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Dangerous Communion: A Vindication of A Vindication of Love

Female desire has been my feminist project for a while. I’m focused on reclaiming it, understanding it, making room for it, staking out a place for it as something worthwhile. Cristina Nehring, I think, is on a similar quest in A Vindication of Love, and I rather love her for it.

Nehring isn’t out to say that feminism has failed us or that it’s made us miserable or that we should just go get married and have babies and then we’ll be satisfied. She’s arguing as much for our right to have our hearts broken as anything else. She points out, though, that in its rush to liberate women from the confines of marriage, children, and male control, feminism has left us very little space to negotiate the very real feelings that women have, often for men. In her view, this erasure of desire, combined with a consumer culture that sends us running to buy any new product that promises us instant gratification and online dating services where you can order up a date like a takeout meal, have caused us to forget love. And, I would add, its revolutionary, liberatory, even empowering potential.

Nehring embraces the fucked-up-ness of love, writes in defense of power imbalances, inequalities, hell, even infidelities. Her defense of failure in love is particularly passionate, an argument for holding your head up high if and when it doesn’t work out, for letting go of the dual guilt that being a “strong single woman” leaves you with: not only that you’re hurt that it ended, but that you should’ve never bothered in the first place. What did you think, that you needed a man!??!

What Nehring calls love is a feeling, a head-over-heels knock-you-sideways feeling that the more practical among us would nicely tell her is infatuation. While bell hooks, in Communion, argues for love as a conscious choice, as something we do, Nehring writes of the feelings that come whether we like them or not, and embraces them. The actions one takes when one is in love, according to her examples, range from running off together immediately, consequences be damned, to a long, tantalizing, never-consummated friendship, to lifelong happy marriage.

She’s been much maligned for her chapter on power imbalances, and certainly many of her examples in the book are NOT what we’d consider healthy. Yet by arguing for them, she gives us back our right to have screwed-up relationships and not feel horrible about ourselves when they end. What she terms “power imbalances” are often more an exploration of the different ways one can have power in a relationship—or how they shift, over and over again. She reads power back into women of history and literature who have had their agency stripped and their victimhood assumed—often by self-proclaimed feminists. (Some of us who do feminism on the Internet can probably relate.)

There’s always been a so-called “radical” feminist streak that calls for separation from men. There’s another vein of thought, far more common, that is perfectly OK with women dating, marrying, and loving men—as long as they are putting “career” before “love” as a life-goal, as long as they understand that they don’t “need” a man and can do just fine without one. Meanwhile, mainstream society still pressures women to get married, and to have children, and tells women that they will be massively unfulfilled without these things. You could argue that her approach is heterocentric, but Nehring is a straight woman, and is working through mostly (but not entirely) heterosexual examples of love because the specific pressures of being a straight woman in not-really-post-feminist times are the pressures that she’s struggled with.

I know, I know, us straight girls have such a rough time of it, whining that feminism fucked up our feelings for men. Except that the world is full of men, and women are their mothers, lovers, and friends and allies. Men as well as women fight for liberation from patriarchal norms that restrict our options, and our humanity. Maybe this project that I’ve set myself of reclaiming desire, even desire for men, won’t end rape or violence or war. But it is one that I think is important, and it’s why I read this book.

Nehring could have called the book “A Vindication of Desire” because often that’s what she’s defending. But she chose the word “love,” and I think her braver for it. After all, desire is too quickly elided into “sex” and sex is everywhere these days, so much so that when a work of fiction like Twilight focuses on the decision NOT to have it the entire pop-culture-consuming world stops and obsesses.

She also could’ve gone on Caitlin Flanagan-like rants about how women belong married, at home, in traditional relationships (with a nanny, getting paid large chunks of change to rant about how women are happier not working) or how the secret lives of girls are somehow different and special and they need to spend their time convincing boys to not want to have sex and to hold their hands. Or something. (Can you tell that I try not to read Flanagan all that much?) Or repeated tired Camille Paglia-isms about men and women needing… oh, goodness, I can’t even figure out what Paglia thinks we need.

Instead, Nehring decides to take famous feminists as her models, and points out how those of us who claim to support women’s right to do what they want with their lives have been guilty of discounting these women’s choices in love. From Cleopatra to Katha Pollitt, Mary Wollstonecraft to Frida Kahlo and Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir, she follows these women through their turbulent romantic lives and notes that far from sweeping those portions of their biographies under the rug and viewing them as the unfeminist price we have to pay for brilliant art and theory, we should embrace them as parts of their lives, evenpossibly feminist choices they made.

