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  1. Courtney
    Courtney June 8, 2010 at 8:22 am |

    Human beings are generally social creatures, and I think that most people want to love and be loved. I see the intersection of feminism and romance being the place where we challenge the cultural assumptions that certain people are not worthy of love or that you need to compromise your self in order to be worthy of love.

  2. elizabeth
    elizabeth June 8, 2010 at 8:32 am |

    To take issue with romance, to say romance (being romantic, enjoying a romantic relationship) isn’t feminist…it’s basically saying, “If you enjoy being in love, you can’t be a feminist.”

    The best example I can come up with is a story from my own life. Last year, I knit a pair of socks for my boyfriend. I knit them because I had no money to spare, already had all the supplies I needed, and it seemed like the most romantic thing I could do for him without spending a dime. A friend of mine, once she found out I was actually knitting a pair of socks for a boy, chastised me for giving him the least feminist gift of all time. Sigh.

    Putting aside the cultural connotations of knitting for a moment, my boyfriend found himself in the same situation around my birthday: no money to spend, so he made me a bunch of gifts. I thought that was really romantic and I know for a fact that no one questioned he masculinity while he was painting me a picture of bunnies.

    This is my really roundabout way of saying, feminism should be about choice. Just because you like something, be it romance or monster trucks, you shouldn’t be considered “more” or “less” feminist. Just because I went to see Twilight, doesn’t mean I don’t care about real issues.

  3. Ethyl
    Ethyl June 8, 2010 at 9:02 am |

    Hey, all the links in the OP are messed up :(

  4. anna
    anna June 8, 2010 at 9:46 am |

    I think feminists should oppose and work against pressure on women to be romantic, to have a huge wedding, to dream about The One, to consider love and marriage the most important thing in life, to thrill over flowers and jewelry and big cheesy public declarations of love (or be considered a cold hearted bitch if you don’t do those things.) But if somebody likes romance, I don’t consider them a “bad feminist.”

  5. avenathus » Blog Archive » Feminism vs. romance

    […] at Feministe wrote a great post today about feminism and romance, and how do we reconcile the two? This is something I have struggled with. Sarah notes that Hetero, […]

  6. Melissa
    Melissa June 8, 2010 at 10:30 am |

    Yeah, maybe it’s time we come up with a feminist redefinition of “romance.” Because love, of course, isn’t anti-feminist in the least. However, some of the trappings of traditional romance (chivalry, women-as-gatekeepers, expensive gifts, putting people on pedestals, etc.) are.

  7. Faith
    Faith June 8, 2010 at 10:31 am |

    “How do you feel about romance? How do you define it?”

    Part of the problem that I have with “romance” is that so often what is considered to be romantic is actually borderline or actual abuse. For example, young women are often told that they should be flattered when a man is jealous and possessive of her because this is an indication that he cares about her. Jealousy and possessiveness are not romantic or loving traits. These traits have nothing to do with romance. They have to do with one person’s need to own and control another person.

    This was part of the problem that I had with the Twilight novels. It wasn’t that they were about love or romance. It was that what was posited as romance was in actuality borderline abuse and misogyny. Edward is extremely controlling of Bella. He hates Bella’s relationship with Jacob and actively attempts to keep Bella from seeing him. He also refuses to have sex with her before they get married because he doesn’t want to damage her “virtue” even though she wants to have sex.

    “Romance” is when two or more people who are equals or at least relative equals love one another and exhibit that love in various forms of affection. Personally, I would rather just drop the word “romance” altogether and just use the word “love”.

    Note: I’m actually a relatively big fan of Twilight, despite the many problems I have with the books and the author. I don’t want to come of as being against the novels altogether. I actually found the main story to be rather intriguing and engrossing and I’m one of many geeks anxiously awaiting the release of Eclipse.

  8. Victoria
    Victoria June 8, 2010 at 11:07 am |

    I don’t consider love and romance the same thing and I’m not sure they are even compatible. The bringing of roses, the marriage proposals, and all the familiar trappings of romance are often artificial and they seem to exist to put an obligation on the other person (feeling obligated to say yes to a marriage proposal for example.)

    I think the best kind of love is low pressure and freely chosen by all involved. Its when you just plain want to be together. Love stories are great, but romance is problematic.

  9. Jess
    Jess June 8, 2010 at 11:12 am |

    I read a lot of romance novels. I’m a graduate student in literature. I have an unpredictable career path, and I read a great deal of intense material; when I have free time, I want to read predictable fluff. That’s one explanation, the one I give more often. The other reason I read a lot of romance novels is that I love the damn things. I’m unromantic in my daily life — as numerous exes will attest — and I identify with the heroes of romance novels, rather than the heroines, but I’m still supporting a very normative market. It is, I think, evidence of the ways in which feminist praxis is a sticky and difficult business.

    One thing that has given me a slightly more positive view of my objection is the reaction of strangers (especially men) when I call my romance novels (and the fanfiction and erotica that I write) “porn.” They aren’t “real porn,” I’m told. God forbid!

  10. RD
    RD June 8, 2010 at 11:44 am |

    Well I love women, but my romance IS the most important thing in my life right now. One of the only things that makes life worth living.

  11. Cat
    Cat June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |

    I agree with Elizabeth that feminism should be about choice. If someone feels, be they man or woman, that what they really want to do is to stay home and take care of children then they should be allowed to make that choice. There’s nothing anti-feminist about being a stay-at-home mom. My mother was one for years, and she was more disappointed about having to go back to work for economic reasons that she was that she spent so many years out of the work force taking care of my sister and I.

