The essays discussed in this article are from the philosophy book Philosophy and Sex by Robert B. Baker. It is a philosophy book that is pretty easy to get into, and about a variety of sex and love topics ranging from feminism (to be discussed in this article), morality, abstinance, contraception use, porn, and so on. A very interesting read!
The views of Firestone and Solomon are, by and large, very different from each other. Though they both deal with a very similar topic, their arguments are formulated in very different ways, with different goals, and ultimately leading to different ends. The topic central to the discussion is that of love, and more specifically romantic love. In order to hopefully stir more discussion on these two philosophers’ writings, a comparison and evaluation of their views are most important.
Firestone is a very prominent female writer actively engaged in the feminist movement. The first poignant statement she makes with regards to love is how it is a selfish action, as opposed to a selfless one. The latter notion is often accepted in general society, where we see acts of supposed “love” which are often altruistic appearing by nature; however these actions only feed intrinsic (selfish) desires. Firestone states on page 23, “…the self attempts to enrich itself through the absorption of another being.” The object of love is not only the other individual, but rather what that individual can do for you. As is very evidence in the writing of Firestone, she views love as being a byproduct of politics and culture. On page 25 Firestone states: A woman’s “whole identity hangs in the balance of her love life.” While a man may be known for his achievements in the social sphere, a woman is primarily known based on her man’s achievements. For a woman to be a lover to a man, she is granted the ability to rise from inferiority and become equal in level with him. The relationship that has been set up by society is one in which women can only succeed if he are in a relationship with a man. Assuming this is how society does function, then it is easy to understand why Firestone would be so upset with regards to women’s rights. Women do not want to be engaged in a dependency relationship, when they have abilities and capabilities very similar to those of men. To be tied down in society simply because of their sex differences is wrong.
The next major point Firestone makes, on page 28, is the significant claim that “men can’t love.” What this suggests is that men can not love, at least in a pure sense of the word. Rather, she states, again on page 28, that “(men) ‘fall in love’ with their own projected image.” The love a man has is one that is built off a fantasy. In essence, men create an image of the perfect lover and search for a partner who best fits that image. He does not love the woman, rather he loves the fantasy. The woman may appear to be the object of love and obsession, however appearances in this regard can be misleading; as the importance of the woman herself is very little in comparison to the importance of the fantastical image in his mind. Firestone reflects on this awareness on page 32 with almost bitterness towards men, “She has been bought to fill an empty space in his life; but her life is nothing.” The conclusion that can be drawn with relation to the nature of a man’s love is then that to men, love means ownership and control. This idea is fairly understandable if one is working strictly off of stereotypical gender and sex roles, wherein the man is expected (by society) to be more dominant (“in control”) and the woman is expected to be more submissive.
Solomon is an interesting character engaged in the feminist movement because he is a male. As one may well expect, Firestone is very biased in her writings, though with good reason. Reading Solomon’s “Love and Feminism” is intriguing because it shows a male’s perspective on the feminist theory, and on a few occasions he even directs his arguments towards Firestone’s writings as well. The view Solomon holds is much more firmly rooted in the history of romantic love. He states on page 39, “Looking back at the history of romantic love, it is no doubt true that it was “erected,” in part by men, in order to fill a need in a certain kind of society, but this does not warrant the leap into the antagonistic and somewhat paranoid conclusions that the need could only have been the suppression of women.” As is evident from this quote, Solomon will be taking a stance that is quite the opposite of Firestone’s in it’s goal; though he does admit that it was likely a creation by men for cultural benefit in some way. He states on page 40, “Love is indeed a cultural invention, created by males perhaps, but certainly to the advantage and also with the cooperation of women.” This quote furthers his arguments hypothesis, and he even goes so far as to suggest that women were actively interested in the creation of love. On the point of history, he finally suggests on page 41, “it is not the purpose or original design of romantic love that we are going to find the origins of its use against women.”
