29 de abril de 2014

Romantic Love from a Queer perspective. Coral Herrera


-          How do we build our loving culture?

o   The social construction of romantic love: laws, institutions, gender roles, patriarchal hierarchies, tags, inequality, discrimination.
o   Cultural construction of romantic love: myths, traditions, stereotypes, beliefs.
o   Our loving model in our Patriarchal Romanticism.

-          The romantic postmodern utopia. Individualism and collective goals.

o   Media Naranja Myth
o   Love forever myth
o   Wedding for love Myth
o   Omnipotence  of Love Myth
o   Heterosexuality Myth
o   Monogamy Myth

Gender Myths: Femininity and Masculinity Myths.
o   Good girls/bad girls
o   “Don Juan”, “Prince Charming” and “Alpha Macho” myths.

- Multidisciplinary analysis of two movies (Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing) and a Coca Cola advertising campaign
- Royal Weddings Analysis

- Models of diverse gender identities and relationships.
- Different love is possible. Proposals to make a better world.  Proposals to build good and beautiful relations between us.


Love is not only a human feeling. Animals enjoy loving relations between them and with humans. We have survived as species thanks to love, because we have been able to feel empathy and solidarity, and to care for our children and elderly, help our sick fellows, or any people that we find suffering.

We have a lot of ways to build loving or romantic relationships, and love has been changing as economy, politics and society have changed. Our grandmothers loved in a different way we love now in this 21 century.  Love changes with history, and the laws, the beliefs, the models, the heroes and heroines, and it changes at the same time as societies change.

 Love is a very complex phenomenon: It’s a mix between hormones, enzymes, amphetamines that transform the chemistry and physics of our bodies. When we fall in love, our bodies change, and we live a revolution inside of us. Love makes us usually more handsome, or prettier, because our eyes and hair are brighter, and because our happiness enhances our beauty … it is often contagious. Our behavior changes as well: We get nervous if we are waiting for a phone call, we are a little clumsier and sometimes we say or do things we don´t usually say or do. Love is a personal revolution in our lives, because we generally become very generous and nice when we feel something beautiful … we can make a lot of crazy things like leave our jobs to find a better one, or change our country of residence … we are able to do any kind of mad and strange things in the name of love.

Love is not only a chemical issue: Love is a social and cultural construction and has an hegemonic ideology in it that is not visible to us. We think that love is an universal feeling, but the way we love each other is not the same … we love according to our religions, our socioeconomic class, the education we have received, our age, the country where we were born, the language we speak, the gender we identify with.
Our societies are based on systems that are essentially unequal: The traditional division of gender roles is the principal way to divide us in two opposite human groups, women and men. This discrimination between us has been built to make us think that we are very different and that we must partner with a member of the other group to be completed.

Our societies are based in the model of young, heterosexual couples with children. The laws and the institutions only accept this way of love, and therefore this is the way we organize our homes and communities. We usually do the same as our grandmothers and our mothers: We are born, we grow, we study, we fall in love, we get married, we find a job, we have babies, we have grandsons and granddaughters, and we die.  
The way in which we learn to love, or to be a man or a woman is through culture: Songs, tales, films, novels, TV movies and series, magazines, etc. All these narratives offer us a map of how to build our identity and feelings. These myths give us models that we can imitate, the stories that show us the conflicts we are going to face in our adult lives, and the way we can overcome them.
For example, let’s think about Cinderella’s tale: She was a poor girl and she wanted a change in her life, because she was not happy at home, and she didn’t like her work cleaning the smokestack. She could have changed her life by herself. She could have studied, look for another job, share house with her best friends, and live happily being a self-sufficient woman.

But what she did was … to wait. She waited and complained about her life. She waited for another person to rescue her. And what happened was just that: One day, Prince Charming Showed up at her house, she tried to fit her foot in the magical shoe brought by the Prince, and she won! So the Prince took her to his beautiful palace and she live happily for the rest of her days.

She didn´t have to do anything but wait. She waited as Snow White did, or as Belle did as well, she had to wait for a hundred years for her Prince Charming.
So what we learn when we are little girls is just that it is not necessary to make changes in our lives. All we have to do is to stay at home and wait for our rescuer.

Our loving culture is based on patriarchal and capitalist ideology. That is why our society allows the marriage to be between only two persons. In some countries you can only get married with a person from the opposite sex, and the way we stay together is in a monogamous system.  We love people as if they were our private property, that is why we say things like: “my husband”, “my lover”, “my wife”, “my fiancée”.
We have a strict model of love. It is the couple formed by two adults of the same age that want to build a traditional family. All the people that love in ways other than the previously mentioned suffer a lot because they are not free to love, and they have to hide their feelings and their sexual orientation. In some countries you can be killed if you love a person of your same gender, so there is a lot of people that have to renounce to their love story if they want to be accepted in their community.  

