Wine, Women, and Revolution
The Tragedy of Heterosexuality with Jane Ward
In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather interviews Jane Ward about her book The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. Jane describes herself as an ally of heterosexual women. You could call her book a self help book that hates self help books. In her book, Ms Ward attempts to tackle the underlying causes of pain in heterosexual relationships which she refers to as the heterosexuality paradox. If straight men claim to love women so much, then why do so many of their actions seem to center hating women instead of loving them? She draws inspiration from the lesbian feminist writings of the 70s and 80s and offers a brand new prescription for straightness. In short, the answer is to take a page from lesbians and to honor "the human capacity to desire, fuck, and show respect at the same time.”
Transcript Auto Generated
Jane Ward 0:00
One of the things that became really clear, especially as I was, you know, getting older moving into my 40s was that straight women seemed really miserable in their marriages. They spent a lot of their time complaining about their husbands, there was a lot of divorce happening that was initiated by women. And so I guess I want to reconcile this long standing narrative about how being queer makes for such a difficult life with what seemed to be the reality which is that most queer people I know really love the queer parts of our lives.
Heather Warburton 0:46
This is Wine, Women and Revolution, with your host, Heather Warburton. Hi, and welcome to Wine, Women and Revolution. I'm your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on Create Your Future Productions. You can find us online at www.yourfuturecreator.com Follow us on all the social medias and get us wherever you get your podcasts from. I've been really excited about this interview ever since I booked it. And I booked it kind of a while ago. This is another author that I'm bringing to you guys today. And she had a really interesting concept for a book and I was so excited to talk to her. The book is called The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. And the author is Jane Ward. Welcome to the show, Jane.
Jane Ward 1:28
Thank you so much for having me.
Heather Warburton 1:31
So I guess my first question, as I was reading the book, I wanted to ask Who were you writing this book for? Who is your audience you had in mind?
Jane Ward 1:41
Oh, gosh, that's such a good question. I mean, I, this is my third book. And I am a professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies. And so you know, when you have an academic job, you who you're supposed to be writing for is other scholars. However, one of the beautiful things about being at the later stage of your career having tenure, and all of that is that you can decide, you know, I don't just want to write for other scholars, I want to write for a popular audience, I want more people to have access to my ideas. So this book is published with NYU press. And I have a great editor who was very happy for me to try to write in an accessible way that everyone would be able to understand. And so my hope is that this is a book for people. Anybody who's ever been in a heterosexual relationship, any queer person who wants some affirmation about the beauty of queerness, so pretty much everybody.
Heather Warburton 2:44
Again, I thought you I thought it was interesting that you actually call yourself an ally, to heterosexual people, like you're kind of flipping that script of Usually, people say they're an ally to the LGBTQIA. community. So you're kind of flipping that around in this book.
Jane Ward 3:00
Yes. So that was that was one of the original ideas or like an epiphany that I had. And when I say epiphany, I mean, really just kind of about my own life experience that motivated me to write this book. So you know, on the one hand, we have this story about how it's really difficult to be a member of the LGBT community. And we often, you know, that story gets reflected back at us, many of us when we first come out to our parents or other family members, and, you know, a very common sentiment that's expressed, it's like, well, of course, I love you, but I'm just worried about what this will mean for your life, that you're going to experience a lot of discrimination, it's going to be really difficult.
And so we have this understanding that being gay makes for hard life. And, you know, it wasn't that long ago, just a few decades ago, that that was really amplified that people believed it meant that you were going to be lonely and family-less, and depressed and suicidal and all of this. And so that's one narrative. But the thing is that in my own life, and in the lives of most of my queer friends, there's something about that narrative that just didn't fully ring true, especially in comparison with the experiences of my straight women friends, I you know, I'm now in my 40s. I have a 10 year old. My wife and I have been together for 15 years. And we now have no a lot of straight people because we have a kid and we meet these straight couples through our friends and through our child's school. And one of the things that became really clear, especially as I was, you know, getting older moving into my 40s was that straight women seemed really miserable in their marriages. They spent a lot of their time complaining about their husbands, there was a lot of divorce happening that was initiated by women. And so I guess I wanted to reconcile this long standing narrative about how being queer makes for such a difficult life with what seemed to be the reality, which is that most queer people I know really love the queer parts of our lives. We, at least for me, anyway, and I think a lot of lesbians in particular, feel a lot of relief to have escaped heterosexuality. And heterosexuality often looks pretty miserable to us. And that was a perspective that I just hadn't seen people writing about talking about and I wanted to share it.
