Money, Sex and Power2011-12 Term 2. Week 13 Discourses of heterosexuality
Outline • Introduction • Heterosexuality as the cornerstone of patriarchy • Deconstructing heterosexuality --heterosexuality as lifestyle --heterosexuality as identity --heterosexuality as discourse --heterosexuality as sexual practice • Conclusions
Introduction Two analytical/ political perspectives on heterosexuality– As Stevi Jackson and Sue Scott say in their new book, Theorizing Heterosexuality (2010) ‘institutionalized heterosexuality’ is ‘implicated both in the perpetuation of gender hierarchy and in the marginalisation of alternative sexualities’ (p.75) In this module we will take these aspects of heterosexuality in turn. 1) This week– feminist critique, concentrating on heterosexuality as a gender relation, a power relation between men and women. Look at heterosexuality through the lens of gender. 2) Week 19- Marginalisation of alternative sexualities, and a theoretical framework which has evolved to understand this. Queer Theory— problematises the foundational categories of second wave feminism. In particular it sees gender not as the lens through which to examine social or sexual life, but rather as something which is itself produced through -- necessitated by- heterosexuality.
Theorising heterosexuality as the cornerstone of male power • Feminist critiques have seen heterosexuality not mainly as a personal, individual sexual orientation, but as an aspect of social organisation- on that maintains male dominance. Analogous to other institutional arrangements which organise social life and labour, sexual relations of course, aspects of social life that are associated with sexual relations, such as child-bearing or child-rearing, but also work and politics. ‘Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one's own, yet most taken away.’ C. McKinnon ‘Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State’ Signs, 1982, 7 (3): 2.
Heterosexuality and patriarchal power • The American poet Adrienne Rich-- Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1978), excerpt in Jackson and Scott, eds Feminism and Sexuality (and many other places).Her term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ recognises the 'constraints and assumptions that, historically, have enforced or ensured the coupling of women with men and obstructed or penalized our coupling or allying in independent groups with other women. 216
Rich on ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ • Not all women in heterosexual relationships are or feel oppressed but as an institution heterosexuality does not foster their interests or autonomy: ‘of course there are differences in the qualitative experience of individual women in relation to men, but this depends on chance or luck; women lack the collective power to determine the meaning and place of sexuality in their lives’. (237) • Developed notion of the ‘lesbian continuum’-- recognises continuities in intense female friendship, whether or not it is sexual.
Other, related, ways of conceptualising the institutionalisation of heterosexuality • Heteropatriarchy (Wilkinson and Kitzinger 1993) --heterosexuality as the defining characteristic of patriarchy as a social system • Heteronormativity (Richardson 1996) –the cultural norms of normative heterosexuality that signal ‘the asymmetry, institutionalisation and regulatory power of heterosexual relations’ (Holland, et al The Male in the Head, p. 171), Still much used to describe assumptions about sexual practices, identities, etc. but without assuming it is all-determining. Both of these see heterosexuality as organising social life, not just sexual relations.
Newer theorisations ask: Is renegotiating heterosexuality possible? • Recent approaches challenge the totalising picture of heterosexuality put forward by Rich and others. Is it really a unified package? Dominant culture perpetuates this idea (we all assume we know what ‘being a heterosexual’ means) but we shouldn’t reproduce it in our critique. Therefore better to examine distinct aspects of heterosexuality to see whether they are really totally integrated/ interdependent and whether there is potential to destabilise the package. • Challenge picture of heterosexuality as ‘coherent, natural, fixed and stable category, as universal and monolithic’ (Richardson 1996:2)
Distinct aspects of heterosexuality: • heterosexuality as life style • heterosexuality as a subjectivity or social identity • heterosexuality as discourse • heterosexuality as sexual practices and experience How far are these separable in practice? Can one aspect change without change in the others?
1) Heterosexuality as life style- now offers a range of choices? • Extent to which can equate heterosexual life style with marriage has changed quite a lot since Rich’s original publication in 1978. See especially Hawkes on the ‘uncoupling of marriage, sex and reproduction’. • Forms of power or male access to women outside marriage- medical power, sex tourism, pornography • Still more importance than many think, e.g. marriage no longer the linchpin of heterosexuality. But patterns of life in the ‘post-divorce’ family need to be examined (Carol Smart in A New Sociology of the Family? and other articles and books with Bren Neale)
2) Heterosexuality as a subjectivity or social identity Is it difficult/ problematic to identity as ‘a heterosexual’? Why? Should we recognise the existence of multiple ‘heterosexualities’? Can we identify discourses that construct different heterosexualities/ heterosexual selves?
3) Discourses of heterosexuality • Hollway (1984) identifies three key discourses that locate women (and men) in relation to heterosexual relations: 1) male sex drive discourse ‘When a bloke gets turned on, it takes a while to calm down again doesn’t it?...where with a woman it takes a lot longer…They can stop, but they have to be told to stop…(quote from teenaged girl, Holland, et al. The Male in the Head.
2) to have-and-to-hold discourse 3) permissive discourse Women are active agents, not puppets of compulsory heterosexuality, and can manipulate these discourses to their advantage (e.g. invest in becoming an attractive object of male desire), act as moral guardians Hollway argued that women could manipulate these discourses but had not yet constructed an alternative permissive discourse around female sexual pleasure in women’s own terms. Media ‘postfeminist’ constructions of women’s position within heterosexuality- do they re-circulate these older discourses or develop new ones that really empower women? Who is free to adopt them?
Other ways of understanding the construction of (heterosexual) selves • Materialist feminism • Symbolic interactionism • See Stevi Jackson, Theorizing Sexuality (on reading list) and other publications
Holland et al The Male in the Head • Study started as a study of young men and women’s (non)use of condoms to protect themselves from HIV but went on to look at the discourses and practices of heterosexuality that inhibited women from practicing safe sex. Found that most of the girl informants (aged 16-21) assumed that sex is for the man and that it is her responsibility to intuit and predict his wishes. The authors say they had assumed that there were male and female sexual cultures/ discourses that collided, and that the male culture was the more powerful. But found that even the female discourse was dominated by what they called ‘the male in the head’, the surveillance power of male-dominated heterosexuality. For the young women to be feminine was to construct themselves within male-dominated constructs. Young men were also guided in their behaviour and anxieties by presumptions about how men should act. • A few of the young women did express a more empowered sense of themselves in relation to men, usually as a result of bad experiences. But it had to be renegotiated with each partner, because it is not institutionalised.
I. Vanwesenbeeck(1997) ‘The Context of Women’s Power(lessness) in Heterosexual Intercourse’ –readng list • Do women still expect to play a nurturing role, ‘displacing their own erotic pleasure for the sake of male success?’ (M. Steedman  ‘Who’s on Top? Heterosexual practices and male dominance during the sexual act’ in H. Buchbinder, ed. Who’s on Top: The Politics of Heterosexuality Toronto: Garamond Press,
Conclusions • Richardson argues that narrowing debate on heterosexuality onto erotic relations is limited. Rather than looking at how social life is shaped by heterosexist assumptions, which she argues feminist scholars and activists used to do, many commentators now concentrate on the rather narrower question of how sexual life is shaped by gender inequalities. • Even within this narrower question, how far are women now really active, independent sexual agents acting in their own interest? • What counts as empowerment?