Thursday, November 15, 2007

A romantic feminism? Really?

This just doesn't fit my experience:

New research shows feminism and romance go hand-in-hand, with egalitarian men and women enjoying better intimate relationships than the new breed of young men and women who dismiss the pioneer movement as unfashionable.

So I tried to do a little research on the research. It wasn't easy as the academic paper hasn't been released to the general public. I can, though, suggest three reasons to doubt the findings.

The first concerns possible bias. The study was undertaken by a feminist academic, Laurie Rudman, and published in a feminist journal. Rudman had conducted previous research showing that women often shied away from feminism because they thought it harmed romantic relationships. This is the political context for Rudman's "makeover" of feminism; if women can be persuaded that feminism is good for romance, they will more readily embrace it. So are we dealing with "advocacy" research?

The second reason for doubt is that other research has reached different conclusions. For instance, I reported in April on a major study which found that women were, on average, happier in traditional, gender-based marriages, partly because such marriages were generally more "expressive" (the husbands put more "emotion work" into such relationships):

Men who are married to more traditional-minded women ... are more likely to devote themselves to spending quality time with their wives.

... adherence to traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender seems to be tied not only to global marital happiness but also - suprisingly enough - to expressive patterns of marriage ...

women's gender role liberalism ... [is] associated with lower levels of women's happiness with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands.

Finally, it's not enough to look at individual relationships. There are no guarantees in individual relationships - it is, of course, true that there will be feminist partners with better relationships than many more traditional couples.

But what is the overall influence of feminism on society? Does feminism generally encourage stable, committed, romantic relationships between men and women?

I don't think so. I remember being at uni at the height of third-wave feminism in the mid-1990s. It was striking how little interaction there was between male and female students, let alone signs of affection. It was romantically cold.

It was noticeable too how popular music changed in the 1990s. The love ballad gave way to more aggressively sexual songs and music videos.

There was a change, too, from the older custom of dating, to one of more casual "hook ups". This was lamented just a couple of weeks ago by Andrea Burns in a Herald Sun column:

THE date is dead. Time of death? Some point between candlelit dinners and "you can come along if you want to".

But sadly the esteemed tradition of dating is a thing of the past ...

Try to lock in the average bloke for a date and you might as well try to pin down a shadow.

It's a shame because the perfect date is something many women fantasise about ...

If we are not careful we'll have spent the entire courting process boozed and wake up at 35 with a baby and some dude we picked up in a bar.

And what is the situation in Sweden, the home of feminism? A recent article on relationships there noted that Stockholm is the world's divorce capital; that marriage is becoming increasingly rare; and that the Swedish preference for IKEA style disposable consumer goods mirrors the easy, commitment free attitude to relationships.

So it will take more than Laurie Rudman's research paper to persuade me to change my mind on this issue. I remain sceptical that feminism is good for romance.


  1. That's gotta be the most idiotic thesis in the world. I do believe you've brought up the point before that feminists are more likely to take selfish attitudes and analyse every action of the other partner for signs of "oppression". And then they wonder why the phone doesn't ring after.

  2. Elijah, one of the posts I wrote on that theme is here.

    It contrasts the "gift giving" style of traditional marriage to the "account keeping" style of modern liberal/feminist marriage.

  3. Stockholm is the worlds divorce capital!! That's interesting, i don't know about this research but it does seem like the results were already mapped out before the research was completed.

    Either way, speaking for myself, i'm interested in ball-busting women, if i wanted a 'partner' i'd start a business or something.