Heather Warburton 5:53
Well, yeah, and I think under the capitalist society we live in, people like to, they love the pain narratives, you know, that they never really want to talk about joy. And certainly you don't hear nearly as much as you should about, you know, lesbian joy and gay joy and bisexual joy,
You know, we only focus on this pain aspect. And we really should celebrate, um, you know, the good and, you know, there's a lot of good that comes with it. It's not all pain.
Jane Ward 6:20
Exactly, there's a tremendous, tremendous queer joy. And a lot of that joy isn't just what we do see on television, which is like pride festivals and dancing and like hot sex, I mean, we do get a version of our joy. That's kind of mass marketed to us. But I think there's another even deeper component to that, which has to do with the freedom that many women experience to not be living with the daily disappointments of heterosexual marriage. And, you know, we have so much feminist research now, that reveals to us exactly what those disappointments and inequalities look like, you know, tremendous inequalities in household division of labor, how much of the household work men do versus their women partners, the parenting labor, the emotional labor, the often kind of just an undercurrent of, of alienation from one another, boredom, just so much that's built into straight culture. And it's important to say, this book isn't about like, individual heterosexual couples as much about straight culture, and straight culture often celebrates the tension between men and women, it kind of presumes that men and women are attracted to each other physically, but they don't actually like each other very much. And then it normalizes that, and sometimes even romanticizes that. And that's just really not only bizarre, but quite sad, from a queer perspective.
Heather Warburton 8:06
Right. And I think there's so many examples of exactly what you're talking about that, for example, I was just on vacation with my husband. And we were talking about in popular culture, the show Mad About You, that was like this romantic comedy that was on I think back in the 90s. And the whole premise of the show, when talking about it was, there was a couple that all they kind of did was lie to each other. Because they so didn't believe that each other would understand their experiences, that they just lied to each other. And then as the audience, we were supposed to be shocked when they cheated on each other. And so like, it's just something that's reinforced over and over again, in culture. I mean, even now, with COVID. You know, there's so many jokes about, oh, well, if you're both working from home together, I guess you're either going to be pregnant or divorced by the time it's over. That really kind of reduces heterosexual relationship to not a good place.
Jane Ward 8:59
Exactly. I mean, every generation has a new spate of these television shows and self help books that convey exactly the message that you just mentioned, which is that men and women don't really get along, they don't really respect one another very much. They don't trust each other. And so what's best is if they can kind of learn to manipulate each other to keep the peace, and also not spend too much time together. And you're absolutely right, that we're, you know, it's tempting to think, Okay, well, that was the message in the 1950s. That was the message in the 1980s. But to get to think that maybe it's gone, but we have a beautiful I mean, a tragically beautiful illustration of this exactly, as you said with the Coronavirus and the New York Times has been covering all of the separations and divorces that the Coronavirus has initiated. And the way that's been framed and it may very well be true, I think we have evidence that this is true is that when you have heterosexual couples spending too much time with one another, it illuminates these conflicts and inequalities in a way that makes it pretty hard for women in particular, to tolerate them.
Heather Warburton 10:22
So you start to sort of open up the book asking a fairly big question of, you know, do women lose more than they gain by being heterosexual? And would you say that during the course of writing this book and doing your research, your answer changed? Or would you say you kind of stayed in the same place with that?
