sexual beings whose responsibility is the sexual service of men.”34
Barry delineates what she names a “sexual domination perspective” through whose lens sexual abuse and terrorism of women by men has been rendered almost invisible by treating it as natural and inevitable. From its point of view, women are expendable as long as the sexual and emotional needs of the male can be satisfied. To replace this perspective of domination with a universal standard of basic freedom for women from gender-specific violence, from constraints on movement, and from male right of sexual and emotional access is the political purpose of her book. Like Mary Daly in Gyn/Ecology, Barry rejects structuralist and other cultural-relativist rationalizations for sexual torture and anti-woman violence. In her opening chapter, she asks of her readers that they refuse all handy escapes into ignorance and denial. “The only way we can come out of hiding, break through our paralyzing defenses, is to know it all—the full extent of sexual violence and domination of women. . . . In knowing, in facing directly, we can learn to chart our course out of this oppression, by envisioning and creating a world which will preclude sexual slavery.”35
“Until we name the practice, give conceptual definition and form to it, illustrate its life over time and in space, those who are its most obvious victims will also not be able to name it or define their experience.”
But women are all, in different ways and to different degrees, its victims; and part of the problem with naming and conceptualizing female sexual slavery is, as Barry clearly sees, compulsory heterosexuality.36 Compulsory heterosexuality simplifies the task of procurer and pimp in worldwide prostitution rings and “eros centers,” while in the privacy of the home, it leads the daughter to “accept” incest/rape by her father, the mother to deny that it is happening, the battered wife to stay on with an abusive husband. “Befriending or love” is a major tactic of the procurer, whose job it is to turn the runaway or the confused young girl over to the pimp for seasoning. The ideology of heterosexual romance, beamed at her from childhood out of fairy tales, television, films, advertising, popular songs, wedding pageantry, is a tool ready to the procurer’s hand and one which he does not hesitate to use, as Barry documents. Early female indoctrination in “love” as an emotion may be largely a Western concept; but a more universal ideology concerns the primacy and controllability of the male sexual drive. This is one of many insights offered by Barry’s work:

As sexual power is learned by adolescent boys through the social experience of their sex drive, so do girls learn that the locus of sexual power is male. Given the importance placed on the male sex drive in the socialization of girls as well as boys, early adolescence is probably the first significant phase of male identification in a girl’s life and development. . . . As a young girl becomes aware of her own increasing sexual feelings . . . she turns away from her heretofore primary relationships with girlfriends. As they become secondary to her, recede in importance in her life, her own identity also assumes a secondary role and she grows into male identification.37

We still need to ask why some women never, even temporarily, turn away from “heretofore primary relationships” with other females. And why does male identification—the casting of one’s social, political, and intellectual allegiances with men—exist among lifelong sexual lesbians? Barry’s hypothesis throws us among new questions, but it clarifies the diversity of forms in which compulsory heterosexuality presents itself. In the mystique of the overpowering, all-conquering male sex drive, the penis-with-a-life-of-its own, is rooted the law of male sex right to women, which justifies prostitution as a universal cultural assumption on the one hand, while defending sexual slavery within the family on the basis of “family privacy and cultural uniqueness” on the other.38 The adolescent male sex drive, which, as both young women and men are taught, once triggered cannot take responsibility for itself or take no for an answer, becomes, according to Barry, the norm and rationale for adult male sexual behavior: a condition of arrested sexual development. Women learn to accept as natural the inevitability of this “drive” because they receive it as dogma. Hence, marital rape; hence, the Japanese wife resignedly packing her husband’s suitcase for a weekend in the kisaeng brothels of Taiwan; hence, the psychological as well as economic imbalance of power between husband and wife, male employer and female worker, father and daughter, male professor and female student.

The effect of male identification means internalizing the values of the colonizer and actively participating in carrying out the colonization of one’s self and one’s sex. . . . Male identification is the act whereby women place men above women, including themselves, in credibility, status, and importance in most situations, regardless of the comparative quality the women may bring to the situation. . . . Interaction with women is seen as a lesser form of relating on every level.39

What deserves further exploration is the doublethink many women engage in and from which no woman is permanently and utterly free: However woman-to-woman relationships, female support networks, a female and feminist value system are relied on and cherished, indoctrination in male credibility and status can still create synapses in thought, denials of feeling, wishful thinking, a profound sexual and intellectual confusion.40 I quote here from a letter I received the day I was writing this passage: “I have had very bad relationships with men—I am now in the midst of a very painful separation. I am trying to find my strength through women— without my friends, I could not survive.” How many times a day do women speak words like these or think them or write them, and how often does the synapse reassert itself?

Barry summarizes her findings:

Considering the arrested sexual development that is understood to be normal in the male population, and considering the numbers of men who are pimps, procurers, members of slavery gangs, corrupt officials participating in this traffic, owners, operators, employees of brothels and lodging and entertainment facilities, pornography purveyors, associated with prostitution, wife beaters, child molesters, incest perpetrators, johns (tricks) and rapists, one cannot but be momentarily stunned by the enormous male population engaging in female sexual slavery. The huge number of men engaged in these practices should be cause for declaration of an international emergency, a crisis in sexual violence. But what should be cause for alarm is instead accepted as normal sexual intercourse.41

Susan Cavin, in a rich and provocative, if highly speculative, dissertation, suggests that patriarchy becomes possible when the original female band, which includes children but ejects adolescent males, becomes invaded and outnumbered by males; that not patriarchal marriage, but the rape of the mother by the son, becomes the first act of male domination. The entering wedge, or leverage, which allows this to happen is not just a simple change in sex ratios; it is also the mother-child bond, manipulated by adolescent males in order to remain within the matrix past the age of exclusion. Maternal affection is used to establish male right of sexual access, which, however, must ever after be held by force (or through control of consciousness) since the original deep adult bonding is that of woman for woman.42 I find this hypothesis extremely suggestive, since one form of false consciousness which serves compulsory heterosexuality is the maintenance of a mother-son relationship between women and men, including the demand that women provide maternal solace, nonjudgmental nurturing, and compassion for their harassers, rapists, and batterers (as well as for men who passively vampirize them).
But whatever its origins, when we look hard and clearly at the extent and elaboration of measures designed to keep women within a male sexual purlieu, it becomes an inescapable question whether the issue feminists have to address is not simple “gender inequality” nor the domination of culture by males nor mere “taboos against homosexuality,” but the enforcement of heterosexuality for women as a means of assuring male right of physical, economic, and emotional access.43 One of the many means of enforcement is, of course, the rendering invisible of the lesbian possibility, an engulfed continent which rises fragmentally into view from time to time only to become submerged again. Feminist research and theory that contribute to lesbian invisibility or marginality are actually working against the liberation and empowerment of women as a group.44
The assumption that “most women are innately heterosexual” stands as a theoretical and political stumbling block for feminism. It remains a tenable assumption partly because lesbian existence has been written out of history or catalogued under disease, partly because it has been treated as exceptional rather than intrinsic, partly because to acknowledge that for women heterosexuality may not be a “preference” at all but something that has had to be imposed, managed, organized, propagandized, and maintained by force is an immense step to take if you consider yourself freely and “innately” heterosexual. Yet the failure to examine heterosexuality as an institution is like failing to admit that the economic system called capitalism or the caste system of racism is maintained by a variety of forces, including both physical violence and false consciousness. To take the step of questioning heterosexuality as a “preference” or “choice” for women—and to do the intellectual and emotional work that follows— will call for a special quality of courage in heterosexually identified feminists, but I think the rewards will be great: a freeing-up of thinking, the exploring of new paths, the shattering of another great silence, new clarity in personal relationships.