Solomon then turns from strictly speaking about the historical context and creation of love, but rather turns to analyze how gender roles play into our current conception of love. Solomon states on page 43, “Are romantic roles themselves oppressive? If by ‘romantic roles’ one means gender roles—masculine and feminine—the answer is yes.” This is a point in which both Solomon and Firestone would agree. Gender roles are developments by culture, suggesting that men must fit into the role of the masculine and dominant individual, whereas a woman must fit the role of feminine and submissive. This divide is in many respects the basis for Firestone’s argument. This divide is inherently cultural and political, however Solomon would suggest that real love is different and much deeper then these simple stereotypes. On page 43 he states, “…love tends to destroy these stereotypes rather than reinforce them, and in theory as well as in practice the concepts of femininity and masculinity ought to be rejected, not only in the public sphere, where they put the woman to a serious disadvantage, but in the personal sphere as well, where they still tend to turn even the best relationships into one-role, one-plot, television-like situation comedies, or worse.” Solomon is suggesting that love is larger then simply political and social roles, and that true lovers break down the social norms as opposed to raising them higher. He goes even father on page 44 where he states that these stereotypical roles are “unnecessary, unreal—they do not exist except in so far as we will them (to exist).” This is, in and of itself, a revolutionary way of perceiving the nature of love; as it allows us to examine what love would be like without social and political pressures to maintain gender norms. The simple consideration of androgynous individuals allows us to see how men and woman alike can take on a variety of different gender and sex roles, and seemingly simultaneously have female qualities and male qualities. On page 45 Solomon says, “Love is a multiplex of personal roles of all kinds, which are being continuously redefined and reenacted and which need have nothing to do with sex or with those simple stereotypes of gender. In fact, to think of love in terms of masculinity and femininity is like having a conversation in which each party is allowed to say just one sentence.” The analogy that love is like a conversation an very accurate, because to hold a discussion one must be able to take on as many roles as possible in order to prove their point. To be able to play the proverbial “devil’s advocate” allows the individual to gain larger insight into the world, by placing themselves within the shoes of the other individual. However, instead of shoes, the continuum of sexuality is further blurring the ordinal terms of heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual and allows for variety not often considered in sociopolitical settings. Love itself, according to Solomon, exists independently of one’s place on the continuum of sex and gender.
The important point to draw from Solomon’s writing is the fact that romantic love requires equality. It would appear that he is also suggesting that how we individually define equality is very much subjective, because “love (itself) is not objective” (pg 46). To impose demands and qualities on love and equality from the outside (for example, from political or social stances) is antithetical to love (pg 46). This notion furthers his point that our analyses of love cannot be dependent on an individual’s public status. The reality of love is contained in the private life. Finally, Solomon would suggest that love based on fantasy is okay. The reality of this point is highlighted on page 50 where he says, “All emotions, not only love, are blind (that is, myopic) in that they see what they want to see, emphasize what they want to emphasize, celebrate what they want to celebrate…All values are idealizations in this sense; all hopes and plans are fantasies…” This final point of discussion is critical to evaluating Solomon’s stance on the topic of love, because it contrasts heavily with Firestone’s perspective, which would suggest that fantasies are the root, an a man’s inability to love. The true nature of love is then, by Solomon’s analysis, one that is fantastical, and can be as one would desire it to be.
While I have enjoyed both the writings of Firestone and Solomon, I find myself siding on the whole with Solomon’s perception of what love is. The primary reason for this is simple: Firestone depicts love as a weapon created by men to destroy women. While I do not doubt that some relationships may function like this, particularly those featuring two individuals who take extreme gender roles, to impose that the nature of love is only like this seems far from the truth, even by basic observations in our modern day. Firestone’s writing is important when it comes to isolating gender roles and the evil that they impose on both men and women (but more specifically: women). However, Solomon even acknowledges this in his writing. If love is based on gender roles with any sort of exclusivity, then love is inherently an evil. The common perception of the word “love” brings to light many emotions, often positive, that it seems impossible that we can strip this connotative meaning from the term to posit that it is inherently something evil. Unfortunately, discourse on love can only go so far, as the nature of love is not one that is an action, meaning it cannot be an observable behavior. Love is merely a theoretical and abstract construct, which we speak of as if it is observable and concrete. This is simply not the case. In this respect, I ultimately disagree with both philosophers, as the nature of love is one that is strictly dependent on more specific actions like saying “I love you” and meaning it wholeheartedly, engaging in sexual relations to the pleasure of the other, and similar actions. The theoretical fantasy of love (which Firestone depicts as a negative thing, whereas Solomon suggests it is a positive one) leads us nowhere in understanding our interpersonal relationships with our lovers because they are often empty and shortsighted, though they may of course contain some truths, which require writing to be revealed, such as an awareness of the continuum in sex and gender roles. Love is much more then the sum of its parts, and paradoxically is also nothing at all because we cannot accurate depict or conceive of what it truly is.