Although love should be a fundamental human right, in our planet we have strict rules about who we should love, how to love, when, why and how much should we love. There are a lot of ways to love and to build relations, but we only accept one model: Barbie and Ken, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie … couples idealized by media and mythologized by our culture.

If you don´t love in that way, you can be punished by your community (they will look at you as if you were sick o crazy, or as if you have become a deviant monster). You can also be punished by the laws of your country if you live in places were non-traditional types of loving are aberrations, sins, or crimes.


Love is the new collective religion. The postmodern act of faith believes that romantic love is our great goal in life. Almost all of us think that love make us happier: We don’t love love by itself, but because of all the promises it brings us, such as happiness, harmony, stability, security, protection, abundance, plenitude, self-realization, etc.

This is one of our problems: We don’t love the love in itself, because love is a means to obtain all these other things. We are not generous loving someone because we expect a lot of things from love: we want for love to be as easy, as eternal, as perfect,  as it was created. That is why we suffer so much trying to live the dream of love.

Love is an utopia because we don´t enjoy it by itself, we idealize love because we think we will be rescued. We dream with the idea that we are not going to be alone any more, that we are going to be happy, we are not going to have problems, and everything is going to be okay.

Love is a postmodern utopia because it is sold as a paradise full of promises, because it make us feel very alive. It is a magical experience, so we live it as if it were a spiritual transcendence that allow us to contact with eternity, with THE life and with THE death.

 Love is also the only personal revolution we do in our lives. We can leave everything and change our lives in the name of love, we feel that the doors are opened, that we can do everything, that it is possible to enjoy life.

Love is comprised by a very strong group of myths. We believe in these myths as we believe in Santa Claus, the aliens, the ghosts, or the elves. We think we are free to love, but the real thing is that our society obligates us to find a person of the opposite sex, and get married to have babies that will grow and will do the same: look for a mate, get married, and have babies, for ever and ever, amen.

Love is like anesthesia… that is very useful to keep us under control, each one of use dreaming with our custom-made paradise. We desire the goals society wants for us, they only have to sell us these goals with a lot of pink magic and beautiful myths.

Love is a globalized dream, an entertainment, and it is very useful to avoid reality, to get lost in beautiful worlds, to escape from real world with blue princes or pink princesses …
Love is useful in order to be accepted in our society. If you love the right person, you will have a big fiesta and everybody will be happy because you are “normal” and you are “right”. If you don´t love under these parameters, if you love a married person, a prisoner, someone too young or too old, someone of your same sex… if you love two people, if you stay single … if you don´t obey patriarchal morality or you break with traditions, you will be punished by the institutions, the laws and the leaders of our society.  
Love is the last bastion of patriarchy because when we form a couple, we assume all the myths, stereotypes, rituals and the traditional division of gender roles. And we assumed them without thinking in all the patriarchal ideology that is inside the tales, the films, the songs …

Love is an utopia that makes us very unhappy because we feel that we have failed if we haven´t find our true love. Most people are very frustrated when they can´t find real princes, or if their relationships are not as happy as they would want. Most of relationships make us suffer a lot: It is not easy to build equal relationships, because women and men hung onto their gender roles and privileges and we don´t have a lot of alternatives.

On the other hand, there is a lot of people that have found love but they can´t live it because it’s forbidden.
Everybody suffers because of love, but we prefer to be in love with love, and we don’t love people as they are, but as we would like for them to be. We inherit traditional loving structures instead of building new ones, we hang on myths and romantic dreams, but having a look at the divorce statistic, it is clear that love is not forever. That is why we should try to change the reasons why we suffer so much. One of the main causes of romantic suffering is because the relationships based on domination and submission, on inequality, on sexism rule. I propose that we connect with real people with love, but not through myths.

This loving utopia is very individualistic because it is based on the idea that everyone has to solve their own problems and that social transformation is not possible. So everybody has to think only about individual solutions, not in social solutions.
I think, however, that love is a very wonderful solution for all of our problems: Xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination…  
o   Media Naranja Myth
o   Love forever myth
o   Wedding for love Myth
o   Omnipotence of Love Myth
o   Heterosexuality Myth
o   Monogamy Myth

Gender Myths: Femininity and Masculinity Myths.
o   Good girls/bad girls
o   “Don Juan”, “Prince Charming” and Alpha Male” myths.

