Being powerless is scary: confronting the delusions of the romance narrative trap


Over the last few weeks a good friend and I have been having this recurring conversation about attachment and intimacy. We have both been struggling with attachment issues arising in different situations. She says needs intimacy but doesn’t know how to pick which situations are worth her energy. She will meet someone and think they have a connection, only to find that person ambivalent, or find herself in the reverse situation, withdrawing from a love interest who has become too needy. Sound familiar? Just more of the ins and outs of the romance narrative trap, right?

We have been going over and over various factors in this conversation, and listing our limited options: look for someone who is…, learn to be single better, etc – when it occurred to me that maybe our biggest problem is that we think we actually have more control (or should have) than we really do. “That’s a scary thought,” my friend replied, “How do you navigate romance if you have no control?”

Really, with these ‘matters of the heart’ we don’t really have much control, do we? We can’t control who we like or how they will respond to us – our control is very limited to small gestures and behavior… It’s kind of like steering an inner-tube down a river. You never know who you will bump into or whether you can stay connected for very long… or what debris you will encounter along the way.

“So is the bottom line that you should just accept the lack of control in romance and let yourself be swept down the river?” – That’s up to you, but given the lack of control, is it not a bit futile to gesticulate wildly at the current? “Very futile.” And we do seem to strain ourselves going over and over our very limited options… but lack of control is so hard to accept that we get caught up in the minutiae all the same.

This was starting to look rather bleak: “What that means is even though I’m putting time and energy (and getting caught up) in situations I maybe shouldn’t, there is no point trying to do anything to change the pattern, as I really don’t have any control over stuff.” Well, you only (mostly) have control over how you react to the powerlessness… which is your pattern. It is hard to face sometimes, especially if you’re someone with slightly neurotic over-thinking tendencies, but while some things can be relatively self-determined, a lot of the time in life things just happen to us and all we really get to choose is how we react.

“Being powerless is scary, people never care enough about me for it to feel okay.” For you to feel safe? “Yeah… seems that the only person in the end who fully cares about my well-being is me.” Well.. we are all the centre of our own universes – so that makes sense – for everyone…

“It would mean that if you want to be looked after by another person you’d have to accept that they won’t always care about you.” They may not – and they will definitely die at some point too. “Another truth!” Yup – it’s the dirty truth about attachment – and why Buddhists say it’s the root of all suffering… which it kind of is… but is also pretty integral to life. “Maybe life shouldn’t be totally without suffering.” Well, if it should be, we’re all doing it wrong – these are all things that are we are better off learning to accept – over and over – acceptance is a practice, not a one-off event. it’s like emotional breathing. “Emotional breathing?” It’s a metaphor. “Oh”…

Advertisements

The invisible closet: The hidden politics of bisexuality

The invisible closet: The hidden politics of bisexuality

“Bisexuals are greedy,” a friend once told me back in highschool, “They should just make up their minds.” Her statement didn’t make any sense to me at the time, I was just on the verge of identifying as bisexual, but nobody knew that just then, and now most people still don’t, but there doesn’t seem to be any point in coming out when no body I care about would really care… or is there? Apart from female bisexuality being the focus of gratuitous heterosexual fetish, bisexuality is largely invisible and invisible things are easy to ignore and difficult to talk about, which is probably why there are thousands of bisexual women seeking out internet forums, confessing to the ether of cyberspace their similar stories.

Many of these women are living what appear to be heterosexual lives but something is missing, they fall in love with their best friends but are unable to tell anyone. Telling friends could ruin a friendship, telling their husbands could ruin a marriage. Being public could mean being exposed to judgement. Many of these women are socially isolated, and have no connection to queer community, so the internet is the only safe space to express their hidden sexual identities, desires and the overwhelming longing that many of them share.

