written by Adrienne Rich 1980 revised version in 2004

radical feminism

asserts that heterosexuality is not a biological necessity but a social/political institution

was written in part to address the erasure of lesbian existence from scholarly feminist literature which she felt was not just anti-lesbian but also anti-feminist. It “distorts the experience of heterosexual women as well”

looks at heterosexuality as a political institution that disempowers women

  • wants to change the system that shackles them and dismantle it
  • hope that other lesbians felt the length and breadth of women identification and women bonding

we are the emotional and sexual property of men

autonomy of women threatens the family, religion, and state 1

Addresses “feminism” that excludes lesbian identity The lesbian, unless in disguise, faces discrimination in hiring and harassment and violence in the street

talks about heteronormativity, patriarchy, heterocentric how men control all aspects of the lives of women how that causes erasure of gay and lesbian identities says homosexuality is NOT deviant about “lesbian visibility"

"Heterosexuality is the tool of the oppressor” it is forcible and subliminal

Foundation of Rich’s Essay

Kathleen Gough’s The Origin of the Family which detailed man’s power over women.

According to Gough, a social anthropologist and feminist, men control women in both archaic and contemporary societies by using eight methods. These are:

  • Rejecting women’s sexuality
  • Forcing male sexuality upon women
  • Exploiting women’s labor
  • Controlling or robbing women of their children
  • Confining women physically
  • Using women as transactional objects
  • Depriving them of creativity
  • Barring them from the academic and professional sphere or withholding knowledge

This was used by Rich to develop her theory of compulsory heterosexuality, which argues that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a patriarchal and heteronormative society.

”outward sexuality”, “lesbian suffering”

Lesbian Existence and Continuum

objects to the term lesbianism, which she sees as a stigmatized clinical term, instead advocating the terms lesbian existence for the historical and contemporary presence of lesbian creation and lesbian continuum to include the entire range of a woman-identified experience

lesbian continuum

coined by Adrienne Rich in Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence

theory claiming that all women have a lesbian potential women’s bonding is the only tool to dismantle patriarchy fluid model of female sexuality

does not confine itself to just sex, but to other bonds between women need to reduce dependence on men

 overall “range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experiences, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman”

women may not have a preference toward heterosexuality, but may find it imposed, managed, organized, propagandized, and maintained by society

Link to original

At certain points in history, homosexual men and lesbians have shared a social existence, and acknowledged a common fight against society but to treat the lesbian experience as a version of male homosexuality is to discard it

Three Definitions of Lesbian

  • lesbian identity as an act of resistance
  • lesbian identity is the sense of the self of a woman bonded primarily to women who are sexually, and emotionally
  • lesbian continuum and lesbian existence

she says lesbianism is not just sexual but a political stance

she is intersectional, brings in race and sexual identity

not just tolerate but include

personal notes:

  • radfem is supposed to be provocative! People dilute their thoughts and everything. Mainstream dilutes movements Judging her and her work because of the tone is Tone Policing. You CAN’T tone police a member of the marginalized sect of society.

  • Queer people are seen under the microscope, scrutinized so much. Homophobic speech gets a pass. But God forbid someone says the opposite.

  • The MOVEMENT IS NOT EXTREME. If you’re cornered and beaten day in and day out for years, it is only self defense to fight back. Society only looks when the oppressed strike back but turns a blind eye towards the whole “violence” thing when it is the oppressed at the receiving end.

  • Revisionist =/= responding to criticism. It is erasing and making new history.

  • Revised, not revisionist (?)

  • Revisionist has negative connotations

  • introduces the concept of a lesbian continuum, which includes various forms of women’s relationships and resistance to male domination. She argues that lesbian existence is not only about sexual orientation, but also about a political choice and a challenge to patriarchy.
  • Rich criticizes the heterosexual assumption, which is the belief that women are naturally and innately attracted to men, and that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural sexuality. She claims that this assumption is based on male bias and ignorance, and that it erases and denies lesbian existence.
  • Rich analyzes the institution of motherhood, which is often used to justify and enforce compulsory heterosexuality. She argues that motherhood is not a biological destiny, but a social construct that limits women’s autonomy and potential. She advocates for a radical redefinition of motherhood, which recognizes women’s agency and diversity.
  • Rich explores the history and culture of lesbianism, which is often hidden or distorted by mainstream sources. She cites examples of lesbian existence from various times and places, such as ancient Greece, medieval Europe, China, Africa, and Native America. She also discusses the role of literature and art in expressing and affirming lesbian identity.
  • Rich calls for a feminist transformation of society, which would challenge compulsory heterosexuality and create more possibilities for women’s lives. She urges women to question their sexual assumptions and choices, and to support each other in their struggles for liberation. She believes that lesbian existence is a vital source of strength and inspiration for all women.


”Pornography does not simply create a climate in which sex and violence are interchangeable; it widens the range of behavior considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse-behavior which reiteratively strips women of their autonomy, dignity, and sexual potential, including the potential of loving and being loved by women in mutuality and integrity.”

“The effect of male-identification means ‘internalizing the values of the colonizer and actively participating in carrying out the colonization of one’s self and one’s sex… Male identification is the act whereby women place men above women, including themselves, in credibility, status, and importance in most situations, regardless of the comparative quality the women may bring to the situation…. Interaction with women is seen as a lesser form of relating on every level.”

(emphasis by me)


  1. archy; forced hierarchies