The Bald Fact About Compulsory Heterosexuality

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Feminism, Foucault, Identity, Mark Simpson, Masculinities, metrosexuality

We have been having an interesting discussion about ‘privilege’ – and the delusion that an individual can ‘possess’ privilege as an innate, personal trait, and then use it against specific groups of people- here at QRG HQ.

In the light of our discussions I returned to Mark Simpson’s recent post, about a YouGOv (UK) survey that looked at men’s facial and body hair. Though the researchers  interviewed men and women,  they only asked the women if they preferred men to be hirsute or hairless. They treated the men as ‘objects’ and merely asked them to say if they had body/facial hair or not.

‘I read with interest this YouGov survey published this week which provides some confirming data on the fashionability of face fuzz and its accessorization by males today: ‘stubble’ is reportedly the most popular form of facial hair today – especially with 18-24 year olds (51% say they have facial hair and 80% of those describe it as ‘stubble’). Stubble of course being the most easily adopted and discarded form of facial hair.

But the survey – called ‘Let’s Face It’ — is much less interesting for what it reports than for what it doesn’t. What it’s not facing. At all. The assumptions behind it and the way that compulsory heterosexuality is used to deprive all men of a voice, even about their own bodies.

Here’s the first paragraph of the YouGov press release/summary:

‘Are you male and looking for a date? It might be a good idea to shave beforehand, our survey suggests, as we discover that two thirds of British women prefer the appearance of a man without a beard, compared to less than one in ten who like the more hirsute type’

The first assumption of course is that the date a male is looking for is necessarily with a woman. (And as I say, if you’re gay you have to have a Captain Haddock to get a second look.) The second, and closely-related assumption, is that men’s affinity for facial hair is naturally to be measured entirely in terms of what women want.’


Mark’s post asks that question that he, I and others ask regularly: No, seriously, what about the men?

Because in our current culture which I described in the Privilege discussion as ‘feminist orthodoxy’, it seems as if men’s voices are rarely heard.

In the context of the facial and body hair survey, Mark says that:

compulsory heterosexuality is used to deprive all men of a voice, even about their own bodies.

I agree and disagree with this statement.  I agree because yes, men are denigrated and reduced to objects, on matters of the body/personal life/relationships/sexuality/feelings in our culture. They are often presented as ‘thugs’ (the recent UK riots), ‘rapists’ (DSK/Assange), ‘bad parents’ (the riots again) or reduced to penises (the recent ‘bisexual’ ‘science’ using penile plesmographs).

But I disagree because saying ‘compulsory heterosexuality is used to deprive all men of a voice’ sounds like men are not involved in ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. It sounds as if it is women who run the  ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ show and just don’t listen to men’s views.

It also seems to suggest that compulsory heterosexuality is somehow ‘worse’ for men than women, because men’s voices are not heard, and their relationship to their own and other men’s bodies is not acknowledged.

I don’t think Simpson meant that. But it sounded a bit like he did.

Also it may be worth wondering if compulsory heterosexuality is used to deny all men of a voice, or if all men are denied a voice in order to reinforce compulsory heterosexuality? Which way round is it? (or is it both?)

The bald fact about gender inequality, as the bald guy pictured above might say, is it is about power. And power is everywhere.

Men and women invest in compulsory heterosexuality, because most men and women get some dividends out of it. Some of those men and women designed and conducted the yougov survey, and some of them responded to the questions without asking why they didn’t consult men about their preferences, but only asked them to describe their bodies.

Why do men invest in something that denies them a voice? What’s in it for them? I am interested in the answer to that question.

I am interested in resistance. And how we resist ‘compulsory heterosexuality’.

I know how Mark Simpson resists it. I know how Foucault did. And I know how I do.

What about the rest of you, men, women, bearded or not? I don’t care what you look like or how you identify.  I care about what you have to say.

p.s. If Foucault had grown a beard, he’d have been Lenin. I am glad he didn’t.

  1. redpesto says:

    QRG, I’m sure you know that the essay best-known for the term was Adrienne Rich’s ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’ (emphasis added). Whilst you could extend Rich’s argument to cover masculinity, it’s not really about ‘themenz’ (so to speak).

    Incidentally, I am amused by the idea that male face-fuzz is about what women want – the very opposite of the argument re. women’s hairstyles and (non-)use of make-up.