Often bisexuality isn’t taken seriously. Mainstream society doesn’t know quite where to place it, other than in heterosexual fantasy or some quirky marginal category. Bisexuals often experience discrimination from within the queer community, sometimes resulting from the ease at which they can ‘fit in’ to heterosexual society. Male bisexuality, not often being the subject of heterosexual fantasy and is more subjected to homophobia. Bisexual men are often regarded as a myth, and are seen to be in some transitional period between thinking they’re straight and realising they’re gay. The New York Times recently ran an article about the scientific quest to prove bisexuality, which demonstrates how marginalised bisexuality is, even compared to homosexuality.

For a lot of bisexual people, both men and women, it’s easier to ‘play straight’ and take on a heterosexual identity, at least publicly. Many still identify with dominant romance narratives about how life and partnership should go: find someone of the opposite sex, get married, have kids, and so on, as one friend of mine expressed: “I’m bi, but I still see myself setting down with a man in the long term because that makes sense for having kids and stuff.” Another friend, a bisexual feminist activist, expressed internal conflict over her identity when she found herself in a long-term committed heterosexual relationship: “I’ve always identified as bisexual, but now it just seems like I’m straight because I’m in this relationship.” She felt alienated from the queer community she had been part of.

Some people resent all identity labels, other people feel more closely connected to other communities and their sexual identity is submerged beneath labels like ‘mother’, ‘artist’, ‘lawyer’ or ethnicity and class related identity. Some people identify as ‘pansexual’ to include all the variances of gender rather than just two. ‘Bisexual’ is just one word to describe sexuality, which can be an intricate, fluid and complex thing. Since Kinsey, scales have been a common tool. People can be positioned or position themselves as a number or location on the scale, somewhere between heterosexual and homosexual. It’s quite simplistic, but it may be impossible to accurately map sexuality that differs from person to person and culture to culture.

‘Coming out’ as bi seems like nothing to shout about. The hesitation comes from questioning whether my sexual identity is private or public. I know some gay men who feel their sexuality is private and everyone assumes they are straight and other gay people who feel like it’s an important political statement – making a marginal group more visible. In recent years a few celebrities like Anna Paquin, Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie have come out as bi in order to make such a statement. I don’t know whether these statements make much of a difference or whether they are just absorbed into the hetero fantasy or marginalised. Many of my historical heroines were bi including Frida kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Mead and Simone de Beauvoir, they were largely inside the invisible closet.

As a bisexual woman, ‘coming out’ is almost a non-event, hence the ‘invisible closet’. I haven’t been trying to hide anything, but no one can tell. Apart from the brief period of my life where I wasn’t attracted to men at all and was in a relationship with a woman, it has been easier for me, like the forum women, to perform a fairly ‘normal’ heterosexual identity, not particularly by choice, but because it is more difficult to swim against the current and because exposing the marginalised ‘personal’ makes us vulnerable. Either way, I will continue to live-out dual sexualities in whatever way makes the most sense to me at the time.

Trying not to hurt someone, and other self-fulfilling prophecies

It is almost the plot of every romantic comedy and about half of all dramas: X knows/thinks/finds out something about Y but doesn’t say anything. Ridiculous things ensue that would never have happened if X was just honest about the situation from the beginning, but hey, then we wouldn’t have a plot, would we? Y eventually finds out and feels betrayed/hurt/angry – and much worse than had the information been effectively communicated in the first place.  We are often careful about what we say to the people we love. Sometimes this is sensible, there’s no need to be an ass, after all, but usually when there’s a real tension, and often insecure attachment, trying not to hurt someone goes beyond politeness into dishonesty and manipulation.  We are actually trying to escape taking responsibility for reality, and we might be deluding ourselves on the road to even more pain and destruction.

trying not to hurt someone walking on eggshells

It is one of life’s great ironies that being well-meaning often leads to making a much bigger mess.  The little wall of dominoes we build up in order to protect people we care about from what we actually think is just waiting to cascade into chaos.  If only things were simple and easy. If only contradictions cancelled themselves out and disappeared in a puff of logic. Most of the time we are not even honest with ourselves. We convince ourselves we are doing the right thing when really, trying not to hurt someone is actually trying not to hurt yourself. No matter how altruistic you think you are, you’re acting in your own self interest and avoiding potential stress/pain/guilt.