Jane Ward 10:43
Well, you know, I think it's a complex question because it's, it's that heterosexuality is viewed as love's gold standard. All of us are raised to imagine that it is what will make us happy in many cases, we're raised to imagine that it's our only option, you know, there's not any other way. And part of the way that it's marketed to women in particular, is I can get some women that a degree of self sacrifice is part of what makes them a good woman that, you know, one of the features of being a woman is kind of resilience and ability to endure bad men and to kind of stand up triumphant. And this is what the whole in many ways, this is the pop feminist message that you know, women are survivors, men are trash, but women somehow make it still work. And, and, and so I think we're not even really yet at a place where most straight women could ask themselves honestly, like, Am I getting enough out of this to make this makes sense for my life, because I think what most straight women are getting out of heterosexuality, aside from, you know, sex with men to whom they are attracted, is all of those, all of that cultural legibility all of that recognition as a successful woman, you know, as somebody who's figured out how to play the game, and, and I think that's all really amplified for women who are younger in their 20s, and 30s. And that's why we see so many women, unlike for gay men, who come out as bi or lesbian later in their lives, you know, they will have often a marriage to a man. And then, and then find that that marriage really didn't meet their needs. And so it's later in life that many women wake up to the ways that the privileges of heterosexuality didn't quite deliver to them what they anticipated.
Heather Warburton 13:12
Do you think it's possible to really separate heterosexuality from the misogyny in our culture today?
Jane Ward 13:22
I do think its possible so we know that the corrective to misogyny, which is men's hatred of women, is feminism. And I think one of the mistakes that we have made often is to imagine that feminism is something that is for women, or only for women, and to imagine that it is utterly political, that it exists in the political realm, but isn't really a an emotional or spiritual part of who we are. And so in the, in this book, I look back to lesbian feminist writing of the 1970s and 1980s. And part of what I find there is that lesbian feminists didn't just imagine that they were attracted to individual women or to women's bodies, and that that's what made them lesbian. I mean, certainly, that's what was a big part of what was going on. But they also understood that if they were oriented to women, if they loved women so much, if they desired women and lusted after women so much, that was really inseparable from also caring about women as a group and being invested in women's collective freedom, that if you want, if you are so into women, then you care about women collectively. And so the answer to your question, you know, do I think it's possible to separate misogyny from heterosexuality is yes, but I think what needs to happen is that men come to understand that if they're as heterosexual as they think they are, then they necessarily also have to be feminists. Because that means caring, being so oriented toward women, that they actually really like women, they respect women, they're invested in women's freedom. And so part of what is a little suspicious about straight men, from a lesbian perspective, is that their desire for women often looks kind of weak, a little bit feeble, a little bit half baked, because they claim they're so into women, but they need women's bodies, usually to be really hyper modified in order for their bodies to even be attracted to them, you know, they need them to be shaved and waxed, and dieted, and makeup, and all of that kind of stuff. And they also seem to not really care very much about women's rights. And that's just like, how can you actually have such a core feature of yourself, your sexual orientation, be all about women, and care so little about women's well being? So I offer a little roadmap at the end of the book for how straight men could pick up some of the insights of lesbian feminism and apply it to their own desire for women in relationships with women. And then I do think it's possible to separate misogyny from heterosexuality.
Heather Warburton 16:33
So in your book, you actually talk about you call it the misogyny paradox. And you gave one example that really kind of struck me is, yeah, this is right. You know, this is one of the things I underlined. You talk about the fact that straight men don't really just get together and talk about, like, how they've been, you know, pleasing women or being, you know, a good lover to women in bed that almost, that gets them described as being kind of gay. Like if they love women too much, that actually is sort of not considered masculine in our culture today.
Jane Ward 17:04
Right? Yeah, it's really interesting, the double standards, I mean, if you, you know, so much of male sexuality is very selfish. It's very self centered. And it's funny, because when it when women are like that, I don't know maybe this concept doesn't exist in straight culture. But in, in lesbian subculture, if you're a woman who really just likes to be pleased, we call that a pillow Princess, you know, you're just gonna lay there, as someone, you know, do things to you. But when men are like, give me a blowjob, you know, no one's like, Oh, what a pillow princess. But why, you know, we should think that because it's a kind of passive, utterly self focused sexuality.