I have chosen to use the term lesbian existence and lesbian continuum because the word lesbianism has a clinical and limiting ring. Lesbian existence suggests both the fact of the historical presence of lesbians and our continuing creation of the meaning of that existence. I mean the term lesbian continuum to include a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of women-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman. If we expand it to embrace many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support, if we can also hear it in such associations as marriage resistance and the “haggard” behavior identified in Mary Daly (obsolete meanings: “intractable,” “willful,” “wanton,” and “unchaste,” “a woman reluctant to yield to wooing”),45 we begin to grasp breadths of female history and psychology which have lain out of reach as a consequence of limited, mostly clinical, definitions of lesbianism.
Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on male right of access to women. But it is more than these, although we may first begin to perceive it as a form of naysaying to patriarchy, an act of resistance. It has, of course, included isolation, self-hatred, breakdown, alcoholism, suicide, and intrawoman violence; we romanticize at our peril what it means to love and act against the grain, and under heavy penalties; and lesbian existence has been lived (unlike, say, Jewish or Catholic existence) without access to any knowledge of a tradition, a continuity, a social underpinning. The destruction of records and memorabilia and letters documenting the realities of lesbian existence must be taken very seriously as a means of keeping heterosexuality compulsory for women, since what has been kept from our knowledge is joy, sensuality, courage, and community, as well as guilt, self-betrayal, and pain.46
Lesbians have historically been deprived of a political existence through “inclusion” as female versions of male homosexuality. To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to erase female reality once again. Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lacking a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life and common cause with homosexual men. But there are differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships—for example, the patterns of anonymous sex among male homosexuals, and the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness. I perceive the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience, with particular oppressions, meanings, and potentialities we cannot comprehend as long as we simply bracket it with other sexually stigmatized existences. Just as the term parenting serves to conceal the particular and significant realty of being a parent who is actually a mother, the term gay may serve the purpose of blurring the very outlines we need to discern, which are of crucial value for feminism and for the freedom of women as a group.47
As the term lesbian has been held to limiting, clinical associations in its patriarchal definition, female friendship and comradeship have been set apart from the erotic, this limiting the erotic itself. But as we deepen and broaden the range of what we define as lesbian existence, as we delineate a lesbian continuum, we begin to discover the erotic in female terms: as that which is unconfined to any single part of the body or solely to the body itself; as an energy not only diffuse but, as Audre Lorde has described it, omnipresent in “the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic,” and in the sharing of work; as the empowering joy which “makes us less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”48 In another context, writing of women and work, I quoted the autobiographical passage in which the poet H.D. described how her friend Bryher supported her in persisting with the visionary experience which was to shape her mature work:

I knew that this experience, this writing-on-the-wall before me, could not be shared with anyone except the girl who stood so bravely there beside me. This girl said without hesitation, “Go on.” It was she really who had the detachment and integrity of the Pythoness of Delphi. But it was I, battered and dissociated . . . who was seeing the pictures, and who was reading the writing or granted the inner vision. Or perhaps, in some sense, we were “seeing” it together, for without her, admittedly, I could not have gone on.49

If we consider the possibility that all women—from the infant suckling at her mother’s breast, to the grown woman experiencing orgasmic sensations while suckling her own child, perhaps recalling her mother’s milk smell in her own, to two women like Virginia Woolf’s Chloe and Olivia, who share a laboratory,50 to the woman dying at ninety, touched and handled by women—exist on a lesbian continuum, we can see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not.
We can then connect aspects of woman identification as diverse as the impudent, intimate girl friendships of eight or nine year olds and the banding together of those women of the twelfth and fifteenth centuries known as the Beguines who “shared houses, rented to one another, bequeathed houses to their room-mates . . . in cheap subdivided houses in the artisans’ area of town,” who “practiced Christian virtue on their own, dressing and living simply and not associating with men,” who earned their livings as spinsters, bakers, nurses, or ran schools for young girls, and who managed—until the Church forced them to disperse—to live independent both of marriage and of conventual restrictions.51 It allows us to connect these women with the more celebrated “Lesbians” of the women’s school around Sappho of the seventh century B.C., with the secret sororities and economic networks reported among African women, and with the Chinese marriage-resistance sisterhoods—communties of women who refused marriage or who, if married, often refused to consummate their marriages and soon left their husbands, the only women in China who were not footbound and who, Agnes Smedley tells us, welcomed the births of daughters and organzied successful women’s strikes in the silk mills.52 It allows us to connect and compare disparate individual instances of marriage resistance: for example, the strategies available to Emily Dickinson, a nineteenth-century white woman genius, with the strategies available to Zora Neale Hurston, a twentieth-century Black woman genius. Dickinson never married, had tenuous intellectual friendships with men, lived self-convented in her genteel father’s house in Amherst, and wrote a lifetime of passionate letters to her sister-in-law Sue Gilbert and a smaller group of such letters to her friend Kate Scott Anthon. Hurston married twice but soon left each husband, scrambled her way from Florida to Harlem to Columbia University to Haiti and finally back to Florida, moved in and out of white patronage and poverty, professional success, and failure; her survival relationships were all with women, beginning with her mother. Both of these women in their vastly different circumstances were marriage resisters, committed to their own work and selfhood, and were later characterized as “apolitical.” Both were drawn to men of intellectual quality; for both of them women provided the ongoing fascination and sustenance of life.
If we think of heterosexuality as the natural emotional and sensual inclination for women, lives as these are seen as deviant, as pathological, or as emotionally and sensually deprived. Or, in more recent and permissive jargon, they are banalized as “life styles.” And the work of such women, whether merely the daily work of individual or collective survival and resistance or the work of the writer, the activist, the reformer, the anthropologist, or the artist—the work of self-creation—is undervalued, or seen as the bitter fruit of “penis envy” or the sublimation of repressed eroticism or the meaningless rant of a “man-hater.” But when we turn the lens of vision and consider the degree to which and the methods whereby heterosexual “preference” has actually been imposed on women, not only can we understand differently the meaning of individual lives and work, but we can begin to recognize a central fact of women’s history: that women have always resisted male tyranny. A feminism of action, often though not always without a theory, has constantly re-emerged in every culture and in every period. We can then begin to study women’s struggle against powerlessness, women’s radical rebellion, not just in maledefined “concrete revolutionary situations”53 but in all the situations male ideologies have not perceived as revolutionary—for example, the refusal of some women to produce children, aided at great risk by other women;54 the refusal to produce a higher standard of living and leisure for men (Leghorn and Parker show how both are part of women’s unacknowledged, unpaid, and ununionized economic contribution). We can no longer have patience with Dinnerstein’s view that women have simply collaborated with men in the “sexual arrangements” of history. We begin to observe behavior, both in history and in individual biography, that has hitherto been invisible or misnamed, behavior which often constitutes, given the limits of the counterforce exerted in a given time and place, radical rebellion. And we can connect these rebellions and the necessity for them with the physical passion of woman for woman which is central to lesbian existence: the erotic sensuality which as been, precisely, the most violently erased fact of female experience.
Heterosexuality has been both forcibly and subliminally imposed on women. Yet everywhere women have resisted it, often at the cost of physical torture, imprisonment, psychosurgery, social ostracism, and extreme poverty. “Compulsory heterosexuality” was named as one of the “crimes against women” by the Brussels International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in 1976. Two pieces of testimony from two very different cultures reflect the degree to which persecution of lesbians is a global practice here and now. A report from Norway relates:

A lesbian in Oslo was in a heterosexual marriage that didn’t work, so she stared taking tranquillizers and ended up at the health sanatorium for treatment and rehabilitation. . . . The moment she said in family group therapy that she believed she was a lesbian, the doctor told her she was not. He knew from “looking into her eyes,” he said. She had the eyes of a woman who wanted sexual intercourse with her husband. So she was subjected to socalled “couch therapy.” She was put into a comfortably heated room, naked, on a bed, and for an hour her husband was to . . . try to excite her sexually. . . . The ideal was that the touching was always to end with sexual intercourse. She felt stronger and stronger aversion. She threw up and sometimes ran out of the room to avoid this “treatment.” The more strongly she asserted that she was a lesbian, the more violent the forced heterosexual intercourse became. This treatment went on for about six months. She escaped from the hospital, but she was brought back. Again she escaped. She has not been there since. In the end she realized that she had been subjected to forcible rape for six months.

And from Mozambique:

I am condemned to a life of exile because I will not deny that I am a lesbian, that my primary commitments are, and will always be to other women. In the new Mozambique, lesbianism is considered a left-over from colonialism and decadent Western civilization. Lesbians are sent to rehabilitation camps to learn through self-criticism the correct line about themselves. . . . If I am forced to denounce my own love for women, if I therefore denounce myself, I could go back to Mozambique and join forces in the exciting and hard struggle of rebuilding a nation, including the struggle for the emancipation of Mozambiquan women. As it is, I either risk the rehabilitation camps, or remain in exile.55

Nor can it be assumed that women like those in Carroll SmithRosenberg’s study, who married, stayed married, yet dwelt in a profoundly female emotional and passional world, “preferred” or “chose” heterosexuality. Women have married because it was necessary, in order to survive economically, in order to have children who would not suffer economic deprivation or social ostracism, in order to remain respectable, in order to do what was expected of women, because coming out of “abnormal” childhoods they wanted to feel “normal” and because heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure, duty, and fulfillment. We may faithfully or ambivalently have obeyed the institution, but our feelings—and our sensuality—have not been tamed or contained with in it. There is no statistical documentation of the numbers of lesbians who have remained in heterosexual marriages for most of their lives. But in a letter to the early lesbian publication The Ladder, the playwright Lorraine Hansberry had this to say:

I suspect that that problem of the married woman who would prefer emotional-physical relationships with other women is proportionally much higher than a similar statistic for men. (A statistic surely no one will ever really have.) This because of the estate of women being what it is, how could we ever begin to guess the numbers of women who are not prepared to risk a life alien to what they have been taught all their lives to believe was their “natural” destiny—AND—their only expectation for ECONOMIC security. It seems to be that this is why the question has an immensity that it does not have for male homosexuals. . . . A woman of strength and honesty may, if she chooses, sever her marriage and marry a new male mate and society will be upset that the divorce rate is rising so—but there are few places in the United States, in any event, where she will be anything remotely akin to an “outcast.” Obviously this is not true for a woman who would end her marriage to take up life with another woman.56

This double life—this apparent acquiescence to an institution founded on male interest and prerogative—has been characteristic of female experience: in motherhood and in many kinds of heterosexual behavior, including the rituals of courtship; the pretense of asexuality by the nineteenth-century wife; the simulation of orgasm by the prostitute, the courtesan, the twentieth-century “sexually liberated” woman.
Meridel LeSueur’s documentary novel of the depression, The Girl, is arresting as a study of female double life. The protagonist, a waitress in a St. Paul working-class speakeasy, feels herself passionately attracted to the young man Butch, but her survival relationships are with Clara, an older waitress and prostitute, with Belle, whose husband owns the bar, and with Amelia, a union activist. For Clara and Belle and the unnamed protagonist, sex with men is in one sense an escape from the bedrock misery of daily life, a flare of intensity in the gray, relentless, often brutal web of day-to-day existence:

It was like having a magnet pulling me. It was exciting and powerful and frightening. He was after me too and when he found me I would run, or be petrified, just standing in front of him like a zany. And he told me not to be wandering with Clara to the Marigold where we danced with strangers. He said he would knock the shit out of me. Which made me shake and tremble, but it was better than being a husk full of suffering and not knowing why.57

Throughout the novel the theme of double life emerges; Belle reminisces about her marriage to bootlegger Hoinck:

You know, when I had that black eye and said I hit it on the cupboard, well he did it the bastard, and then he says don’t tell anybody. . . . He’s nuts, that’s what he is, nuts, and I don’t see why I live with him, why I put up with him a minute on this earth. But listen kid, she said, I’m telling you something. She looked at me and her face was wonderful. She said, Jesus Christ, Goddam him I love him that’s why I’m hooked like this all my life, Goddam him I love him.58

After the protagonist has her first sex with Butch, her women friends care for her bleeding, give her whiskey, and compare notes.