“The reputation of a male thinker is either untouched or improved by an erotically charged biography. The reputation of a female thinker is either subtly undermined or squarely destroyed,” she writes.

Her examples? Mary Wollstonecraft wrote one of the first feminist treatises—and attempted suicide for a man. Her memoirs, published by her husband after her death, got her called a whore at the time—and in recent biographies, her “irregularities of conduct” (here Nehring quotes Professor Janet Todd, a biographer) are “found embarrassing rather than enlightening,” though she “never completely abandoned the ideals of The Rights of Women.” Ladies, if the failures in my love life mean that I’ve failed feminism, well, feminism is screwed.

Frida Kahlo forgave and remarried Diego Rivera after he carried on a two-year affair with her sister. Katha Pollitt wrote poetry about getting her heart broken by a man. Emily Dickinson left behind, in addition to brilliant poetry, letters addressed to “Master” that have caused consternation among scholars. And many feminists like to gloss over these parts of their lives or admit that their heroines were “flawed” instead of embracing all the decisions they made in their lives, accepting that love—maybe, yes, of a man who hurt them—was important to them as well. “Perhaps this is what the game of love is finally about: playing injured,” Nehring writes. “Not avoiding injuries, but playing with injuries.”

Maybe this is where we go wrong, feminists who fall in love: We have bought into the idea that being hurt is a weakness. We believe in the (after all, patriarchal) idea that showing emotion is bad because it’s feminine, and that visible emotion is even worse when it’s visible emotion over a man. We forget that the willingness to open up to others is a strength, and that doing so requires even more strength when you’ve already been hurt. It grows progressively harder each time, yet Nehring’s favorite heroines continue to love despite the wounds. Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller opened up time and again to new lovers; Kahlo and Heloise forgave their loves over and over. All of them renegotiated their boundaries, their rules, and their lives for themselves and their lovers. That’s hardly a feminist failure.

The weakest parts of the book, I think, are where literature subs in for real history; where Arthurian legend or Shakespearean drama are held up as a comparable model to the lives of real people. But at the same time, Nehring identifies the threads that run through so much of Western literature—and notes when they changed. She points out—without statistics—that today’s poetry journals are not full of love poems even though most of the greatest poets in our history, from Dante and Shakespeare through Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, wrote love poetry.

We’re not without modern examples, though I’d have liked to see more actual “reimagining” love for today. Nehring doesn’t go there; her most recent story is that of Katha Pollitt being pilloried for writing about her love for a man. She doesn’t tell us her own love story, either. This is not one of “those” books. Though looking back at history’s forward-thinking lovers, ones who refused to be reined in by the conventions of their time did offer up models beyond the “flowers and candy” that seem to be people’s automatic responses when one mentions love and romance these days.

Not for nothing do many of Nehring’s example lovers lead untraditional lives—from the loves of Socrates to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre’s lifelong open relationship and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s gloriously permissive husband. Nehring points out somewhere that marriage used to be a commercial decision, that love was expected to be something one found outside of its bounds. We are supposedly liberated from that kind of commerce—commerce in women, mostly— and able to love and marry whom we will, if we will, but what we’ve got instead is a fantasy sold to us wrapped in trinkets and empty promises that you have to buy access to. Instead of figuring out love for our damn selves — the way Nehring’s most inspiring examples do — we are shoehorned into “traditional marriage” by politicians and pastors who are doing anything but.

Witness the strange case of Mark Sanford, who Nehring took on in an essay at Truthdig at the time (and who I myself defended). I hate Mark Sanford’s politics. I wanted him gone for many reasons. But when the man stood up at a press conference and tearfully confessed his love, I felt for him. I never liked him so much. Sanford’s become a punch line about getting some action in Argentina, but let’s face it: He didn’t have to fly to Argentina and disappear for days just to get laid. He could’ve pulled a Spitzer and paid for discretion. No, the man who was willing to refuse stimulus funds for teachers and jobs for his state was in love.

It’s the sex that those concerned with traditional marriage claim to be worried about, but what if it’s just as much the love? Nehring takes Socrates as an early example in her book and his expanding definition of love — from loving one person to loving all people. And what is that if not an expression of solidarity? If we can learn from one to love more than one, wouldn’t that break down our selfish little walls and in turn pose a real threat to the system?

