Sunday, March 03, 2013

Cristina Nehring and the defense of rape culture

I like Joe Nocera's work and he's tracking gun violence, an important issue. I followed a link from there to Slate's gun-death tally. But then I got off-track when I followed a link that Slate counts as "viral" - something called "My Father Died Suddenly. He Was Just Starting a New Life" by Cristina Nehring. The article is basically what it says, but I found it difficult to focus on the rest of piece after I got to the fifth paragraph:
Wolfgang Nehring was a scholar and a gentleman, a stoic and a romantic, a handsome devil who kidnapped the woman he loved out of the home of her boyfriend in 1964 and married her immediately thereafter.
I tried to continue but so many questions popped up. Is the kidnapped woman the author's mother? I didn't see anything to confirm this in the article. Does she literally  mean "kidnapped" as in Wolfgang Nehring forcibly removed the woman from her boyfriend's home? Did they know each other before this, and if so, how well? Did they have a relationship prior to the one with the boyfriend? What did the woman think of this situation? Was she being abused by the boyfriend and Cristina Nehring's father was a rescuer? Where were the woman's parents?

But if the author didn't mean "kidnapped" why didn't she just say "eloped"? If you're going to accuse your father of something that is at the present time known as "bride kidnapping" and considered a sex crime, shouldn't you at least try to explain, to make your father seem like less of a rapist?

I was ready to write this off as the author being excessively dramatic or careless about wording, until I discovered something in the author by-line - a link to Nehring's book on Amazon entitled "A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century" which is described thusly:
In the twenty-first century, political correctness, cynicism, prag-matism, and the commodification of sex have reduced romantic love to a discredited myth or a recreational sport—"a cause for embarrassment," says Cristina Nehring. In A Vindication of Love, Nehring wrests romantic love from the clutches of retrograde feminists and cutting-edge capitalists, thrill-seeking convenience shoppers and safe-sex moralists. With help from lovers ranging from Heloise and Abelard to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Nehring celebrates the wild, irreverent, and uncompromising models of love we have inherited—as she rediscovers romantic love's fearless and heroic provenance, and challenges readers to demand partnerships that fully engage body, heart, and mind.
In a review of the book The New Republic says:
Nehring addresses her book to women. She thinks that it is women in particular who need to hear her message, because she has an unusual diagnosis of the reasons for today’s risk-averse living. Bypassing such plausible causes as pervasive human anxiety, the desire to control the uncontrollable, the felt need to surmount mortality and the limits of the body, she pins the whole thing on--fanfare of operatic trumpets!--feminism. Feminism is to blame for women’s rejection of romantic love because, says Nehring, feminism asks women to be always rational and always in control, rejecting the romantic emotions as sources of low status or even of servitude. Moreover, feminism urges us to see love in contractual terms, and that sort of calculation is incompatible with real passion.

And Andrea Dworkin, as always is used to represent the evil face of feminism. Dworkin (whom I was related to by marriage once upon a time) died in 2005, and her political hey-day was in the 1980s, but anti-feminists never tired of exhuming her in order to beat her up some more.

What's interesting about the reviews is that the reviewers tend to be baffled about what Nehring is really trying to say. They find her confused and her arguments confusing:
But, says Nehring, love thrives on inequality. Here, of course, we have the two-theses problem. The first says, wisely, that real love should be prepared to overcome inequalities of power, class, and station. (That is the plot of more or less every Victorian novel.) The second says, foolishly, that real love requires inequality of power, class, and station. So confused is Nehring at this point that she interprets Pride and Prejudice as confirmation of her second thesis rather than her first: it shows, she says, that people always eroticize class difference and would never love people of similar station.
I would suggest that the confusion is there for a good reason. I know I am engaging in armchair psychology here, but I suspect that the real reason for all this feminist bashing and promoting the idea that "real love requires inequality" comes from Nehring defending her father. To speculate further: all her life Nehring has been told that the father she loves, when he was a young man, kidnapped a woman from her boyfriend's home and then immediately after married her. And it was always presented to Nehring as something perfectly acceptable, even admirable - something charming that her father, the scholar, gentleman, stoic, romantic,  handsome devil would do. But one day, maybe in college, Nehring recounted her father's heroics to someone and rather than agreeing with Nehring that her father was a lovable rouge instead recoiled at the story and suggested to poor Cristina that perhaps her father was a rapist, or at the very least a grotesque thug.

How could somebody suggest such a thing about Cristina's father? Cristina looked around for the enemy and found them - feminists! Only feminists would turn something so romantic into a cautionary tale about male dominance!

And thus did Cristina begin her lifelong quest to rescue her father's reputation - nay - to rescue Love Itself from the dastardly clutches of those equality-mongering feminists.

Maybe I should try to be more sympathetic towards Nehring. She has had to live with the knowledge that her university professor father was some kind of thug or rapist all her life. I don't know what that's like. My father, in spite of his Catholicism and Republicanism had a fundamental respect for women that was obvious in all he said and did, and the idea of my father kidnapping a woman is unimaginable. That's not how my father rolled. So I've never had that conflict of an in-bred tradition of the acceptance of rape culture versus the culture at large, heavily influence by feminism, increasingly questioning the right of men to sexually control women.

The idea that men have the right to kidnap or stalk women into romantic submission is the very substrate from which rape culture grows. But Cristina Nehring and defenders of TALLEY'S FOLLY can never acknowledge this. Their nostalgia for tradition, whether family or cultural is too strong for them to ever resolve the conflict. And so people who like TALLEY'S FOLLY will continue to deny the male dominance at the heart of the play, and Nehring will continue to defend gender inequality and rape culture.