Let’s make ‘androsexism’ a thing we talk about

We already have lesbophobia, I think we need to add androsexism to our dictionary of words to describe the, shall we say “annoyances,” of being a woman who is, or sometimes finds herself in the position of, a lesbian. Because we realized that homophobia didn’t cut it, but lesbophobia isn’t just a gender-flipped version. An important aspect of it, one that people are keen to overlook, is the fear and hatred of women not only for liking other women too much, but the fear and hatred of women who don’t like men enough, or not in the most useful way for a society that has been shaped by the capitalist demand for cheap reproductive labour from women to keep its workforce going. Hey, it’s no coincidence that the most acceptable faces of same-sex coupledom are male and, even when not, bourgeoise and white: what would capital do if working class women stopped tending to the daily needs of its workforce without pay because it’s been naturalized as a function of heterosexuality in women to be servile, you know?  (Interesting article on servility and female sexuality here, for anyone interested.)

But anyway, the fear and hatred of lesbians and other women perceived to be lesbians, or who occupy the same social position as a lesbian, is about more than not wanting women to like each other too much, although it is obviously about that too. I’d say it’s about the fear that if women like each other too much, they could go off men and all the shit that comes from being in an intimate relationship with someone in a position of power and dominance over you (and as pointed out above, it could seriously jeopardize the world order if that kind of movement reached a critical mass). But out bisexual women, especially ones in relationships with other women or who rock a “lesbian” (read: butch) aesthetic, bear as much of the brunt for that as a Gold Star. It would be nice to have a word for it that also covered the pressure on bisexual women, covert and overt, to “choose” men, or the fact that so many out  female celebrities who are bisexual are also married to men (Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Anna Paquin, the list goes on), suggesting that for many more, it’s safer to keep their relationships with women under wraps, not to be out at all, or even to do a Jessie J and declare themselves “post bi,” as it were.

Androsexism would be such a word and it would also be a word that could cover a lot of the pressure on asexual women to get sexual, because I doubt the preferred sexual partner for her would be another woman in the eyes of society at large.

Currently we just have words that divide these women from each other, like “monosexual” and “sexual privilege.” No woman was ever meaningfully privileged because she didn’t fancy men or because she did fancy women. Not in any social paradigms I know of. Not even in the sexual and romantic minority community, which is also blighted by androsexism: on the gay scene, a woman is often more welcome as a “fag hag” than as an out and proud dyke, and the predominance of men is such that we have to create our own separate venues and parties and then we get told off for only letting “accompanied” guys in (it’s reverse sexism, right?). Don’t get me wrong, at least you’re less likely to hear about “hearts not parts” and how maybe you just haven’t met the right guy yet (although you do still hear those things) but the gay scene is only really a refuge from heterosexism, not androsexism or indeed plain sexism, and heterosexism isn’t the same for women as for men anyway. We need to talk about that and we need to talk about things that unite women outside the heterosexual mainstream. Bringing “androsexism” in from the cold (because apparently it’s in the dictionary, just not the one we use) is a way of doing that.

I don’t want to suggest that an endeavour isn’t worthy if it doesn’t also benefit women in the heterosexual mainstream, but this would also benefit women in the heterosexual mainstream. Even though androsexism currently validates their lifestyles and choices, which is probably why heterosexual women can often be so anxious about naming problems like androsexism or heterosexism without reassurance that this isn’t just a way of throwing them under the bus. It isn’t: androsexism in particular speaks to broader male bias and patrairchal bullshit in society at large, overcoming which is key to all women’s liberation in a way that telling a lesbian to go for “hearts not parts” isn’t. A lesbian will have already had to offset a fair amount of societal and internalized androsexism as well as heterosexism to go for women in the first place; pointing out that there’s anything to offset allows all women’s sexual choices to become freer, as well as their broader relational choices, and opens up a whole vista of new ways to organize life and family away from the capitalist model of heterosexuality that associates women with servility in the form of unpaid reproductive labour for the benefit not just of men, but of capital itself. And capitalism is proving itself quite toxic for everyone.

Elise is a 25 year old Welsh student and feminist with a profound distaste for capitalism. Blogs mainly about sexuality and anything that makes her angry over at startmeoff.wordpress.com. Not for the faint hearted.

Guest Writer
Guest Writer

One of Feminist Current’s amazing guest writers.

Like this article? Tip Feminist Current!

Personal Info

Donation Total: $1

  • It’s interesting to think about sexuality and the power paradigms. Heteropatriachy is a real thing. One wonders what the world will be like in a few generations, when more and more same sex couples are raising children, how social acceptance of non-hetero family units will play out in bisexual’s long term mate selection process. Will one woman look into another woman’s eyes and be able to think about raising a family without fear or prejudice? Laws, family and society are stacked against anything that threatens nuclear family units.

