Compulsory Heterosexuality


“In this essay, Miriam argues for a phenomenological-hermeneutic approach to the radical feminist theory of sex-right and compulsory heterosexuality. Against critics of radical feminism, she argues that when understood from a phenomenological-hermeneutic perspective, such theory does not foreclose female sexual agency. On the contrary, men’s right of sexual access to women and girls is part of our background understanding of heteronormativity, and thus integral to the lived experience of female sexual agency.”

Miriam, Kathy. 2007. “Toward a Phenomenology of Sex-Right: Reviving Radical Feminist Theory of Compulsory Heterosexuality.” Hypatia 22:210-228.

[A great article that uses phenomenology (MacKinnon) and hermeneutics (Merleau-Ponty) in understanding heterosexual relations and male power as a relation of access to women (as well as building on Adrienne Rich‘s theory of “compulsory heterosexuality“). The section “Negotiating Their Own Subordination: A Phenomenological Description of Women’s Lived Experience of Sexual Agency Within Heterorelations” is a very powerful one, for reasons that are self-evident in the title (though I will summarize a bit). When understanding power-dynamics in heterosexual relationships, women and men know where the actual power lies (that is, who has the “real” power): men. Miriam notes a myriad of ways women deal or cope with unwanted sexual encounters (rape) with their male partner, which arises because men see sex with women as their right (“sex-right”, from the title), so a woman’s body essentially belongs to the male (and in this sense it is “compulsory”, women must partake if they are in a heterosexual relationship, lest they face some form of negative repercussion or abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, etc.; that is, a woman’s agency is defined entirely by male interests).]


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