Speaking of guilt… what I call guilt-cake is another fear-based self fulfilling prophecy. This is evident in people dieting in a conventional way (or giving up smoking). People start by feeling guilty about their weight and fearing the social/personal stigma and so on. This motivates the restrictive diet. The diet causes stress which causes people to feel bad which causes them to feel entitled to eat cake to feel better. Cake causes more guilt which causes more cake which causes more guilt. Here is a carefully constructed diagram:

guilt-cake

If guilt is a secondary emotion based on fear, as we have been led to believe, then perhaps all this fear stuff is self-fulfilling when left unchecked. This sentiment is expressed by Wait But Why in their post How to Pick Your Life Partner:

Fear is one of the worst possible decision-makers when it comes to picking the right life partner. Unfortunately, the way society is set up, fear starts infecting all kinds of otherwise-rational people, sometimes as early as the mid-twenties. The types of fear our society (and parents, and friends) inflict upon us—fear of being the last single friend, fear of being an older parent, sometimes just fear of being judged or talked about—are the types that lead us to settle for a not-so-great partnership. The irony is that the only rational fear we should feel is the fear of spending the latter two thirds of life unhappily, with the wrong person—the exact fate the fear-driven people risk because they’re trying to be risk-averse.

Of course, it all comes back to fear, so be careful if you’re making decisions out of fear, they may not be the best ones. Human beings are not very good at dealing with fear.  The protection patterns we develop unconsciously through watching our parents and society, as children, are often not very helpful, in fact, they are awfully dysfunctional and account for a lot of what is wrong with this world.  The end.

Oh wait, not the end; there needs to be some advice. Okay, so here’s the thing: be honest if you possibly can. Don’t be an ass, but try not to hide the truth either. If your significant other is really insecure, you’re not doing them any favors by propping up their insecurity with lies and obfuscation. If you can’t work out how to communicate effectively and openly, you may both need therapy.  But really, who am I to judge? I’d just rather not have to cringe at the obvious chain of events leading to relationship train-wreck that comes from trying (too hard) not to hurt someone. Oh yeah, and don’t feel guilty for eating cake. Break the cycle.

How to get over someone

Are you caught in a bad romance narrative? Maybe X has suddenly broken up with you or you really need to break up with her/him… Or perhaps you’ve never even gotten close enough to that lusty bottle-store clerk to even have the chance to go out, let alone break up and yet you can’t get the beer chiller fantasies out of your head. If a crush, unhealthy infatuation, pathological relationship or similar is getting you down or making you crazy, have I got the post for you.

Unhealthy romantic attachments can soak up a lot of time and energy. The drama can be exhilarating, but after a while you might notice you’re stuck on the same roller-coaster and you can’t seem to figure out how to get off. As I discuss in the Romance Narrative Trap, these kinds of things function much like addictions, producing the same neurotransmitters (like dopamine) and activating similar pathways. The patterns that we tend to fall into come from the attachment patterns we learn in childhood. I discuss this in more depth in my post about insecure attachment. The good news is that all these destructive mental patterns can be changed, you just need to change the way you think. The first thing to come to terms with is that you really want to get out of the loop. Then try out some/all of the following advice:

 

1. Get some perspective

Step back from the drama of the romance, to stop sinking my energy into crazy fantasies. Don’t turn into a love zombie, you’re too good for that, and after a while your friends will stop wanting to hear about X and how awesome or horrible they are. Maybe X is your soul-mate, but that’s neither here nor there. In your present life you have other more important shit you could be doing. Do it.

2. Bring it back.

Bring your focus and your energy back to you.  You have been leaching it all over the place and it’s making a mess on the carpet.  I have this mantra which also resembles this 90s song, which ironically has extremely love zombie lyrics if you read the rest of it. Play this song and try to dance like in the music video. Go on.

3. Balance. 

Balance everything – food, sleep, exercise, entertainment, meditation… be calm. Balance out your one preoccupying attachment with X by spending time with other awesome people. Balance out your brain chemistry with lots of hugs from different sources. Don’t rely on any one person/thing to be your opiate. Regular exercise does wonders for the brain. Try going for a stroll in the sunshine (when possible) and eating a salad every day.