    And I don’t think that there should be any pressure on women to reject romantic symbols. I’ve been engaged twice. Once there was no ring, once there was. Once we got really close to actually having that wedding, once not so much.

    Mostly what it was that I concluded that in those particular relationships I was looking forward more to the huge me-centered party than actually being married. My little sister, on the other hand, is now happily married after a brief, no-fluff, no-fuss trip to the courthouse. Of course, it helps to be living in another country where no one can get on your case about not inviting them to the wedding. Weddings are also about your family, to a large extent.

    But I digress. It should be about choices. So long as you fight for the right for a woman to make any and all choices about her life and the direction it will take freely then you are a good feminist. If you argue that there are any choices a woman shouldn’t make, just because of what they symbolize for you then you’re a bad feminist, whether you’re Sarah Palin or someone who believes that a man opening the door for a woman is somehow inherently misogynist.

  12. Meredith
    Meredith June 8, 2010 at 11:56 am |

    I think that this is an excellent topic of conversation, and one I engage in with my husband and feminist friends quite often, actually.

    At the time that I met my husband I was in an emotional and mental place in my life where I was perfectly happy with the idea of being alone forever. Then I met him and we fell in love. I fell in love with this younger man who made me feel like I was the smartest, funniest, most beautiful, most amazing human being who ever lived, even when I was wearing ratty old pajamas and had greasy, unwashed hair and was sitting on the couch yelling at him for no particular reason because I was feeling pre-menstrual and pissed off at the world and he was there.

    I love him because he always encourages me to pursue my dreams, fully supports whatever I need to do to find happiness and fulfillment in life, and boosts me back up when I’m feeling down on myself.

    And I do all the same for him.

    We got married in order to legally express our commitment to one another in a public way. Ours was a small, non-religious wedding with only a handful of close family and friends.

    We see our marriage as a partnership of equals. We both cook. We both clean. We both do laundry. We both have an equal say in the money we spend. We both change diapers and get up with the baby during the night.

    Yes, I changed my name to his – for my own reasons. He never asked me to do so.

    All of this is, to me, is how this particular feminist defines love and, yes, romance. I don’t need (or particularly like) jewelry or expensive dinners. But when my husband and I sit down together for a glass of wine and discuss our hopes and dreams for our future together – that’s romance.

  13. knottyknitter
    knottyknitter June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |

    @cat – So long as you fight for the right for a woman to make any and all choices about her life and the direction it will take freely then you are a good feminist. If you argue that there are any choices a woman shouldn’t make, just because of what they symbolize for you then you’re a bad feminist…

    For me, this is where the argument for “choice feminism” tends to break down – what does “freely” really mean in the context of social forces that tend to push women into making certain choices (i.e., in certain social groups this would include things like cosmetic surgery, SAHM-hood, sacrificing one’s career for one’s partner, having a baby, dressing in a particular way)? Would it be “feminist” for my 60-year-old mom to “freely choose” plastic surgery and insist that “she’s doing it for herself” when there are all sorts of societal messages (some overt, some covert) telling her that she will become invisible and unemployable and disempowered if she doesn’t “fix up” her face?

    I do believe that it is incumbent on us, as thoughtful people, to be aware of the effects that our choices can have on the larger communities of which we are part. This slogan was popular before my time (born in 1981, sandwiched between Gen X and Gen Y – the later group, in my experience, tend to be fans of “choice feminism”), but I do believe that sometimes “the Personal is Political”, and that I have the right (the responsibility?) to dialogue and critique actions and beliefs “freely” engaged in by women if they seem to me to be antithetical to the cause of equality for all.

  14. Marilyn
    Marilyn June 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm |

    Love and romance, I feel, are two different things. I can love my husband and still wish he were more romantic. So what’s the difference? Love is real, you can feel it, express it, lose it, gain it, etc. Romance is a fantasy, a fun place to visit, a great respite from reality, and, unfortunately, an atmosphere in which we pretend love can grow. It can’t, because love is real and romance is an ideal. No love can ever measure up to our ideal of “love,” but people don’t seem to realize that. Hence the high divorce rate.

  15. Lolo
    Lolo June 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |

    I considered myself to be a feminist. I always have. I have had relationships with both men and women and for a long time I believed that I did not want to be in a monogamous long term relationship. Then I met my fiance. We are getting married in October, and as much as we do not want to buy into the wedding and marriage industry we do want to get married. We are not having a traditional wedding, but it is a wedding all the same. Sometimes I think that what I am doing is going against some of my feminist beliefs, but then I think that what it means to be a feminist is to have a choice, to not feel like you have to conform to any persons beliefs about how you should live your life. I am choosing to get married, hell I asked him to marry me. And one of the things I love most about him is that he is a feminist. We support each other, we respect each other and we want to spend the rest of our lives together. I think its pretty damn romantic to be able to share my feminists beliefs with someone who understands and respects my opinions. I know its not your typical idea of romance, but neither of us are typically romantic.

    I know this response is all over the place, but I truly believe that one can be a feminist and be in a romantic long term relationship with a man or woman. You can be a feminist and be a romantic. I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive.

  16. Wiley
    Wiley June 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm |

    While I agree completely that feminism is about choice, and that it is completely possible to be romantic/love romance and be a feminist, I dislike books and movies which have the power to cast a strong female lead who makes choices about the kind of life she wants to live and instead casts her as a passive force.

    I wish everyone, but especially the teen girls reading Twilight, knew that romance is possible for them, but it is their responsibility privilege to go grab it.

