I've been following and sporadically contributing to another great series of discussion over on the academic Romance blog Teach Me Tonight (link on the right there). The blog, as well as other romance blogs I am lead to believe (I only read the one), have been afire lately due to an article in the UK's The Guardian in which the author declared romance novels to be mysogonistic hate speech. This author likes to speak with nuance, as you can see.
This article has instigated a broad range of discussions about romance novels, fantasy versus reality, feminism, and more. One theme that has come up is whether or not romance or love is possible in a patriarchal society. When Jane Austen has a novel end happily in marriage, but in a society in which marriage made the woman almost a form of property of the husband, is this really a happy ending? Was Austen furthering and promoting this flawed society by celebrating marriage within it?
I wrote a relatively long comment on these ideas, which I wanted to save.
Anyway, getting back to the main comments here and in an earlier post about Austen's era, while I follow the reasoning, I keep being afraid that it means we have to declare pretty much every relationship before The Second Wave of feminism as inherently flawed. Surely this is overkill.
Men and women in patriarchal cultures and matriarchical cultures surely fell in love and often became better people because of that love. We could declare that it's because all women in particarchal societies and all men in matriarchal ones had internalized their messed up cultures such that they felt "love" despite the fact that they were furthering their own oppression. But, honestly, I have a hard time believing that. Here's an example of why.
Let's say that a man and a woman today are both genuine believers in a society of total gender equality. They strive their entire lives to accomplish this and along the way they fall completely in love and spend an amazing life together. I'm trying to paint a picture of the ideal love affair based on every social or political moral we have.
And yet in 50 years, 100 years, people are going to realize that some of our perfect ideas were wrong. We just aren't that smart, no matter how hard we try, and we make moral judgment mistakes. This means however that our ideal love of today informed by the best of feminist thought is also perpetuating a flawed and mistaken society. The only way out of this is if you think that suddenly now for the first time in history, we've got everything right. And of course the belief that one's own culture has the universal moral truths for all time is the great and recurring sin of ethnocentrism.
But I still want to say that this ideal love affair of today, as we are dreaming of it, was still a great and inspiring love affair, with a story worth telling and one worth reading by our future descendants, despite the fact that many of them realize the heroine and hero were believing absurd things and probably hurting others due to these absurdities.
Does this make any sense? The argument I am trying to build is that flawed societies are not the end of love and romance, because all societies are flawed.