Love and liberation: second-wave feminisms and the problem of romantic love Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Payne, Robin Kay-Marie
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Love and Liberation examines second-wave feminist responses to the problem of romantic love as an integral component of their search for gender equality. Second-wave feminists fought for political, economic, and social parity; theorized about the creation of gender roles that bolstered patriarchy; pushed for reproductive and sexual freedom; and expanded the realm of possibilities for women. They also argued that the personal was political and searched for the roots of women's oppression in their personal lives. Politicizing the personal prompted second-wave feminists to consider how matters like sexuality, marriage, and romantic love helped to create and reinforce oppressive gender hierarchies. Turning a critical eye towards such issues, most second-wave feminists saw romantic love as a socially constructed ideal (rather than a universal emotion) that evolved according to contemporary values. Within post-World War II American society and culture, they believed that ideals of romantic love pressured women to seek fulfillment and identity within heterosexual romantic relationships. Romantic love thus rewarded and appeased women for their economic, social, and emotional dependence upon men. But how could second-wave feminists reform ideals of romantic love? To answer that question, I focus on the intellectual, cultural, and personal efforts of second-wave feminists to address the problem of romantic love. Because matters of romantic intimacy were so intensely personal, feminists were often bitterly divided over how to understand romantic love and its impact on women's lives. They also experienced inner turmoil when reconciling their expectations of love with their feminist ideals of reciprocity and equality. They voiced their concerns in myriad intellectual and cultural forums, including theoretical and philosophical tracts, feminist manifestos and pamphlets, popular novels and magazines, professional and private correspondence, and personal diaries and journals. Trying to match theory with practice, many feminists experimented with alternatives to prevailing ideals of heterosexual romantic love, ranging from celibacy, to same-sex unions, to more egalitarian relationships with men. A small, vocal minority of feminists vehemently argued that romantic love would cease to exist in an egalitarian society, but most second-wave feminists were committed to creating new ideals of romantic love based in authenticity and equality.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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