Adrienne Rich's Essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence

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Adrienne Rich attacks heterosexuality as “a political institution which disempowers women” in her 1980 essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (Rich 23). What most see as a traditional way of life, Rich views as a societal mandate that serves as “a beachhead of male dominance,” (Rich 28). For a woman in Virginia Woolf’s time, “the one profession that was open to her [was] marriage,” and though females entered the public sphere as the 20th century progressed, “single women…are still viewed as deviant” and somewhat ostracized (Woolf 25 and Rich 30). Compulsory heterosexuality, Rich argues, is one of many institutions that historically and currently have allowed men to maintain a dominant societal
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Under these tenets, colonialism may not be limited to imperialism, and a broader range of oppressive movements could be targeted and associated using Discourse on Colonialism. Slavery in the United States and compulsory heterosexuality are parallel institutions of colonization because they are fundamentally based on an oppressor, who uses a fallacious ideology and is barbarized by colonization, and an oppressed, who is stifled and belittled for the benefit of others.

Colonialism begins with the construction of a magnanimous, altruistic ideology that veils the true intentions of the oppressor. To ensure unanimous support for colonization, “the dealers in gobbledygook” will justify their actions as “a philanthropic enterprise, a project undertaken for the greater glory of God [or] an attempt to extend the rule of law,” (Césaire 54, 32). American ideology adopted several of these positions during slavery, as owners referred to various Bible passages to prove “slavery was authorized by the Almighty,” but the most prevalent justification of obligatory servitude was the ‘scientific’ confirmation of African biological inferiority (Hopkins). In the middle of the 19th century, Dr. James Hunt reported, “[Africans] are not
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