No matter how many self-help books, Cosmo sex guides, Internet dating services and roses and even diamond rings get tossed around, we still have a 50% divorce rate and nowhere near equality at home. And forget about supporting the love of nontraditional lovers, from gay, lesbian and bisexual folks to people in open relationships. This book doesn’t argue for marriage, for finding “the one” and playing by some arcane set of rules to catch him or her. Instead, it argues for trusting one’s feelings and allowing them freedom, and against thinking that our emotions are intrinsically worth less than our work, or that we are bad feminists for having our hearts broken.

Which brings me to my biggest question: If love is dead, what really killed it? Nehring notes that it certainly wasn’t just feminism, and I absolutely agree with her. Me, I’m always looking for the commodity-capitalism critique: Who gains from a devaluation of love? Love as leveling influence, as boundary-breaching, blind passion — when we trade that in for Match.com and a dozen roses, what are we doing? When love is something you can learn how to do from a self-help book, what’s happened? We’ve traded human feeling — sometimes messy, fucked-up human feeling — for something you can buy.

[Sarah Jaffe is, amongst other things, a deputy editor at Global Comment and the proprietor of a very charming Tumblr.]

26 Comments

  1. Christina wrote:

    Fascinating! I don’t think I ever considered love (desire, infatuation, etc.) as a feminist act. At least part of the reason is this:

    “Maybe this is where we go wrong, feminists who fall in love: We have bought into the idea that being hurt is a weakness. . . ”

    Yeah, this certainly speaks to my experience. Admitting any kind of feeling outside determination or ambition (and the like) is really hard for me, and part of it is I don’t want to seem like a “girl,” “weak,” etc.

    So, yeah I can definitely see how being unapologetic about how you actually feel and allowing yourself to experience love, loss, etc. shows a kind of bravery.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post! I’ll be checking out Nehring’s book.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
  2. volcanista wrote:

    I feel like there are an aaaaawful lot of straw feminists in here, at least in today’s feminism. Or maybe the people who say those things exist, but I don’t hear much from these days, because that is not a familiar kind of feminism to me. At all. I have never thought that being in love with a man, making dumb mistakes in love, or making my own choices about my relationships in general was particularly unfeminist or in conflict with feminism; in fact, that sounds like a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism to me. Anyway, it doesn’t offend me for an author to write that women should not be punished for seeking love and making mistakes in love. It does kind of offend me to blame that sense of punishment so strongly on mostly-straw feminists.

    Also, wth with the hating on internet dating?? I find your comments about it *really* insulting! Believe it or not, it’s very possible to deliberately look for love, and to try to increase your chance of finding it by meeting a lot of new people, and to then, you know, find it. That’s not treating love as a purchasable commodity or devaluing it (hell, not all the good sites out there are actually expensive or even, uh, not-free), and I’m not sure where this notion comes from that romance has to be spontaneously run-across in order to be valid, or, you know… romantic.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  3. Monique wrote:

    Wonderful post! I could give you my life story, but I’ll leave it at this post spoke to me on so many levels, and thank you.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 7:05 am | Permalink
  4. CJ wrote:

    I’ve always felt that trying to take love out of the feminist equation means trying to take out the thing that made most of us feminists in the first place.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  5. Tom wrote:

    As a male reading this, it helped to strip away some of the angry front that men are confronted with when meeting a feminist and got down to some of the more real reasons behind the anger. An interesting read which has helped me to appreciate the movement for more than its exterior.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  6. Mongoose6 wrote:

    I have to side with Volcanista here. I don’t think that being accepting and forgiving of one’s emotions is inconsistent with feminism – I think they are relatively unrelated. In fact, I think most of the stuff that tells us our emotions are “bad” is blatantly anti-feminist. A few examples:

    1) Go out and live your life exuberantly! Noone wants to date a girl looking for love – that’s just sad. (One of “The Rules” – which are not pro-woman).

    2) Don’t be upset when he doesn’t call – he’s just not that into you. (Also pretty anti-woman stuff.)

    I think that feminism means being equal in and out of the bedroom, which means you CAN (and SHOULD) stick up for your own needs. I think Nehring is reminding us that those needs extend to emotions. I don’t just need an orgasm, I also need to be emotionally satisfied with romantic interactions.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  7. Trish wrote:

    Also, wth with the hating on internet dating?? I find your comments about it *really* insulting! Believe it or not, it’s very possible to deliberately look for love, and to try to increase your chance of finding it by meeting a lot of new people, and to then, you know, find it. That’s not treating love as a purchasable commodity or devaluing it (hell, not all the good sites out there are actually expensive or even, uh, not-free), and I’m not sure where this notion comes from that romance has to be spontaneously run-across in order to be valid, or, you know… romantic.

