ENDING HETEROSEXISM FOR ALL WOMEN’S SEXUALITIES
In 1989, I expressed my hunch that heterosexism created problems for heterosexual women as well as for lesbians (Brown, 1989). This hunch seems to be more accurate as the culture continues to strive to alternately rid itself of or reembrace sexist and heterosexist imperatives. Heterosexuality, as currently defined in U. S. culture, is a male-dominant experience in which women are defined as object, but not actor. The heterosexual woman who seeks sexual potency and agency runs the all-too-present risk of being labeled lesbian. In fact, a woman need only be powerful in a traditionally male sphere to achieve the honor of this title (e. g., when the radical right wing was quick to label Hillary Rodham Clinton as a lesbian —a move that many lesbians greeted with satisfaction by wearing Hillary and Tipper T-shirts with the slogan “Go girls”). And if she is not a lesbian, the agentic heterosexual woman is, as described earlier, a predator. Heterosexism is a form of sexism at its core, and neither celebrates the sexually potent, alive, passionate woman.
A clear consequence of the heterosexist hegemony of sexual definition, containing as it does the core of male superiority and construction out of male experience, has been a silencing of the genuine internal experiences of heterosexual women, experiences of agency and power that are also distorted or made absent by the dominant discourse. Thus, in the pursuit of a feminist vision of women’s sexuality, it may be that when we cease to privilege the words and images of that heterosexist discourse and instead empower lesbians to speak our own sexual languages, heterosexual women may be so empowered as well (Palladino & Stephenson, 1990). It is no accident that feminist perspectives on heterosexual women’s experiences of sexuality have arisen in tandem with lesbians’ increased power and voice in the description of our sexual lives. Feminist questions about sexuality challenge the premises of heterosexuality by inquiring into the most fundamental aspects of the dominant images of sexual selves ascribed to women.
The accomplishment of this revolution in which we come together to undermine the heterosexist thrall in which women’s sexuality has been held requires alliance between and among women. Sexual minority and heterosexual women must begin to analyze and then move away from the artificial divisions set between us by heterosexist constructions. The power of many women’s voices speaking up, weaving together as theme and variation, is far more difficult to deny, or to define as peculiar, than is the voice of any one woman. In doing so, we must listen with the “loving ear” (from Frye’s  “loving eye”) that embraces each woman’s experience as genuine, that does not judge or exclude but attends carefully so as to know the details of another woman’s sexual self. This collective and critical attending can wipe away the sexual fog of confusion created by the heterosexist imperative that the sexual woman exists solely in the presence of and for the pleasure of a man. In this speaking together lies the potential to create a radically different and feminist discourse about women and sex, weaving as it does the web of interactions in which women’s own visions of ourselves can be constructed, and barriers between women created by the presence of heterosexism can be brought down.