Lecture # 11
Desiring Subjects/Queering Subjects
Queer theory is a theory of sociology (or philosophy), which criticizes mainly the
concept of gender, feminism, and the preconceived idea of genetic determinism in sexual
Here, we need to return to question the idea of two categories:
Men & Women and to problematize the universality of these two categories
The readings for today work to show how the category “Man” and the category
“Woman” often work to obscure rather than reveal the actual lived experiences of many
of those people who are defined as men and women.
Adrienne Rich and compulsory heterosexuality
This essay by Rich was groundbreaking when it first appeared in 1980. Since then,
feminist theorists have worked to address both the challenges this essay offered and to
identify its limitations
Rich works to produce and define three terms:
1. Lesbian Existence
2. compulsory heterosexuality
3. lesbian continuum
compulsory heterosexuality: this defines a way of thinking that places
heterosexuality as normal and natural, but also expected, demanded and anticipated
and therefore compulsory.
With compulsory heterosexuality there is no range presented, everyone is assumed to
be heterosexual unless otherwise specifically stated. This assumes that
heterosexuality has always been the norm constituting an unchanging sexual system
that is universal.
Institutions produce and reinforce it.
Compulsory heterosexuality makes lesbian existence non existent or if existing then
lesbianism is produced as deviant, aberrant and hated.
If women lived outside this patriarchal heterosexual matrix, would women choose
hetero relations and marriage?
1 Lesbians exist and have always existed and this reality pushes against
For Rich, she defines the lesbian continuum as all aspects of women’s relations to one
another without a necessarily sexual component [ for example: mothers, daughters,
girlfriends, sisters, etc]
There are 3 specific points of critique to consider with respect to Rich’s
1. Rich uses the term patriarchy, but uses it in a way that presumes an essentialist,
universal notion of patriarchy that is ahistorical. Which means that Rich does not
problematize or historicize what she means by patriarchy.
Patriarchy (from Greek: patria meaning father and arché meaning rule) is the
anthropological term used to define the sociological condition where male members of a
society tend to predominate in positions of power; with the more powerful the position,
the more likely it is that a male will hold that position.
2. making patriarchy the main site of women’s oppression enacts its own form of
harm and violence against women for whom gender and sexuality is not the
dominant way that they experience their oppression. It is important that women
have their own relations and imbalances of power.
3. Rich’s notion of a lesbian continuum is also ahistorical. By producing this
category of a lesbian continuum to which she advances that all women belong,
Rich renders invisible women