    • I totally get where you’re coming from but think let’s not make yet another name for different sorts of sexism. I think feminism is infinitely harmed by fragmenting sexism with different names for different forms of sexism in the way that homophobia and racism haven’t … because by calling racism just pure racism but to different degrees, people can understand that A leads to B. We, on the other hand, have to keep explaining how sexual crimes, and misogyny, and honour crime, and domestic violence … are all different degrees of the same shit. We have sexism lite, and we have full fat sexism where women die, and we have a host of flavours in between. But the emphasis should be on keeping it simple and sexism, so that people understand what sexism is and where it can lead – to death eventually – without all these pseudo Latin names which confuse and prejudice people against feminism as they see it as an elitist sport to be discussed by graduates in college halls, rather than a six year old boy telling his female classmates that boys are better than girls … and then using his fists to make his point.

      • There already are a lot of words to describe different forms of discrimination against, and oppression of, people who aren’t straight. I use lots of them in the article: homophobia, lesbophobia, heterosexism, ‘monosexism’ (about which I’m deeply skeptical on a lot of levels — not that I don’t think bi/pansexual people are discriminated against in ways that are specific to being bi, but ‘monosexism’ implies that *which* sex/ gender you’re attracted to is incidental, as long as it’s only one). Biphobia is also in common parlance.

        The problem with trying to stick to homophobia (or even heterosexism, which I prefer if we’re going to do that) is that what ends up happening is you centre the experience of those for whom same sex attraction is the only thing that makes them different from your supposedly ‘default’ human being, i.e. cis, white, bourgeoise men. I can only speak to the experience of being a same sex attracted woman (I’m white and cis and ‘middle class’) but that particular experience just isn’t covered by ‘homophobia’, which is boiled down to the lowest common denominator, what everyone will have in common with a cis gay man, which is only the tip of the oppression iceberg for most of us non-heteros. For same sex attracted women, the problem isn’t just that we’re attracted to the same sex/ gender, it’s that that gender is also considered to be second class in and of itself. Our problem is also (and this we share with asexual women) that we are (in the case of bisexual women: often perceived to be) refusing to put our sexuality to the service of men, who are the gender compared to which women are second class and therefore meant to serve. This has taken me many words to say; androsexism is just one and it could cover it.

        • I should also say, being attracted to the second class sex/ gender is different to simply being of the second class sex/ gender. In my last post for FC, I talked about sexual economics; basically, things are set up so sexual relationships with men are, conceptually at least, but often also actually, a get out clause from poverty and financial insecurity for women. Forfeiting that get out clause is not easy. Women are likely to have fewer material resources with which to support each other, and have less social status with which to protect each other. There’s a reason why I rarely say I’m a lesbian to shut down sexual advances from men, but why I often say I have a boyfriend.

          • charlotte

            Well by calling yourself and referring to other lesbians as “cis,” you sure as hell are alienating a lot of radical lesbian feminists. I agree with Vicki Wharton that using new vocab like this only suits Butler worshipping postmodern queer theory students moreso than say, a black lesbian who experiences racism and homophobia from both straight people and members of the LGBT. I think in the end “androsexism” replacing homophobia or lesbophobia is about as helpful as Beyonce’s suggestion to change feminism to bootylicious.

          • “Cis” is also offensive to radfems who are not lesbian. Don’t aim to be divisive here, but I’ve been schooled by more than one radfem lesbian that my straight state is merely a case of brainwashing. I wish.

        • I understand what you are saying, but was thinking that very often the problem is that we are defining the crime around the victim’s particular sexuality, rather than defining the crime around the perpetrator’s attitude. So as more and different types of discrimination are identified, we end up getting further and further away from dealing with the perpetrator’s attitude of psychopathy towards a group ‘other’ than themselves. By keeping it simple and centred around the perp’s attitude of hatred, I wonder if that helps the general public understand that it is the attitude that needs to be concentrated on, rather than the end group. It may not be the answer in total, but is something that I have noticed in how many versions of hatred there seem to be around women/homosexuality/anyone that is different from the ‘norm’ and feel we need to turn the spot light back on to the perpetrator of hatred, rather than constantly focus on the victim’s group. Its just a thought, and may be made in ignorance of your life experience, in which case forgive my ignorance, just thinking aloud here and wondering if there’s anything useful in this direction …