And so we have a way of taking a lot of men's sexual habits and recasting them as masculine, even, you know, whether that actually makes sense or not. And a big part, I mean, for me, the misogyny contradiction is about the fact that we claim that straight men are people who love women, but that love is supposed to take shape and express itself in the context of a culture that totally normalizes misogyny or men's hatred of women. And we haven't really reconciled that problem. And it makes sense that we haven't, because if you think about something, like white supremacy, you know, we are aware now as a country that we cannot snap our fingers and undo or heal four centuries of violence against black people in this country. And similarly, you know, patriarchy is so baked in to the gender binary into relationships between men and women and has been for centuries. And so that we're just still very, very much living with the legacy of that. And until we really reckon with it, it's going to show up over and over again in straight people's relationships.
Heather Warburton 19:30
Well, I think the perfect example now is, you know, we're having as we're recording this, there's a woman who's been nominated for the Supreme Court, who believes that women should be subservient to men. And I mean, when you hear about stuff like that, do you just want to shake your fist and like, see, this is what I'm talking about?
Jane Ward 19:49
I do but you know, I have to say, I don't know that I would have been able to write this book, or that the book would have landed in the same way. Had Donald Trump not been president? Because part, you know, and had there not been all of this other like you mentioned Amy Coney Barrett, I think I'm about I would say, you know, 10-15 years ago, people were still really believing that we were in a post feminist moment that feminists had really achieved everything they wanted. And we shouldn't, you know, in girl power and, and women had money and, and sexual power and all of this. And you know, anybody who had even a superficial awareness of what research was telling us about the state of women's lives around the globe knew that that was absolutely not true. Or that it was only true for a very small subset of white, wealthy women. But I think most people really wanted to believe that. And when the Access Hollywood tapes were, you know, were revealed, and we all got to hear Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, and then the country elected him to the highest political office in the nation anyway. And then when we started to hear in 2017, all of the testimonials from women who, by the way, most of whom were very powerful women, you know, white, beautiful, wealthy actresses, in many cases telling us about all of the humiliation and sexual objectification and sexual assault they had experienced in the entertainment industry. And in the tech industry, I think people woke up that this was still continuing. And in many ways, it seemed to be getting worse. And so I think, that emboldened to me a little bit to be able to tell the truth in this book, without needing to walk people down such a long path of trying to convince them that we still have a problem with gender inequality.
Heather Warburton 22:06
I definitely think it kind of primed the culture to be ready for a book like yours. Because I would think, you know, especially when you've got a word like tragedy in the title, you could have generated a lot of pushback against your book. So I think that's a good point that society probably would not have been ready for your book, like five years ago.
Jane Ward 22:25
Right? I mean, I, you know, I have to say, there has been a good amount of pushback for this book. The New York Times just ran a very lovely and positive review. And because that was in the New York Times Book Review, many people read it, including a bunch of conservative, straight white men who know, you can imagine how the manosphere responded to that. So that's just par for the course. You know, we know that it's funny to me, because I think men who respond that way to my writing, think that somehow they're showing me, you know, and all but instead really, it's always just more evidence of the very points that I'm making when they unleash their misogyny at me, Oh, absolutely.
Heather Warburton 23:18
I would expect pushback, probably from those kind of segments of the population to anytime a woman says anything. Anything. You know, I'm a woman online that has some fairly occasionally controversial opinions, not even specifically about men just about society, and I get so much hate and pushback from certain segments of the population. So I think that just happens to any woman that has an opinion about something.
Jane Ward 23:43
Heather Warburton 23:46
Um, so I did want to touch a little bit more of something, you go into your book, you kind of lay out the history of this giant industry that sprung up around trying to normalize and save heterosexuality. And you actually found out that that started all the way back with the eugenicists, right.