4. Get fulfilling creative interests. 

There’s nothing better than fulfilling creative interests. Do something, make something, build on something. This will get your dopamine/reward pathway functioning more healthily because you are being awesome and getting rewarded for it.

5. Learn to meet your own emotional needs.

Easier said than done, but you really are the most qualified person for the job. Be sensitive to your own feelings and figure out what needs aren’t being met – then find more awesome ways to meet those needs.  People who actually have healthy relationships tend to be experts at meeting their own needs, they tend to have good self-esteem and realistic/adaptable expectations.

6. Stop talking about X all the time

Just stop it. stop thinking about it so much, think about cats, cats are nice. Okay, if you can’t stop it, write it all out.  Journal every thought you have and watch how circular it is. Get it out of your head and onto the paper. You can always burn paper.

7. Bring the relationship to its logical conclusion in your mind.

Stop playing white picket fence in your mind and get real, even if X changed and got totally into you the relationship would probably end because… Take off those rose tinted glasses and have a healthy dose of reality. If X fell madly in love with you/told you what you wanted to hear/stopped being a ____ and so on, what would actually happen? Probably in a few months you would get sick of the relationship, X would become too needy, you would out-grow him/her. Face it: if you’re in an unhealthy attachment with someone, the chances are they’re not really the best person for you to be with, anyway.

8. Get Freudian.

Let’s talk about your childhood. There’s nothing like incest to ruin the mood. Most likely, your unhealthy relationship-infatuation patterns come from unresolved childhood attachment patterns. Don’t beat yourself up, its normal to project your mommy/daddy issues onto lovers, its just not a sexy thing to think about. So think about it: what needs were unmet, as a child? Is X like your mum or dad? Maybe a sibling? Do you want to punish him/her for mistreating you in the way children react to betrayal? Is X a healthy or unhealthy model for a parent? Either way, it kinda kills the romance buzz, doesn’t it?

9. Resolve the underlying issues:

This is something that can take years of therapy, but is ultimately worthwhile. Basically, if you have unstable foundations (the kind that cause insecure romantic attachments), it won’t do you any good to keep piling bricks up. Your structure will always be wonky unless you take everything down, brick-by-brick, peel back the layers of protection and self-deception, and heal the primal wound.

10. Let Go

To really get over someone and get out of the romance narrative trap you need to let go – over and over. Surrender is a powerful life-skill. My good friend writes the Surrender to the Infinite blog. She has some great posts about letting go of a lover, letting go of Prince Charming, letting go of jealousy and letting go of grudges, among other things one might benefit from letting go of. The wonderful thing about letting go is that it can only do more good than harm. The  unhealthy/unreciprocated attachment you have is hurting you. Letting go won’t get in the way of any future romantic possibilities with X, in fact, it will only make future possibilities more likely because you won’t be so crazy/attached. The tricky thing is, you have to want to let go in order to make everything better and when you are attached you don’t really want to let go, but you can get there, step by step, until it’s not even a big deal anymore, I promise.

The insecure attachment trap

Are you too needy or too aloof in relationships? Are you constantly pulling or pushing, or are you involved with someone else who is? Do you avoid relationships and attachment altogether, or perhaps you are actually happily attached and not prone to these things at all but are occasionally caught wondering about why other people around you keep getting sucked into the insatiable drama of the insecure attachment trap…

Attachment

Attachment is the mother of all suffering, according to Buddhism, but it’s also a pretty necessary part of life that can bring deep fulfillment if you do it right. It is rather self-defeating to get too attached to detachment like those meditation geeks who feel super superior to everyone less enlightened and more pleasure-seeking than themselves. Attachment comes in many forms and the the kind we form to other people can be the most volatile and painful – and also the most wonderful and satisfying. In a close relationship, attachment is a lot like a rope that both people are holding. When the attachment is secure, the rope is not being pushed or pulled much, it can hold some tension or hang there comfortably. When the attachment is insecure, however, it gets to be rather like an emotional tug of war.  Attachment theory comes from the pioneering work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. This is a brief spiel about it that may reflect the original massive texts to a greater or lesser degree.

