THE CULTURE OF ROMANCE
So far we have not distinguished “romance” from love. For there are no two kinds of love, one healthy (dull) and one not (painful) (“My dear, what you need is a mature love relationship. Get over this romantic nonsense.”), but only less-than-love or daily agony. When love takes place in a power context, everyone’s “love life” must be affected. Because power and love don’t make it together.
So when we talk about romantic love we mean love corrupted by its power context—the sex class system— into a diseased form of love that then in turn reinforces this sex class system. We have seen that the psychological dependence of women upon men is created by continuing real economic and social oppression. However, in the modem world the economic and social bases of the oppression are no longer alone enough to maintain it. So the apparatus of romanticism is hauled in. (Looks like we’ll have to help her out, Boys!)
Romanticism develops in proportion to the liberation of women from their biology. As civilization advances and the biological bases of sex class crumble, male supremacy must shore itself up with artificial institutions, or exaggerations of previous institutions, e. g., where previously Йіе family had a loose, permeable form, it now tightens and rigidities into the patriarchal nuclear family. Or, where formerly women bad been held openly in contempt,
The Casejor Feminist Revolution 147
now they are elevated to states of mock worship. Romanticism is a cultural tool of male power to keep women from knowing their condition. It is especially needed— and therefore strongest—in Western countries with the highest rate of industrialization. Today, with technology enabling women to break out of their roles for good—it was a near miss in the early twentieth century—romanticism is at an all-time high.
How does romanticism work as a cultural tool to reinforce sex class? Let us examine its components, refined over centuries, and the modern methods of its diffusion— cultural techniques so sophisticated and penetrating that even men are damaged by them.
1) Eroticism. A prime component of romanticism is eroticism. All animal needs (the affection of a kitten that has never seen heat) for love and warmth are channeled into genital sex: people must never touch others of the same sex, and may touch those of the opposite sex only when preparing for a genital sexual encounter (“a pass”). Isolation from others makes people starved for physical affection; and if the only kind they can get is genital sex, that’s soon all they crave. In this state of hypersensitivity the least sensual stimulus produces an exaggerated effect, enough to inspire everything from schools of master painting to rock and roll. Thus eroticism is the concentration of sexuality—often into highly-charged objects (“Chantilly Lace”)—signifying the displacement of other social/affection needs onto sex. To be plain old needy-for-affection makes one a “drip,” to need a kiss is embarrassing, unless it is an erotic kiss; only “sex” is O. K., in fact it proves one’s mettle. Virility and sexual performance become confused with social worth. f
Constant erotic stimulation of male sexuality coupled with its forbidden release through most normal channels are designed to encourage men to look at women as only things whose resistance to entrance must be overcome. For notice that this eroticism operates in only one direction. Women are the only “love” objects in our society, so much so that women regard themselves as erotic. This functions to preserve direct sex pleasure for the male, reinforcing female dependence: women can be fulfilled sexually only by vicarious identification with the man who enjoys them. Thus eroticism preserves the sex class system.
The only exception to this concentration of all emotional needs into erotic relationships is the (sometimes) affection within the family. But here, too, unless they are his children, a man can no more express affection for children than he can for women. Thus his affection, for the young is also a trap to saddle him into the marriage structure, reinforcing the patriarchal system.
2) The Sex Privatization of Women. Eroticism is only the topmost layer of the romanticism that reinforces female inferiority. As with any lower class, group awareness must be deadened to keep them from rebelling. In this case, because the distinguishing characteristic of women’s exploitation as a class is sexual, a special means must be found to make them unaware that they are considered all alike sexually (“cunts”). Perhaps when a man marries he chooses from this undistinguish able lot with care, for as we have seen, he holds a special high place in his mental reserve for “The One,” by virtue of her close association with himself; but in general he can’t tell the difference between chicks (Blondes, Brunettes, Redheads). And he likes it that way. (“A wiggle in your walk, a giggle in your talk, THAT’S WHAT I LIKE!”) When a man believes all women are alike, but wants to keep women from guessing, what does he do? He keeps his beliefs to himself, and pretends, to allay her suspicions, that what she has in common with other women is precisely what makes her different. Thus her sexuality eventually becomes synonymous with her individuality. The sex privatization of women is the process whereby women are blinded to their generality as a class which renders them invisible as individuals to the male eye. Is not that strange Mrs. Lady next to the President in his entourage reminiscent of the discreet black servant at White House functions?
The process is insidious: When a man exclaims, “I love Blondes!” all the secretaries in the vicinity sit up; they take it personally because they have been sex-privatized. The blonde one feels personally complimented because she has come to measure her worth through the physical attributes that differentiate her from other women. She no longer recalls that any physical attribute you could name is shared by many others, that these are accidental attributes not of her own creation, that her sexuality Is shared by half of humanity. But in an authentic recognition of her individuality, her blondeness would be loved, but in a different way: She would be loved first as an irreplaceable totality, and then her blondeness would be loved as one of the characteristics of that totality.