Myths are human constructions used to explain world around. Frequently, Plato and Aristotle used myths to explain their theories, because when there wasn´t a scientific method, myths were the only way humans had to talk about real and fantastic worlds.
 Myths are narratives that are used as models, as ways to explain and face the problems, as examples to overcome fears. They give us heroes and heroines, and ways to solve conflicts. Myths give us emotional maps, behavioral models, and ways to get what we need or we want.

The most important Myth in our loving culture is “… and they lived happily for ever and ever”.
But consider this: Nobody tells us about what happened to Cinderella, Snow White or Bella after they married. As this is the most important day of their lives, there is no more to tell about the lives of these princesses. We don´t know if they were had real happy lives in their palaces because the tale always ends with the wedding. They don’t want us to think about marriage and the problems that people may encounter in the real world, so it’s better for us to imagine that these princes with their princesses lived very happily together, without problems forever.

All of our cultural and media productions are based in this myth of patriarchal romanticism: Women are happy when they find their perfect man, and when they fall in love and they go to live in a very big palace with all her needs and wishes fulfilled. She might be alone, but the myth is there to assure that she is very happy and that this she is living a very beautiful and romantic life.  
This myth has a lot of consequences for us and especially for women. The happy endings from Hollywood have contributed a lot to expand all over the world the idea that the wedding day is the happiest days of our lives. Thank to this happy ending, women dedicate so much time and energy to be beautiful to find her Prince Charming. This is a quite enslaving type of deal, because we usually adopt gender roles to find our romantic love, we give up our freedom, we make ourselves into idealized little girls and by doing so we lose our power. It is a dangerous deal because we think that when we are in love we must forget ourselves and only think in the other person´s welfare.


We are educated to be loved. Before we are born, everybody labels us in a way that defines us based on gender, ethnicity, language, religion, social class, etc.

If we are girls, we are going to learn that men have the power and that we need men to be safe and secure. We usually grow thinking that we are inferior to men, because they can climb trees or cross rivers, and we are not able to do it because we are weak and faint. We admire men because they are the great writers, presidents, scientists, sportsmen, or businessmen, we study at school what men do in history, and we don´t have a lot of positive models of women that have done great discoveries or achievements.

Our self-esteem is negatively affected because we think that we need to be loved by a man in order to be complete. Our adults teach us that women are vulnerable “by nature”, so for us it’s very difficult to trust ourselves.  We can´t be adults and are not able to make decisions because we are always like little girls, babies, and sweethearts. 

That is how we fall into victimization: We think that we mustn´t  use or show our power, we learn it´s better to seem unable to do things independently. We have learned from other women that only if we are pretty we will get what we need or what we want.  If you are very pretty, you can be chosen by a prince or a rich man. And that is why we idealize love: Because we think love will rescue us, and because we think men are stronger than us …


In our culture, women are divided in two groups: The good girl or the bad girl.
Good girls are usually blonde, happy at home or at a palace. Good girls are obedient, submissive, always happy, and don’t have their own dreams beyond marriage. They are self-sacrificing, generous, live in abnegation, and care for their husbands, sons and daughters.

Good women don’t think about their careers or their own personal goals. Good women are happy cleaning, cooking, looking after the grandmother or the grandfather, or caring for sick members in the family. Good women live to love, live to dedicate their time and energies to the house and to the members of the family. Good women know that they belong to their husbands, and they are happy being housewives, although nobody tell women that that is very hard work because women must work without perceiving a salary and without paid holidays. Women’s work is essential to keep things running in our society, but it is the worst paid and the worst valued job in the world.

Good women don’t live to enjoy life, but to make others enjoy their lives, to make life easier for others but never for themselves.


Bad women are the models that society created to show women what happens to girls when they are not obedient. Our culture is full of representations about this idea that bad women are free and brave to make decisions for themselves. This kind of woman is always painted as a monster: siren, harpy, hyena, evil, snake, witch, vamp, etc.

Since the beginnings of patriarchy, men have been condition to dislike free-thinking and acting women. That is why in their narratives, bad women always find death, or are punished in different ways: nobody talk them in her community, or become indigent, or they get sick forever, or live alone forever.
“Bad women” are penalized because they chose to be like the bad example: That is perfect to teach good girls to try to be good because with these examples, we learn that being a bad girl has a terrible impact in our lives.