What is insecure attachment?

Attachment theory looks at the way children develop healthy or unhealthy attachments to their primary care-givers in childhood and how these patterns are transferred into their adult relationships. The following patterns are probably easily recognisable because they are ridiculously common and bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the romance narrative trap one encounters in Hollywood movies and other mass media.  Of course, it is entirely possible you have very secure attachment patterns, but if your emotional needs weren’t met as a child you are likely to fall into one of several categories:

  • anxious–preoccupied (pulling on the rope)
  • dismissive–avoidant (resisting the pull/pushing away)
  • fearful–avoidant (in denial of the existence of ropes and not wanting to hold on in the first place)

Anxious-preoccupied:

“I want to be with you/someone, why don’t you want to be with me? I need you. Please respond to my text. I’m going on Facebook to paste love songs on your wall. Why don’t you love me anymore?”

Anxious-preoccupied people tend to latch on to attachments easily. They are uncomfortable when not in a relationship and are likely to always have at least one person they are infatuated with, involved with or longing for. They experience a high level of anxiety over the other person’s behavior – especially when they feel neglected. They are likely to put the other person up on a pedestal while devaluing themselves. They are consistently preoccupied with the relationship, with circular patterns and anxieties around it and with trying to figure out what kind of action might generate the desired response from the other person. Anxious-preoccupied people tend to attract dismissive-avoidant people – or generate dismissive behavior because they are so over-anxious about the attachment, however, if the other person becomes too attached, an anxious-preoccupied person may flip and become dismissive, then transfer their anxious pattern to someone who is less available. People with this pattern are so afraid of losing or damaging their ties to the other person that they don’t say many of the things they really think. They withhold any information that might threaten the other person’s attachment to them and as such, cannot maintain an open, honest, genuine connection.

Dismissive-avoidant:

“I’m sweet as by myself. This person keeps texting me. Awkward. I don’t need anyone because I’m a super human machine. They probably write books about people like me. What I’m doing is way more important than you.”

Dismissive-avoidant people don’t need relationships at all, apparently. They want to be independent and tend to be quite critical of the people they are involved with. Instead of putting them on a pedestal they relegate them to the lost and found. They consistently put up barriers against the behavior of anxious-preoccupied people, and their aloofness and disdain is likely to generate anxiety in anyone who is attached to them – even people without strong anxious-preoccupied patterns.

Fearful-avoidant

“I hope I don’t have to have a genuine intimate human interaction, it might upset my equilibrium. I’m just going to hide behind this rock.”

Fearful-avoidant people tend to avoid relationships altogether. They are likely to have had primary carers come and go in their childhood and are afraid to form attachments lest the other person disappear. Fearful-avoidant people are not likely to get involved in them and when they do, it takes a lot of work for them to take down their emotional barriers of steel and communicate openly with another person.  When they do form relationships they may slip into either pattern above at various times, but as they are cautious and slow to bond, they may form quite secure attachments in time – they are also likely to be afraid to leave a relationship for fear that they will never have one again.

Secure attachment style

“Relationships are pretty awesome. Being single is pretty awesome. What’s the big deal?”

People with a secure attachment style probably had stable happy attachments in childhood. These people are mythical, like unicorns. You may occasionally stumble across couples who seem radically free from the underlying tensions most ‘normal’ dysfunctional’ relationships have. If you have never seen this, you probably don’t believe it exists, but as a true believer I can tell you that I have witnessed a handful of really good, healthy relationships in my time. Some of these people are lucky enough to have had happy childhoods, others just sort their shit out emotionally, drop their self-protective behavior, and learn to be good at relationships.

