I don’t think I was aware of Alisa Valdes before. She wrote a memoir, The Feminist and the Cowboy: an Unlikely Romance. Sounds potentially good, in a way – she teaches him to understand that women aren’t lesser beings, he teaches her to appreciate horses and bad coffee. Culture clash made fun; meeting cute; oddly-matched couple models the potential for mutual broadening of horizons.
Yes but that’s not the plot. The plot is that she
falls in love with a cowboy who teaches her to reconnect with her “femininity” — and to never talk back, open her own car door or walk on the street side of the sidewalk.
Erm. That’s not a good plot. I dislike that plot. Throw that plot away and start over.
Well she has, kind of, but that’s because it turned out – surprise, surprise! – that the kind of guy who teaches a woman never to talk back ends up abusing her.
The book, which features a cover image of a woman’s bare legs tossed high with a cowboy hat perched atop one foot, has been heavily marketed to the anti-feminist crowd, even earning a plug from Christina Hoff Sommers, who called it a “riveting tale about how a brilliant, strong-minded woman liberated herself from a dreary, male-bashing, reality-denying feminism.”
But now the author, Alisa Valdes, a prolific romance novelist, alleges that the man who taught her to “submit,” and to enjoy it, turned out — after she wrote this love letter of a book about him — to be an abuser.
Has anyone called Christina Hoff Sommers for a comment?
It’s not that she’s entirely changed her mind, though. She considers herself a “Difference Feminist” (i.e., she sees men and women as having equal worth but as “not being necessarily the same or having the same abilities in all things”), and maintains that the cowboy helped her “to embrace my own female-ness in a way I had been trained to subsume.” She ended the email with a nod to her alleged abuser, “As the cowboy often said, there is the way things are, and there is the way we would like for things to be,” she tells me. “The only one that matters, ultimately, is how things are. We might not like it, and it might not be fair, but that doesn’t make any of it less true.”
That doesn’t make any of what less true? Feminism isn’t a truth-claim. Feminism isn’t an assertion that women and men are the same. Feminism is a moral commitment. Moral commitments depend on the idea – they are the idea – that “how things are” in the social world is not necessarily how things should be or how they have to be. The idea of equal rights, of equality, of human rights, does not depend on any claims of exact sameness. It does depend on a core of sameness, of an entity that has some sort of need for rights and equality; it rules out stones and daffodils and steam as rights-bearing entities; but it does not depend on sameness all the way down. The cowboy’s wisdom is bullshit. In the social realm, the difference between the way things are and the way we would like things to be is one way of describing the whole idea of reform, aka progress. That can lead to wishful thinking, yes, but that doesn’t mean it just is wishful thinking.