    Secondarily, I think Twilight condones a man stalking a young woman, and modeling stalking is certainly not a feminist act. I suggest everyone take a look at this video in which Buffy the vampire slayer ( a true feminist AND true romantic) meets stalker-esque Edward Cullen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM

  17. jen
    jen June 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    I’m a feminist and I’m in love with a man, and we are both definitely not romantic! He would never buy me flowers or jewelery or something like that, if he did it would creep me out. (But he occasionally buys me a science fiction book or something else he knows I would like.) Basically I think some people are into romance and some people aren’t. I feel loads of pressure from friends and family to want weddings and expensive jewelery and other stuff I don’t want, and probably women who are into that stuff feel pressure the other way. Either way it sucks.

  18. B
    B June 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm |

    I’m a feminist AND a romantic (sometimes hopeless) and — full disclosure, I guess — getting married in 18 days, to a woman.

    For me, though, whether feminism and romanticism are compatible (I believe they are) has little to do with whether Twilight is defensible (I believe it’s not). Twilight displays only one very twisted, stalker-y, power-imbalanced idea of romance, which I personally find to be both sexist and unromantic.

    For what it’s worth, the plot of Twilight probably makes a great fantasy for some, including some feminists. And that’s fine. But fantasizing in private, especially with all your feminist ideals in tact, is different from displaying publicly, without filter and to audiences who already ascribe to many of its sketchier and more damaging messages. In anticipation of criticism, let me say that I do NOT advocate censoring books and films like Twilight, but I don’t recommend them, and I do critique them.

  19. Marilyn
    Marilyn June 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm |

    Sarah – I would say that in the love department, you have less conflict with your romantic ideals and feminism than with what it takes to have a lasting relationship. You’re in love with being in love, not an uncommon condition, but one that rarely lasts the end of infatuation and the beginning of a relationship. I suggest you listen to this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uy9DZ74AW4

  20. Stephanie - Green SAHM
    Stephanie - Green SAHM June 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm |

    I don’t feel too bad about being an at home mom for a couple of reasons. First, I work at home, so I still earn money. Second, my kids also see the husbands of two of my sisters be stay at home dads. I’m lucky enough that they get to see that any parent can be the one at home.

    As for romance, I’m not terribly romantic either. There were people who were shocked that I said yes to my now husband’s proposal when he presented me with a 1700-2200 year old Roman brass ring he bought on eBay as an engagement ring. He knew I dislike diamonds, so he put some thought into what he could get me. That the ring turns my finger green those rare occasions I wear it now is beside the point. I didn’t need the stunning, overpriced diamond engagement ring, and the rings I wear now aren’t diamond either.

    I like Marilyn’s definition of romance. It works for us. We don’t worry about romance too often. Love means we can stick together despite challenges and finding out that neither of us is perfect.

  21. kloncke
    kloncke June 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm |

    Mmmm, I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts, Sarah (and other folks’, too), on feminism and desire. I’ve been a feminist for most of my life, which informed my understanding of desire on a political level, but when I started practicing meditation and dharma a few years ago, I found that my own experiential relationship to desire changed dramatically. Same goes for love and romance.

    Basically, when I examined myself deeply and systematically, using meditation techniques, I found that love and romance were ultimately about me, not about the lover I happened to be with. Whether euphoric or devastating, my experiences of romance served to reinforce my sense of self. My life story. My identity.

    Even when I was treating my partner ‘well,’ when I looked honestly I could see that I was doing so with the expectation that (a) it would make me feel good about myself (Look! I’m such a sweet and thoughtful [yet independent] partner!), and (b) my partner would reciprocate the good treatment in some way, and that reciprocation would make me feel good about myself. (Look! I am deserving of such a sweet and thoughtful [yet independent] partner!)

    Through sustained meditation practice, and learning more about the dharmic concepts of non-self, I started letting go of my own need for this type of reinforcement through pleasurable (and/or dramatic) partner experiences, or pleasurable and/or dramatic experiences of any sort.

    And for me, the change was truly remarkable.

    For example. The summer after I spent three months living and working in a meditation center, a long-distance lover (with whom I had hopes for something more serious) confessed to me that he had a girlfriend: he’d been concealing the relationship from me for months, while he was living in China and I was in Spain and France.

    Did I feel punched in the gut? Yes. Did I cry? A whole lot. For a day. In Paris. But throughout that day, and after the tears subsided, I did not resent him. And I didn’t take it personally. I thought to myself, “Wow, this person that I love must have felt guilty and tremendously afraid for a long time. It must have been hard feeling like he needed to keep this from me, even though he knew that I support open relationships and would not have felt jealous of his lover in China.” I honored my own pain at being betrayed, but I also empathized with him (I’m no saint, I’ve been there, and perpetrating deception isn’t fun for me.) I wanted to understand more about why he felt he couldn’t be forthcoming with me. I didn’t blame him, but neither did I minimize the serious harm of his actions. I simply kept loving him, in the sense that I wanted him to be happy, just as I want happiness for myself.

    To me, this is the essence of real love — or at least a better kind of love than I had ever experienced up until that heartbreak. My love for him didn’t want the best for me, it wanted the best for him: even if that meant taking myself out of the picture. I didn’t expect anything in return. And I gave him the space to be, just as he was, recognizing mistakes without demonizing him for them.

    This person and I have since parted ways, and I’m now in a semi-open relationship with an extraordinary cis feminist man. And the benefits of this new type of just-giving, one-way-traffic love (based, again, not on self-abnegation, but on a foundation of self-confidence and having everything that I need, independently) continue. Especially in the hard times.