    This x1000. I find there always seems to be this taboo or misconception around internet relationships in general. What’s wrong with using the internet as a tool to meet new friends, be an activist, or find love?

    That said, the original point in your post was excellent. As still being fairly new to feminism and understanding it. I’ve often wondered how to interact in a love relationship once it comes. It’s like I have this feeling that I shouldn’t compromise or “bow down” so to speak! After reading this it made me realize that compromise and communication is a great part of a lasting relationship! So as long as my future dude is willing to compromise? How bad can that be? We’re all human after all.

    Thanks for writing this, great article!

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  8. CassieC wrote:

    I agree that for a long time I saw my life, often through the opinions of other people, as a series of domains in which one could succeed or fail: work, fun, relationships. This perspective is not purely feminist, sometimes it’s pretty damn anti-feminist, but as a feminist, I did feel I wanted to succeed in as many ways as possible.
    My consecutive boyfriends and breakups certainly seemed like a failure from that perspective. At some point, close to 33 or so, I chose to see things differently. Some of my ex-boyfriends are dear and close friends, almost family members. The others are also part of my past life. Boyfriends, good or bad, relationships, breakups and singledom: these are all my life, not something to be ashamed of as a failure.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  9. rowmyboat wrote:

    Seconding Volcanista on the straw-feminists.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  10. of making many books wrote:

    I’m not sure how I feel! Mostly I think that love is *not* a feeling, it’s a choice/set of actions/responsibility– I see my ex-boyfriend in Mark Sanford, the one who opened up a space for abuse in the name of love, who after years of this behavior took off with his “soulmate” who just happened to be equally as young and insecure as me. That’s where I see Love-as-Feeling as a justification for continued patterns of self-blindness and hurting others. You don’t have to hold yourself accountable for your destructiveness when you’re being called by something greater and outside your control.

    But then, after just reading about Mark Sanford’s pages and pages of soul-purging letters over nine years, I don’t know how to be against that. So.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  11. Emily wrote:

    I found this really helpful and I’m now interested in reading the book.

    I don’t think it’s straw-feminism. I think the idea that loving and hurting makes you weak or unfeminist isn’t an explicit tenet of feminism that the majority of feminists are putting forth and defending. It’s an implicit, accidental thing that emerges.

    After being in two back-to-back serious relationships for a number of years, and recently being mostly single for the better part of 3 years, when I lament that I wish I could find a partner, my well-meaning friends say things like, “You are so great!” and “You don’t need a man to be happy!” and “I wish you could see how great you are without a man validating that,” and “Why are you wasting your time and emotions on such an asshole?” And the thing is, I *do* love myself – I think I kick ass! But I still get lonely sometimes, I still want love in my life. I still make poor choices.

    Feminism had this really important message for, say, old time suburban housewives trapped in abusive marriages for economic reasons, and it was a great message to tell those women: you don’t need this man. You can be on your own. Hooray! Freedom for everyone!

    But what happened is that that message was subtly shifted into, “Wanting a man is denying your own ability to be independent.” As I said before, I don’t think this was feminism’s intent, and I don’t think you would find many feminists who actually support such a notion. Yet it’s still there as an undercurrent, an implicit, subtle idea that comes out in the well-meaning platitudes of the friends I mentioned above who try to comfort me in my loneliness by denying that I should be lonely at all.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  12. this has probably been addressed somewhere else, but is this the same sarah jaffe who is a musician from texas?

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  13. AMC wrote:

    @Sady Very interesting post. On the subject (and knowing how you love Megan Fox) have you seen her in Eminem’s new Love the Way you Lie video? It’s about his relationship with his ex, which was mutually abusive, and shockingly she actually acts very well in it!

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  14. Juju wrote:

    Hear, hear, Volcanista, and from Mongoose6 “I don’t think that being accepting and forgiving of one’s emotions is inconsistent with feminism – I think they are relatively unrelated.” Yes. Final thoughts, from the original post “Nehring embraces the fucked-up-ness of love, writes in defense of power imbalances, inequalities, hell, even infidelities.” IN DEFENSE OF??? Patriarchy compliance: check! No thanks, I’ve had enough of that…

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  15. Cynematic wrote:

    For me, as a straight married woman with a son, the new frontier in thinking about love is how the dailiness of couplehood co-exists with the long-term project of raising a feminist son. Or is it the other way around? How the long-term couplehood co-exists with the dailiness of raising a feminist son?