    • Yes I know that it came from a dyke! I think it applies to everyone though.

      Well both men and women please themselves in relation to appearance I think Mr S was asking if men are allowed to acknowledge that or not? I am asking, if not, who is stopping them?

  2. Elise says:

    I’m not sure how compulsory heterosexuality denies men *and not women* a voice. Under compulsory heterosexuality, only women are allowed to be desiring subjects? In what context? A feminist one? A patriarchal one? Who, exactly, is trying to control men’s desire?

    Women seemed to have gotten around the long-accustomed problem of being compulsory objects of male desire through the expediency of narcissism. Many young women I know say they wear makeup and dress sexy “because it makes them feel good” (implicitly answering the feminist critique that they’re doing it forthemenz). They’re not doing it to *please* the male gaze but rather to get the rebounding pleasure of pleasing it. But then, I thought that’s what metrosexuality was about for men: narcissistically enjoying being the object of the gaze.

    • I think I am teasing out a contradiction in metrosexuality.

      Men are becoming ‘everything, to themselves’ and regardless of what women think or want. They are, as you say narcissistic. But, whilst women seem to *talk* about their narcissism all the time, and relate it to gendered power (e.g. the discourse of: ‘I dress to please myself but the media frames it as if I only do it to please men’), men don’t. Is this because men are ‘denied a voice’? (and they obviously are denied a voice in some/many situations). Or is it because men just don’t feel they are being held up as ‘objects’ of women’s desire/aggression in the same way women have felt, rightly or wrongly, that they are by men?

      OR and this makes sense to me, is it that men (and society at large) are still in some kind of ‘denial’ about the implications of their metrosexual self-love?
      Is it going too far to ‘speak’ about their desire openly – because that would be too, you know, homo.

      This is another example of where metrosexuality can be better understood by looking at men and women. But Mr Simpson rarely does that. He does not deny women a voice so much as deny women period. 😀

      • elissa says:

        Those are interesting “Or’s” you have there. I like your third the most as well, – “You don’t talk about homo fight club”.

        Adrienne Rich said – lesbianism is the natural sexual progression begotten from feminism – and it is erringly odd that most theorists of feminism are indeed lesbian. But not terribly odd if you view it – as more lesbians find the idea of feminism attractive. And what’s there not to like: an unholy fit with gay rights and the making more tangible that gaseous Patriarchy. And of course, not liking cock sure seals the deal. I contend that if lesbians liked cock, they would progress to bisexual, and feminism would crumple….but they sure do seem to obsess about men in every other way possible…and then you have the gay theorists who don’t even know that women exist, and they have fist antlers on one side of their head!

  3. Dimebag Darrell had a mother fu*ker of a beard….

    I think for him, it was more about being a badass guitar player who didn’t follow the rules…..

    I think that facial hair can be anti-authoritarian–cops and military guys are clean cut….

    It’s like you are opting out of the corporate world and what “conventional” women want…..

  4. Incidentally I am reading Male Impersonators and in that, Mr S sometimes sounds almost *feminist*!

    He uses Iragaray there, to say how men ‘exchange’ women as objects in a homosocial transaction to confirm their hetero credentials whilst being very homo.

    But now, he almost seems to be saying men are the ‘objects’ of exchange. But not really explaining how.

    Miss Marple is working on the case.

  5. Lawrence says:

    Interesting point about Dimebag, I remember seeing a bit of a documentary on metal where Corey Taylor from Slipknot describes metal as ‘the last bastion of . . . masculinity’

    My problem with compulsory heterosexuality is it isn’t just compulsory heterosexuality, it is the restricting set of rules that you seem to have to sign up to to be attractive and not seem ‘gay’. When I was younger, counter culture seemed like a viable ‘way out’ of these rules and regulations. Of course, counter cultures have there own (sometimes much stricter) rules – although I found you were aloud greater sexual and gender licence. It’s hard to keep up past 16, I found.

    I don’t think that women have are any freer, or have any more of a voice than men in compulsory heterosexuality. Everyone opts in because everyone gets something out of it, and everyone has to give something up.

    I do think that men are losing more and more of that freedom (we discussed this a bit on your ‘man up’ blog post). There seems to be a push to turn men into anatomically correct ken dolls, with these rules on what is attractive getting more and more narrow. Unfortunately, this push seems to be coming from men themselves. We all love a facsist nowadays, especially when the facsist is ourselves.

