Love is often explored through philosophical and psychological frameworks. That is to say, we ask, “What is love?” to inquire about its nature and to determine how it manifests in our thinking and behaviour. Love is also generally relegated to an individualized realm of understanding; we fail to examine the phenomenon as a cultural, political force. Seldom does public discourse question the function of love in grander structures.
Academics and scholars concerned with feminist theory and women’s history have investigated love in relation to culture and politics. Thinkers like Valerie Solanas, Shulamith Firestone, and Camille Paglia have explored the phenomenon in terms of its metaphysical nature and material effects.
Love is not a neutral force—it functions as a commodity, a weapon wielded unconsciously in the political realm to advance male culture at the expense of female flourishing.
Solanas argues that the male inability to love drives their creativity through the act of compensation. Men create a culture in which they “solve the dilemma […] of not being female” by constructing a world in which they heroize themselves. “Great Art” and “culture” are manifestations of male insecurity brought about by their inability to reckon with the force of love.
What were women doing while men created masterpieces? Firestone delves deeper into this question, accepting but not focusing on the obvious answers: “women were barred from culture, exploited in their role as mother,” or the reverse, “women had no need for paintings since they created children.” Psychoanalytic feminism further argues all humans have a drive to create, but where women can fulfill this drive internally through childbirth, men seek external fulfillment through work and subduing the female force they envy. Firestone argues women were preoccupied with love.
Yet in and of itself, love is not destructive. Firestone makes it clear that it is the factor of the unequal power balance in a relationship that makes love destructive. It appears to me that when men dominate culture and politics, love renders women vulnerable. This results in the continuation of a cycle in which male culture advances, sustaining itself with the energy milked from female care.
Men are entirely reliant on female care to flourish. The time spent developing their culture is possible solely because of the relegation of the female to the private sphere—somebody must tend to the house and children, performing unpaid labour to maintain both, so that the male can contribute to his public sphere. The classic dynamic of the breadwinning husband and stay-at-home wife embodies this.
Paglia says love and hate are not opposite elements. Rather, they are parts of a continuum of passion—there is either more of it or less of it. When Firestone argues the difference in love between women and men, in which women have more of it, she concludes this is a potential reason for women’s universal contempt for men. Following both lines of thinking, it seems to me that women’s position on the continuum of passion fluctuates depending on the reciprocity they receive from men.
Not only has reciprocity been nearly non-existent, men have turned to actively materializing their hate for women, demonstrated by concerning rises in domestic and sexual violence and femicides. Discourse fueling these acts spreads on TikTok, where men become increasingly comfortable admitting they simply don’t like women and prefer exploiting their sexuality. Some women continue to insist that feminism must include men further—embodying their unrelenting, unreciprocated love—but the fact that others reject this notion exhibits the fluidity of their place on the continuum (and upsets male hysterics).
At some level, love is human—the average person needs a caring community for self-actualization. That said, the sexed nature of the manifestation of love suggests it might be time for women to change course, to reject the male culture, and prioritize advancing a new female one.