The term sentimental has been applied carelessly to women's writings from the nineteenth century without regard for their individual merit. Although the term is being reclaimed by some feminist revisionists who point to the inevitable social observations and criticism embedded in women's work, its history rests very much on a foundation of dismissal.
See also Stowe, Harriet Beecher.
Lisa R. Williams
Multiple explanations exist for the modern construct of sexuality. For Michel Foucault, sexuality as a concept emerged in the late nineteenth century, when same-sex acts began to be discussed in medical terms. Previously, Foucault argues, there were homosexual acts but no corresponding descriptors, such as “homosexuality” or “bisexuality” or “lesbianism” to talk about them. John D'Emilio disagrees, positing the emergence of capitalism as the beginning of sexuality as an identity. He argues that wage labor led to a shift away from the heterosexual family unit, which in turn made it possible for homosexual desire to become an identity rather than simply a practice. Both analyses, while focused predominantly on male sexuality, make a common and crucial point about sexuality: The very concept is a social construct.
Heterosexuality—that is, attraction to members of the opposite sex—is assumed by much of contemporary society to be “normal, ” largely as a result of Sigmund Freud's theories that posited same-sex attraction as a social and sexual immaturity. Poststructuralist scholars, however, argue that without a binary such as that of homosexuality/heterosexuality, heterosexuality itself does not exist. After all, heterosexuality, in order to be “normal, ” needs something against which it can define itself. As a result, women who identify as bisexual (attracted to both sexes) or lesbian (attracted to the same sex) have historically been relegated to second-class status by right of their deviant-deviant sexuality. Adrienne Rich attempted to point to this phenomenon by discussing what she calls compulsory heterosexuality. She writes, “The fact is that women in every culture and throughout history have undertaken the task of independent, non-heterosexual, woman-connected existence, to the extent made possible by their context, often in their belief that they were the 'only ones' ever to have done so” (231). And in order for those engaged in same-sex attractions or acts to think themselves the “only
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Publication information: Book title: Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature. Contributors: Kathy J. Whitson - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 221.
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