The usefulness of knowing

Wherever you stand on the spectrum, it is helpful to have some ideas about these patterns. Putting people in boxes can also come in handy when they are getting out of control and need to be contained. Some people seem to flip between different attachment styles, depending on their situation and the people they are involved with – pulling on the rope creates resistance after all. It is probably possible, with the benefit of greater understanding, to begin to resolve the underlying insecurities and childhood issues that create unhealthy relationship patterns in one’s life, rather than just projecting them onto other people.

What does a really good relationship feel like?

Some people just seem to relationship well, others just don’t. If you’re like me you tend to fall into the latter category. Perhaps you grew up with unhealthy relationship models rather than healthy ones. I mean, if you’ve never really known healthy relationships then how the hell are you supposed to have one? What does a really good relationship even look like?

It doesn’t help that the relationships reflected in mainstream movies and advertising are over-the-top romance narrative traps: nauseatingly can’t-live-without-you, pushing/pulling, roller-coasters, co-dependent drama sagas.  Even a lot of the happily coupled people I know seem to relate in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I sense the undercurrents of subtle power-struggles, dissatisfaction and difficult projections behind their smiles and public hand-holding. Yes, I am paranoid about co-dependency.

After a while I started to wonder if a healthy relationship even exists – or whether it is mythical like unicorns and ideological utopias. Lo and behold, a few years ago I made some new friends, S & P, who have a really awesome relationship. I like to watch them (not in an invasive way) relate to each-other in an easy, friendly way devoid of passive-aggressive currents. When tensions come up they communicate about them – really well. They share creative interests and collaborate on projects but also maintain their own interests. They don’t need to sit next to each-other at parties but genuinely enjoy each-other’s company. It’s lovely.

Knowing S & P has helped break some of the my underlying negative assumptions about relationships. When one day I repeated the much-used phrase that “all relationships are hard work”, they casually disagreed with me, leaving me with the impression that, although life can be challenging, as long as people are self-aware and communicate well, relationships don’t need to be hard work.  I was surprised to learn that S has a hap-hazard relationship history a lot like my own. Eventually she got to a point in her life where she wanted to have a relationship with someone she would want to be with for a long time, so she started imagining what that might be like, which eventually led to her current very-good-relationship. It makes sense, how are we supposed to have good relationships if we don’t even know what they feel like.

Now, I’ve done the ‘write a list’ thing lots of times, listing very particular characteristics of potential partners, but when I heard S stalk about her imagining I was terrified. I don’t really know what I want; I don’t even know what gender I’m supposed to be imagining. S clarified things just the other day as we lay on couches in the sun: “I didn’t think about what the other person would be like,” she said, “I just imagined what it would feel like – what it would be like waking up in the morning next to someone you really want to be with for a very long time.” As I stretched out on the sun-warmed sofa it seemed obvious that she was talking about the very same feeling – basking in the sun – on an emotionally intimate level. So that settles it: a really good relationship feels like warm sunshine.

The feminism of submission: food, sex and blogging

A friend recently told me that she has been taking a submissive role in her relationship with a man, not just sexually, but in-general. Normally she would want to be in-charge of everything, but lately she has chosen to concentrate on certain things, which happen to be ‘traditionally’ feminine things – cooking etc. On a camping trip she was able to let go of a lot of the decision making. She let him decide where to put the tent and focused instead on what foods they were going to eat on the trip. She sometimes liked to kneel next to him as he sat in a chair and felt comfortable and safe.  She said she felt good but was worried that what she was doing was anti-feminist or that other people might think she was in some kind of abusive relationship. I wasn’t worried. I wouldn’t be phased if the gender roles were reversed in this situation either, although that might be far less common.  Cooking isn’t necessarily submissive, but there is a feeling among some women that we always have to be in control, that we have to do everything and that we have to be responsible: we must be dominant in order to accommodate for the oppression of our gender.  In my friend’s case, letting go was possible because she felt safe and empowered enough to do so.

