Adrienne Rich

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What is Adrienne Rich's critical argument in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"?

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Essentially, Rich argues that heterosexuality in women in a political construct that men use in order to further control and subjugate women. Rather than it being the default norm of sexuality, heterosexuality is a tool by which women are made to feel inferior to men because of the inherent mechanisms of male-to-female sexual intercourse and the reproductive element.

While she does acknowledge that some women are naturally heterosexual, Rich argues that many women are also forced into heterosexual relationships in order to create safety and obtain social power. In addition, the cultural and social messages women receive from a young age condition them to favor heterosexuality.

Rich also attempts to expand the definition of lesbianism beyond female sexuality. Rich posits that lesbianism is an emotional and psychological connection among women and that even platonic female friendships fall along a lesbian continuum. She notes that most women exercise some form of lesbianism whether that includes same-sex intercourse or not.

Overall, Rich wants her audience to acknowledge how patriarchal structures enforce heterosexuality and delegitimize lesbianism in order to perpetuate male control and misogyny.

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Adrienne Rich first argues that compulsory heterosexuality—forcing women into traditional heterosexual relationships—leads to female subordination. She contends that men are significantly worried about losing control of women, which is why they pursue so many methods to keep women subordinate. These include denying women their own sexuality (such as in clitoridectomy), forcing heterosexuality on women through rape, marriage, and prostitution, trying to convince women that sexual violence and humiliation are pleasurable, and communicating "the subliminal message" that "sadistic heterosexuality is more 'normal' that sensuality between women.'" Other ways of enforcing traditional heterosexuality are to restrict women's physical movements, to control abortion, to use women "as objects in male transactions," and to prevent women from pursuing creative expression and education.

Women, however, have been fighting back and rejecting compulsory heterosexuality for a long time. Rich suggests women's freedom will grow as more women, whether same-sex oriented or not, adopt the sexual attitudes of lesbianism. These attitudes are far different from those in gay (male) sexuality, and are centered on "sharing a rich" interior life, bonding with women to fight male violence, pursuing female friendships, and rejecting being labelled frigid or unnatural for repelling male sexual advances. Women also have to continue to refuse to have children unless they wish to and refuse to work (such as in doing most of the housework) in order for men to have more leisure time.

Rich ends her essay by saying women need more choices in order to undo the power men hold over them, a power that becomes the paradigm for all forms "of exploitation and illegitimate control."

In sum, Rich argues that men try very hard to impose compulsory heterosexuality on women, that women can oppose this and embrace healthier forms of mutuality with other women that will help them contest male power, and that this kind of solidarity is important for all struggles against the exploitation of one group by another.

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In Adrienne Rich's essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" argues two main points. First, it argues the fact that heterosexuality has been forced upon society by males. Second, it argues that lesbians have been ignored in literature.

Essentially, Rich's argument grounds itself in the ideology surrounding male power and dominance. Rich believes that "male control of law, theology, and science" insures the "coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized our [women's] coupling or allying in independent groups with other women." Rich goes on to suggest that the explanation of sexual preference is ignored.  When it is explained, Rich defines its explanation as lying rooted in "female Oedipus complex or the necessity for species reproduction."

Her argument, overall, lies in the "fact" that "the sexual imbalance of power of males over females" needs an societal overhaul. Given that the power (both mental and physical) men exert over women tends to be the dominant factor, Rich believes that women are female sexual slaves to men. In the end, Rich calls for a undoing of male power.

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