    Few ‘opt out’ anymore. Even the metal channels are filled with men in nice clothes and pretty hair singing psudo-ballads with a few screams. I miss the grizzled fat neck beards of my youth.

    • ‘I miss the grizzled fat neck beards of my youth’ – that is quite poignant!

      I think you make some very good points Lawrence. I hope Mr Simpson reads them.

      ‘anatomically correct ken dolls’ is also astute.

      I have an idea some of this ‘conformity’ relates to the ‘death of subcultures’ which I am writing about at the moment. Watch this space…

  6. haha at metal gigs they take their shirts off and swing them round and go crazy – just like at Morrissey gigs then.

    • Lawrence says:

      Haha methinks the lady doth protest too much.

      Also, IMHO the mosh pit is the ultimate form of group hetero/homo man on man contact. Sweaty men rubbing up against each other with shirts off and fists out. No sport can compete with that, in terms of violence or intensity. In my experiance it’s also quite tender, no one hits that hard and everyone picks you up if you fall over.

      • I have spent quite a bit of time on the edges of mosh pits (and of hetero/homo man contact in general) and yes, they are very sexually charged.

        I also have some observations about unwanted ‘sexual violence’ of men towards me, coming out of that violent and ‘intense’ environment at a gig. But I may write about that some other time.

        • Lawrence says:

          I suppose that is partly a consiquence when something of that sexually charged/violent/intense nature takes part in a relatively public place. It is not something I ever saw, or even thought about, which is probably terribly blind/nieve of me. It would be interesting to read your experiances.

          • One reason I have been reluctant to write about it is that there are ‘feminist’ narratives about how when men get together in groups they often become sexually/physically aggressive towards women.

            eg the ‘smash it’ comments from Andy Gray.

            I like homosocial gatherings – I wish I could be ‘one of the boys’ in them. sometimes I nearly am! – but there can be an element of something, sexual ‘aggression’ that can be translated into something that is expressed in a bad way towards women, especially if they are ‘in the way’ in that context.

            I just want to try and write about it in a sensitive way and it’s difficult when the experiences were well, pretty shite.

  7. Heresiarch says:

    I’m not entirely convinced by the phrase “compulsory heterosexuality”. Wouldn’t “presumptive heterosexuality” or “default heterosexuality” be more accurate?

    • Well the phrase was coined in 1980 so it could be a bit out of date, now!

      But I think ‘compulsory’ may still be relevant in a discursive sense. If you want a ‘voice’ or a place in many discourses you can only have one as a ‘heterosexual’ subject.

      I think Mark S may have lost-or added- something in translation though in applying a ‘lesbian’ feminist idea into a ‘metrosexual’ context. Men’s ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ is different to women’s because men’s ‘homosociality’ or homosexuality is much more charged and ‘dangerous’ than women’s.

  8. Quiet Riot Girl,

    I’d love to heart about your experiences at mosh pits, they are YOUR experiences, I wouldn’t worry about some feminazi’s trying to subvert them….

    I’ve been reading things all over the blogsphere and for every feminazi manhater like Twisty Faster and Amanda Marcotte, there is someone equally twisted in the manosphere such as Advocatus Diaboli or Rookh Kshatria….

    • yeah I think you are right I try and ignore the MRAs – I mean they are no worse than the feminists but once you see the whole picture and how they kind of feed off each other it is just awful.

      • You might like this quote:

        “The dynamic between the men’s movement and the feminist movement is akin to that of a younger brother and older sister. The older sister spends her youth demanding her place at the family table and asserting her power. She often does the latter by bullying, harassing, and abusing her younger brother. This goes on until one summer the brother stands up for himself. He copes with his sister’s actions and fights back, and now he has size on his side. His sister thinks twice about slugging him in the face. Of course, the moment the younger brother dishes the abuse back, the older sister complain to their parents, something her brother could never do. And of course, when the sister tells, she conveniently leaves out all the crap she put her brother through. He is the bully. She is the innocent victim.

