Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Minton, Henry L.,


Psychology, Behavioral.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Recent attention has been drawn to the need to theorize heterosexuality (Hollway, 1993; Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 1993; Richardson, 1996; Segal, 1994). While the critical emphasis in gay and lesbian, and queer theory has focused on heterosexuality as a normative/foundational identity, radical feminist theory has targeted heterosexuality for its embeddedness in a gender system that disempowers and subordinates women (Jeffreys, 1990; Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 1994; MacKinnon, 1987). Given the problematic nature of heterosexuality from this vantage point, heterosexuality has at times been painted as a "political anathema" for feminists (Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 1994). However, heterosexual feminists and other women have also begun drawing attention to the ways in which their personal experience of heterosexual sex (heterosex) is not consistent with the picture of heterosexuality offered in feminist systemic critique. In the theoretical literature, a call has gone out for research that examines heterosexuality at the level of experience and practice, in addition to critiquing it as identity and institution (Jackson, 1996). In answer to this, the following study used a feminist emancipatory praxis (Lather, 1991 a) to engage sixteen women in dialogue, via in-depth, open-ended interviews, regarding the operation of power and heterosex in their lives. Emphasis was placed on feeling powerful in sex with men and the potential for subverting heterosexuality. Interview transcripts were subjected to a grounded theory analysis in order to extract common themes and ultimately a theory of power for these women. The resulting themes revealed a split between personal and social power. The notion of personal power was invoked as participants considered their intimate relations with specific men and included such constructs as control, choice, desire, seduction, and pleasure. The theme of social power emerged as participants dealt with the ways in which larger social forces, including men as a group or society as a whole, affect their lives, seeking to impose specific gender roles, sexual scripts and meanings that are disempowering for women. A third theme revealed participants' struggles with the often contradictory worlds of personal and social power, including how their conceptions of power and sex have changed with experience, and the role of resistance in their personal politic. The theory of power that emerged out of these themes was noted for its functional and tactical significance, that is, participants' attempts to retain personal power and resistance alongside the possibility for broader social change. Consideration was given to the rhetorical positions underlying the personal and social power themes, specifically, the reliance on particular discursive constructions of the self that were both essentialist and constructivist. Discussion focused on how feminist theorizing of heterosex might benefit from an acceptance of the contradiction in women's lived experience as a space for critical engagement. The ramifications of this for feminist pedagogy were also considered. Finally, thought was given to the ways in which one could usefully consider heterosex as subvertible through the experiences offered by participants. Attention was drawn to the need for new ways of speaking about and scripting heterosex in ways that better reflect experience at the level of the personal.Dept. of Psychology. Paper copy at Leddy Library: Theses & Major Papers - Basement, West Bldg. / Call Number: Thesis2000 .F75. Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 61-09, Section: B, page: 4965. Adviser: Henry L. Minton. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Windsor (Canada), 2000.