Unpacking Concepts of Sexuality I
-discussion of Sarah Baartman and continuation of last week’s lecture
Women’s sexuality is both varied and fluid.
Women can be heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered,
pansexual, celibate, etc.
Men’s sexuality is both varied and fluid.
Men can be heterosexual, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered,
pansexual, celibate, polyamorous etc.
In our social environment, heterosexuality is produced as normative
Normative: produced as natural, and normal against which all other
expressions of sexuality are produced as deviant, aberrant and at worst
In the words of feminist theorist Adrienne Rich heterosexuality is
Heterosexuality has always been produced as the norm, an unchanging
sexual system that is universal. Institutions produce and reinforce it (the
family, religious institutions, education, law, etc.)
Compulsory heterosexuality – part and parcel of the dominant ideology
(Dominant ideology so pervasive that it is like fish swimming in water of
which fish are unaware)
Compulsory heterosexuality: refers to the ideology and social practice that
pushes properly gendered women and men into couples and makes them
believe it is a free choice
Heterosexism does not work only through a negative stance to other sexual
practices or lived lives, but also operates through processes of exclusion
This also works to oppress heterosexuals themselves, since it already
determines how one is to behave as a heterosexual
Women are more induced to ‘find a man’ than men to ‘find a wife’
1 Once again we need (as with masculinities and femininities) to consider
dichotomies or what we spoke of as binary oppositions.
The world is split in two, where sets of terms become both meaningful
and gendered. And where one term in the pair of supposed “opposites”
is always more highly valued than the other. Usually terms that are
associated with (hegemonic) or dominant masculinity are more highly
valued than terms associated with femininity
Fairy tales are one of the early and enduring ways we find out about
ourselves, as boys and girls & as men and women.
Men are subjects of the world and world of fairy tales
Women are objects of men’s desire
Women are feared, hated, desired and worshipped
If we have any doubt: we can look at how girls & women are represented in
the dominant culture. Representation is a clue of the prescription of how to
be a girl & woman in our society as well as a description of what a girl and
woman are in our society. As with masculinity, the narratives available to us
about how to be women and girls both discipline and limit us.
While we have discussed that the category “woman” is not a singular
Feminist theorists have argued that it is strategically useful to use the
category woman for politics in order to coherently express mandates for
social and political change. This is known as strategic essentialism. It is
nonetheless equally important to know that this category is a fiction and that
women’s lived experience contradicts, challenges and defies this singular
Subjects are produced