Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence by Adrienne Rich, 1980

Adrienne Rich offers great insight into the male desire for dominance and control. This primal male characteristic is what drives the denial and negative associations given to lesbians and the lesbian existence. Rich gives great detail and history into what she calls, “the institution of heterosexuality and male dominance”, (Rich, 1980, p. 633). She provides a thorough and clever analysis of the male species and their need to dominate women. It is to stimulate the claim that women are weak and dependent creatures that require care and sexualization. The author admits the stereotypes and assumptions placed on women. As a result, Rich cites that women are consumers of victimization throughout history even though they hold the womb and are carriers of life. This causes men to be driven by women; the continuous cycle of coming home. The womb or women is the first source of home both literally and figuratively that is romanticized throughout history and literature.

Rich states: “If women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would seem logical, from a feminist perspective at least, to pose the following questions: whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward women”, (Rich, 1980,p. 637). This provides a biological understanding on the case of lesbianism. Doing this Rich gathers credible points against the male denial of lesbian existence and other negative assumptions. Although male dominance has negative effects on feminism, the author answers fundamental questions of why this happens. This includes the real power and influence of women.

Rich goes on to say that, “The male need to control women sexually results from some primal male ‘fear of women’ and of women’s sexual insatiability…is that women could be indifferent to them altogether, that men could be allowed sexual and emotional therefore economic access to women only on women’s terms, otherwise being left on the periphery of the matrix”, (Rich, 1980, p. 644).

The root of the denial of lesbian existence has an apparent cause and effect. By better understanding the sexual harassment and heterosexual pressures that women are placed, the desire for male dominance and the institution of heterosexual male identity becomes clear. It is a failure of inequality and obligations to the important role that women play. They are not only mothers, they are wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, cousins, and the necessary function of life and the power and influence of overly sexualized and romanticized male ego.


Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. Women: Sex and Sexuality. 5(4) p. 631-60.


About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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