The apparatus of sex privatization is so sophisticated that it may take years to detect—if detectable at all. It explains many puzzling traits of female psychology that take such form as:
Women who are personally complimented by compliments to their sex, i. e., “Hats off to the Little
Women who are not insulted when addressed regularly and impersonally as Dear, Honey, Sweetie, Sugar, Kitten, Darling, Angel, Queen, Princess, Doll, Woman.
Women who are secretly flattered to have their asses pinched in Rome. (Much wiser to count the number of times other girls’ asses are pinched!)
The joys of “prickteasing” (generalized male horniness taken as a sign of personal value and desirability).
The “clotheshorse” phenomenon. (Women, denied legitimate outlets for expression of their individuality, “express” themselves physically, as in "I want to see something ‘different’.”)
These are only some of the reactions to the sex privatization process, the confusion of one’s sexuality with one’s individuality. The process is so effective that most women have come to believe seriously that the world needs their particular sexual contributions to go on. (“She thinks her pussy is made of gold.”) But the love songs would still be written without them.
Women may be duped, but men are quite conscious of this as a valuable manipulative technique. That is why they go to great pains to avoid talking about women in front of them (“not in front of a lady”)—it would give their game away. To overhear a bull session is traumatic to a woman: So all this time she has been considered only “ass,” “meat,” “twat,” or “stuff,” to be gotten a “piece of,” “that bitch,” or “this broad” to be tricked out of money or sex or love! To understand finally that she is no better than other women but completely indistinguishable comes not just as a blow but as a total annihilation. But perhaps the time that women more often have to confront their own sex privatization is in a lover’s quarrel, when the truth spills out: then a man might get careless
and admit that the only thing he ever really liked her for was her bust (“Built like a brick shithouse”) or legs anyway ("Hey, Legs!”), and he can find that somewhere else if he has to.
Thus sex privatization stereotypes women: it encourages men to see women as “dolls” differentiated only by superficial attributes—not of the same species as themselves—and it blinds women to their sexploitation as a class, keeping them from uniting against it, thus effectively segregating the two classes. A side-effect is the converse: if women are differentiated only by superficial physical attributes, men appear more individual and irreplaceable than they really are.
Women, because social recognition is granted only for a false individuality, are kept from developing the tough individuality that would enable breaking through such a ruse. If one’s existence in its generality is the only thing acknowledged, why go to the trouble to develop real character? It is much less hassle to “light up the room with a smile”—until that day when the “chick” graduates to “old bag,” to find that her smile is no longer “inimitable.”
3) The Beauty Ideal. Every society has promoted a certain ideal of beauty over all others. What that ideal is is unimportant, for any ideal leaves the majority out;
I ideals, by definition, are modeled on rare qualities. For example, in America, the present fashion vogue of French models, or the erotic ideal Voluptuous Blonde are modeled bn qualities rare indeed: few Americans are of French birth, most don’t look French and never will (and besides they eat too much); voluptuous brunettes can bleach
their hair (as did Marilyn Monroe, the sex queen herself), but blondes can’t develop curves at will—and most of them, being Anglo-Saxon, simply aren’t built like that. If and when, by artificial methods, the majority can squeeze into the ideal, the ideal changes. If it were attainable, what good would it be?
For the exclusivity of the beauty ideal serves a clear political function. Someone—most women—will be left
out. And left scrambling, because as we have seen, women have been allowed to achieve individuality only through their appearance—looks being defined as “good” not out of love for the bearer, but because of her more or less successful approximation to an external standard. This image, defined by men (and currently by homosexual men, often misogynists of the worst order), becomes the ideal. What happens? Women everywhere rush to squeeze into the glass slipper, forcing and mutilating their bodies with diets and beauty programs, clothes and makeup, anything to become the punk prince’s dream girl. But they have no choice. If they don’t the penalties are enormous: their social legitimacy is at stake.
Thus women become more and more look-alike. But at the same time they are expected to express their individuality through their physical appearance. Thus they are kept coming and going, at one and the same time trying to express their similarity and their uniqueness. The demands of Sex Privatization contradict the demands of the Beauty Ideal, causing the severe feminine neurosis about personal appearance.
But this conflict itself has an important political function. When women begin to look more and more alike, distinguished only by the degree to which they differ from a paper ideal, they can be more easily stereotyped as a class: They look alike, they think alike, and even worse, they are so stupid they believe they are not alike.