My luck, the first time and I got into trouble. He gave me a little money and I come to St. Paul where for ten bucks they’d stick a huge vet’s needle into you and you start it and then you were on your own. . . . I never had no child. I’ve just had Hoinck to mother, and a hell of a child he is.59

Later they made me go back to Clara’s room to lie down. . . . Clara lay down beside me and put her arms around me and wanted me to tell her about it but she wanted to tell about herself. She said she started it when she was twelve with a bunch of boys in an old shed. She said nobody had paid any attention to her before and she became very popular. . . . They like it so much, she said, why shouldn’t you give it to them and get presents and attention? I never cared anything for it and neither did my mama. But it’s the only thing you got that’s valuable.60

Sex is thus equated with attention from the male, who is charismatic though brutal, infantile, or unreliable. Yet it is the women who make life endurable for each other, give physical affection without causing pain, share, advise, and stick by each other. (I am trying to find my strength through women—without my friends, I could not survive.) LeSueur’s The Girl parallels Toni Morrison’s remarkable Sula, another revelation of female double life:

Nel was the one person who had wanted nothing from her, who had accepted all aspects of her. . . . Nel was one of the reasons Sula had drifted back to Medallion. . . . The men . . . had merged into one large personality: the same language of love, the same entertainments of love, the same cooling of love. Whenever she introduced her private thoughts into their rubbings and goings, they hooded their eyes. They taught her nothing but love tricks, shared nothing but worry, gave nothing but money. She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be—for a woman.

But Sula’s last thought at the second of her death is “Wait’ll I tell Nel.” And after Sula’s death, Nel looks back on her own life:

“All that time, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.” And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. “We was girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “Girl, girl, girlgirlgirl!” It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.61

The Girl and Sula are both novels which examine what I am calling the lesbian continuum, in contrast to the shallow or sensational “lesbian scenes” in recent commercial fiction.62 Each shows us woman identification untarnished (till the end of LeSueur’s novel) by romanticism; each depicts the competition of heterosexual compulsion for women’s attention, the diffusion and frustration of female bonding that might, in a more conscious form, reintegrate love and power.


Woman identification is a source of energy, a potential springhead of female power, curtailed and contained under the institution of heterosexuality. The denial of reality and invisibility to women’s passion for women, women’s choice of women as allies, life companions, and community, the forcing of such relationships into dissimulation and their disintegration under intense pressure have meant an incalculable loss to the power of all women to change the social relations of the sexes, to liberate ourselves and each other. The lie of compulsory female heterosexuality today afflicts not just feminist scholarship, but every profession, every reference work, every curriculum, every organizing attempt, every relationship or conversation over which it hovers. It creates, specifically, a profound falseness, hypocrisy, and hysteria in the heterosexual dialogue, for every heterosexual relationship is lived in the queasy strobe light of that lie. However we choose to identify ourselves, however we find ourselves labeled, it flickers across and distorts our lives.63
The lie keeps numberless women psychologically trapped, trying to fit mind, spirit, and sexuality into a prescribed script because they cannot look beyond the parameters of the acceptable. It pulls on the energy of such women even as it drains the energy of “closeted” lesbians—the energy exhausted in the double life. The lesbian trapped in the “closet,” the woman imprisoned in prescriptive ideas of the “normal” share the pain of blocked options, broken connections, lost access to self-definition freely and powerfully assumed.
The lie is many-layered. In Western tradition, one layer—the romantic—asserts that women are inevitably, even if rashly and tragically, drawn to men; that even when that attraction is suicidal (e.g., Tristan and Isolde, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening), it is still an organic imperative. In the tradition of the social sciences it asserts that primary love between the sexes is “normal”; that women need men as social and economic protectors, for adult sexuality, and for psychological completion; that the heterosexually constituted family is the basic social unit; that women who do not attach their primary intensity to men must be, in functional terms, condemned to an even more devastating outsiderhood than their outsiderhood as women. Small wonder that lesbians are reported to be a more hidden population than male homosexuals. The Black lesbian-feminist critic Lorraine Bethel, writing on Zora Neale Hurston, remarks that for a Black woman— already twice an outsider—to choose to assume still another “hated identity” is problematic indeed. Yet the lesbian continuum has been a life line for Black women both in Africa and the United States.

Black women have a long tradition of bonding together . . . in a Black/women’s community that has been a source of vital survival information, psychic and emotional support for us. We have a distinct Black women-identified folk culture based on our experiences as Black women in this society; symbols, language and modes of expression that are specific to the realities of our lives. . . . Because Black women were rarely among those Blacks and females who gained access to literary and other acknowledged forms of artistic expression, this Black female bonding and Black woman-identification has often been hidden and unrecorded except in the individual lives of Black women through our own memories of our particular Black female tradition.64