        This is the refrain one hears from feminists about men’s rights activists. As cruel as some of those men can be, they have nothing on feminists. Feminists have spent 40 years going for men’s throats, saying, writing and singing all sorts of horrendous things about men and boys. Feminists often reserve their most cruel and insidious comments for those concerned about men’s issues. For every men’s rights activist who resorts to insults out of sheer hatred of feminists, there are dozens feminists doing the same thing towards men, particularly anyone concerned with men’s issues.”

        • I do like it stoner but I find it depressing. Because I was brought up for the last 40 years in fact, in feminism. And yet it gave me no pleasure or no power to have that ‘bully’ on my ‘side’. It just alienated me from men, and from my own sense of my own ‘masculinity’.

  9. and another thing about beards….

    I remember seeing an old cartoon in MAD Magazine, where a newlywed bride has her husband shave off his longtime beard. She is hoping for a guy with a square jaw and GQ face, when he shaves it, he reveals a weak jaw and double chin…..

  10. Matthew says:

    “My problem with compulsory heterosexuality is it isn’t just compulsory heterosexuality, it is the restricting set of rules that you seem to have to sign up to to be attractive and not seem ‘gay’.”

    Yes and it is interesting how so many gay men join the cult of masculinity. “No sex unless your masculine” etc. Leaving the swish feme as second class queer.

    And on the straight side a constant demand to conform to a rigid gender role even while feminism has opened up gender roles where women are can now perform both roles or none at all. While men remain stuck.

    The reality is ALL men need to become QUEER in order to be liberated (in the gender role sense). The women’s movement allowed women to queer their own gender expanding power and domains. They queered themselves.

    While the men’s movement homophobicly fears QUEERING themselves and allows women to QUEER them for them. This is a complete surrendering of power. So now men are both provider/slave and sex objectified!

    • elissa says:

      Oppressive / restrictive forces are always relative to a lesser of the same, and associated with the amount of individual free will. We know that total free will is very undesirable. All social deterrents would be avoided by someone with total free will. So I think we’re seeing a feature of the structure, and this feature seems to be very necessary for consciousness and creativity. What’s left to find is just an optimum dose of Queerring. The solution is mathematical and that fact seems to piss the hell out of a lot of people. I think it’s beautiful!

  11. Matthew says:

    QRG: “sexual ‘aggression’ that can be translated into something that is expressed in a bad way towards women”

    As I mentioned earlier I think there is deeply unconscious unaware powerlessness men of all orientations feel in relationship with women. The mommy complex. Believe me it can be a extraordinary overwhelming feelings of powerlessness in relationship to women, because the emotions that arise when a man is honest about it are infantile, helpless, vulnerable. In order for a man to gain real power he needs to absorb and sublimate all these emotions and yet for a man to even experience his emotional life is very queer indeed. The closest many men get to this is sobbing sponateously late at night with a buddy at the pub while drunk and then hopes his friends forget it ever happened. Men in general in endure this degree of emotional repression. Aggression is one of the few emotions a man is allowed to feel.

    • yes and what woman wants to be the ‘mommy’? I hate that role.

      • Matthew says:

        In my longest hetero relationship of five years she called me the good daddy/ bad daddy and responded intensely as well. But I think it was easier for her to shift and integrate a masculine role than it was for me to shift into embracing my own feme aspects. But really by doing so I can have much less entangled relationships with women.

  12. Some brilliant points here folks I will write another post on this I think!

    Really so much food for thought. Thanks for your wise contributions

  13. Here’s a great reason to grow a beard-the misandrists like Amanhater Marcotte hate ’em…

    “*Beards. Hate ’em. I don’t mean like a couple day’s stubble that you routinely remove, but like a full-on beard. It’s not like I wouldn’t be friends with a guy with a beard, but kissing a dude with a beard puts me way off. I’m super glad to be off the market in our times of “mountain man” being a style. I object to that style in total, but also just really don’t like beards, which I refer to as “germ farm face pube crumb catchers”. I also feel a beard is making a mockery out of how much shaving women are still expected to do. You have one thing to shave, guys! That is not too much. I never see hipster dude with a beard out about town with a woman sporting underarm and leg hair, you know. ”

  14. […] The Bald Fact About Compulsory Heterosexuality […]

  15. Paul says:

    Remember kids, women can have dealbreakers… but if men do it it means they really hate women!

  16. I think I finally found the cultural link between Hells Angels and male Feminists—

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