We are told that we have to avoid bad girls because they are selfish, false, and addicted to lying. Bad girls are greedy, insatiable, disobedient, perfidious, manipulators, treacherous and deceitful, unreliable, irrational, wild, and sometimes crazy.

Their power is dangerous because it can destroy our patriarchal system Bad women don’t want to be mothers. In all of our tales, bad women try to destroy men with their beauty and charms, so they can make love with them, but will never get married. Men learn in these tales that they have to defend themselves from bad women. Bad women are only there to be sexually exploited until they find a good woman.
Bad women are dangerous because if you fall in love with them, your life is going to be a disaster … patriarchy teaches us that free women will direct and control a man’s life if he’s not strong enough.

Bad women can be very attractive, but they do whatever they want with you. Men learn in these stories that they can only get married to good, blonde, obedient girls. Good women love strong men and they prefer to be dominated, so they don’t cause problems. Good girls never ask questions, good girls don’t protest.
Bad women are idealized in our culture, but they are always sacrificed. They pay a very high price for their freedom, and for their disobedience to the patriarchal system. In these tales, bad women have to apologize for their behavior, they ask for forgiveness to their sins. They must show that they are sorry and that they can be forgiven only if they promise that they’d become a good girl.



- Avoid anything that sounds/looks feminine
-Need to differentiate from the rest
-Practice emotional restraint
-Must bear social pressure to be active and aggressive
-Show always bravery and courage, and hide fear
-Must be competitive and successful
-Must mask their feelings and keep their emotions in check
-Must be the main breadwinner.

The four assertions that define hegemonic virility can be subsumed into: “Don´t be a sissy, don´t be a baby, don´t be gay”.
-You have to be important and successful
-You must be a strong man
-You must send everybody to hell
-You must respect hierarchies and laws

Men educated in patriarchal culture don’t give so much importance to love. They learn that they have to be powerful and that they must hide their feelings. They don’t learn how to manage their emotions because they never learn the language of feelings, and they are not allowed to show what they feel, so they can’t express themselves when they have problems.

Men are educated to be the kings of their homes, and they always will defend their freedom and their spaces because they don’t want to be dependent. They need to feel that they don’t need women and that they are not going to be dominated by any woman.

That is why it’s so difficult for men to have equal relations with women: They have to live pretending not to care about women. And feelings and emotions are supposed to be our issues, not theirs.

So the boys educated according to patriarchal values, grow with a lot of fear about women and feelings: they learn that they must dominate both, be always the winner in all gender and loving battles.
Men submit to their gender roles to feel secure, they must always show that they are the macho, and try to be the best at sports, business, etc. Men suffer quite a bit trying to obey their gender obligations, because patriarchy is violent. Masculine identity is built around violence, strength, and domination. They have to eliminate a part of themselves to be a macho man … and they don’t have the tools to talk about their feelings, which make them feel disconnected from themselves.

I think it is very important to give visibility to the new men that are breaking with patriarchal stereotypes, myths, and roles from hegemonic virility. The good news is that there are so many groups of men that are fighting against gender violence, sexism, and machismo. They are deconstructing their masculinities, and inventing other models of being a man in this XXI century, and I think that their work is so good and so needed.


In my doctoral thesis I analyzed three different stereotypes of patriarchal masculinities: Don Juan, Prince Charming, and the Alpha Macho.

Don Juan is a myth that was born in Spain many centuries ago. Don Juan is a man that builds his masculinity according to the number of his sexual conquests. He is a hunter, and his virility is enhanced as he accumulates “trophies”. He very much enjoys good women like nuns, young virgins, or devoted wives because he want to laugh at their husbands and parents. Loving a woman was a way to joke for Don Juan, and to dare another man. Don Juan never stays with the same woman. He only makes love to her and goes away. He never makes love to the same woman again.

Don Juan visits many beds, but he finally surrenders when he meets Doña Inés. She is the only woman in the world that can help him become a good man, overcome his promiscuity, to be faithful, to love eternally and unconditionally.

That is why a lot of us fall in love with promiscuous boys and we pretend to change our lover as Doña Inés did. A very big mistake …
Prince Charming is not as Don Juan, because charming princes always get married to you. He is the solution to poverty, family problems, personal lacks, missery. He liberates you to be enclosed in his big and luxurious palace, alone but very happy. Princes Charming are very similar among them, and they have all the virtues together: They are good people, generous, strong, healthy, sensitive, hard working, nice, cultivated, rich, handsome, funny, responsible, mature, intelligent, sincere, active, etc.