          • Hey, I also think its important to redirect attention away from the identity of the ‘victim’, but instead of focusing on perpetrators, I prefer to focus on the beneficiaries. So one of my reasons for preferring androsexism to lesbophobia is that instead of focusing on lesbians (only one strand of the diffuse demographic disadvantaged by the phenomenon), it focuses on men, who are the ones who benefit from the privileging of sexual relationships which put female sexuality at the service of men, which I guess is what I would maybe define androsexism to be… I mean, it’s not a perfect word, but I just really want a word that brings out the ways in which heterosexism is different for men and women, but very similar for all those women who aren’t straight, and even disadvantageous to those women who are straight. But maybe that word is just ‘heteropatriarchy’…

  • Donkey Skin

    I totally understand your need to identify and name this problem, but I’m not sure that ‘androsexism’ is a good word for it. For one thing, it actually implies sexism towards men, and could easily be co-opted by MRAs. (I can so picture ‘androsexism’ taking off like ‘misandry’ in MRA circles). I agree with Vicki Wharton that having more names for the endless manifestations of sexism actually dilutes our analysis, because it implies that these are separate phenomena, instead of effects that derive from the same source.

    ‘Androcentrism’ is more accurate, I think, but it lacks punch. The problem that you’re describing is really about male supremacy – males count as the ‘real’ human beings, their needs should come first always, their perspectives are the only ones that matter, and since women exist in order to serve men, women who reject them as sexual partners are automatically suspicious, indeed the most unnatural women in the world. Then there is the ever-popular belief, reinforced through movies and TV and porn, that lesbian sexuality isn’t real and that lesbian sex is something women ‘experiment’ with before going back to men.

    Lesbians more than any other group of women disturb the cultural perception of women as ‘other’, as beings who exist to complement men – their very existence says that some women can exist first and foremost for themselves and for other women.

    ‘the fear and hatred of lesbians and other women perceived to be lesbians, or who occupy the same social position as a lesbian, is about more than not wanting women to like each other too much, although it is obviously about that too. I’d say it’s about the fear that if women like each other too much, they could go off men and all the shit that comes from being in an intimate relationship with someone in a position of power and dominance over you (and as pointed out above, it could seriously jeopardize the world order if that kind of movement reached a critical mass).’

    This actually seems to me to be an accurate summation of what’s behind lesbophobia, but you don’t say why you reject that word as inadequate for your purposes. What wrong with ‘lesbophobia’ to describe the specific prejudice that lesbians face? Is it because some of this prejudice actually comes from the queer community, and it doesn’t feel right to target gay men and others who may suffer from homophobia themselves with a term that strong?

    • Hey there! My basic reason for wanting another word is that I want a word that can unite lesbians, bisexual women and asexual women, which lesbophobia doesn’t quite offer. I think it’s also an aversion to the ‘-phobia’ category of words altogether, because I think the category of people who are adversely affected by an axis of oppression tends to be diffuse but the category of people who benefit by it tends to be quite clear cut, so I prefer to point to them, the privileged, you know? I love your third paragraph by the way 🙂

  • Donkey Skin

    I guess my main problem with ‘androsexism’ is that it’s tautological. Assuming we aren’t using it like MRAs would, androsexism means the prioritising and centring of men, which is… also what plain old sexism is, no?

    ‘My basic reason for wanting another word is that I want a word that can unite lesbians, bisexual women and asexual women, which lesbophobia doesn’t quite offer.’

    Adrienne Rich coined the term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ to describe the societal forces that push women to partner with men and marginalise lesbian relationships and sexuality, so maybe that would work. (Although I can see why some lesbians might feel alienated by that, especially if they rejected compulsory heterosexuality from an early age.)


    Anyhow, regardless of the words we use, it’s an important conversation to have, so I’m glad you’re writing about it. Your point about heterosexuality being bound up with capitalism and its dependence on unpaid female domestic and affective labour is also very important.

    • I take your point about the risk of being tautological. And I also think the word I’m looking for is probably ‘heteropatriarchy’ — because patriarchy doesn’t have to be heterosexist, though it definitely is in its current paradigm and has been for a long time. But the difference between androsexism and sexism would lie in its use to describe the sexism in heterosexism, its particular adverse effects on women. ‘Compulsory heterosexuality’ (without the context of Rich’s work) could be applied equally to men and women’s experiences. So yeah, I was basically just looking for a word that could be an -ism version of lesbophobia, which could be as applicable to bisexual and asexual women who might feel erased by the word lesbophobia, and which would also point to the beneficiaries — men — instead of to the ‘victims’ of lesbophobia (scarequotes on victims just because I don’t like the word). But I guess heteropatriarchy does that already. Maybe I just like the -ism words! Thanks for your engagement with the piece anyway 🙂