Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Transformation of Intimacy

Sexuality, Love, & Eroticism in Modern Societies
By Anthony Giddens

Chapters 1: Everyday Experiments, Relationships, Sexuality

Giddens starts out this chapter with a somewhat disturbing story from the novel Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes. The “protagonist” Graham, a married man falls in love with another woman, Ann, whom he puts on a pedestal and nearly expects perfection from especially in terms of her sexual history. When he learns of her not-so-pure past, particularly with his best friend Jack, he goes mad and homicidal/suicidal. Graham could not stand that he had no control over Ann's sexual history but also knew that it was a ridiculous expectation. From this story Giddens continues with the "slut vs the pure and innocent woman" conversation and other traditional or stereotypical gender binaries that also still come up today.
He talks about studies that others have done regarding sex and relationships which highlight many of the things discussed in Louisa Allen's article "Girls want Sex, Boys want Love." He then hits on heterosexuality and homosexuality and findings from Doctor Kinsey's research.

This first chapter was not new information to me mainly because I've read similar articles in my other classes such as Human Sexuality, Gender & Sexuality, etc. But also I think this information has been out for a long time. The book was written in 1992 and while a lot of what he was talking about was probably new at the time, now 15 years later, I think things have changed a great deal (which is a good thing.)

Chapter 2: Foucault on Sexuality

This was an interesting chapter because Giddens was somewhat critical of Foucault and he brought up some good points. He summarizes Foucault's The History of Sexuality and the issues of early sexual repression, which may not have been repression at all but actually obsession. He also talks about Foucault's emphasis on power but is critical of this because Foucault does not touch on Love at all, which Giddens sees as important and rightly so, I think. He talks about the importance of sex and the changes it's undergone in the past century. These changes have greatly benefited women since Victorian times that looked at sex as a very un-pleasurable and painful thing just for their husband and in order to have children. Thanks to the research of Freud, Kinsey, and Masters & Johnson women were finally allowed pleasure and orgasms.

Giddens also talks about his term "plastic sexuality" which he describes as "de-centered sexuality, freed from the needs of reproduction"(2) thanks to birth control and the following socialization of sex. "Mass media and a host of other factors"(29) have subverted the traditional values of the family and religious views of sexual relations. One thing he said which really made sense to me but also made me sad was the focus on the body, sexuality, and self identity. I thought it was especially interesting when he said that hysteria was replaced by eating disorders in women. Then at the end of this chapter, he concluded with a statement that we often confront in class: "We have not yet reached a stage in which heterosexuality is accepted as only one taste among others..." (34) and not the standard of all human sexuality.

Chapter 3: Romantic Love and Other Attachments

In this chapter Giddens discussed several types of love and pays close attention to passionate love (amour passion) or the expression of "generic connection between love and sexual attachment." (37) He describes passionate love as a "more or less universal phenomenon." (38) And I was wondering if he thought that passionate love could ever eventually turn into romantic love. I surely think it can and does. This chapter reminded me of the Love Triangle Theory which was developed by the psychologist Robert Sternberg. In this theory love is broken into three categories intimacy, passion, and commitment. According to Sternberg the perfect relationship would consist of all three of these categories.

But back to Giddens, who gives another brief history of marriages and relationships. In "pre-modern" Europe it was very common for most marriages to take place for economic compatibility and benefits, in these relationships there was little or no intimate or sexual connection and husband often strayed to prostitutes or mistresses. Then in the late 18th century Romantic love took its place, romance novels had their hay-day, and the "love at first sight" became a popular term. I thought it was interesting that there was "avid consumption of romantic novels and stories" which produced passivity.(44) I think this still holds true today but rather chick flicks and romantic comedies have replaced romance novels (they're pretty much the same thing.) Many of the things he commented on also reminded me of Disney "princess" films such as Beauty and The Beast, where the timid woman tames the aloof and reckless man who ends up falling in love with her. Ahhh, Fairy Tales.

