The Lesbian Existence and Marx – sort of.

In her consideration of what she deems the “bias of heterosexuality,” Adrienne Rich compares the presence of heterosexuality in history as an oppressive force to capitalism and racism, implying that the latter two are just as systemic and tyrannical as the agenda of heterosexuality. Rich does an extremely effective job of explaining how much of the events of human history and day-to-day life, both good and bad, that involve gender can be explained by this bias of heterosexuality, just as Marx does (what I consider to be) an extremely effective job of explain the historical nature of capitalism as a way of viewing our world. In defining lesbianism not only as a sexual relationship between two women but also as a “continuum” encompassing all female interactions, Rich creates a historical, analytic category that is extremely effective at explaining the oppression and miseries of many, seeing ourselves as “moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not” (651). At one point, Rich even points out that to counteract the bias of heterosexuality, we need an “economics which comprehends the institution of heterosexuality, with its doubled workload of women and its sexual division of labor” (659).

While both Rich’s and Marx’s respective systems of oppression both explain the tragedies of history fairly well for me, neither author provides a satisfactory solution to either problem. Like my reading of Marx, I find Rich’s conclusion to be somewhat lacking. She states that she believes the issue of the condemnation of heterosexual relationships “to be the wrong question here,” instead advocating for the acknowledgement of the “reality” of an “absence of choice” of women by virtue of the nature of the heterosexual bias and to “undo the power men everywhere wield over women”. This is not dissimilar to Marx’s cry for awareness of the exploitation of the division of labor as a means for undoing capitalist power. But what would the dismantling of the power of either system look like? What would a lesbian revolution entail? Could women and men ever be truly unaffected by bias? Could society ever eradicate the source of this bias? Would heterosexuality and the lesbian continuum be equally considered in history? Or would both cease to exist? While an extremely satisfying theoretical read, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience” left me questioning how a systemic overhaul of heterosexual bias would or could ever occur, or what I could do to help the cause.


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