Read Krásnější než láska mužů: Romantické přátelství a láska mezi ženami od renesance po současnost by Lillian Faderman Free Online
Book Title: Krásnější než láska mužů: Romantické přátelství a láska mezi ženami od renesance po současnost|
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The size of the: 5.11 MB
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Reader ratings: 5.9
The author of the book: Lillian Faderman
Edition: One Woman Press
Date of issue: May 29th 2002
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I found this book wholly fascinating and compelling, yet sad. It tells the story of love between women and how perceptions and prejudices have shaped it across the centuries. As it was first published in 1981, the subtitle is no longer accurate. The lesbian-feminist movement of the 1970s is the last trend described and it is salutary to compare this to the situation today. The book begins with the notion of ‘romantic friendship’, which reached its height of popularity in the 18th century. Faderman’s examination of romantic friendship demonstrates powerfully how changeable cultural norms are, in an area (love and sex) often blithely treated as immutable. Certainly, you have the trend today of framing so-called masculine and feminine behaviours as biologically fixed, as challenged in the excellent Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.
A major theme that I felt ran through the book was how sexuality is currently seen as a matter of desire and attraction, rather than behaviour, whereas this has not always been the case. Romantic friendships were a loving behaviour between women which did not tie them to a particular identity, sexual or otherwise. In the 18th century, though, it was widely assumed that none of these romantic friendships could have a sexual aspect, as a) women were assumed to have little or no libido, and b) the men whose writings on the topic have survived did not know how two women could have sex! There is thus a bittersweet tone to the initial chapters on romantic friendship. Undoubtedly their bonds brought a lot of women much joy, companionship, and deep love, however this was within a deeply oppressive patriarchal society. When it became possible for women to be financially independent from men, romantic friendships became suspect.
Thus, the chapters on the 19th century are saddening, as they recount how romantic friendship became pathologised, exoticised, and condemned. Women who had been happily emotionally involved with one another were now treated as sick, in need of psychotherapy, and a threat to family life/the children/society in general. The sexologists, especially Freud, were at the vanguard of this. In short, the patriarchy attempted to ruin the emotional bonds that women had developed in part as a way to survive misogyny. Faderman examines the fictional depictions of women loving women (by then labelled ‘lesbianism’) that promulgated these negative ideas. I was amused by her palpable scorn at the decadent movement’s voyeuristic lesbian stereotyping. For example, ‘The emphasis in most of Verlaine’s other lesbian poems, as in Baudelaire’s, is on sex and sin - but of course the women are always young and lovely and arousing as they shuffle off to hell’.
In Faderman’s opinion, only the feminist movement of the 1970s has been able to rehabilitate love between women. I didn’t previously understand what feminists of that decade meant by lesbian, as it seems to differ significantly from the assumed definition today. Lesbian-feminists of the 1970s apparently made a decision to focus their important emotional relationships (which could be sexual but might not be) on other women. Their lesbianism is thus defined by choice and behaviour, whereas today it is assumed that a lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women whether she likes it or not. In a way, this shifting definition powerfully demonstrates that in the 21st century, there is an assumption of compulsory sexuality. Thus, behaviour is presumed to follow attraction. Lesbians are women who are attracted to women and therefore have sex with them. Whereas Faderman is at pains to point out that romantic friendships seems often to have been sensual, maybe even sexual, but that was by no means the most important thing about them. Love today is so defined by sex. All serious non-familial relationships and emotional attachments are assumed to have a sexual component. I seem to recall that Freud even claimed that all platonic friendships have sexual attraction buried at their core. Freud has a lot to answer for, really. Even as his theories have been academically discredited, their influence on Western popular culture continues.
‘Surpassing the Love of Men’ reminded me that as women in Europe and the US have gained more sexual freedom, this has brought new constraints and novel forms of sexism. The idea of sexuality as being innate, something you’re born with, counters homophobia by denying the possibility of medical rehabilitation. On the other hand, it also tends to exclude the freedom to choose your sexual and emotional behaviours and aims to neatly categorise everyone. I can imagine the hostile confusion that would result today if you came out as a lesbian, on the basis of not wanting emotional relationships with men whether or not you are attracted to them. Women’s bodies are still generally presumed to be sexually available to men. Moreover, any attraction is generally assumed to be sexual, despite the asexual community’s efforts at subdivision (sexual/romantic/sensual elements, etc). And as sexual attraction is treated as the most important and irresistible component of love, non-sexual relationships are deemed unimportant. This is why I felt a sense of loss when reading about romantic friendships. I love my close female friends very much, however none of them are my 'girlfriend', so these relationships are trivialised. In the media, there are very few depictions of female friendships that are recognisable to me. Female characters in films and on TV are so often rivals for a man's interest, rather than having emotional attachments to one another. Since the 18th century women's lives have improved immeasurably, but not without some losses. We still live in a misogynistic world, though I'm well aware that as a white, middle class woman I'm insulated from the worst of it.
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