Lewd Women and Wicked Witches: A Study of the Dynamics of Male Domination

By Marianne Hester | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

A revolutionary feminist approach

Male sexuality as social control of women

INTRODUCTION

Heterosexuality must be recognised as a political institution whereby male sexuality, constructed as the primary (and usually penetrative) sexuality, serves as social control of women in the interests of men. This is the social process which Rich has termed ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ (1980:631), and it is a social process where heterosexual intercourse, or coitus, is the primary sexual act (see also Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group 1981; MacKinnon 1979, 1982; Dworkin 1987). By recourse to analysis of male sexual violence towards women it can be shown that not only does ‘normal’ heterosexuality, as constructed contemporarily, include sexual violence (the main argument of Chapter 4), but the resultant ideology and also practice of heterosexuality coerces women into acceptance of these oppressive social relations. The outcome, for men, involves a range of benefits including power and status, economic advantage, as well as emotional and domestic servicing (see Hanmer 1978; Rich 1980; Mahony 1985). MacKinnon, in her well-documented study of Sexual Harassment of Working Women (1979) shows how this applies within the specific sphere of paid work.

MacKinnon demonstrates how the eroticisation of women, in compliance with the heterosexual ‘norm’ within male supremacy, is an intrinsic part of women’s working conditions. Concomitant to this construct is the expectation, and resultant requirement, that women will ‘market sexual attractiveness to men, who tend to hold the economic power and position to enforce their predilections’ (1979:174). In other words, men enforce a heterosexuality which appears to be normal and natural, but which in actual fact acts as

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