Prince Charming exists in our reality: Guillermo from England, Felipe from Spain, Philippe de Monaco … they are princes of blue blood that have chosen plebeian women to get married to. So anyone of us can be, by luck, the queen of an European country any day …

The last one is the Alpha Macho in action: That kind of man that never goes to the toilet, never sleeps, never has a rest, never needs to eat, never needs a shower or a hug. Alpha Macho men are so strong that they appear to be like robots, machines, super men with super powers.
Alpha Machos never feel fear, and don’t mind death or pain. They have a very big mission, more important than their own lives. They have to save us from aliens, mafias, terrorists, dragons, orcs, monsters, etc. So they are martyrs, because they are the Big Rescuers.

An Alpha Male is a very lonely person, but our role in that kind of movies is to discover his little heart and show him that he can love us, that he is able to rely on us, to express his feelings. We usually ask them for protection, and sometimes we are so clumsy that they have to put their mission and their lives in danger because of us.
I think it is because women usually wear high heels that they can’t run to save their own lives, and we don’t wear appropriate clothing to be in the jungle like the Alpha Male …

PRETTY WOMAN: Pretty woman is Cinderella. She is a sex worker that wants to change her life, but she doesn´t know how. One day appears in her life Richard Gere, her Blue Prince. He will show her to be a dame, and she will become a respectable woman to get a place in his life and his heart. She leaves her work and she won: he comes to rescue her in a white and long limousine, and he goes to look for her as Romeo went to look for Juliet. He buys a very big bouquet of roses, and asks her to be his wife. It’s the perfect romantic dream, but there are not many Richard Geres in the world.
2)      DIRTY DANCING: is based on the tale of the ugly duckling that becomes a charm swan when he discovers his power and beauty. In this film, the boy is poor and she is rich. He will teach her to dance and to rely on herself, he will teach him that love doesn´t know about socio-economic classes, and that rich people are not bad. He becomes a woman thanks to him, and he leaves his job as sex worker because he meets with real and truenlove.
3)      COCA COLA: There are reasons to believe.
This spot shows us that one of the reasons to believe in change is love. You only have to find someone that loves you unconditionally, and your life would be easier and full of happiness and goods. The world can be at war, but it doesn´t matter if you have found your lover, because love is going to take you to a beautiful paradise. You will feel that you are going to be happy if you forget the wars, the poverty, the violence, the injustices of the world, and you concentrate on your happy mate.


We all have the right to be loved and to love, and romantic love is political. Love has political, economical, social, and religious dimensions.

The personal is political, and we have to realize that we have a problem with this loving culture based on a patriarchal model, because all of us suffer with love issues. First, because at school we don´t have emotional education. They talk to us about sexuality, pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, but nobody talks us about love, or teaches us how to manage our emotions, or helps us to learn how to build egalitarian and healthy loving relationships.

We can only learn about love reading romantic novels or watching films with happy endings in which love is idealized as the perfect union between people of different sexes that don´t want to be alone and need to be complemented by a person of the other sex.
 I think it is very important to begin to talk about feelings and emotions in forums, congresses, conferences, assemblies …  we must change our individualistic utopia and work for a better world where we can build relations not based on benefits.

We need love without patriarchal myths, roles, or stereotypes. We need a love that can eliminate social phobias like homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, xenophobia, and hate speeches against human collectives.
Another ways of loving are possible, and we have to build a more loving world. I think that we have to join to work together to build new ways of relations.

These are a few proposals to work and discuss about it:
-Let’s de-patriarchyze emotions and feelings
-Love is not suffering. Love is not pain and frustration. Love is joyfulness and generate in people positive and beautiful feelings.
- Extend concept of “love”: It’s better to love anybody than to love only one person. We are not alone, we must enjoy life with the people that love us and those that we love: friends, parents, etc.
- Create social networks of affection and solidarity in our towns, our streets, our colleges.
-Understand that our loving culture is the best way to transform it.
-Eliminate social phobias, inequality, and discrimination with love.
-Build beautiful and equal relationships based on freedom and not on our needs.
-Stop relationships based upon domination or mutual dependency.
-Avoid selfishness, fears, and negative emotions when we are in love. Love can be enjoyed because it is a positive emotion, and it is a great energy that moves the whole planet.

So let us think that love can’t be illegal, and that we can improve our affections and relationships with a larger concept of love, beyond labels and things that separate and discriminate us.

Other ways of loving are possible, and we should invent different ways to suffer less, and enjoy more!                                                                                                                             

Coral Herrera Gómez

I gave this conference at Women´s Studies Department at Kansas State University on 1 May 2014.

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