In Adrienne Rich’s Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, she states that many feminist authors ignore lesbian existence while critiquing the institution of heterosexuality and the hegemonic masculinity that enforces it. Rich raises arguments about the disparity of economic and social power distributed in a heterosexual relationship and how there is an “economic imperative to heterosexuality and marriage and to the sanction imposed against single women and widows…” (Rich 634). Yet authors such as Nancy Chodrow, Dinnerstein and Barbra Ehrenreich critique the hegemonic institution of heterosexuality while simultaneously prescribing it as a norm that should be practiced. This is done by assuming all women are innately heterosexual and ignoring the history and possibility of women having a relationship with other women. By enforcing heterosexuality as a natural bond that just needs to be restructured and convincing women that a heterosexual orientation and marriage is compulsory, allows patriarchal terrorism, gycnocide and other forms of violence against women to transpire. It becomes the place where “male power is manifested and maintained” (640). Compulsory Heterosexuality is very much existent in contemporary society and is preserved by the male power entitled in heterosexual relationships.
Forces of compulsory heterosexuality are framed by the power of men which “deny women sexuality or to force it upon them”, assign women as economic dependents of men and limit the working sphere of women, dictate the female dress code and limit their educational opportunities. The power of men in society range from the social, economic and political sphere mainly enforced through legislation. In the case of domestic violence, the film Sin by Silence provides a contemporary example of how heterosexuality is forced on women, even in cases of abusive relationships. The Convicted Women against Abuse (CWAA) formed in 1989 is a group of women who are serving life sentences in prison for murdering their abusers. These women were mentally, physically and emotionally abused by their partners. Often these women are not supported by the police who reduce the violence committed by the male abuser as a marital issue. The power to deal with the abused wife, girlfriend or partner is left to the male abuser, often resulting in more violence. It is assumed that the women, who are not essentially seen as victims but as the wife of the abuser, are in the violent relationship by choice.
Charged for the murder of their abusers, the court did not acknowledge battered women’s syndrome (until 2002) which functions as a form of evidence to show that there was a pattern of violence in the relationship and that any act of violence by the victim was most likely self-defense. By not acknowledging battered woman’s syndrome, it preserved the violence that would occur in these domestic violence cases until either partner was killed or arrested, which doesn’t result in restructuring heterosexual relationships but preserving the male dominance in the relationship.
We barely hear or read about the struggles of these women and how they tried to leave such oppressed and detrimental relationships. Yet we do see and hear of other forms of sexual violence through our current media outlets. In Rihanna’s music video for her song “We Found Love”, the video explicitly works to link sex, violence, love and drugs as well as portraying the line drawn between love and sexualized violence. Throughout the beginning of the video Rihanna and her partner are happy and enjoying each other’s company, the video gets serious and becomes the pinnacle for what an abusive relationship is. The most disturbing scene of the video shows Rihanna’s abusive partner carving in her skin “MINE” as an act of sexualized violence. The video flashes scenes of intense arguments, violent shoves, drunken blackouts as well as the laughs shared during various dates which put together make the video a blur. Jane Caputi in her piece The Sexual Politics of Murder states that this “flow” of content is a strategy used by television that show TV programs along with commercials in a flow of continuous and uninterrupted content that blurs the contents together (442). The “mixed messages” that are being portrayed in this video are a reality in many abusive relationships, yet I don’t think that the music industry should be responsible for giving a face to this type of situation. Consciousness raising is important, but to the women of all ages as well as men watching this video, the content of this video becomes normalized and acceptable. These forms of sexualized violence are portrayed in contemporary media and depending through which medium, the internet has transformed violence against women. In the case of pop culture and media outlets such as music videos and magazines, sexualized violence has been preserved through the stereotype of an inferior and sexualized woman.