Jane Ward 24:04
Right. Yeah, I really was surprised to discover that. I mean, I was interested in is this all of these self help books I was familiar with, because I was, you know, born in the early 1970s. And my mom had a lot of these books in the 80s. Like, you know, "Men who hate women and the women who love them" and these kinds of self help classics. And so I wanted to know, you know, what did the earlier ones look like when did this industry start because in part, you know, as a, as a scholar of sexuality, we know that the the classifications of heterosexual and homosexual weren't invented until the late 19th century anyway, so the industry that is forming around, you know, determining what does healthy heterosexuality look like is actually quite recent. You know, we're Relatively speaking so. So I went back to find the earliest marital self help manuals, and I discovered that several of them emerged between the 1910s and the 1930s. And that they, by and large, were published by the eugenics publishing company. And for folks who don't know, the eugenics movement was basically a white supremacist and deeply classist and ablest movement that was about encouraging reproduction of people who are imagined to have, you know, good genes. So white wealthy people and then discouraging reproduction among everyone else. And so the very first self help books were written by white eugenicists, who were really invested in white people reproducing, they wanted white women to have more babies. And they saw that there were some obstacles in the way of that happening.
And as I read these books, I discovered that the primary obstacle that they described was that women and men hated each other. Women were frequently raped on their wedding night, they had a lot of trauma from that they often did not want to have sex with their husbands. And there was a lot of, you know, I'm using language that they use, you can read the book and see all the quotations. You know, they talk about mutual loathing, hatred, mutual disgust. And there are a lot of reasons for that. I mean, men and women at that time had have often had very little opposite sex contact before they married. So even just the sight of the opposite sex, a nude body, you know, a man's nude body was described as kind of horrific to women. And so many of these writers were trying to figure out how are we going to keep white women feeling invested in marriage, when marriage is a site of so much violence, and that was really the the original impetus for these books.
Heather Warburton 27:18
And then the industry is just kind of taken off from there. And I love that you mentioned, a book that I've always hated since it first came out was the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. That book is just so much sexism, rolling into self help that like when it came out, like, why is anyone reading that?
Jane Ward 27:36
Right, and so many people, it actually was the number one nonfiction bestseller of the entire decade of the 1990s. Actually, I think it was second to the Bible, globally, and it was translated into multiple languages, it sold millions of copies of that book. And it just as you said, it's so telling because the book is so sexist. But in many ways, it's kind of such a perfect exemplar of the messages of the self help industry, because John Gray makes it really clear, that men and women don't like each other, you know, he starts out he describes that as men and women are so fundamentally different. They have so little in common, they so misunderstand each other, they so don't enjoy each other's company, that they might as well be two different species from two different planets. So that's his first premise, and then a second premise is. But of course, you know, we have to keep heterosexual marriages together. So what we're gonna have to do is teach men and women to fake it till they make it, you know, to learn a set of tricks that they can use to tolerate each other. So, you know, he teaches men you should touch women, X number of times throughout the day, because women need that kind of affection. And you should listen to them talk about their day without offering solutions. Even if you find the sound of her voice so irritating, you can hardly stand it. He teaches women that they need to understand that it has, you know, the home is a man's castle, and you need to respect that and provide a man cave for him because that's how he recharges. I mean, they'll it's just so ludicrous, but but the point is that John Gray really picked up all of the pieces of what at that point was basically you know, 88 years of heterosexual repair what I call you know, the heterosexual repair industry, put it all into one book, made it pretty cute with the whole you know, different planets metaphor and, and then figured out how to very successfully market This as a set of techniques, marital techniques, and because, you know, no one actually wanted to do the work that really needed to be done, which was to, like, actually grapple with feminism and what that would mean or look like inside heterosexual relationships. And no one wanted to do that. Because remember, feminism had been so stigmatized and associated with man hating Butch, lesbians and all that. So people were really hungry for what looks to be like a really easy and practical, step by step approach to saving your marriages. Of course, it did not work. But books that have come on the market since then, continue to just repackage the same exact approach.
Heather Warburton 30:52
Right, and they're making probably millions upon millions of dollars selling this crap to people to, which is, you know, trying to be a band aid to like a gunshot wound.
Jane Ward 31:02
Heather Warburton 31:03
So yeah, go ahead.
Jane Ward 31:06
Oh, I was just gonna say one of the ironies is that, you know, my, this book that I wrote is, definitely it's a critique of the self help industry. But it at the same time is sort of a self help book, in and of itself. And so I also hope people will pick it up as a corrective to all of those horrible books and see if it might offer them something new.
