Critical practices that consider instability and indeterminacy as characteristic of discourse and subjectivity.
Theories that problematizes “’normal’ heterosexuality” and valorise “a variable, contingent, and multiple sexuality whose mobility and potentiality is signalled by the worlds of possibility opened up by gays and lesbians”.
There is a close and natural affiliation between this and the previous section in that feminism posits the semiotic or “pre-Symbolic Imaginary order [as] a realm of bisexual/androgynous/polymorphous sexuality” prior to the subject’s entry into the male-centred Symbolic order where, among other things, sexuality undergoes a process of normativization towards ‘normal heterosexuality ’.
The problematization of sexuality contained in such theories as the semiotic or écriture féminine suggested a departure from a fixed, imposed binary heteronormativity (man/woman) in favor of the notion of sexuality as something that is constructed by such variables as social norms and exigencies, ideology, culture, history.
Foucault’s declarations in The History of Sexuality (1976) that “Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy to a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul .
The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a “species”, inspired much of gay theory.
Gender designates the dynamic that accommodates a provisional, fluid identity in which biological (or genital) identity and socially constructed (or performed, according to leading theorist in gender studies, Judith Butler) masculinity or feminity need not concur (coincide)
“ There is no guarantee that what one is identified as being (biologically or culturally male or female) will line up in a predictable and necessary way with a particular set of sexual behaviours or psychological dispositions or social practices”.
Studies that focus on gender also challenge essentializing feminist discourse and its proposition that (women’s) gendered identities are ‘real’ or ‘natural’ or occupy a pre-social or pre-civilizational realm which lies in close bond with nature.
Judith Butler proposes gender be considered as a signifying practice: we ‘do’ or ‘perform’ gender, relying on the repetition of words and acts.
Gay and lesbian studies have found common cause with the feminists as well as with gender theorists, gay and lesbian theory has trained its sights on gender formations as a whole, arguing that “heterosexuality can be understood as forming a continuum with homosexuality” since “the male bonding that sutures patriarchy is necessarily homophilic and forms a continuum with homosexuality”
‘ Queer ’, a heterosexist term of abuse designating homosexuals, was reclaimed by gay and lesbian militants as a self-referential term or token of pride to describe their marginal positionality with regard to the dominant heterosexist culture.
By the 1990s queer theory was operating as an expression and exploration of “sexual plurality and gender ambivalence” in the field of cultural production.
Analytic inquiry was no longer –or not only- limited to gay and lesbian orthodoxies or fixed sexualities.
Broadened to consider alternative sexualities such as drag (queens) or camp , cross-dressing or transvestism which in turn, through their representational or performative nature, uphold the non-biological nature of gender construction. Camp: Exaggerated effeminate mannerisms exhibited especially by homosexuals.
Throughout, ‘queer’ scholars have pushed the argument that hetero- and homosexuality operate on the same continuum on which the point demarcating normativity from non-normativity is variable and contingent (dependiente) .
The intersection among gender, gay/lesbian and queer theories, and that of these theories with New Historicism, cultural studies and feminist theories underline the interdisciplinary nature of poststructuralist critical theory.
The normative alignment of male and female with heterosexual masculinity or femininity in the dominant gender culture must be seen as a political rather than a biological fact.
They question the opposition between heterosexual and homosexual , interrogating the identity of each and the hierarchical relation (mainstream and margin) between the two; they are differentially connected moments of a continuum that includes numerous other possible variations.
THEY QUESTION THE OPPOSITION BETWEEN HETEROSEXUAL AND HOMOSEXUAL: “A CONTINUUM”
Heterosexuality contains a moment of homosexuality, when the child identifies with the parent of the same sex, or when heterosexual men relate to each other while competing over women , and homosexuality comprises both masculinity and femininity , in mixed and variable amounts.
The alignment of dominant discourse with stable identities –as in compulsory heterosexuality- is the result of a politically enforced naturalization of a particular form of sexuality that comes through constant repetition and rote learning ( Memorización).