    Like when his clinical depression flares up slightly, and he visibly wilts or, on occasion, disappears for days at a time. I don’t take it personally. I don’t try to fix him or cheer him up. It’s so much easier for me to give him the space to be, the room to work out his stuff, while still supporting him, when my own sense of self doesn’t depend on his mood. (Sounds like the kind of unconditional love in Meredith’s relationship, comment #12.) And in part because I don’t pressure him, or demand or hope that he be something that he’s not, in that moment (i.e. upbeat, when he’s down), he much more quickly and fluidly settles and blooms back again, stronger than before. This is the best kind of partner romance I’ve known.

    Feminist romance is extremely fraught, no question. On a superficial level, unconditional love and forgiveness might sound like dangerous submission — subjecting oneself to intimate abuse that’s routinely ignored and even supported by our larger society. But I think its true nature is much more positive and hopeful. Courtney sums it up beautifully in the very first comment on this thread:

    I see the intersection of feminism and romance being the place where we challenge the cultural assumptions that certain people are not worthy of love or that you need to compromise your self in order to be worthy of love.

    So for me, one question is: what are some of the specific tools and nitty-gritty techniques that we use to move away from the unhealthy varieties of romantic fantasies (that consistently leave us feeling unfulfilled — craving for something in the future, or missing something in the past…maybe ‘negative desire’?) and toward healthy versions of love and romance (which I associate more with appreciation for what is: whether that’s a lover or solitude or a cloud or music or bus stations or dirty dishes or boredom, etc.)?

    Sorry for the loooooong comment, but I’m excited about this precious time for the guest blogging! If you made it all the way to the end, thank you for your patience. :)

    And thanks again, Sarah!

  22. james
    james June 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm |

    “Instead, what I mean tends to be the sweeping, all-in intense kind of being in love that may be the stuff of fairy tales. Butterflies-in-your-stomach, willing to drop everything and move across the country–or the world–romance, the kind old movies were made about.”

    I do think this is a good point, and Twilight is countercultural when it comes to this. I’m including myself here, so I’m not posting to condemn people, but the relationship script for the middle classes upwards is basically to treat people as disposable until you’re quite old. You get a girlfriend in school, with the expectation that the relationship’s got an expiry date and will end as you’ll move to university in a couple of years. And then in university you get another, but again with the expectation that you’ll go to a new city for a job once you get your a degree and move on. And then if you do a post-graduate or professional qualifications or plan to move jobs after a training period, it’s the same thing.

    So you’re in your late twenties before you’re in a position to consider anyone as a long term prospect, as the script is not to become emotionally committed to anyone enough to let them get in the way of career or educational success. And I think if does effect your later relationships if you spend 10 years deliberately not trying to become too attached to anyone, because money and success are more important. I don’t think the script’s unique to feminism, but there are pressures not to sacrifice anything for love.

  23. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 8, 2010 at 5:30 pm |

    James: Why should anyone sacrifice anything for love? Love, for women has almost always been a mistake they shouldn’t make. Love leads to being used, abused, and eventually discarded.
    I’m not saying women shouldn’t get involved with men or other women, they just should always reserve part of themselves.
    And romance is unbearably silly, but I suppose it makes the idea of sex less icky.

  24. Jennifer
    Jennifer June 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm |

    james, that’s a very good point. But I do think there’s good reason for the love delay, because most people who DO try to sustain a relationship through location/school changes aren’t able to manage it. You have to have your goals relatively set AND THE SAME as the other person’s in order for it to work out. And the older you get, the better you are at setting your goals and sticking to them. When you and your SO have been together since high school and one of you suddenly develops a desire to join the Peace Corps, or become a parent at an early age, or something like that, and the other one does not feel the same… it’s doomed. The longer you wait, the better your odds are of not having sudden changes derail your relationship. That’s why people who get married for the first time at an older age tend to have their relationships last–they’ve bypassed the years of drastic change.

    I’m not fond of the idea of “training wheel relationships” either, mind you, or waiting until you’re 40 to find lasting love, but it seems like in the modern era, there’s good reasons to treat a relationship like it’s temporary. At least for the high school ones, I know enough married-the-college-SO people to think that that one has better odds of working out.

  25. m.
    m. June 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm |

    Romance isn’t romantic if it isn’t personal. Meaning that #21’s fiance proposing with a Roman brass ring because she doesn’t like diamonds isn’t unromantic, it’s extremely romantic–he considered his beloved carefully and worked hard to please her and only her. What could possibly be more lovely? I don’t see how an unasked-for diamond solitaire that every woman I sit next to on the subway also has, that anyone can wander into a Zales and pick up, qualifies as anything but generic.

  26. kloncke
    kloncke June 8, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    Hmm, I’m feeling this point about pitting loving relationships against advancement in higher education and careers, as applied to a middle-class framework (the picture looks way different, of course, when it comes to working-class emigrants leaving loved ones; long-distance-trafficked sex workers; marrying for social relations and not personal ‘romance’, per se; and tons of other frequent scenarios). More evidence for the spiritually toxic effects of a capitalist system, which tends to encourage flexible and fluid (a.k.a. uproot-able) labor forces, whether at working-class or middle-class levels, and also to totally degrade and conflict with the type of work it takes to maintain healthy a partnership.

    Still, the whole notion of sacrificing love itself for worldly advancement (or scheduling it into our life trajectory, in a way) both rests on and reifies, I think, the idea that love can be treated like a factor in a cost-benefit analysis. That it’s useful because it gets us things. (Stability? Connection? Status? Pleasure?) So we weigh the things it gets us against the things that education and career can get us.

