Compulsory Heterosexuality in Contemporary Times

Young woman speaking out on domestic violence.

Compulsory heterosexuality, which enforces a male dominated culture by imposing the notion that women and men are innately attracted towards one another in addition to the denial and intolerance of homosexuality, is re-examined by Adrienne Rich through a unique feminist critique and lesbian experience.  Rich argues that men enforce this through various mechanisms of violence.  Expanding on the list of eight “characteristics of male power”, originally created by Kathleen Gough, Rich creates many examples that I would not have previously recognized as a forms of violence.  While some examples are clearly aggressive and forceful, others have become conventional and routine aspects of daily life such as those listed under “command and control their labor to control their produce” or “cramp their creativeness”.

Previous to reading this list, I may have paused on the question of whether or not I see evidence of this theory in current, contemporary society.  However, its prevalence is undeniable.  One example that is well known to everyone is the incident of physical abuse against Rihanna by her boyfriend Chris Brown.  Many comments, mostly coming from women, place blame on Rihanna’s behavior rather than his, by asserting that she must have behaved in a way that made him legitimately angry.

The shift of blame onto women has long been a part of the system of masculinity.  Women have internalized this notion to the extent that we have unconsciously supported the correctness of male domination.  It was not that long ago that there were a series of sexual assaults against women in Brooklyn, New York.  Part of the city’s response to these occurrences was an order to women to cover up more.  It provides an example where we not only see the shift in blame towards women but a current act of male domination, “a form of terror that functions to maintain the status quo” (Caputi/Sexual Politics of Murder).

Sexualized images of the murder of women characterize a part of the culture in U.S. society, especially within media.  Keeping alive the legacy of historical killers of women makes patriarchal terrorism a current reality.  With the rise of women internet users and increasing popularity towards feminist blogs, I see little effect in the resistance towards such images with the popularity of music videos and Hollywood movies that tend to romanticize them.  Using Rihanna for another example, I highlight the controversy surrounding her video “Man Down” in which she shoots a man she is in a relationship with who is shown as controlling and abusive.  Rihanna responded to this reaction through Twitter and comments such as “…if I can be a voice for so many that aren’t heard, than I win twice”.  In this case, Rihanna received a large support for her video by other women.

It’s noteworthy to consider how or if this controversy would have been as heated were the role of man and woman reversed.  However, I think it’s likely that parents fighting against Rihanna and the violent nature of her video would have reacted with as much opposition.  But with facts such as the one in the picture at the start of this blog, it’s the silence around this type of violence that is more concerning than the controversy around fictitious videos that draw attention to the problem.  The video in fact represents nothing far from reality.  So what exactly is it that people oppose of?  Is it truly about the impact it will have on our children or is it the fear of exposing patriarchal terrorism through a sort of role reversal?  In either case, it reveals a certain amount of societal denial to the reality of male domination and has sparked a much needed dialogue on such issues.

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