Chapter 4: Love, Commitment and The Pure Relationship

In this chapter Giddens begins by analyzing research done by Sharon Thompson in the late 1980s on 150 diverse teenagers. I thought this was particularly interesting when she said how the girls were so open about sex and could talk forever about it. This does not surprise me but I like when she said it was a result rehearsing these conversations for hours with their friends. Why is it so common for women to talk for hours on end about sex and relationships?

Giddens talks about "quest-romance" the difference of virginity for women and men, the pursuit of a long term relationship (more common in women than men.) I thought it was interesting that many of the women interviewed about marriage didn't want to end up in the same situation as their mothers. (I can actually share those sentiments.) I thought it was also very interesting that so many looked at marriage as a step towards autonomy. It not so much autonomy as it is a denial or autonomy, a way of justifying there independence from their parents while still actually depending on another person. While there's nothing wrong with that, it's a little sad that so many people see it as a step towards true independence.

One last thing that I think Giddens needed to look into more a deeper investigation of male view points. He said that men "tended to be 'specialists in love' only in respect of the techniques of seduction or conquest." (60) I can see this holding true for some men but I have many friends that struggle with all realms of sexuality and relationships. When he said "men want status among other men..." (60) I felt like he was tending towards male stereotypes which leads to issues of masculinity and the men's movement.


Kira Price said...

You touched on one of the parts of this reading that intrigued me the most-- feeling marriage is a way to find true independence. I think that this is a huge problem in our society. We spend so much of our lives (I would even argue almost all of our lives) depending on other people or things to keep us entertained or feel comforted or, just NOT alone. We are constantly looking for new relationships (romantic or not), talking on cell phones, listening to music, etc. We are hardly okay with actually being truly ALONE. And maybe what I'm saying isn't about being autonomous in relationships...but I'm just bringing up the point that the problem is much bigger than independence within a relationship. It's maybe just about our daily, mundane habits that prove we really are dependent on a lot of things-- even though we pretend we're not.

hannahb said...

I was interested in many of the same aspects of the text that you brought up in your post--eating disorders replacing hysteria, explanations of the history of different kinds of love, modern views about marriage/relationships in Ch. 4. As I read this chapter, I wondered how it fits in with Kipnis. I think that the idea that marriage will make you whole/autonomous/a real adult/somehow magically fulfilled is a real problem, and the stories in this chapter illustrate that. It seems that "confluent love" is similar to what Kipnis is advocating--a contingent love that is highly connected with mutual sexual pleasure. I was wondering how to categorize the kind of love that the teenage girls referenced at the beginning of the chapter were dealing with. I think that, if not then, certainly now, there's a discourse that combines ideas from romantic love with confluent love. Do others think these ideas can be combined? (there are obvious contradictions in ideas about commitment, but beyond that?) What are the problems and/or potentials from intermingling of romantic love and confluent love ideas?

the amateur feminist said...

Thanks for an awesome summary of both text and personal reflections. Although this book states a lot of general themes that as WS majors, most of us already know, I still think it's a very useful book. He did mention that he wants the book to be accessible to anyone who happens to pick it up. Like we've mentioned before in class, there are all types of books for all types of readers out there. I wish we could've started out with this book earlier in the course.

Laura D. said...

I too was interested in Giddens' point on independence/dependence within a marriage in chapter 4. In today's society, it is more uncommon for females and males to transfer directly from living in their parent's home to being married and living with their spouse, though it still does happen. I wonder what Giddens would say on this particular "modern relationship" issue. I also was interested in your point about romantic comedy "chick flick" movies replacing romance novels. I agree that both the movies and books appeal to many women (and men) as an escape from reality. Giddens writes, "The individual sought in fantasy what was denied in the ordinary world" (44). To what extent these viewers/readers then hope/expect similar situations in their own lives may present a problem in many relationships. However, one cannot deny there is an audience for both this genre of both books and movies.