Heather Warburton 31:31
Before I did let you go, you had a whole section of your book, where you talked about seduction coaches, which I honestly didn't know, this was a thing until I read your book, and it really creeped me out. Could you talk a little bit about what that industry is.
Jane Ward 31:50
Yeah, I mean, I think many people who haven't heard of seduction coaching, maybe have heard of the whole pickup artists subculture, because that was kind of a, you know, got a lot of media attention about 10 years ago. So there, there were these men who created a whole network, whole subculture of pickup artistry, which was some rules that they had developed for how to seduce women. And usually the goal was to get women into bed that day, you know, you meet women at a bar, and then you do whatever it takes to get them to have sex with you that night. And they were trading these techniques. And they were actually traveling around the globe using them on women. And they got some media coverage. And of course, it was quite critical, people thought this was pretty disgusting and manipulative. And so that whole scene, sort of rebranded itself as not about being a pickup artist, but about being a dating or seduction coach, and it turned into an international industry.
So that these companies would offer maybe a weekend boot camp, sometimes even a longer, you know, a week long event, where men could pay thousands of dollars to work with a male coach, sometimes a woman coach, who would teach them how to seduce women. And, you know, the more attention they got in the media, the more they they tried to, again, you know, rebrand themselves in a way that was more aligned with the self help industry and with self actualization, and not with, you know, just kind of your basic misogynistic manipulations. And so I felt really fortunate to, to investigate this right at the time when a lot of that rebranding was happening. So that a lot of these coaches and the men who, who were their clients, understood themselves to be doing the opposite of what you just said, which is to try to be less creepy that they were learning how to understand the world from women's point of view, and that if they could do that, if they could learn to be more empathic with women to bond with women to understand women's perspective, then that would get them the sex that they wanted. And so it's a really complex and and yet not surprising. framing these coaches are teaching these men how to trade empathy for sex, how to trade humanization for sex, because women want basic decency from men and men are willing to give that or at least perform that if they think it means that they're going to get the sex they want.
Heather Warburton 34:56
And you also found there was a lot of racism in this to that It was kind of training of how to get a blonde white woman was the goal, you know, that was like the, you know, prime that everybody was going for. And that was just kind of built into the culture a little bit.
Jane Ward 35:12
Yeah, I mean, it's probably my own whiteness and naivete, that made that really surprising to me, I guess I thought, you know, because we are living in a time in which, you know, the Kim Kardashians and like, and Cardi B, and I guess I just thought like, it's all about curves. And it's all about, you know, um, like, the broad array of different kinds of women and women of color. And, but really, these men all wanted skinny, young, blonde women, I heard that over and over again, they wanted women who were much younger than themselves. And they were obsessed with blondes. And so the industry actually, if you are willing to pay a lot of money, it will take you on a kind of global tour of countries, where you can try to seduce a lot of blonde women. So they'll start they start in Las Vegas, but then they go to Sweden and other other Scandinavian countries, big cities and Scandinavian countries so that men can seduce those women.
Heather Warburton 36:22
Yeah, that's really equally gross. And creepy is the whole industry in itself, just that it's got this racism built into it.
So we are just about out of time for today. But I wanted to give you kind of a moment to do a last word of summarization and let people know where they can get your book if they want to read it.
Jane Ward 36:42
Sure. So you know, I'll just say that this book is really intended to be a loving book, I think sometimes people think, Oh, this is going to be a really difficult read. But I tried to write it in a way that would invite people in. And I'm really glad that so many straight women in particular, have picked up this book and read it and felt affirmed and also felt empowered. And it is available anywhere where you can buy books, though, of course, I hope you will buy from a local bookstore rather than Amazon. And you can find me if you're interested in my work at JaneWardphd.com. And I also tweet @TheQueerJane
Heather Warburton 37:26
All right, thank you so much for being here today. It's been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you. To my listeners. Thank you so much for joining us here today.
I hope that you enjoyed hearing about this and I hope you're going out and looking into this book and kind of investigating why it is that you believe the things that you believe and are they really true or is it just you've been manipulated into thinking that and once you open up that, okay, I can evaluate things differently. That opens up your entire world. Thank you so much for listening. The future is yours to create, go out there and create it.
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