    In my opinion, this is quite harmful. I think it’s important to recognize that it’s possible (and important) to love, and to be loving, all the time, no matter what the logistical situation or circumstances. This might include breaking up with someone because the long-distance thing isn’t working. That’s fine. We need to be careful, in my opinion, not to conflate love with relationships. There’s a big difference between loving someone and being in a romantic relationship with them, or even “being in love” with them, as traditionally understood. Maybe I’m operating with a different set of definitions? But perhaps it would be useful to sort all those definitions out.

    Not sure where the romance question fits in here, but maybe it has to do with the significance and gravity of moving across the country “for” someone, given the obstacles of economic constraints and social expectations?

  27. scrumby
    scrumby June 8, 2010 at 8:44 pm |

    I’ve known a few people who married their high school sweethearts after they finished college and I’ve known a few who married their first beau that they didn’t meet until they were 22; marrying at a later age is more important than previous dating experience or duration of the relationship.

    Romance in my mind is an expression of love that is simultaneously intimate and over the top. It’s going a little (or a lot) out of your way to show your feelings in manner that will specifically appeal to your partner because you know them and you know what they will really like. Traditional Romance is a problem because it’s a one-size-fits-all approach for something that should be very individual. To make it worse it tends to crop up as a sort of default setting for certain big events. Your partner wants to do something special but fear of doing something wrong or insufficient makes them doubt their own judgment and they fall back on the standard because that’s what they’ve been told is “Romantic.” To use the old hetero-normative scenario: a guy could be perfectly in sync with your likes and dislikes 364 days of the year but Valentine’s Day roles around and it’s the fancy restaurant where you’re allergic to half the menu instead of the rib place you love and go to all the time. Or even option C: the $20 dollar a plate rib place!

  28. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan June 9, 2010 at 2:09 am |

    I’m not really seeing the tie-in with Twilight here, I guess. I’m pretty keen on love, and certain versions of romance sound lovely … but being stalked by a 100-something-year-old and then getting married, knocked up (and arguably murdered) fresh out of high school sound not-so-fantastic.

    I guess I might argue that nothing about love and romance is inherently “unfeminist” — it’s only the creepy misogynistic crap like Twilight that (falsely) bills itself as “romantic” that makes girls and women believe that love and, say, self-respect and autonomy are mutually exclusive. That’s unfeminist.

  29. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan June 9, 2010 at 2:18 am |

    I think this question, actually, is a big part of why a lot of (often straight) girls and young women like “slash/yaoi” fiction (male-on-male sex or relationships.) It relieves the discomfort of feeling like romantic love is oppressive or dangerous or unfeminist, and frees them up to fantasize in a world where mistreatment of women can’t crop up because there aren’t any women.* Relationships and love can play out in a way that is necessarily divorced from the lives of the girls and women, giving a little distance to the unwholesome or worrisome aspects of romance. (Rape fantasies can’t be problematic, gender-wise, if it’s all guys doncha know.**)

    *This isn’t actually true, of course.
    **This isn’t, in fact, true either. :p

  30. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 9, 2010 at 10:35 am |

    it’s only the creepy misogynistic crap like Twilight that (falsely) bills itself as “romantic” that makes girls and women believe that love and, say, self-respect and autonomy are mutually exclusive. That’s unfeminist.
    Bagelsan: I agree with most of your comment. That’s why I dislike romance so much. I am an inherently selfish and distrustful person and dislike the idea of chipping off parts of myself to fit the ideal. But- the only representations of mainstream romance is the “misogynist crap,” so there’s no feminist mainstream romance, and thus the only experience of a feminist romance is an individual one.

  31. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 9, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    Once again, blockquote fail. Sorry.

  32. jennygadget
    jennygadget June 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm |

    Bagelsen, that’s my issue with a lot of the critique of Twilight, though, I think you are implying the wrong cause and effect.

    imho, It’s not that Twilight is so much more sexist than anything else (in mainstream pop culture) that girls are exposed to, and girls have just been hoodwinked into accepting the sexism as normal and even romantic because it’s so popular, I think Twilight is popular precisely because it taps perfectly into the tensions between the reality of teen girls lives and desires versus what’s expected of them and what they’ve been taught they should want.

    For example, the thing that always gets me about people that go one about Edward stalking Bella is not that this isn’t an accurate description of his behavior, it’s that there’s no acknowledgment that the 100 year old vampire is simply repeating – and yes, upping the ante on – the same behavior that her 40 something father does as well. And that the difference between the two is not just that, well, the latter is her father and the former is not, it’s also that the intrusions of the latter are welcome while the former is simply tolerated. And yet – we expect Bella to tolerate her father to the point where she is in need of correction if she doesn’t, but we (society, not necc feminists) also expect her to not tolerate Edwards actions, to the point where her inviting him in (and thus Edwards no longer being a stalker) would actually make her look worse. It’s not exactly a minor or accidental thing that the vampire does not need to be invited inside in these stories.

    My point being not that Edward’s stalking isn’t sexist and abusive behavior, but that teen girls don’t fail to see it as stalking not because it’s soooo romantic, but because we fail to give them the tools and freedom and rights to express what they want to begin with, so should we really be surprised that they aren’t terribly upset that the boy they want in their bed – but that they aren’t allowed to have/want to have/ask to have in their bed – sneaks in and takes the blame for being in their bed?

