In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Feminism Does Not Ruin Anything; Fairy tales do.

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Emer O’Toole’s Ten Things Feminism Has Ruined for Me in the Guardian is a well-written satiric yet sincere read on what feminism has spoiled–mostly fun–for this writer from her cat to Catholicism to marriage and monogamy. While humorous, she raises some insightful conundrums in compromising that space of the political to enter the more relaxed place of “Hey, it ain’t correct, but it feels good, so I’ll just shut my mind off.”  
More than the insights and complaints, I love how she works through her queries in writing, watching the process of working through each dilemma. Here is just one example:
You’re a feminist. You’re questioning the gender-related norms in the world around you, trying to figure out which ones are oppressive (eg, sexual objectification; domestic violence; workplace discrimination) and which ones are OK (lipstick). And you begin to feel that a social system in which people claim rights of sexual ownership over each other’s bodies, and get very angry when these exclusive rights are violated, is a system so deeply imbued with patriarchal capitalist ideology as to make gender equality impossible.
So she recognizes the inherent intransigence of an institution, monogamous marriage, so deeply embedded in the larger socio-economic practice and mindset of a country that values possessions including others’ bodies, which is rife for abuse of women in a patriarchal society.  Men still run things around here. Marriage based on ownership filters down to men owning women and children, which was literally true only about a hundred years ago. Women were chattel as Kate Chopin’s ‘”Story of an Hour” reminds us.
Though, I do not doubt that two people can agree that they each have equal “ownership” rights over each other’s body and enjoy those rights, even with jealousy and possession as the basis of policing that arrangement. Two individuals cognizant of their needs and boundaries and respectful of the same in the other certainly can make monogamy work within the patriarchy of capitalism and monogamy. Like everything, it depends on the people entering into and honoring the agreements they make with continuing communication and monitoring about their arrangement when it is not working.
You take your head out of the theoretical clouds and look at the grounded reality of monogamy. You see lying, cheating, shame, even violence, and you think: is this because of love? Or is it because of the idea that we own the sexual function of the people we love? Love should make us happy (I’m looking at you, Anna Karenina). Yet jealousy, so often an excuse for abuse, is romanticised by the logic of monogamy, while love is vilified. Surely, with compassion, commitment and communication, we can find the courage to love differently. Polyamory is the future!
I do not know that romanticizing jealousy correlates to vilifying love, unless she means generally monogamy leads to jealousy and people focus on the keeping possession of bodies rather than the love that binds each to such an arrangement in the first place. Unless she means that love that someone can give to others is curtailed by having it wrapped up in only one other being. There are so many people one comes across in life, many lovable people, and yet many bargain away their love in an exclusivity contract, which seems rather unnatural and doomed as insurmountably contrived and unnatural.  
Polyamory, she applauds as the solution, though too quickly. The same kind of honesty and open communication, continual monitoring and negotiation that works for monogamy pertains even more so, even more than doubly so, to polyamory where there are more moving parts to consider. More people means more agreements, which inevitably means more of everything good and bad.  Polyamory is not for the lazy or the self-deluded. It is not an excuse to go fuck anyone you want as some do parading under the banner of polyamory. You know who you are. 
Compassion, commitment and communication are a lot of bloody work, though. Primary partners, secondary partners: all replete with complex emotions. Sometimes, at 1am on Friday night, when you just want to be out dancing with your friends but are, instead, “processing” with a partner new to poly, you wonder, ‘When did life become one long conversation about everyone’s feelings?’ You remember being 21, and trying to stop your boyfriend from punching a bloke who asked for your number while he was in the jacks. Brutal, yes, but alluringly simple.
Right. Sometimes you want to just fall back into easy patterns, even ones designed, implemented and perpetuated by patriarchy. The familiarity of it is enticing and the noble notion of chivalry is romanticism we have been fed since birth. 
Conscious choice to engage in agreed to relationship roles is what it is all about. A feminist is someone who believes in entering into relationships of any form or context, personal, career or academic, armed with information and analytical skills to see through the sedimented, unthinking practices of our culture. That practice does not have to be a battle within the self so much as a vigilance, an intellectual awareness directed to many aspects of life, not just spotting abuse. We are not dupes to advertising when we know what advertisers are up to, and yet we submit and purchase what’s for sale knowingly and willingly.  
Relationships of any kind are no different. I may submit my body to my partner’s jealous possession knowing all the implications and consequences thereof, and still sleep at night. The problem is not so much monogamy as much as it is about fairytales’ forever after. Humans want to nail down something for life:  this is the way it’s going to be so that I don’t ever have to think about that again.  It’s an insecurity thing. Again, it takes honesty and constant checking in with the self to see if the same old patterns are actively and consciously working or just mindless habits. That practice of checking in is a constant of good living. That is feminism in practice.

