Written by Melanie Scanlon
(Trigger warnings for talks on sexual harassment and homophobia)
For those of you who’ve grown up AFAB, have you ever felt the need to impress men around you, succumb to the male gaze, and act in a way that doesn’t damage their egos?
A term for this has recently been re-popularised, and it’s called compulsive heterosexuality.
When, as a woman, you’re conditioned in society to view male opinion and validation as the ‘end goal’. Your existence is merely to validate the men around you and not yourself…
Coined by lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich in her 1980s essay ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, Rich discusses how ‘lesbianism’ (eugh) is never seen as long-term, and that heterosexuality and male validation are taught, not naturally instilled and desired within women.
“Early female indoctrination in “love” as an emotion may be largely a Western concept; but a more universal ideology concerns the primacy and uncontrollability of the male sexual drive.” Rich, 1980
The term ‘compulsive heterosexuality’, or shortened: ‘comphet’ has recently skyrocketed in online searches, popularising on TikTok with the hashtag receiving over 2.2 million views.
Within this, many women started to share their own experiences, growing up ‘straight’, but only because that is what society conditioned into them. ‘Girl crushes’, and being told “Oh, you’ll change your mind when you’re older!” when even challenging the possible thought of truly liking men are both examples of enforced compulsive heterosexuality.
What makes it so difficult for women to realise it’s comphet and not their genuine feelings towards men is that we are taught that any attention from a man is a good thing. We are conditioned to enjoy their affection, even to the point that sexual harassment has been seen in a positive light because “you should be flattered he did XYZ”
This is why so many women’s experiences highlight their realisations in their mid to late 20s, some having multiple heterosexual relationships prior to this.
Heteronormativity, a close relative to Compulsive Heterosexuality
Closely related, heteronormativity is the practice of seeing heterosexuality as the norm. People are heterosexual “until proven otherwise”. This is why so many women struggle to understand their preference, as we are treated as straight until we come out, and in many cases, still treated as such…
Both comphet and heteronormativity are ways in which society enforces ‘straightness’ into women. As, unfortunately, many believe women to be useless unless straight, as we all know our only goal in life is to reproduce and keep the men around us happy (*yawn*).
After learning about these, I am now trying to unlearn my compulsive heterosexuality and normativity, and living in a way that doesn’t appeal to the male gaze, or even care about it, has helped massively in realising my self-worth.