Another layer of the lie is the frequently encountered implication that women turn to women out of hatred for men. Profound scepticism, caution, and righteous paranoia about men may indeed be part of any healthy woman’s response to the misogyny of male-dominated culture, to the forms assumed by “normal” male sexuality, and to the failure even of “sensitive” or “political” men to perceive or find these troubling. Lesbian existence is also represented as mere refuge from male abuses, rather than as an electric and empowering charge between women. One of the most frequently quoted literary passages on lesbian relationship is that in which Colette’s Renée, in The Vagabond, describes “the melancholy and touching image of two weak creatures who have perhaps found shelter in each other’s arms, there to sleep and weep, safe from man who is often cruel, and there to taste better than any pleasure, the bitter happiness of feeling themselves akin, frail and forgotten emphasis added.”65 Colette is often considered a lesbian writer. Her popular reputation has, I think, much to do with the fact that she writes about lesbian existence as if for a male audience; her earliest “lesbian” novels, the Claudine series, were written under compulsion for her husband and published under both their names. At all events, expect for her writings on her mother, Colette is a less reliable source on the lesbian continuum than I would think, Charlotte Brontë, who understood that while women may, indeed must, be one another’s allies, mentors, and comforters in the female struggle for survival, there is quite extraneous delight in each other’s company and attraction to each others’ minds and character, which attend a recognition of each others’ strengths.
By the same token, we can say that there is a nascent feminist political content in the act of choosing a woman lover or life partner in the face of institutionalized heterosexuality.66 But for lesbian existence to realize this political content in an ultimately liberating form, the erotic choice must deepen and expand into conscious woman identification—into lesbian feminism.
The work that lies ahead, of unearthing and describing what I call here “lesbian existence,” is potentially liberating for all women. It is work that must assuredly move beyond the limits of white and middle-class Western Women’s Studies to examine women’s lives, work, and groupings within every racial, ethnic, and political structure. There are differences, moreover, between “lesbian existence” and the “lesbian continuum,” differences we can discern even in the movement of our own lives. The lesbian continuum, I suggest, needs delineation in light of the “double life” of women, not lonely women self-described as heterosexual but also of self-described lesbians. We need a far more exhaustive account of the forms the double life has assumed. Historians need to ask at every point how heterosexuality as institution has been organized and maintained through the female wage scale, the enforcement of middle-class women’s “leisure.” The glamorization of the so-called sexual liberation, the withholding of education from women, the imagery of “high art” and popular culture, the mystification of the “personal” sphere, and much else. We need an economics which comprehends the institution of heterosexuality, with its doubled workload for women and its sexual divisions of labor, as the most idealized of economic relations.
The question inevitably will arise: Are we then to condemn all heterosexual relationships, including those which are least oppressive? I believe this question, though often heartfelt, is the wrong question here. We have been stalled in a maze of false dichotomies which prevents our apprehending the institution as a whole: “good” versus “bad” marriages; “marriage for love” versus arranged marriage; “liberated” sex versus prostitution; heterosexual intercourse versus rape; Liebeschmerz versus humiliation and dependency. Within the institution exist, of course, qualitative differences of experience; but the absence of choice remains the great unacknowledged reality, and in the absence of choice, women will remain dependent upon the chance or luck of particular relationships and will have no collective power to determine the meaning and place of sexuality in their lives. As we address the institution itself, moreover, we begin to perceive a history of female resistance which has never fully understood itself because it has been so fragmented, miscalled, erased. It will require a courageous grasp of the politics and economics, as well as the cultural propaganda, of heterosexuality to carry us beyond individual cases or diversified group situations into the complex kind of overview needed to undo the power men everywhere wield over women, power which has become a model for every other form of exploitation and illegitimate control.

Palavras Finais

In 1980, Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson, three Marxist-feminist activists and scholars, sent out a call for papers for an anthology on the politics of sexuality. Having just finished writing “Compulsory Heterosexuality” for Signs, I sent them that manuscript and asked them to consider it. Their anthology, Powers of Desire was published by the Monthly Review Press New Feminist Library in 1983 and included my paper. During the intervening period, the four of us were in correspondence, but I was able to take only limited advantage of this dialogue due to ill health and resulting surgery. With their permission, I reprint here excerpts from that correspondence as a way of indicating that my essay should be read as one contribution to a long exploration in progress, not as my own “last word” on sexual politics. I also refer interested readers to Powers of Desire itself.
Dear Adrienne,
. . . In one of our first letters, we told you that we were finding parameters of left-wing/feminist sexual discourse to be far broader than we imagined. Since then, we have perceived what we believe to be a crisis in the feminist movement about sex, an intensifying debate (although not always an explicit one), and a questioning of assumptions once taken for granted. While we fear the link between sex and violence, as do Women Against Pornography, we wish we better understood its sources in ourselves as well as in men. In the Reagan era, we can hardly afford to romanticize any old norm of a virtuous and moral sexuality.
In your piece, you are asking the question, what would women choose in a world where patriarchy and capitalism did not rule? We agree with you that heterosexuality is an institution created between these grind stones, but we don’t conclude, therefore, that it is entirely a male creation. You only allow for female historical agency insofar as women exist on the lesbian continuum while we would argue that women’s history, like men’s history, is created out of a dialectic of necessity and choice.
All three of us (hence one lesbian, two heterosexual women) had questions about your use of the term “false consciousness” for women’s heterosexuality. In general, we think the false-consciousness model can blind us to the necessities and desires that comprise the lives of the oppressed. It can also lead to the too easy denial of others’ experience when that experience is different from our own. We posit, rather, a complex social model in which all erotic life is a continuum, one which therefore includes relations with men.
Which brings us to this metaphor of the continuum. We know you are a poet, not an historian, and we look forward to reading your metaphors all our lives—and standing straighter as feminists, as women, for having read them. But the metaphor of the lesbian continuum is open to all kinds of misunderstandings, and these sometimes have odd political effects. For example, Sharon reports that at a recent meeting around the abortion-rights struggle, the notion of continuum arose in the discussion several times and underwent divisive transformation. Overall, the notion that two ways of being existed on the same continuum was interpreted to mean that those two ways were the same. The sense of range and gradation that your description evokes disappeared. Lesbianism and female friendship became exactly the same thing. Similarly, heterosexuality and rape became the same. In one of several versions the continuum that evolved, a slope was added, like so:

Sex with men, no penetration
Sex with men, penetration
|||||||| |Rape|

This sloped continuum brought its proponents to the following conclusion: An appropriate, workable abortion-rights strategy is to inform all women that heterosexual penetration is rape, whatever their subjective experience to the contrary. All women will immediately recognize the truth of this and opt for the alternative of nonpenetration. The abortion-right struggle will thus be simplified into a struggle against coercive sex and its consequences (since no enlightened woman would voluntary undergo penetration unless her object was procreation—a peculiarly Catholicsounding view.)
The proponents of this strategy were young women who have worked hard in the abortion-rights movement for the past two or more years. They are inexperienced but they are dedicated. For this reason, we take their reading of your work seriously. We don’t think, however, that it comes solely, or even at all, from the work itself. As likely a source is the tendency to dichotomize that has plagued the women’s movement. The source of that tendency is harder to trace.
In that regard, the hints in “Compulsory” about the double life of women intrigue us. You define the double life as “the apparent acquiescence to an institution founded on male interest and prerogative.” But that definition doesn’t really explain your other references—to, for instance, the “intense mixture” of love and anger in lesbian relationships and to the peril of romanticizing what it means “to love and act against the grain.” We think these comments raise extremely important issues for feminists right now; the problem of division and anger among us needs airing and analysis. Is this, by any chance, the theme of a piece you have in the works?
. . . We would still love it if we could have a meeting with you in the next few months. Any chance? . . . Greetings and support from us—in all your undertakings.