6 thoughts on “Feminism Does Not Ruin Anything; Fairy tales do.

  1. Fairy tales are children’s tales that become embedded in both our conscious and subconscious minds. As such they are doubly difficult to change or remove. Sheep aimlessly wander about the same pasture day after day after day and most centuries pass by in uneventful grazing. It takes a pretty sharp sheep or a very hungry one to seek a pasture of it’s own.

    Yet I wonder, fairy tales are only a few centuries old for the most part. Did they arise out of a need to install the concept of monogamy into an evolving society, one that had been nearly obliterated by diseases? Did they invent monogamy as a way to stem some of these diseases, independent of the need to establish patriarchal lineage? I wonder how long ago monogamy became the norm.

  2. I can understand why monogamy was implemented (for diseases and just sanity in general), but it was just not realistic to think in terms of forever with one person, especially if that union started very young. For me, the sex is an extension of my feelings (and can eventually be described as making love). It is a way of getting closer but can also create distance if both parties are not right with each other. I believe we have several soulmates in life (if we are lucky) and in my case I have been, at different eras in my life. However, one of my soulmates was a woman, without making love physically. Why is it that my hetero relationship for many years was more threatened by that “break of monogamy” in his eyes than if I had been with another man sexually? The question is; although monogamy applies to the physical, can one be “cheating” emotionally? Because this was not considered cheating in the traditional sense, it seems to be the most difficult of all to accept because it is within the mind, never acted on, deeper on so many levels. Sex can make a relationship intimate as the expression of love; where one knows every nuance, curve and nerve ending. It is not intimate when one just “lays down an impression of their loneliness” as many do. When I really look back on my loves, that is not the most prominent in my mind in thinking of the sex. I think of the connection, the knowing look that penetrates me deep inside, the emotional pull of feelings, and in the depth of our souls knowing “this is someone that I will mark a time period by” even when everything comes and goes in life. Although one may be the sole owner of another’s body (in terms of monogamy), they can never own the mind and heart of the other, which is why it is so difficult for many to deal with. Perhaps monogamy is the psychological way of reassuring and maintaining stability in that particular relationship even though the partners might have other types of loves never acted on in that sense.
    Quotes from Down To You, by Joni Mitchell.

    • Again, Freegirl, monogamy works for some, but the terms of any relationship are unique to those entering into the agreement to be together. Your hetero relationship partner included emotional fidelity as part of the terms of monogamy whereas you did not think that emotional connection to a woman counted as infidelity. Did your partner ever make known his desire to have your body and your heart entirely too? Could he articulate that he wanted you to have only superficial or less emotionally connected relationships with others? Again, if that kind of monogamy is consented to by both, then it works. Most people, however, cannot articulate what they want, only identify what they don’t want when they see it.
      Some people believe monogamy only pertains to the body and would not balk at your emotional involvement with a woman so long as you didn’t have physical intimacy with her. But the same emotional intimacy with a man, though there is no physical contact, would not be treated the same in your hetero relationship, I can bet.
      There is no one size fits all. That is the point. I have had better emotional connection with some people I didn’t share a physical relationship with and better physical connection with some I have had little emotional connection to. Each brings to a relationship a combination or singularity of conjoint need or interest, but we are trained to believe that one person will bring it all–forever.

  3. I really like how you ended this, describing what to do, how to practice feminism. It helps to clarify my own thinking reading this, ask myself how aware I might be. You set the bar very high for self knowledge and that is enlightening.

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