Heterosexual men are masculine and heterosexual women are feminine because the reigning cultural discourses instruct them in behavior appropriate to the dominant gender representations and norms , stigmatizing non-normative behavior.
The identities of male or female and the norms of reproductive sexuality are effects of enforcement procedures that operate through cultural and legal discourse, privileging certain object choices and psychological dispositions while denigrating others.
Gender identities as “woman” are not pre-discursive foundations but normalizing injunctions (mandates) produced by discursive performances
Continuities between a variety of sexual practices across a variety of possible gender formulations (masculine lesbian, masculine heterosexual woman, feminine gay man, feminine heterosexual man, etc.) are erased and subsumed to enforced norms of oppositional identity (either masculine heterosexual or feminine heterosexual, either heterosexual or homosexual).
Connected, related terms are displaced in favor of essential, total identities .
They substitute an entire representation –lesbian- for a plurality of connected gender and sexual possibilities that might include lesbian as one moment but that are not fully reducible to such categorical singularity.
Lesbian is internally differentiated into a plurality of possibilities (varieties of feminine, varieties of masculine, etc.) and externally differentiated through its connection to or disconnection from a plurality of other possibilities.
It is not a singular totality that stands opposed to another singular totality –the normative heterosexual woman, for example, who in any event generally engages in relations that contain homosexual components, as do men with men.
GENDER STUDIES ALSO EXAMINES THE STRUCTURES OF MALE HETEROSEXUAL OPPRESSION.
Both cultural and social, that have contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of homosexuality.
The more rigorous forms of heterosexual masculinity originate in sexual panic, a fear or anxiety in heterosexual men regarding their sexual identities.
THE CULTURAL AND SOCIAL VIOLENCE EXERCISED AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS ORIGINATES
From the instability of heterosexual identity , a fear that such identity may be a contingent/dependant construct that serves as a defense against a potentially overwhelming reality of diverse sexual choices and identity possibilities that exist simultaneously in the self and in society.
Gender Studies has analyzed the repressed “homosocial” strains that motivate the heterosexual tradition’s construction of compulsory heterosexuality and normative masculinity.
One of the most interesting and subversive approaches to develop out of gay/lesbian and gender theory – Queer Theory- pushes this point even further.
H omosexuality is not an identity apart from heterosexuality. Everyone is potentially gay, and only the imprinting of heterosexual norms cuts away those potentials and manufactures heterosexuality as the dominant sexual format.
Suppressed homosexuality is queered into being in the various kinds of homophilia central to heterosexual culture, from football to film star identification.
Sexual transitivity is silenced for the sake of the labor of large-scale species reproduction , but in the realms of cultural play, the excess of desire and identification over norm and rule testify to more plural potentials.
Poet, major voice in American feminist since the late 1960s. She has explored the ways in which patriarchal society oppresses women and the ways in which women have responded to that oppression.
Her analysis of “compulsory heterosexuality” is her most lasting contribution to literary and social theory, wide range of topics, from the silencing of women’s voices to the history of childbirth and motherhood.
Many 1970s feminists went out of their way to prove their heterosexuality.
Lesbians and lesbian experience became practically taboo within the movement (except in its more radical branches).
Her essay, along with the feminist work of women of color and of working-class women, challenged a feminism that claimed to speak for all women yet assumed the viewpoint of a heterosexual, middle-class white woman.
Much of the feminist work of the 1980s was devoted to considering the ramifications of these differences (of race , class , and sexual orientation) for the category “woman” and to attending to how such differences would strengthen or weaken feminist activism.
Rich’s main purpose is to consider the extent to which heterosexual desire and identity are fundamental to women’s oppression.
Heterosexuality is not natural but social , and it should be analyzed as any social institution.
How is heterosexuality established and maintained? What groups resist it? What alternatives must be suppressed for it to prevail? Who benefits from and who is harmed by this institution’s dominance? What forms of enforcement underwrite the dominance?