We send love,
Sharon, Chris, and Ann
New York City
April 19, 1981

Dear Ann, Chris, and Sharon,
. . . It’s good to be back in touch with you, you who have been so unfailingly patient, generous, and persistent. Above all, it’s important to me that you know that ill health, not a withdrawal because of political differences, delayed my writing back to you. . . .
“False consciousness” can, I agree, be used as a term of dismissal for any thinking we don’t like or adhere to. But, as I try to illustrate in some detail, there is a real, identifiable system of heterosexual propaganda, of defining women as existing for the sexual use of men, which goes beyond “sex role” or “gender” stereotyping or “sexist imagery” to include a vast number of verbal and nonverbal messages. And this I call “control of consciousness.” The possibility of a woman who does not exist sexually for men—the lesbian possibility—is buried, erased, occluded, distorted, misnamed, and driven underground. The feminist books—Chodorow, Dinnerstein, Ehrenreich and English, and others—which I discuss at the beginning of my essay contribute to this invalidation and erasure, and as such are part of the problem.
My essay is founded on the belief that we all think from within the limits of certain solipsisms—usually linked with privilege, racial, cultural, and economic as well as sexual—which present themselves as “the universal,” “the way things are,” “all women,” etc., etc. I wrote it equally out of the belief that in becoming conscious of our solipsisms we have certain kinds of choices, that we can and must re-educate ourselves. I never have maintained that heterosexual feminists are walking about in a state of “brainwashed” false consciousness. Nor have such phrases as “sleeping with the enemy” seemed to me either profound or useful. Homophobia is too diffuse a term and does not go very far in helping us identify and talk about the sexual solipsism of heterosexual feminism. In this paper I was trying to ask heterosexual feminists to examine their experience of heterosexuality critically and antagonistically, to critique the institution of which they are a part, to struggle with the norm and its implications for women’s freedom, to become more open to the considerable resources offered by the lesbian-feminist perspective, to refuse to settle for the personal privilege and solution of individual “good relationship” within the institution of heterosexuality.
As regards “female historical agency,” I wanted, precisely, to suggest that the victim model is insufficient; that there is a history of female agency and choice which has actually challenged aspects of male supremacy; that, like male supremacy, these can be found in many different cultures. . . . It’s not that I think all female agency has been solely and avowedly lesbian. But by erasing lesbian existence from female history, from theory, from literary criticism . . . from feminist approaches to economic structure, ideas about “the family,” etc., an enormous amount of female agency is kept unavailable, hence unusable. I wanted to demonstrate that the kind of obliteration continues to be acceptable in seriously regarded feminist texts. What surprised me in the responses to my essay, including your notes, is how almost every aspect of it has been considered, except this— to me—central one. I was taking a position which was neither lesbian/ separatist in the sense of dismissing heterosexual women nor a “gay civil rights” plea for . . . openness to lesbianism as an “option” or an “alternate life style.” I was urging that lesbian existence has been an unrecognized and unaffirmed claiming by women of their sexuality, thus a pattern of resistance, thus also a kind of borderline position from which to analyze and challenge the relationship of heterosexuality to male supremacy. And that lesbian existence, when recognized, demands a conscious restructuring of feminist analysis and criticism, not just a token reference or two.
I certainly agree with you that the term lesbian continuum can be misused. It was, in the example you report of the abortion-rights meeting, though I would think anyone who had read my work from Of Woman Born onward would know that my position on abortion and sterilization abuse is more complicated than that. My own problem with the phrase is that it can be, is, used by women who have not yet begun to examine the privileges and solipsisms of heterosexuality, as a safe way to describe their felt connections with women, without having to share in the risks and threats of lesbian existence. What I had thought to delineate rather complexly as a continuum has begun to sound more like “life-style shopping.” Lesbian continuum—the phrase—came from a desire to allow for the greatest possible variation of female-identified experience, while paying a different kind of respect to lesbian existence—the traces and knowledge of women who have made their primary erotic and emotional choices for women. If I were writing the paper today, I would still want to make this distinction, but would put more caveats around lesbian continuum. I fully agree with you that Smith-Rosenberg’s “female world” is not a social ideal, enclosed as it is within prescriptive middle-class heterosexuality and marriage.
My own essay could have been stronger had it drawn on more of the literature by Black women toward which Toni Morrison’s Sula inevitably pointed me. In reading a great deal more of Black women’s fiction I began to perceive a different set of valences from those found in white women’s fiction for the most part: a different quest for the woman hero, a different relationship both to sexuality with men and to female loyalty and bonding. . . .
You comment briefly on your reactions to some of the radical-feminist works I cited in my first footnote.67 I am myself critical of some of them even as I found them vitally useful. What most of them share is a taking seriously of misogyny—of organized, institutionalized, normalized hostility and violence against women. I feel no “hierarchy of oppressions” is needed in order for us to take misogyny as seriously as we take racism, anti-Semitism, imperialism. To take misogyny seriously needn’t mean that we perceive women merely as victims, without responsibilities or choices; it does mean recognizing the “necessity” in that “dialectic of necessity and choice”—identifying, describing, refusing to turn aside our eyes. I think that some of the apparent reductiveness, or even obsessiveness, of some white radical-feminist theory derives from racial and/or class solipsism, but also from the immense effort of trying to render women hating visible amid so much denial. . . .
Finally, as to poetry and history: I want both in my life; I need to see through both. If metaphor can be misconstrued, history can also lead to misconstrual when it obliterates acts of resistance or rebellion, wipes out transformational models, or sentimentalizes power relationships. I know you know this. I believe we are all trying to think and write out of our best consciences, our most open consciousness. I expect that quality in this book which you are editing, and look forward with anticipation to the thinking—and the actions—toward which it may take us.
In sisterhood,
Montague, Massachusetts
November 1981


Reprinted from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979–1985 by Adrienne Rich © 1986 by Adrienne Rich. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