    I want to know what happens “happily ever after,” and one of the more thoughtful, complex explorations of this that I’ve seen lately is the movie The Kids Are All Right. What’s so fascinating to me is how the movie is suffused with feminism and yet never overtly so; how all the shadings of loneliness in the midst of togetherness–of being in love and believing you are loved–are there regardless of the straightness/lesbianness of the couplehood.

    In that respect, it’d be interesting to see what Nehring would say about The Kids Are All Right, or any of the folks here. To my mind, it’s the antithesis of a “feminist straw man” and I’m curious how the people sympathetic to Sanford for his extravagant affair would feel about Julianne Moore’s character in Kids.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  16. CJ wrote:

    Regarding strawfeminists – unless I’ve missed something or totally misread, I don’t think feminism or feminists were accused of actually promoting anything outright. More that pretty much everyone wrestles with love, but feminists wrestle with it like feminists. I mean, I don’t know any self-professed feminist who has actually said something like ‘emotion is weakness’ either. However!

    I think it’s probably something that a lot of feminists struggle with, maybe particularly those who have ever used it as an armour. If feminism is something you’ve used to shield yourself when you’re vulnerable, then how can you be vulnerable and feminist at the same time? Aren’t they opposite things?

    I suspect the answer is ‘obviously not’ but while nobody ever told me ‘if you are vulnerable, you are weak’ it’s definitely something I learned somewhere and I guess feminism doesn’t exist in a void either.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  17. michele wrote:

    “Instead, it argues for trusting one’s feelings and allowing them freedom, and against thinking that our emotions are intrinsically worth less than our work, or that we are bad feminists for having our hearts broken.”

    Great post, Sady. I think it comes down to finding mutual respect with another person. It comes down to being able to communicate your emotions, while still hearing the other side’s point of view. Its about trying your best to hold true to your own personal values, while balancing those of your partner’s. You have to learn to forgive yourself for past mistakes, and give your lover that same leeway.

    I’m not saying that my own relationship is perfect – but I will say that with my dude, I rarely feel like a gender. We live in Los Angeles where the city’s cash crop is sexism. My boyfriend is my shelter in this madness. For us, love is the easy part. Its when I start thinking about kids and marriage that I feel scared. But, maybe not even marriage really – marriage only really freaks me out because of everyone else in our respective families that view the tradition with their own gender-biased, societal expectations. What really consumes me, is that at the end of the day, I’m the one with the uterus and therefore the only one in this relationship that can birth a child. And, to be honest, I’d like to see what kind of human me and my guy could create! It’s just… daunting, all the same.

    As for internet relationships – in my humble opinion from what I’ve seen from friends, and from what I’ve attempted once – the internet is a really great way to act like your “representative” and not yourself. You can say all the best things, because you have time to think, because you don’t have a human being right in front of you that you have to deal with. You learn to censor and create expectations. There is tons of room to be the best possible you, which usually isn’t you at all, and that can be even more concerning that you don’t see the real you as being best possible you in the first place. I’m sure there is a percentage of the time where this does not happen, and where you are unabashedly yourself. But, as with all forms of social media, it strips away a certain amount of personal interaction – you’re putting a computer between you and the other person.

    Anyway, Sady, per usual – thank you for the thought provoking post. I appreciate your thoroughness. I will search your site, but do you have any posts about the potential of having a kid? I’d really like to read your take on feminists and motherhood.

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  18. Sady wrote:

    @Everybody! Guys, this post is by a lady named Sarah Jaffe. She’s super, and I think the byline and post bio reflects her work? Is this not showing up in folks’ RSS feeds?

    Friday, August 6, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  19. michele wrote:

    i see that now Sady! Sorry Sarah, great post. I should have paid closer attention. Great work.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink
  20. Christen wrote:

    I also am not seeing the straw feminism here. My take on what the author here (and the author she’s reviewing) seems to be saying is that there are, in mainstream culture at least, plenty of self-help books and texts and other discussions about how women can get want they want, keep their integrity and all in all deal with relationships, especially straight ones — but almost none of these treat feminism as a given. Quiiiite the contrary; so many of these texts are horrifically slut-shamey and marriage-centric or just mean-spirited.

