THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SEXUALITY
We cannot discuss political lesbianism without, first, understanding the social construction of sexuality. The concept of political lesbianism directly flows from that understanding.
“Compulsory heterosexuality” includes sexuality as a basic tenet but compulsory heterosexuality is much broader. It defines the way in which heterosexuality is enshrined in our institutions, social structures and our conditioning to make women believe, from babyhood, that servicing men is innate, inevitable and ‘natural’.
The social construction of sexuality under male supremacy has men dominating and wielding power at its heart with women submitting, “being flexible” and conforming to the ‘idealized’ pornographic view of women as always available. All women are assessed against this social construction, no matter how far apart it is from anyone’s reality, most of all women’s.
Even if, as individuals, we’ve never been near men sexually, our cultural understanding about sexuality has soaked up this dominant/submissive dichotomy making it very difficult for women to find a sexuality completely free of power. S/m is presented as something ‘different’, a fetish that lies apart from all other sexuality, but we only have to view all-pervasive sexualized images in the social media to know this simply isn’t true.
Consciousness-raising (CR) is crucial for any feminism because CR enables us to review our whole life experience, not as isolated individuals, but as a member of a particular caste, conditioned to behave in particular ways for the benefit of men. Only when we start to develop that recognition can we begin our fight for freedom. The personal IS political. How can we fight against domestic violence if it’s something we’re experiencing, but not naming, in our own lives?
Many of us, through CR processes, have recognised that ANY relationship with men is so embedded with power imbalances that it is, or becomes, completely incompatible with our feminism. No matter how nice Nigel may be (or we need him to be), he still has power, privilege, and male status. For many of us, it becomes impossible to maintain any kind of close relationship with a man once the curtain has lifted.
At the same time, we realise through CR and our reading that, as women, we are taught to compete and be divided from one another. The intoxication we feel when we realise it’s possible to love other women, fully, in a woman-hating world is a continual joy. I do not understand the continuous argument among some ‘feminists’ that political lesbianism does not, or has not, included sexuality – as far as I am aware, it always has. It’s not a term for a celibate heterosexual. At the same time, as “Love Your Enemy” states, nor does it imply “compulsory sexual activity”. It’s simply opening up doors that compulsory heterosexuality, or the social construction of sexuality, closes by defining sexuality as fixed and ‘natural‘. “Men are abusive but I have no alternative but to be with them because my sexual feelings can’t change”
Once we understand that our sexuality is socially constructed and not ‘innate’ or ‘natural’, we can choose to redefine and re-shape it. Without that knowledge, that possibility does not exist. By this, I don’t mean just removing men from the equation and only being intimate with women, I mean everything. I mean removing the embedded idea that sex is about power and can’t exist without it; removing all the shit that is implanted deep, deep inside all females. If men want to fetishize submission then they do so by “playing with it”, they are raised with privilege and entitlement, it will never leave them, just like being raised as subordinate will never truly leave us. We can fight it though. We can fight it because sharing equality and love with women and finding new ways of being close and intimate, outside of the ugly world of domination and submission, is like discovering a new life.
We cannot fight a revolution if we are tied down and subdued in our own lives. This is not “individualism” or “life-stylism”, it’s just obviously true.
Further reading: http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/rian.htm