Comentary on “Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence”.

By being assimilated under the same label as homosexual men, lesbian existence is deprived of their own particularities. It is clear that both homosexual men and women face social rejection by being brought up in a background where heterosexuality is enforced as the official and the only fully acceptable form of sexuality. But lesbian existence is a profoundly female experience, like motherhood or childbirth and it means both the rejection of compulsory heterosexuality and the breaking of a taboo, resulting in a challenge to male power. Rich thinks that lesbians have been erased from feminist discourse as well. Her response to this fact is expressed in “Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence” (1983) in which Rich invites the feminists to question heterosexuality and examine it as an institution and not just as a sexual alternative. Compulsory heterosexuality is thus analysed in this text as one of the institutions by means of which patriarchy exerts its power. In order to examine this institution, Rich studies and comments on several authors who develop issues related to male power and women submission in their work, rendering such issues as universal, as they take place in every society, culture and race.

Cattle-woman

Starting with “The origin of the family” by Kathleen Gough, Rich comments on Gough’s eight items of male power – the denial of female sexuality, to force male sexuality upon women, to exploit their labour or to control their produce, to rob them of their children, to confine them physically, to use them as objects in male transactions, to cramp their creativeness and to withhold from them large areas of knowledge- and expands each item by introducing a list of actual practices through which women have been kept under male control in all societies and throughout history. These practices range from clitoredectomy, infibulation, rape, incest, prostitution and masochistic oriented images of women in pornography to the structure of the nuclear family, the economical dependence of wives, the feminization of poverty or the use of high heel shoes. The topic of male power and control over women is also developed by Catharine MacKinnon. MacKinnon’s reference to the eroticization of women’s submission, is connected to the above mentioned aspect of pornography, but in this case the focus is set on the sexualization of women at work, which is doubly damaging in the case of lesbians, as not only must they conceal their real sexual, emotional and psychic identity, but they are also expected to behave according to the traditional role assigned to all women: flirtatious, complaisant, supportive, mother-like.

Another remarkable aspect for Rich is that according to a psychoanalytic view, male domination is seen as the result of the mythic male hang ups about their incapability to fulfill the expectations they have about female insatiability. Rich thinks that their fear is more probably triggered by the possibility of women’s indifference; thus they must control women’s sexuality, as their sexual access to women is seen as crucial in a male orientated culture. The means through which they gain access to women are analysed by Kathleen Barry. Barry establishes parallels between women slavery and the daily life of women and examines instances of master-slave behaviour such as prostitution, marital rape, incest, wife beating, pornography, bride price, selling daughters, the purdah or genital mutilation among others as ways of exerting power and controlling women.

Given that the term “lesbianism” has been polluted by all these psychoanalytic and mainstream patriarchal scholarship views, and it has turned too simplistic, failing to convey the complexity of lesbian existence, by making reference to a purely genital and sexual reality, the term lesbian existence is needed in order to convey other aspects such as the sharing of psychic and emotional joy, friendship, and comradeship.

Advertisements

High brow stuff and real life

It is really amazing… The level of abstraction that some minds have achieved. In those times when I feel quite down about my own mental capacities, my mind shifts to this question, drifting away from duty, as it is doing right now. I mean, how could all those theorists, essayists and scholars reach that level of abstraction if not for having their basic needs fulfilled?

In one of my previous posts I mentioned Einstein and the rules he designed for his wife, which included being spared the children presence, having any obligation towards his wife or having to clean, iron or cook at all. Sometimes I wonder, is it possible to mix daily stuff and high brow thinking in just one mind? Or, does one influence the other? What happens when one has to deal with thugs, traumatized people, bullies, cheats, busybodies, hand-to-mouths and spiritual destitutes -who are just part of REAL life – in a daily basis, make ends meet, take care of others, cook, clean, wash, put up with weird bosses and then one has to write an essay on, let’s say…, the importance of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories applied to the way an author’s identity conditions the meaning of a literary product from a diachronic perspective? Can you do that while you are thinking in your children’s timetables, your workplace deed in lieu of foreclosure, the shopping list, sexual harassment or bullying at work? How could Derrida or Lacan write those nearly indecipherable texts about whatever they are talking about?

Spleen and ideal (copy)The point is that there are innumerable societies within our society and our world and it is so different for people depending on their background… How can I feel identified with someone who seeks to be indecipherable in order to exclude the non-elite niche dwelling people? How can they get so far away from reality into their own world of concepts with no visible results in the improvement of their fellow men/women’s lives? Can we really afford to spend so much time in theoretical masturbation while there are so many things to improve at a practical level? Is it really better to spend our time enclosed in our ivory tower?

I marvel at Frederick Douglass, who learnt to read and write and became someone out of his own will power in the worst scenario possible. He, who interchanged bits of bread for literacy with poor white boys, who had to work like a mule, and was shunned, enslaved and oppressed. He certainly was not in an ivory tower and he made it and manage to help others in the process. He dealt with real life and its real issues.