    In the late 70’s though mid to late 80s (I think) many (most?) romance novels included extremely violent and abusive relationships, a lot them centering around the heroine discovering sexual pleasure for the first time. They are icky to be sure, and I’m extremely glad that trend has (partly) passed. However, while the trend itself definitely promoted mysogynistic and abusive behavior, it is also more accurately now understood to be a reaction to it as well – a way for women who had been taught that any sexual desire made them a slut to be absolved of the blame of feeling that desire. While culture has not all moved forward, the way that we talk about adult women and sexual desire definitely changed a least a bit post pill (it was, after all, the tension between that change and how many women had been raised that intensified the internal conflict I’m talking about). Nowadays, adult women are less likely to feel the need to justify simply having sexual desires (in private, while reading a romance novel, in any case) so the overall tone of romance novels have actually changed quite a bit.

    Girls that are still teens, otoh, are a very different matter. We still can’t seem to accept that girls want sex and yet everyone is always disturbingly interested in just how much sex teen girls may (or may not) be having. So I don’t find it terribly unsurprising that so many teen girls would react so strongly to a very similar outlet. It’s unhealthy, to be sure. But the unhealthy part, imho, is that they have been put in a position that they feel they need it, not that they make use of it. Most teen girls and young adult women I know that were very into Twilight have outgrown it and I strongly suspect this is true in most cases.

    In other words, I think it’s popularity is as much of a reaction to sexism in mainstream culture as the yaoi you mention is.

    I hope that society as a whole will outgrow teen girls needing such an outlet. And I’m very grateful that there are already many teen girls that don’t need it at all. But I do think that there is a fine line to walk between pointing out the sexism in Twilight and not accidentally reinforcing to teen girls that the romance and sexual desire – and most importantly being able to feel sexual desire without being made to feel ashamed for it – that they relate to in the book is what makes it bad.

    It’s not that I think people aren’t trying their best not to do this, it’s more that it’s close to impossible to not reinforce these fears just because of the nature of the fears, and I think that’s always important to point out and remember. No matter how often we say it’s about consent, etc. that doesn’t always mean much to a 14 year old who knows that the people that feed and clothe her don’t believe she has the right to consent to sex, period. I suspect such girls tend to just hear more sex = bad. Which of course means that more talking about all this is the answer, not less, so I certainly don’t mean to say don’t critique Twilight.

    *****

    Also, if anyone is looking for examples of what really good modern romance novels are like, I suggest reading any of Julia Quinn’s recent work. I assure you they are a far cry from Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ rape happy novels from a few decades ago.

  33. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson June 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm |

    I think a lot of “romance” tends to be about being caught up in forces you can’t control. Their love was so strong they had to give up EVERYTHING to be together! Falling in love has been the most important experience in my life, and the only honest, true-to-myself thing I can do with it is follow my emotional imperative.

    There’s a false dichotomy between emotion and reason that is used almost entirely against women. Reason is for men, and emotion is for women. So, the only sensible thing to do is ignore emotions and when there’s a conflict between reason and emotion, go for the dudely one.

  34. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan June 9, 2010 at 9:45 pm |

    imho, It’s not that Twilight is so much more sexist than anything else (in mainstream pop culture) that girls are exposed to, and girls have just been hoodwinked into accepting the sexism as normal and even romantic because it’s so popular, I think Twilight is popular precisely because it taps perfectly into the tensions between the reality of teen girls lives and desires versus what’s expected of them and what they’ve been taught they should want.

    Oh, sure, I absolutely don’t think that Twilight invented the genre or anything — I agree that it’s more like a really accurate insight into some of what girls have going on in their heads thanks to various cultural pressures. And I think that view freaked a lot of people out (especially somewhat intellectually dishonest people — “I certainly never had perverse sexual fantasies as I child!” *pearlclutch*)

    But I also think it’s important to keep critiquing things like Twilight because it’s part of a nasty positive feedback loop; by cheerfully and unquestioningly reflecting the misogynist culture it becomes a force to promote that culture, which it can then reflect even more strongly… etc.

    I mean, I do think that many girls have been hoodwinked into accepting sexist bullshit as their sad lot in life, and then quietly proceed to tell themselves that creepy stuff they don’t like is actually “romantic” and something’s wrong with them if they hate it… but I don’t think Twilight was more than a drop in the bucket of that process. It’s just a well-known and popular excuse for feminists to rage against that bucket. :)

    In fact, I might argue that both the perverse-vampire-lust and the rage-against-the-bucket are part of the maturation process for a lot of people. Your personal romantic pendulum may swing from the very patriarchal side as a kid, perhaps, and then it swings very far to the other side (maybe to the extent of totally rejecting romantic love) and then hopefully it sort of settles at a point that is comfortable and morally acceptable to the individual. I’d imagine that plenty of young Twilight fans will wind up being staunch feminists despite it all, and not a few feminists have secretly delighted in the very retro (almost childish) feeling of loving something so impure and sexist.

  35. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan June 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm |

    Which is to say, we pretty much agree entirely. :p

  36. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 9, 2010 at 11:43 pm |

    Sarah Anderson: Going with your emotions is never a good thing. Reason is safe, emotions aren’t.

  37. Brian
    Brian June 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm |

    stupid article. Step away from the computer and go back to the kitchen.

  38. Faith
    Faith June 10, 2010 at 4:09 pm |

    “Step away from the computer and go back to the kitchen.”

    What if she’s using the computer in the kitchen? OMG!! Just think of the possibilities!

    “Going with your emotions is never a good thing.”

    I have made many very important decisions in my life based on my emotions. While I’m a very rational and analytical person in some regards, I’m also an extremely passionate and emotional one. My life would be boring and sucky as all hell if I ignored or repressed my emotions. That includes the emotion of love. I can’t begin to imagine living my life entirely on reason alone.

    “Reason is safe, emotions aren’t.”

    That may be true. I also happen to think that safe isn’t necessarily the best or most reasonable course. Sometimes – quite often even – the risk is worth the reward.