1 See for example, Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (Boston: Beacon, 1986); Beth Brant, ed., A Gathering of Spirit: Writing and Art by North American Indian Women (Montpelier, Vt.: Sinister Wisdom Books, 1984); Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown, Mass.: Persephone, 1981; distributed by Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, Albany, N.Y.) J.R. Roberts, Black Lesbians: An Annotated Bibliography (Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad, 1981); Barbara Smith, ed., Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Albany, N.Y.: Kitchen Table/ Women of Color Press, 1984). As Lorraine Bethel and Barbara Smith pointed out in Conditions 5: The Black Women’s Issue (1980), a great deal of fiction by Black women depicts primary relationships between women. I would like to cite here the work of Ama Ata Aidoo, Toni Cade Bambara, Buchi Emecheta, Bessie Head, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker. Donna Allegra, Red Jordan Arobateau, Audre Lorde, Ann Allen Shockley, among others, write directly as Black lesbians. For fiction by other lesbians of color, see Elly Bulkin, ed., Lesbian Fiction: An Anthology (Watertown, Mass.; Persephone, 1981).
See also, for accounts of contemporary Jewish-lesbian existence, Evelyn Torton Beck, ed., Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (Watertown, Mass.; Persephone, 1982; distributed by Crossing Press, Trumansburg, N.Y. 14886); Alice Bloch, Lifetime Guarantee(Watertown, Mass.; Persephone, 1982); and Melanie KayeKantrowitz and Irena Klepfisz, eds., The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology (Montpelier, Vt.: Sinister Wisdom Books, 1986).
The earliest formulation that I know of heterosexuality as an institution was in the lesbian-feminist paper The Furies, founded in 1971. For a collection of articles from that paper, see Nancy Myron and Charlotte Bunch, eds., Lesbianism and the Women’s Movement (Oakland, Calif.: Diana Press, 1975; distributed by Crossing Press, Trumansburg, N.Y. 14886).

2 Alice Rossi, “Children and Work in the Lives of Women,” paper delivered at the University of Arizona, Tucson, February 1976.

3 Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, 1962 (New York: Bantam, 1977), p.480

4 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, Anchor, 1978); Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Boston: Beacon, 1976).

5 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 Book Collective’s best seller (New York: Simon and 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, 1977), which contains three mentions of male heterosexuality but no materials that I have been able to locate on lesbians. Gerda Lerner, ed., The Female Experience: An American Documentary (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977), contains an abridgement 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, Grossman, 1976), notes accurately that “it is not that feminism has produced more lesbians. There have always been many lesbians, despite the high levels of repression; and most lesbians experience their sexual preference as innate” (p. 410).
A.R., 1986: I am glad to update the first annotation in this footnote. “The New” Our Bodies, Ourselves (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) contains an expanded chapter on “Loving Women: Lesbian Life and Relationships” and furthermore emphasizes choices for women throughout—in terms of sexuality, health care, family, politics, etc.

6 Jonathan Katz, ed., Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976).

7 Nancy Sahli, “Smashing Women’s Relationships before the Fall,” Chysalis: A Magazine of Women’s Culture 8 (1979): 17–27.

8 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.

9 See, for example, Kathleen Barry, Female Sexual Slavery (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979); Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon, 1978); Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring inside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Diana Russell and Nicole van de Ven, eds., Proceedings of the International Tribunal of Crimes against Women (Millbrae, Calif.: Les Femmes, 1976); and Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975); Aegis: Magazine on Ending Violence against Women (Feminist Alliance against Rape, P.O. Box 21033, Washington, D.C. 20009).
[A.R., 1986: Work on both incest and on woman battering has appeared in the 1980s which I did not cite in the essay. See Florence Rush, The Best-kept Secret (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980); Louise Armstrong, Kiss Daddy Goodnight: A Speakout on Incest (New York: Pocket Books, 1979); Sandra Butler, Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest (San Francisco: New Glide, 1978); F. Delacoste and F. Newman, eds., Fight Back!: Feminist Resistance to Male Violence (Minneapolis: Cleis Press, 1981); Judy Freespirit, Daddy’s Girl: An Incest Survivor’s Story (Langlois, Ore.: Diaspora Distribution, 1982); Judith Herman, Father-Daughter Incest (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981); Toni McNaron and Yarrow Morgan, eds., Voices in the Night: Women Speaking about Incest (Minneapolis: Cleis Press, 1982); and Betsy Warrior’s richly informative, multipurpose compilation of essays, statistics, listings, and facts, the Battered Women’s Directory (formerly entitled Working on Wife Abuse), 8th ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: 1982).

10 Dinnerstein, p. 272.

11 Chodorow, pp. 197–198.

12 Ibid., p.198–199.

13 Ibid., p. 200.

14 Kathleen Gough, “The Origin of the Family,” in Toward an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Rapp Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 69–70.

15 Barry, pp. 216–219.

16 Anna Demeter, Legal Kidnapping (Boston: Beacon, 1977), pp. xx, 126–128

17 Daly, pp. 139–141, 163–165.

18 Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1973); Andrea Dworkin, Women Hating (New York: Dutton, 1974), pp. 118–154; Daly, pp. 178– 222.

19 See Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Hogarth, 1929), and id., Three Guineas (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938 1966); Tillie Olsen, Silences (Boston: Delacorte, 1978); Michelle Cliff, “The Resonance of Interruption,” Chrysalis: A Magazine of Women’s Culture 8 (1979): 29–37.

20 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon, 1973), pp. 347–351; Olsen, pp. 22–46.

21 Daly, Beyond God the Father, p. 93.

22 Fran P. Hosken, “The Violence of Power: Genital Mutilation of Females,” Heresies: A Feminist Journal of Art and Politics 6 (1979): 28–35; Russell and van de Ven, pp. 194–195. A.R., 1986: See especially “Circumcision of Girls,” in Nawal El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (Boston: Beacon, 1982), pp. 33–43.

23 Barry, pp. 163–164

24 The issue of “lesbian sadomasochism” needs to be examined in terms of dominant cultures’ teachings about the relation of sex and violence. I believe this to be another example of the “double life” of women.

25 Catherine A. MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 15–16.

26 Ibid., p. 174.

27 Brownmiller, op. Cit

28 MacKinnon, p. 219. Susan Schecter writes: “The push for heterosexual union at whatever cost is so intense that . . . it has become a cultural force of its own that creates battering. The ideology of romantic love and its jealous possession of the partner as property provides the masquerade for what can become severe abuse” (Aegis: Magazine on Ending Violence against Women July-August 1979: 50–51).

29 MacKinnon, p. 298

30 Ibid., p. 220.

31 Ibid., p. 221

32 Barry, op. cit.
A.R., 1986: See also Kathleen Barry, Charlotte Bunch, and Shirley Castley, eds., International Feminism: Networking against Female Sexual Slavery (New York: International Women’s Tribune Center, 1984).

33 Barry, p. 33.

34 Ibid., p. 103

35 Ibid., p. 5.

36 Ibid., p. 100.
A.R., 1986: This statement has been taken as claiming that “all women are victims” purely and simply, or that “all heterosexuality equals sexual slavery.” I would say, rather, that all women are affected, though differently, by dehumanizing attitudes and practices directed at women as a group.