Heterosexuality is compulsory because only partners of the opposite sex are deemed appropriate , all same-sex desire must be denied or indulged in secret, and various kinds of same-sex bonding (including friendships) are viewed with suspicion.
Compulsory heterosexuality ensures that women are sexually accessible to men, with consent or choice on the women’s part neither legally nor practically taken into account.
As compulsory sexuality is central to preserving the inequality between men and women, Rich argues that 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 .
Feminism cannot truly comprehend the sources and system of inequality if it does not analyze the institution of compulsory heterosexuality.
THREE TOPICS IN ADRIENNE RICH “COMPULSORY HETEROSEXUALITY” ESSAY HAVE BEEN ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT FOR FEMINIST LITERARY THEORY:
1- Sexualized relations of power within institutions : women face the trials experienced by all subordinates in hierarchical institutions and they must also present themselves as attractive according to dominant standards of heterosexual desirability and be concerned with sexuality in the appropriate ways (e.g., be flirtatious within the proper bounds, be supportive of male superiors).
Such expectations, rarely conscious, even more rarely explicit, permeate public male-female relationships. They form part of a larger unwritten set of rules about the relative positions of men and women in society.
2. Lesbian experience: and the lesbian continuum - challenges the notion that women need men by calling attention to all the ways in which women interact with one another, all the activities central to their lives that do not involve connection to a man.
She wants to highlight how hostile to and threatened by women’s independent action patriarchal society is and the prevalence of such action despite the price paid for it.
The lesbian continuum includes a variety of relationships between and among women, ranging from the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, [to] the giving and receiving of practical and political support .
By desexualizing the term lesbian , Rich calls our attention to the variety of bonds formed between women and to the various functions those bonds play in women’s lives. Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and of a compulsory way of life.
Questions of sexual identity: How is sexual identity formed?
Through what processes of psychic identification does a self form heterosexual and/or homosexual desires?
Rich is more suspicious if psychoanalytic understandings of these processes than are many queer theorists but she recognizes that the law of compulsory heterosexuality plays a crucial role in the formation of selves , even as she notes that the early bond of the girl baby with her mother works against the injunction to be heterosexual.
“ Desire is neither unitary nor fixed once for all. Women especially suffer in a heterosexual regime that ignores the fluidity of desire in favor of channeling that desire toward heterosexual unions in which the needs of the male are primary.”
A pioneer of black feminist and lesbian criticism.
Despite the achievements of the women’s liberation movement and the civil rights movement during the 1960s, the feminist movement seemed to speak primarily from the perspective of white, middle-class, heterosexual women, and the civil rights movement for black men.
The 1970s were a rich time for black women’s writing, with the beginning of the careers of a generation of writers like Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan; the formation of organizations which provided an alternative to mainstream feminism; and the recovery of early writers.
To correct the limitations of this universalizing assumption, Smith calls for a redefinition of the goals of the women’s movement and for an autonomous black feminist movement.
Smith shows evidence of black women’s invisibility. B oth black and white male critics ignore or denigrate black women’s literary accomplishments, and even some feminists omitted women writers of color from the studies they published in the 1970s.
SMITH ENUMERATES PRINCIPLES FOR A BLACK FEMINIST APPROACH, A BLACK FEMINIST CRITIC SHOULD:
E xplore both sexual and racial politics in black women’s writing;
Assume that there is an identifiable literary tradition;
Decipher the common themes, motifs, and concepts in black women’s literature that derive from writer’s political, social, and economic experiences;
However, Smith notes that Morrison did not intend to view the relationship between the two main characters, Sula and Nel , as lesbian, and that her reading of the lesbian connotations in their relationship exemplifies how a black lesbian feminist perspective might deepen our understanding of the nuances and political possibilities of a text.
She provided a model for later writers who stressed the differences among women.
A key debate in feminism has concerned essentialism, with most feminists opposing the view that gender, ethnic, and racial identities are determined by biological essences rather than by cultural differences.
Some have criticized Smith’s insistence on a separate literature and criticism for black women as “essentialist.”