  39. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 10, 2010 at 11:31 pm |

    Faith: if the risk involves the object of someone’s affection robbing them blind, beating them, abusing them or killing them, whole-hearted love has to take a backseat to keeping one’s rear end covered.
    “Romance” is just a way to keep women quiscent and stupid, which is why I dislike it so much. ‘Trust but verify” is a far better philosophy then ‘happily ever after.”
    Also I think I’m coming from a far different place then you, Faith, at least as far as we relate to emotions. I’ve spent my adolescence battling my emotions, I’m d*mned if I’m going to let them ruin my adulthood.

  40. Natalia
    Natalia June 11, 2010 at 3:17 am |

    Reason is safe, emotions aren’t.

    Hmph. I know plenty of people who have done the reasonable thing in a given situation, and wound up pretty burned and/or regretful.

    I think it’s safe to say that not a whole lot is safe. No one is guaranteed happiness – or even stability.

  41. Faith
    Faith June 11, 2010 at 9:23 am |

    “if the risk involves the object of someone’s affection robbing them blind, beating them, abusing them or killing them, whole-hearted love has to take a backseat to keeping one’s rear end covered.”

    I prefer to not fall in love until after I’m pretty positive the person isn’t going to do any of those things. I’m not denying that love and relationships are, or can be, highly dangerous. But arguing that we should just seal ourselves off from our emotions because of the possibility of trauma is a bit much. There is a risk inherent in many of the things we go about in everyday life. You can either accept that risk and hope for the best or you can live a pretty miserable fearful life. I prefer to not live my life in fear. I prefer to live it with as much an open heart as possible.

    “‘Trust but verify” is a far better philosophy then ‘happily ever after.””

    Hey, I never said anything about happily ever after. I don’t believe in happily ever after either. I happen to believe that one of the only things in life that is guaranteed is change and suffering. Life actually tends to suck a little less if you accept these things because then you are living life for the moment.

    “I’ve spent my adolescence battling my emotions, I’m d*mned if I’m going to let them ruin my adulthood.”

    That’s your prerogative. I just think it’s highly problematic to make statements that seem to imply that everyone should ignore their emotions. While I am in full agreement that we live in a society that tries to blind women and keep us complacent with romance, I also believe that the desire to be loved and to love – whether it’s by a partner, a child, a dog, or a parent – is a normal, healthy part of the human experience. You aren’t going to change that drive in people simply by trying to deny it anymore than you are going to change the fact that heterosexual males are going to want to have sex with women. I just don’t see it happening.

  42. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 11, 2010 at 11:26 am |

    Faith: I’m not fearful, I just expect the worst out of people. It’s like wearing a bike helmet- someone might not tip off their bike, but if they do, they’ll want that helmet.
    Sarah: Romantic love is a fairly recent invention. Let’s not pretend it’s a good thing. It was invented by men as another way to control women. Smart, modern-day women should avoid its pitfalls.

    1. Jill
      Jill June 11, 2010 at 11:30 am | *

      Sarah: Romantic love is a fairly recent invention. Let’s not pretend it’s a good thing. It was invented by men as another way to control women. Smart, modern-day women should avoid its pitfalls.

      Uh, say what?

  43. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers June 11, 2010 at 11:43 am |

    “Reason” was masculine and therefore better. That’s crap and has its own sexist baggage.

    The other huge problem with this is that reason, by itself, cannot offer a *reason* to do *anything.*

    In the end, all decision making boils down to emotion. I mean, seriously, “do this or you’ll die” can be broken down to emotion — “do I want to live enough that the thing I’m being asked to do in exchange for life is worth doing?” And many people would put “living life without love” in the category of “things I would rather die than do.” Reason cannot actually address this, because the only reason why we want to live is emotional. There is no *reason* why living is better than dying; living is fun and we enjoy it, and that’s an emotion.

    So all decisions must be driven off emotion, in the end. What’s important to do is to take a cold, hard look at statistical likelihoods and include them in your emotional calculations. “trust but verify”, as someone said. You can’t love someone if you believe they will screw you over… but many people got screwed over by people they loved, so you have to take steps to make sure there is *some* kind of safety net if you’re wrong.

    A lot of “romance” when coupled with patriarchal expectations encourages women to essentially throw all caution to the wind and let the men they love run their lives for them. My philosophy is that no matter how much you love someone, this is stupid. Always keep an eye on the bank account, or maintain your own. Always have a car, or a copy of the car keys if you can’t afford two cars, or live somewhere you could get away on public transportation if you don’t drive and they do. (This goes for men and women. My husband does not drive. He deliberately chose, in his last marriage, to live somewhere remote because he wanted to get away from it all… but he trusted his wife, unwisely, and she ended up doing things that really hurt him, emotionally, financially and even physically, because he was depending on her for a ride.) Always have a job, or maintain job skills so if you have to go back into the workforce you can. Always maintain a social network of people who are friends with *you*, not your love, who you can count on to back you up if there’s a conflict. If you have good relations with your family, maintain them after getting involved with a lover; no lover should ever, ever get between you and family. (If you did not have good relations with family before, that’s a different story… and if family rejects your lover and is hateful to them, that’s also a different story, and you’re justified in separating yourself from them for your lover’s sake. But never let your *lover* separate you from your family.) If you had platonic same-sex friends before the relationship, keep them; a lover who is jealous of your platonic same-sex friends is a lover who is dangerously jealous in general, and you may *need* the support of friends if the lover doesn’t get over that jealousy.