    And where I see feminists talking about these issues, it’s more often not a defensive response to all of that garbage — the old don’t-think-of-an-elephant/framing problem, perhaps. Just the other day I stumbled on a blog post (won’t link it because I’m sort of about to slam it) about slut-shaming that, um, said a lot of rather mean things about women who prefer to have sex within the context of a committed relationship only, or at least to wait a little longer to have sex than others might. Now, I have said many of those things, often in a spirit of defensive grousing when I felt certain friends were judging me during an admittedly promiscuous period in my life. I wasn’t a sad desperate creature who would never be happy; I was simply doing what felt right to me at the time. And now, well, I’m a little more inclined to wait, to get to know someone, to suss out if he’s someone I can really trust before I take him to bed. I’m not, as this post implied, trying to blackmail anyone into loving me. I’m just doing what feels right to me right now. It was sad because I pretty much totally agreed with the blogger that slut-shaming sucks, yet the sisterhood — not so much being extended in my sad and closed-legged direction!

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink
  21. k not K wrote:

    ohhhhh boy. This really hit home. After my last ex-boyfriend dropped me like a fucking stone and I ended up a completely depressed wreck, I was like, “OK I’m an idiot who isn’t capable of relationships. Time to seal away my heart and focus on my career.” Then I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning anymore. That took a year to fix up.

    Then I met my new boyfriend, decided to give him a chance, and 1 1/2 years later here I am thinking “wait why am I fantasizing about a wedding again?? OHGOD do I even want the things I thought I wanted out of a relationship? Is lifelong love even possible?” I’M FREAKING OUT YOU GUYS.

    Looks like it’s time to actually interrogate my priorities in my love life and figure out what I want besides “leveling up” to cohabitation, marriage, kids, etc… This is going to get fucking messy.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  22. michele wrote:

    @K Not K just figure out what you want. As long as what you want is truly that – and not some regurgitation of what society expects of you as a woman – then its fine, in my opinion. Just because you are a feminist, or intend to be, doesn’t mean you should be *against* all things “typical”, like marriage and cohabitation and kids. The ability to have children is an option given only to those of us with lady parts, and that can be very empowering for some women. Weddings *can* be really cool events (*can*, emphasized again here, I’ve been to a ton of awful ones), and not all of them have to fall into the feeling of “leveling up”, as you put it. I like that term actually, thank you, I’m a big video game nerd, so that crystallized for me what you meant. Well all try to level up, because that’s what happens when you set goals, but you can’t necessarily have goals with another person. I mean, you can, but like … well, its not the same. You just have to enjoy your time with the other person and see what happens. Don’t anticipate. I know that sounds so like, new age or something, but it’s true. It doesn’t have to be messy, just try to enjoy yourself. I mean, thats what loving someone is right? Enjoying?

    Friday, August 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Permalink
  23. “Don’t be vulnerable in love” is not an an Official Feminist Position, but it’s an understandable layperson conclusion when you combine the feminist message of “women can/should be strong!” and the patriarchal message of “emotional vulnerability means you’re weak!” (Actually, the term “vulnerability” is almost synonymous with weakness, so… you see how ingrained in our culture this is? I can’t even express this without it sounding like a tautology. Or maybe the problem is black-and-white thinking that it’s never OK to be weak?) I think it’s more of a novice feminist position than something the Great Thinkers of Feminism would say. But it’s there, and there are a lot of novice feminists out there.

    So yeah, I’m not seeing the Straw Feminism here.

    Or what Emily said:

    “I think the idea that loving and hurting makes you weak or unfeminist isn’t an explicit tenet of feminism that the majority of feminists are putting forth and defending. It’s an implicit, accidental thing that emerges.”

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  24. Louche wrote:

    To be honest, I am tired of hearing everyone but people who read personal development books deride “self-help books”… no, a self-help book is not sufficient for experiencing love, but it’s a supplement and sometimes even a foundation for those who may be too filled with hatred, fear, and other junk to even begin to love their neighbor. I should know because I am a case in point. And PD books are also a hell of a lot more useful than therapists.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  25. Louche wrote:

    Though I am probably just bitter that my last therapist was worse than useless.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink
  26. theviciouspixie wrote:

    Thank you for writing this, Sarah. I am going to try and get hold of this book now.

    I have often struggled with loving and hurting vs. being “strong” and emancipated, and with the idea that I can have taken in all these lessons about life and feminism and still have made some spectacularly poor decisions in my love life. I think it is important that this book exists, and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to share your take on it with us.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink