“When we talk about love between people we call it romantic love, but I would rather call it sexual love, since I conceptualize it not primarily as an idea but as something we do, a human power and practice that has consequences”, Anna Jónasdóttír explains.
Professor of Gender Studies at the Centre for Feminist Social Studies, Örebro University (Sweden) and co-director of GEXcel (see blogroll) Jónasdóttír is now leading for the latter the research theme “Love in our time – A question for feminism”, aiming to investigate the apparently growing interest in love as a “serious subject”.
She is a pioneer on the issue. Her interest towards love, in fact, began in 1980 when attempting to explain why patriarchy still dominates contemporary western societies that are characterized by formal gender equality and women’s relative economic independence.
As many feminists, she used Marx’s historical materialism as a method of social analysis, sure as she was (and still is) not only that historical feminist analysis of contemporary societies have much to gain from studying it but also that practically all who had dealt with him before “have run into an impasse resulting either from work fixation –in social feminist theory- or violence fixation –in radical feminist theory, lacking of ‘an essential’ identification of the socio-sexual relationship and a specific creative activity generated in and occurring in this relationship involving a power over the use and control of which certain group of people struggle”, all elements “without which no sex-gender specific structure can be understood.
This power, that she does not equate with dominance or oppression but instead defines as an exploitable capacity, is none other than what she called love power, “a socio-sexual capacity of human beings to make and remake ‘their’ kind, not only in the procreation and socialization of children but also in the creation and recreation of adult people as socio-sexual individuated and personified existences”.
In the same way capitalist derives its force from exploitation and accumulation of the creative power of labour, “men” derive their authority from exploitation of women’s socio-sexual capacities, their love power (heterosexual relationships are the main focus of this approach not as the only valid ones but as the dominant form of sexual organization affecting, as such, also people engaging other forms of sexual encounters).
In this picture marriage, a central link between the state and society, is seen as a parallel to the role of private property in class relations. Just as the worker is not forced in the direct sense of the term to enter any exploitative labour contract with the capitalist but, if he or she refuses will have problems satisfying basic needs, “women” continue to give themselves to “men” because they need what they are allowed to do in the intimate coupleship. An important factor to take into account is the different legitimacy “women” and “men” have in being able to experience erotic ecstasy and to give care, the two constitutive components of love power.
“Typically, in the predominant form of man-woman meetings the first one is ‘forced’ to commit him/herself to loving care -so that the other can be able to experience ecstasy. For ‘women’ it’s not equally legitimate to practice ecstasy as a self-directed and self-assured sexual person, who, in doing so, needs men’s caring”. Legitimate access to and practice of ecstatic experiences, Jónasdóttír says, seems to be a precondition for dignity and worthiness in contemporary western societies, and in our social and political system men are in position of control which allow them to access to this kind of empowerment while most women are not.
Power, though, can serve not only destruction but also creation. “Love in our time – a Question for Feminism” aims to investigate what seems a changing attitude toward love as a significant subject in its own right not only in the traditional fields of literature, philosophy and the arts but also in interdisciplinary fields such as social sciences, politics and religion (where it is mainly defined as passion), gender studies or neuroscience. And, of course, in the media.
To understand the reasons of this interest and why now are two of the goals of Jónasdóttír’s research, even if she does see a possible economic interest behind it, which could be resumed with “love is easy to sell”. What she is positive about is that this is a chance for feminists to study love not only as an ideological means to use or constrain women like it has been until now but also as a creative power “that can be used for good or for bad”. How can it be used as a creative power? First of all, “The awareness of the complexity is, of course, one step, but also women need to continue working together in collective movement and with profeminist men”.
To find out how love is defined and dealt with in different fields or whether non-feminists approaches to love theory are connected with existing feminist love theories we will have to wait until the research theme’s final conference, which will be held in December.