37 Ibid., p. 218.

38 Ibid., p. 140.

39 Ibid., p. 172.

40 Elsewhere I have suggested that male identification has been a powerful source of white women’s racism and that it has often been women already seen as “disloyal” to male codes and systems who have actively battled against it (Adrienne Rich, “Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia,” in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966–1978 New York: W. W. Norton, 1979).

41 Barry., p. 220.

42 Susan Cavin, “Lesbian Origins” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1978), unpublished, ch. 6).
A.R., 1986: This dissertation was recently published as Lesbian Origins (San Francisco: Ism Press, 1986).

43 For my perception of heterosexuality as an economic institution I am indebted to Lisa Leghorn and Katherine Parker, who allowed me to read the unpublished manuscript of their book Woman’s Worth: Sexual Economics and the World of Women (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).

44 4I would suggest that lesbian existence has been most recognized and tolerated where it has resembled a “deviant” version of heterosexuality—e.g., where lesbians have, like Stein and Toklas, played heterosexual roles (or seemed to in public) and have been chiefly identified with male culture. See also Claude E. Schaeffer, “The Kuterai Female Berdache: Courier, Guide, Prophetess and Warrior,” Ethnohistory 12, no. 3 (Summer 1965): 193–236. (Berdache: “an individual of definite physiological sex m. or f. who assumes the role and status of the opposite sex and who is viewed by the community as being of one sex physiologically but as having assumed the role and status of the opposite sex” Schaeffer, p. 231.) Lesbian existence has also been relegated to an upper-class phenomenon, an elite decadence (as in the fascination with Paris salon lesbians such as Renée Vivien and Natalie Clifford Barney), to the obscuring of such “common women” as Judy Grahn depicts in her The Work of a Common Woman (Oakland, Calif., : Diana Press, 1978). True to Life Adventure Stories (Oakland, Calif.: Diana Press, 1978).

45 Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p.15.

46 “In a hostile world in which women are not supposed to survive except in relation with and in service to men, entire communities of women were simply erased. History tends to bury what it seeks to reject” (Blanche W. Cook, “‘Women Alone Stir My Imagination’: Lesbianism and the Cultural Tradition,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 4, no. 4 Summer 1979: 719–720). The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City is one attempt to preserve contemporary documents on lesbian existence—a project of enormous value and meaning, working against the continuing censorship and obliteration of relationships, networks, communities in other archives and elsewhere in the culture.

47 A.R., 1986: The shared historical and spiritual “crossover” functions of lesbians and gay men in cultures past and present are traced by Judy Grahn in Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds(Boston: Beacon, 1984.) I know think we have much to learn both from the uniquely female aspects of lesbian existence and from the complex “gay” identity we share with gay men.

48 A.R., 1986: The shared historical and spiritual “crossover” functions of lesbians and gay men in cultures past and present are traced by Judy Grahn in Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds(Boston: Beacon, 1984.) I know think we have much to learn both from the uniquely female aspects of lesbian existence and from the complex “gay” identity we share with gay men.

49 Adrienne Rich, “Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women” in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, p. 209; H.D., Tribute to Freud (Oxford: Carcanet, 1971), pp. 50–54.

50 Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, p. 126.

51 Gracia Clark, “The Beguines: A Mediaeval Women’s Community,” Quest: A Feminist Quarterly 1, no. 4 (1975): 73–80.

52 See Denise Paulmé, ed., Women of Tropical Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963), pp. 7, 266–267. Some of these sororities are described as “a kind of defensive syndicate against the male element,” their aims being “to offer concerted resistance to an oppressive patriarchate,” “independence in relation to ones’ husband with regard to motherhood, mutual aid, satisfaction of personal revenge.” See also Audre Lorde, “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving,” in Sister Outsider, pp. 45–52.; Marjorie Topley, “Marriage Resistance in Rural Kwangtung,” in Women in Chinese Society, ed. M. Wolf and R. Witke (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1978), pp. 67–89; Agnes Smedley, Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution, ed. J. MacKinnon and S. MacKinnon (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1976), pp. 103–110.

53 See Rosalind Petchesky, “Dissolving the Hyphen: A Report on MarxistFeminist Groups 1–5,” in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah Eisenstein (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979), p. 387.

54 A.R., 1986: See Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Random House, 1981), p. 102; Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 133.

55 Russell and van de Ven, pp. 42–43, 56–57.

56 I am indebted to Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History (op. cit.) for bringing to my attention Hansberry’s letters to The Ladder and to Barbara Grier for supplying me with copies of relevant pages from The Ladder, quoted here by permission of Barbara Grier. See also the reprinted series of The Ladder, ed. Jonathan Katz et al. (New York: Arno, 1975), and Deirdre Carmody, “Letters by Eleanor Roosevelt Detail Friendship with Lorena Hickok,” New York Times (October 21, 1979).

57 Meridel LeSueur, The Girl (Cambridge, Mass: West End Press, 1978), pp. 10–11. LeSueur describes, in an afterword, how this book was drawn from the writings and oral narration of women in the Workers Alliance who met as a writers’ group during the depression.

58 Ibid., p. 20.

59 Ibid., pp. 53–54

60 Ibid., p. 55.

61 Toni Morrison, Sula (New York: Bantam, 1973), pp. 103–104, 149. I am indebted to Lorraine Bethel’s essay “‘This is a Conscious Pain’: Zora Neale Hurston and the Black Female Literary Tradition,” in All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, ed. Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1982).

62 See Maureen Brady and Judith McDaniel, “Lesbians in the Mainstream: The Image of Lesbians in Recent Commercial Fiction,” Conditions 6 (1979): 82– 105.

63 See Russell and van de Ven, p. 40: “Few heterosexual women realize their lack of free choice about their sexuality, and few realize how and why compulsory heterosexuality is also a crime against them.”

64 Bethel, “‘This Infinity of Conscious Pain,’” op. cit.

65 Dinnerstein, the most recent writer to quote this passage, adds ominously: “But what has to be added to her account is that these ‘women enlaced, are sheltering each other not just from what men want to do to them, but also from what they want to do to each other” (Dinnerstein, p. 103). The fact is, however, that woman-to-woman violence is a minute grain in the universe of male-against-female violence perpetuated and rationalized in every social institution.

66 Conversation with Blanche W. Cook, New York City, March 1979.

67 See note 9, above, 30–31.