Authors Name: 
Tairin Biasci
University College Cork
Social Sciences
Highly commended

The social construction of heterosexuality as a means of women's oppression: feminist critique of sexuality

Feminist discourses of sexuality have famously problematized the dominant model of sexual relationships between the sexes, one that Rich (1980) has defined heteropatriarchal. Moreover, rather than accepting the idea that has dominated theoretical approaches to sexuality for a long time – namely the conception of heterosexuality as a natural, pre-social fact, feminist academics have insisted that sexuality is a social product. This paper explores the feminist critique of sexuality – heterosexuality in particular – as a means for the survival of the oppression of women and their subordination to men. It is argued that while it is often assumed that contemporary female sexuality is a liberated and empowered one, a more in-depth analysis lends credibility to Rich’s theory. In fact, I suggest, the objectification of lesbian sexuality for male pleasure that has become increasingly popular in both pornography and mainstream popular culture in the last decade, lends credibility to Rich’s theory. Furthermore, following a Gramscian approach and the theory of Gill (2003), I argue that while acknowledging women’s agency in the construction and performance of their sexuality, it is still possible to problematize it as heteropatriarchal. My thesis is illustrated through an analysis of the increased mainstreaming of ‘porn culture’ and the glamourization of strippers through popular movies such as Moulin Rouge (2001) and Burlesque (2010) and the popularity of celebrities like Dita Von Teese.