I read Love & War as the living embodiment of the wide-eyed emoji. I could hear Amber Ruskin saying What! in my head over and over again. It sounds funny, but this bit of non-fiction is anything but.
In Love & War, author Tom Digby writes about how militarism and cultural programming forms the foundation of sexuality and romance between heterosexuals. It’s not flattering. It’s actually pretty frightening. But his argument is logical, even if you’ve never thought about the battle of the sexes as being so blatantly informed by military connotations. It’s pretty complicated and worth a read because I can’t possibly communicate all the things that bowled me over, although I desperately want to.
Digby writes a lot about how we need to start thinking critically about our cultural assumptions regarding heterosexual romance. “We need to identify, describe and explain how our culture programs into us the beliefs, preferences, and desires from which our experiences of love and sexuality flow.”
At the moment, the flow is pretty scary. Digby points out that there are perils associated with love. We act as if love is the only thing that will save us, but on the contrary side, love, even on TV, is portrayed as having potentially violent consequences. Men who claim to love their partners sometimes kill them.
Digby makes the argument that heterosexual adversity is especially common in societies that are or have been war reliant. Communities that are not war reliant have fewer heterosexual adversarial issues.
“…If a society is militaristic, it must make some of its members into warriors—the people who do the fighting. It would seem smart for militaristic societies to pick the biggest, strongest, meanest people to be warriors, regardless of whether they are men or women, but that’s almost never what they do. Instead, they want the men and only the men to play the role of warrior, and they start preparing them for that role as boys…”
This is for two reasons: men are taught to become tough and unfeeling so that they will have the capacity to kill and have less empathy for their enemies, and women are protected because should the society need to be repopulated, they are more necessary as they are uniquely qualified to bear children.
Men call men pussies or bitches if they show any weakness, using female terms as insults. This reinforces disrespect of women and at the same time reminds men that women are weak and need to be controlled and protected.
“To say that a man is womanly … is the most profound insult that can be hurled at men, precisely because they buy into the profound stigmatization of women that is inherent in misogyny. To be deemed a girl or woman is not only a sign of failure as a man, it is a sign of having fallen to a status that is implicitly understood to be profoundly inferior.”
He also writes of examples of how disrespecting women increases the amount of respect men get from other men.
Frighteningly, cultural changes like Me Too and Times Up may in some cases ramp up tension between the sexes and lead to increased violence against women.
Digby uses the example of a woman in the military who was killed by her husband, who was also in the military. “She exemplified how women’s lives and our cultural ideas of womanhood are changing, in the direction of women having more power over their lives.”
It didn’t matter. She got killed by her husband anyway. The fact is, women’s lives are changing more than mens’. And some men are not taking it well.
“It’s not to say that manhood is not changing at all. And many of the ways it is changing are causally related to changes in women’s lives. The problem is that some of the ways manhood is changing are not at all complementary to the ways womanhood is changing. Indeed, some of the ways manhood is changing are actually creating more difficulties for heterosexual relationships.”
Some of the ways manhood is changing (generalities, of course):
Fewer men than women are graduating from high school, college, and graduate school. Men are returning to the idealistic, chick flick concept of romance and love, while women are rejecting this as anything but a pleasant fantasy. There is a growing segment of the porn industry that focuses on the humiliation, degradation and emotional abuse of women, which men watch in groups. Fun right?
Men are realizing the old system worked really well for them, and even nice guys are turning to old ideas of romantic love in order to convince women to marry them or continue long relationships. But women are realizing this is not such a great deal for them.
Digby quotes a letter from suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton from 1860: “Women’s degradation is in man’s idea of his sexual rights. Our religion, laws, customs, are all founded on the belief that woman was made for man.”
And now that women are bucking that concept? Well. How it all turns out remains to be seen.