    Men aren’t actually any more “reasonable” than women are, even stereotypically. Men are taught to value things that are of use to the independent entity, such as money, and to devalue things that are of use to the couple bond, such as intimacy, but the desire for money is driven off emotion. Status? Power? Emotion. The choice between “love” and “my great job” is not a choice between emotion and reason, it’s a choice between “how good does love make me feel” versus “how good does my great job make me feel”, with an added calculation of “how good will love have been for me in 20 years” versus “how good will my great job have been for me in 20 years.” It’s nonsensical to say that paranoia is rational but compassion is emotional, or that the desire for money is rational but the desire for children is emotional. In the end *all* decisions are based in emotion. Reason can only tell you the best way to go about getting what you want, or how best to balance two competing emotional desires. It cannot tell you what to want in the first place.

  44. Faith
    Faith June 11, 2010 at 12:13 pm |

    “I’m not fearful, I just expect the worst out of people.”

    Same difference.

  45. Mickie T
    Mickie T June 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm |

    Politicalguineapig: Marrying for love is a recent invention. People used to marry for economic and politcal reasons. Marrying someone of your own choosing based on whether you two are attracted to each other, etc, is a relatively modern practice.

    On the other hand, “romance,” has always been around. One can find many examples of the sweeping, all-encompassing, emotional reverie of romance in ancient myths and poems.

  46. Sarah
    Sarah June 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm |

    Ugh. Can we please get rid of the “people never used to marry for love” meme? It’s revisionist history.

    Sure, marriages in the upper crusts of society have often been political matches, but that’s a very small percentage of unions. If we’re talking about Europe, in particular, then for every dispassionate match made for political expediency or economic concerns among the rich, there were dozens of marriages among the rest of the population between like-aged peers, who chose their mates, and often who had known each other for years and cared for each other deeply. You’ll find similar patterns in other cultures, as well.

    Heck, in numerous societies, there isn’t really a concept of “marriage” except among the moneyed elite, since the poorer classes don’t have assets worth preserving; people just began having romantic partnerships, shared living arrangements, and children based upon mutual attraction and love (ie, “common law” marriages).

    The idea that marriages have historically been a way to create or cement political alliances and increase or preserve wealth is a view of history strongly colored by a tendency to focus on the wealthy and ignore the plebs.

  47. Faith
    Faith June 11, 2010 at 3:09 pm |

    “The idea that marriages have historically been a way to create or cement political alliances and increase or preserve wealth is a view of history strongly colored by a tendency to focus on the wealthy and ignore the plebs.”

    While I’d agree that people who have married throughout the years might have cared for one another, I do believe it’s disingenuous to argue that they married only for love. It actually seems to me that, currently speaking at least, people in higher income brackets are more like to marry only for love, not the only way around. Marriage has been one of the main mechanisms used throughout history to oppress women by forcing them to choose marriage or starve. So, it is not at all disingenuous to argue that marriage in general has historically been for political reasons.

  48. Natalia
    Natalia June 11, 2010 at 3:45 pm |

    Romantic love is a fairly recent invention.

    Nope, it sure ain’t.

    Let’s not pretend it’s a good thing. It was invented by men as another way to control women. Smart, modern-day women should avoid its pitfalls.

    Believe it or not, but men also experience romantic love. The deck being stacked against women socially does not somehow mean that men do not have emotions.

    And smart, modern-day women should do what pleases them.

  49. A Different Sarah
    A Different Sarah June 12, 2010 at 6:21 am |

    Thanks for putting this topic up. I get really sick of this idea that you can’t possibly be a “good feminist” if you care too deeply for a guy. Usually it’s used in the context of break-ups: if a woman forgives her man’s cheating, or he dumps her and she can’t just get over it, then she’s obviously a pathetic soul whose self-esteem lies in having a man–it couldn’t possibly be because she loves him as an individual person. (Men and lesbians who get shit on for love are studiously ignored for this to work.) It’s usually promoted by pop singers like Beyonce, rather than academic feminists. Actually about a year ago an academic, Cristina Nehring, wrote a book called “A Vindication of Love” that provided a needed contrary view by arguing that the stormy love lives of Mary Wollstonecraft, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson etc. actually helped sharpen their intellectual power and insight, and stated that “love can be a form of feminism”.

    @Jess: I’ve skimmed thru romance novels to get to the sex scenes, but the only one I’ve actually found romantic and identified with was “Your Wicked Ways”, by Eloisa James. I identified very strongly with that one because I write music and the story was about two composers, who related to each first and foremost around music. Also their looks weren’t idealized–the girl’s a beanpole, the guy’s “rugged”–and they were both shown to have personality flaws…but they’re perfect for each other.

    @Marilyn: I found your comment to other-Sarah about her being “in love with being in love” and it never lasting to be very rude. How can you jump in and tell someone you’ve never met what their own feelings are?

    I’d add something more to the Twillight debate, something about how stalking is romantic to plenty of women because having a hottie stalk you beats having a hottie act awkward and give out mixed signals any day, but I really don’t feel like defending a book I was too bored by to do more than skim and drop.

  50. Chally
    Chally June 12, 2010 at 6:55 am |

    stalking is romantic to plenty of women because having a hottie stalk you beats having a hottie act awkward and give out mixed signals any day

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I disagree with that.

  51. A Different Sarah
    A Different Sarah June 12, 2010 at 3:10 pm |

    Welll….the fantasy of stalking. Not so much the reality.

  52. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig June 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm |

    Natalia: Men don’t lose anything by romantic love. Women always lose or are expected to give up something.
    A Different Sarah: I read “A Vindication of Love.” I found it to be very naive. I’m always wary about stuff like that because it gives ammunition to the conservatives.

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