Revolutions of the Heart: Gender, Power, and the Delusions of Love

By Wendy Langford | Go to book overview

2


ROMANTIC TRANSFORMATIONS

Chapter 1 we examined some contradictory perspectives on the romantic ideal. On the one hand, love is often portrayed as a rebellious, spiritualised, erotic passion which enables the individual to transcend the limitations of mundane existence and gain a happier and more meaningful life; love, in short, is the expression of freedom itself. On the other hand, critics argue that the experience of romantic love is a delusion which, far from providing an escape from unsatisfactory life conditions, actually helps to bring them into being. This view has been most clearly articulated by feminists, who have viewed women as tragically misguided in their attempts to ‘realise themselves’ through falling in love. Such endeavours serve only to limit women’s freedom and channel their energies into the reproduction of a patriarchal social order. Researchers and theorists offer one predominant approach to reconciling these contradictory claims; the couple is constructed as a site of social progress, implying the increasing redundancy of feminist critiques. In particular, it is claimed that a ‘democratisation’ of the private sphere means that love is no longer limited by external constraints; lovers are now free to negotiate the terms of their own relationships. This means that if the ‘subject of love’ is not happy with the terms of her ‘love contract’, she can simply tear it up and pursue her heart’s desire elsewhere. No one has claimed that the couple never was a site of social coercion, merely that love ‘no longer serves any political ends’ (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995:172).

Having considered the democratisation thesis, along with evidence which may seem to support it, we concluded that it is unconvincing. It may be true that love relationships no longer involve formal rituals of deference. It may also be true that secularisation, along with legal and social reforms, gives an appearance of greater individual freedom. Certainly, it is increasingly difficult to observe the workings of power. However, this is no reason to conclude that the egalitarian ideal has finally been realised. What if it was never only, or even predominantly, the existence of institutionalised inequalities which prevented love relationships from being conducted in a humane and equitable manner? What if love itself is not, and never was, ‘innocent’? What if love takes particular forms, determined by our conditioning, which in themselves bring particular

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Revolutions of the Heart: Gender, Power, and the Delusions of Love
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Government by Love 1
  • 2 - Romantic Transformations 23
  • 3 - Analysing Love 42
  • 4 - Everybody’s Mummy 64
  • 5 - The Daughter’s Submission 89
  • 6 - Dialectics of Love 114
  • 7 - Misguided Revolutions 141
  • Appendix 154
  • Bibliography 158
  • Index 164
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