It is funny how the words “love,” “friendship,” and “helping” are such effective vaccines when used by people who dominate others. Such words vaccinate the relationship in question against an appearance of domination. Our current ideology of love seems to contain within it all the spiritual longings and cravings sloughed off by the old communal social forms, namely, religion. Within the dream of love lies a heaven of equality, within which people formerly at odds are believed to be transformed into equals. After all, goes the implicit question, one cannot possibly mistreat someone one loves, can you?
The simple fact of having feelings for someone in no way hinders the projection of damaging fantasies and, in fact, may facilitate it. The more powerless the loved one, the more easily is it turned into a screen for one’s own desires. If this were not so, then why are the two groups of creatures lavished with the most love by Americans, namely pets and babies, also the two groups most prone to abuse? The truth is, effusions of doting affection heaped upon our pets is a direct consequence of these beasts’ lack of a communicative language other than tail movements. “I swear I saw a big grin on Charlie’s face when I let her in,” said one of our bed and breakfast guests regarding our cat. Never has such a bird brained animal stirred up in people such torrents of passionate affection as does Charlie in us. “Hey there fat feet, love bun,” cooed the woman upon seeing Charlie saunter in. With babies as well, our outpourings of affection tend to decrease in proportion to their ability to speak. The existence of love per se in no way implies a deep understanding of the loved object, nor is it dependent on a relation of equality: if anything, the more blank the object, the more manipulable in our hands and imaginations, the easier it is to love.
A woman I know well married an asshole, and under cover of the words “love,” and “marriage,” was given free and absolute license to use her however he pleased, when he pleased. So in its linkage to marriage, “love” has become, in our legal system (or more accurately in the popular culture around the legal system), institutionalized as a vaccine against any whiff of exploitation or abuse. Its protection is not absolute, thank god, and if the abuse crosses certain lines, such as beating, which really signals the fruition of a process of domination, not the beginning, the power of love to protect tyrants disappears. Still, much can be forgiven if the word is invoked skillfully enough, whether by courts, husbands, or beaten women.
After over ten years of being treated like a dog – a loved dog, certainly – this friend rebelled. The asshole was forced to move out. Under pressure from his own pitiful state of emasculated nothingness, without the fig leaf of wife and family, as well as from the judicial system, he relented, agreeing “for love,” to counseling. She took him back. He curbed his most egregious crimes. But he never let go the grudge of her rebellion. On the birthday of the child he was not allowed to see born, he sulks, thinking of nothing but his fragile, wounded ego. He remains, of course, an inveterate woman hater, by which I mean he accepts women in their place, like his mother was, but given an inch of authority he is threatened and hostile.
When my friend found a female counsellor she liked, he could not stand her (not her personality, of course, but her structural transgression, in teaming up with his rebellious wife to tell him the truth from a position of authority) and vetoed the choice. Misogyny, after all, does not imply a thorough and unconditional hatred of all women, or women as a category. Rather, it refers to an inability to accept them in positions of authority. Women who know their place are fine, and are even necessary, both to maintain with their labor the myth of the “self-made man,” and to protect these men against charges of woman hating. “Some of my best friends are women,” he can say, thumbs in his suspenders, and he is not lying. A racist, by the same token, is someone who cannot stand blacks in positions of authority over him, regardless of how well he tips the black waiter or shoeshine boy.
So yes, the asshole loves his wife. He loves her fixing his breakfast, taking care of the house, the kids, the laundry, and most of all, boosting his fragile, humorless masculinity with her subservience. Sure he loves her: this love is the most modern way to give a sheen of legitimacy to relations of personal and social exploitation. His warm feelings in no way negate their real relations of dominance and submission. On the contrary, he is genuinely thankful for all she has given. One is easily moved at the loyalty of a dog. There is nothing easier in this world than for love and domination to mix.