Onely as Feminist Resistance July 26, 2008Posted by Onely in "Against Love"...?, Reviews, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, Essay review, Singled Out.
Tags: feminism, adrienne rich, compulsory heterosexuality, lesbian existence, friendships between women, resistance, male control, capitalism, being single, single and happy
I recently finished an essay by Adrienne Rich entitled “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” which is old in terms of publication date (1980) but new – brand new – to me. Rich’s primary argument is directed against feminist scholars who deny, ignore and/or marginalize the fact of lesbian existence, but she also mentions other “facts” of female existence – such as living alone and/or single – that have also been ignored in the face of what she calls “compulsory heterosexuality.”
Rich’s notion of “compulsory heterosexuality” is similar, it seems, to what Christina and I have been referencing as “heteronormativity” – in other words, the perspective that “normal” people desire and participate in heterosexual relationships. Such a perspective, as we here at Onely have elaborated in previous posts and on our About Onely page, is particularly damaging because it marks all other definitions of gender, sexuality, and identity as “abnormal” or deviant. Rich’s point in using the term “compulsory heterosexuality” is that historically, male control/power and capitalism have together “convinced [women] that marriage and sexual orientation toward men are inevitable – even if unsatisfying or oppressive – components of their lives.”
So what does this have to do with Being Onely, especially since Christina and I both identify ourselves as heterosexual women? First, according to Rich, “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.” Second (also according to Rich), “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 heteroseuxally identified feminists, but … 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 do think that the work we’re trying to do here at Onely is a particularly feminist pursuit in that we’re resisting the heteronormative perspective that insists that in order to be “normal” we must pursue and desire long-term, committed, sexual relationships. Indeed, we’re resisting this perspective in the face of the larger cultural forces that attempt to distract us into believing that we need coupled life in order to be “happy” (a myth that Bella DePaulo’s book Singled Out debunks quite thoroughly) and in the face of larger societal/governmental forces that quite literally penalize those of us who choose to remain single. This kind of resistance attempts to turn heteronormative ideology on its head, to “[free] up thinking” and “[explore] new paths,” as Rich believes such questioning can produce.
I’ll leave Rich with [a very lengthy] last word because I find the essay so compelling, but I’m curious: How do you, our readers, feel about this notion of Onely as a form of feminist resistance? — L
“If we think of heterosexuality as the natural emotional and sensual inclination for women, lives such as these are seen as deviant, as pathological, or as emotionally and sensually deprived…. 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.”