Perhaps submission is the wrong word here, but I want to acknowledge the power of giving up responsibility in the same way that Hegel’s master-slave dialectic argues that the slave has power because without the slave the master would not be a master. Although, I’m also not talking about slavery, just the power-dynamic of dominance and submission. This Penny Red post is an interesting read, exploring gender sexuality and submission. She makes some good points:

At no point, however, has anyone implied that men who want to be sexually dominated by women also want to be dominated by them socially and economically. Quite the opposite, if the long history of powerful men paying poor women to beat them up in backrooms is anything to go by. Apparently, though, a few smutty books about naughty professors wielding handcuffs are meant to prove that modern ‘working women’ (sic.) aren’t really as into all this liberation schtick as we make out.

She is talking, of course, about the media frenzy around the popularity of Shades of Grey and Twilight – books that have dominant, controlling male characters and female characters who are insatiably, irrevocably in-love with them.  Penny scorns the notion that these books are a reflection of modern woman’s secret desire to surrender the burden of their responsibilities. I’m unconvinced. But then again, I would believe that men with sub kinks are also escaping into a fantasy land where they don’t need to be responsible all the time. Being responsible is hard work.  They don’t really want women to control their lives (and neither do psychologically-healthy women really want a Christian Grey or Edward Cullen to decide what they’re going to wear) but a fantasy is a fantasy. Escape is escape.

Another friend of mine who is into BDSM type stuff argued that kink is something that can and should be relegated to the bedroom. She is particularly freaked out by dom-sub relationships that extend past sex games and into day-to-day relationships, particularly by her ex boyfriend who is in his thirties and has an eighteen year old sub with a learning disability who has to ask permission to leave the house. Ick!

To me the difference seems obvious between healthy relationships with secure attachments where submission in particular areas (from either party) is an active choice, and push-pull manipulative relationships where one partner is clearly in control of the other one.  For the record, I’m not especially kinky (hence having to ask other people about it) but I think woman and men can both healthily express their submission and dominance in various areas of life, taking into account the feelings of the other people they’re affecting and communicating effectively. Maybe I’m naive. I think it’s possible, I believe in a feminism of submission as well as one of dominance because I need to let go sometimes.  Letting go is a luxury and maybe it’s a privilege reserved for those who are already empowered in their lives.

A couple of years ago I was doing my Masters looking at the Weston A. Price Foundation and food blogs. The research sparked interesting discussions on my research blog and Sandra’s blog Letters from Wetville surrounding the gendered politics of food blogging. Almost all food blogs are run by women and there are also countless other craft blogs etc focused on ‘traditionally’ feminine past-times. The question was raised: are we food-blogging because of some underlying socialisation or is it a coincidence that the things we happen to be interested in are girly-type things? It’s a question that we never really could answer but it did raise a whole lot of other questions around social pressures, femininity and blogging.

Despite the first friend I mentioned taking on the ‘traditional’ task of cooking, food isn’t exclusively a feminine domain.  In the higher echelons it’s almost entirely male-dominated. Watching NZ Masterchef last night (my yoga teacher’s husband is in the top two) I noticed that the ten top New Zealand Chefs invited to lunch were all men, as are the three judges of the show, although many contestants are women. There’s an example of vertical gender occupational segregation if ever I saw one – food bloggers are generally unpaid, although some manage to etch out a living through ads or score a cook book deal like our locally raised Emma Galloway of My Darling Lemon Thyme.  It is worse than unfortunate that the kinds of food-work that women do are largely unpaid and it is a clear demonstration of why we still need feminism.

I don’t mean to get Utopian but it would be nice to live in a world where healthy submission was always possible because everyone is equal enough and empowered enough to feel safe in letting go of responsibilities sometimes. It would be nice if we didn’t even have to talk about whether cooking and food-blogging is undermining feminism.  It would be nice to see female sexuality portrayed as belonging to women and not represented almost entirely in relation to men.  To quote Penny again (because she’s so quotable):

Female sexual autonomy itself is what’s really unorthodox today. Agency and self-determination, the right to own our own desire – those are the kind of forbidden fantasies women across the world still pant over in private, unable to pronounce for fear of being slut-shamed. As Rousseau might put it : “Whether the woman shares the man’s desires or not, whether or not she is willing to satisfy them…the appearance of correct behavior must be among women’s duties.”