* * *
These are some of the major components of the cultural apparatus, romanticism, which, with the weakening of “natural” limitations on women, keep sex oppression going strong. The political uses of romanticism over the centuries became increasingly complex. Operating subtly or blatantly, on every cultural level, romanticism is now —in this time of greatest threat to the male power role —amplified by new techniques of communication so all
pervasive that men get entangled in their own line. How does this amplification work?
With the cultural portrayal of the smallest details of existence (e. g., deodorizing one’s underarms), the distance between one’s experience and one’s perceptions of it becomes enlarged by a vast interpretive network; If our direct experience contradicts its interpretation by this ubiquitous cultural network, the experience must be denied. This process, of course, does not apply only to women. The pervasion of image has so deeply altered our very relationships to ourselves that even men have become objects—-if never erotic objects. Images become extensions of oneself; it gets hard to distinguish the real person from his latest image, if indeed, the Person Underneath hasn’t evaporated altogether. Amie, the kid who sat in back of you in the sixth grade, picking his nose and cracking jokes, the one who had a crook in his left shoulder, is lost under successive layers of adopted images: the High School Comedian, the Campus Rebel, James Bond, the Salem Springtime Lover, and so on, each image hitting new highs of sophistication until the person himself doesn’t know who he is. Moreover, he deals with others through this image-extension (Boy-Image meets Girl-Image and consummates Image-Romance). Even if a woman could get beneath this intricate image facade— and it would take months, even years, of a painful, almost, therapeutic relationship—she would be met not with gratitude that she had (painfully) loved the man for his real self, but with shocked repulsion and terror that she had found him out. What he wants instead is The Pepsi-Cola Girl, to smile pleasantly to his Johnny Walker Red in front of a ski-lodge fire.
But, while this reification affects both men and women alike, in the case of women it is profoundly complicated by the forms of sexploitation I have described. Woman is not only an Image, she is the Image of Sex Appeal. The stereotyping of women expands: now there is no longer the excuse of ignorance. Every woman is constantly and explicitly informed on how to “improve” what nature gave her, where to buy the products to do it with, and how to count the calories she should never have eaten—indeed, the “ugly” woman is now so nearly extinct even she is fast becoming “exotic.” The competition becomes frantic, because everyone is now plugged into the same circuit. The current beauty ideal becomes all-pervasive (“Blondes have more fun..
And eroticism becomes erotomania. Stimulated to the limit, it has reached an epidemic level unequalled in history. From every magazine cover, film screen, TV tube, subway sign, jump breasts, legs, shoulders, thighs. Men walk about in a state of constant sexual excitement. Even with the best of intentions, it is difficult to focus on anything else. This bombardment of the senses, in turn, escalates sexual provocation still further: ordinary means of arousal have lost all effect Clothing becomes more provocative: hemlines climb, bras are shed. See-through materials become ordinary. But in all this barrage of erotic stimuli, men themselves are seldom portrayed as erotic objects. Women’s eroticism, as well as men’s, becomes increasingly directed toward women.
One of the internal contradictions of this highly effective propaganda system is to expose to men as well as women the stereotyping process women undergo. Though the idea was to better acquaint women with their feminine role, men who turn on the TV are also treated to the latest in tummy-control, false eyelashes, and floor waxes (Does she… or doesn’t she?). Such a crosscurrent of sexual tease and expose would be enough to make any man hate women, if he didn’t already.
Thus the extension of romanticism through modem media enormously magnified its effects. If before culture maintained male supremacy through Eroticism, Sex Privatization, and the Beauty Ideal, these cultural processes are now almost too effectively carried out: the media are guilty of “overkill.” The regeneration of the women’s movement – at this moment in history may be due to a backfiring, an internal contradiction of our modern cultural indoctrination system. For in its amplification of sex indoctrination, the media have unconsciously exposed the degradation of “femininity.”
In conclusion, I want to add a note about the special difficulties of attacking the sex class system through its means of cultural indoctrination. Sex objects are beautiful. An attack on them can be confused with an attack on beauty itself. Feminists need not get so pious in their efforts that they feel they must flatly deny the beauty of the face on the cover ot Vogue. For this is not the point. The real question is: is the face beautiful in a human way—does it allow for growth and flux and decay, does it express negative as well as positive emotions, does it fall apart without artificial props—or does it falsely imitate the very different beauty of an inanimate object, like wood trying to be metal?
To attack eroticism creates similar problems. Eroticism is exciting. No one wants to get rid of it. Life would be a drab and routine affair without at least that spark. That’s just the point. Why has all joy and excitement been concentrated, driven into one narrow, difficult-to-find alley of human experience, and all the rest laid waste? When we demand the elimination of eroticism, we mean not the elimination of sexual joy and excitement but its rediffusion over—there’s plenty to go around, it increases with use—the spectrum of our lives.