Friday, January 11, 2013

The Feminist and the Cowboy

Rod Dreher has been following the saga of Alisa Valdez, who wrote a book about a northeastern feminist (herself) who fell in love with an unreconstructed cowboy:
The cowboy is 6 feet 2 inches tall with a cleft chin, strong jaw, and well-formed lips (“mama said meow”). He could buy all his accessories in a Brooklyn men’s shop, but he doesn’t have to because he’s the real thing, a real rancher in a real cowboy hat who herds real cattle and wears his faded Wranglers so well that they turn the heads of the gay couples at the hipster bar where they go on their first date (back when [the author] still believed it was OK for the woman to pick the location of a date). Our heroine’s attraction to him—that is, the animal attraction of a trash-talking feminist who grew up in a Marxist, Barbie-free household to this … this … caveman, this brute with a pickup truck and a gun rack who watches Fox News and eats steak—comes as an unwelcome surprise to her at first. She wonders: Aren’t all conservatives “stupid! Or evil!”? Shouldn’t a good feminist only be into guys in tweed suits who recycle? Isn’t it a liberal sin to be turned on by big, strong, leathery, tanned hands? But then she turns to Google and realizes that science and biology are on the side of her libido. Feminism may have covered our eyes with its “dreary shroud of lies,” but nature knows the truth, which is that men and women are different. After that, the revelations come fast: “We are the vessel. They are the elixir and the funnel. We are the earth. They are the plough and seed. They give, we take. We open, they enter.” [The author], like all womankind, was “programmed, sexually and emotionally, to get excited by a man who took charge.” Her first night at the ranch, Al Green on the radio, the “angels sang arias” and “the earth moved.” She would tell you more details about that night, but the cowboy has forbidden it.
But how quickly things change: Between the time the book was finished and when it appeared on the shelves, the cowboy revealed that he was an abusive jerk and threw the author out:
while I set out to write a memoir that was a love letter to a man I was deeply in love with, a man who challenged me in myriad ways, a man who changed my life profoundly, a man I respected and honored greatly at the time, what I actually wrote was a handbook for women on how to fall in love with a manipulative, controlling, abusive narcissist. The fascinating thing about the release of the book, for me, has been just how many reviewers have seen what I failed to see when I wrote the book: That the cowboy was controlling and abusive. I simply never saw it then.
As Dreher says, the publishers are probably kicking themselves for ever entering into a deal with the obviously unstable Valdez.


pootrsox said...

I think both you and the reviewer you're citing are being unfair.

Sometimes it takes a very long time for the scales to fall from one's eyes so that one can see one's abuser in his *or* her true colors.

A strong physical attraction, magnified by powerfully moving sex, can blind a person to the other, less positive elements in a partner.

It's quite possible that Valdez really was in love w/ the cowboy through the time the book was sold, and only afterwards began to perceive what was true all along: he was an abusive manipulator.

It does take time! In fact, though I knew that my marriage was dead at least a decade before I left it (for reasons having nothing to do w/ him or me and everything to do with money for our daughter's education), I did not know *why* it was dead. Only after I got some physical distance added to the emotional distance did I see that he was an emotionally abusive man.

If I had written a book in the first several years of our marriage, I'd have waxed poetic describing things that were, in fact, classic examples of that emotional abuse rather than romantic moments.

What I don't know, and the links you provided don't say, is when the publisher started to stonewall the author... did she try to get control of the text back to amend it? Or was she venal enough to hope she got rich?

If the latter, it seems odd that she'd have been blogging all along about the changes in her feelings for the cowboy.

There's a lot to this story not covered in the reviews you cite. Since I have no desire to read the book (never did, for that matter), I doubt I'll find anything to back up either your contention that she's emotionally unstable or my contention that sometimes one has to fall out of love before one realizes what was wrong with the relationship... and that's not unstable or venal or anything else but human.

(Odd, though... perhaps the first time I've not found your take on something to have meaning for me.)

Unknown said...

At the risk of being insensitive, I'd be surprised if the kerfuffle between author and publisher hurts sales. Not that I think Valdes did all this on purpose. But, as they say, no such thing as bad publicity. How many will now buy the book so they can play where's Waldo with the man's abusive traits? And then there will be the follow-up recovery memoir . . . After all, it looks like this book was being marketed as a breathless love letter, not a how-to manual for a durable relationship.

One thing that does bother me is the stereotyped personal-style coding that Valdes engages in. Surely there are plenty of abusive guys in tweed--as anyone who's been to an academic conference can tell you--and lots of non-abusive real cowboys.

John said...

Pootrsox, I did not really comment on this piece because I was just passing along something that a lot of others are commenting on. It just struck me as interesting, and perhaps that was cold. I actually have a lot to say about such matters.

I am personally allergic to being told what to me, and just the thought of entering a relationship with a controlling person raises my hackles. One of my relations once started to date a man who was, she said, very nice and treated her like a lady. But when she brought him over to our house, my wife and I took an immediate dislike to him. It only took us 20 minutes to figure out he was a narcissist who thought he was always right and would never tolerate his woman disagreeing with him, and would take over more and more of her life because she could never make choices to his satisfaction.

It took her a month to realize what we saw right away. So maybe I am not sufficiently sensitive to the problems of perception involved in this sort of thing.

That so many women (and some men) enter relationships without seeing clearly what they are doing speaks to me of deep flaws in our society. It makes me think that we are too much alone. We need love because we depend so much on having a lover to keep us from feeling lonely and empty and all that, which leads some people to crave the interest taken in them by a controller. Also,that too many people make these decisions effectively alone, without getting enough input from a network of supportive friends.

And these stories are yet more proof that human sexuality is a complete catastrophe.

Unknown said...

Why should it speak of deep flaws in our society? It strikes me as both historically and humanly very typical. People want what they want, whether it's good for them or not. It's no good pretending that we can figure out some trick (giving people more social company, or giving families more say in their choices, etc.) for convincing them to avoid something we think isn't good for them, when they're very likely to want it anyway--or even more if we keep them from it. They have to figure this stuff out for themselves.

John said...

Do we really have to figure relationships out for ourselves? I guess that has been my experience, and that of my friends, but is it inevitable? Is there not sort of support system that would clue us in to approaching disaster? This strikes me as an important question, but I don't know the answer.

Anonymous said...

John I think you're right. Past generations had more social networks than we do today, and were more likely to meet people that had been vetted, if you will, by friends, church and social organizations. The author met the cowboy online and drove four hours each way to stay with him at his isolated ranch every weekend, which seems insane to me. The only info she had about him was his online profile, and what he told her. The fact that he was 53 years old, never married, totally isolated, and did not own his own home should have been a big red flag. (He did not own the ranch, but worked there in exchange for room and board and a stipend.)

There is a good book called "Bowling Alone" by Robert D. Putnam about the disintegration of social structures in America and how we have become more detached and in some cases less empathetic than we used to be.