From Feminist to Doormat, and Liking It?

011113-feminist-cowboy-400x300Alisa Valdes tells the story of her devolution from feminist to doormat in the memoir, The Feminist and The Cowboy.

And liking it, she claims. Or not.

Ms. Valdes says she was raised in a feminist home. She was named one of the top feminist writers by Ms. Magazine. Her first husband even “let” her hyphenate her name.

But as a single mom at age 42 she met “the Cowboy,” a conservative ranch manager who watches Fox News and believes women must submit to men. Her book blurb:

Their relationship finds harmony (and) she finds the strength, peace, and happiness that comes from embracing her femininity.

Femininity. Which here means doormat.

Instructions from Cowboy include: No back-talking; no second-guessing; no sarcastic, smart-ass remarks…

… and apparently, stay monogamous while he cats around.

In one incident she hears a women’s voicemail telling Cowboy she wants him in her shower. Alisa feels the agonizing pangs of jealousy. But she remembers that women are biologically wired to find cheaters alluring. What can you do?

Through it all she celebrates her submission, embracing women’s “natural role.” So does anti-feminist, Christina Hoff Sommers who calls the book,

An irresistible, post-feminist Taming of the Shrew… a riveting tale about how a brilliant, strong-minded woman liberated herself from a dreary, male-bashing, reality-denying feminism.

But weeks before going to press the two broke up. A problem since, as Amanda Marcotte points out, Valdes insists women will live happily ever after in orgasmic bliss if they just submit to controlling, misogynist men.

The abuse escalated soon after turning in her manuscript. During one fight he

dragged me down the hall to the bedroom, bent me over, and took me, telling me as he did so that I must never forget who was in charge.

Later, when she accidentally got pregnant and wanted to keep the child Cowboy got violent and left her. She returned to him after a miscarriage, but the violence escalated. Mostly verbal, with threats of violence.

The last time she saw him she jumped from a moving truck, fearing he would hurt or kill her:

I landed facedown on a bunch of rocks, nearly crushed under the back tires, dislocating my shoulder, badly cut and bruised everywhere, my hip filling with blood. I screamed. He stopped the truck, walked over, looked at me on the ground as I begged him to call an ambulance. “Only you would be stupid enough to jump out of a moving truck,” he told me. He did not help me, or come near me. Instead, he said he was going to the hunting lodge to get some witnesses, in case I tried to tell the police he had done this to me.

Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic explains that:

Finally, Valdes realized that “this man did not love me. He could not love anyone,” and she left him for good—though, obviously, something of the terror remains. She notes that writing the (blog) post (about the violent incidents) puts her “in danger—real physical danger.”

Plenty of people, men and women, celebrate male dominance and female submission. But it hasn’t been so great for Ms. Valdes, and I have friends who’ve tried it and not liked it.

There is much wounding in this story that passes, in her mind, as “the natural order of things.” And Ms. Valdes as is now in a relationship with another abusive man.

The poet and writer, bell hooks, asks us to consider the nature of relationships.

“Pleasure + wound” vs “pleasure + love.”

Which makes you happier?

Which will you choose?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 25, 2013, in feminism, gender, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I have to say I was expecting something a little bit of a different just from looking at the title of the book. I can’t believe the woman kept going back to this cowboy after he kept abusing and cheating on her. One thing I was always taught growing up is that if he hits you once, he will hit again. That is something I firmly believe in, and it doesn’t make sense to me when women go back to an abuser. I would think that everyone wants a loving relationship that they can feel safe in, that’s something that I want. But I also have to take into consideration what type of environment that the woman grew up in, I can only assume that it was not a good place with lots of respect because she went from one abusive relationship to the next. I feel really bad for the women who are in relationships like this and I hope someone steps in to say they deserve so much better; because if I had a family member or friend in this situation I would do anything I could to help them.

  2. This post, as sad as it is for her situation, there are so many women who would continue to stay, and just as many that would have high-tailed it out of that situation like she did. I am married to a man that honestly would have liked me to be a more submissive wife, but its simply not who I am, and I don’t allow it. I don’t really think that keeping your maiden name is necessary, because I have never seen it as a submission to my husband, rather another show of trust in him that he won’t harm me, and that he wouldn’t damage our relationship beyond repair. Obviously, this woman was in an abusive relationship, and I am not upset, nor surprised that she was so willing in the beginning to have a lot of her independence taken away from her, many women do, I know that I did. Where it all went wrong for her is when she allowed things to escalate and didn’t get the hell out of that situation. My husband has no illusions as to who runs the house, and I wouldn’t allow myself to stay in a bad place. I understand that these women that are in these terrible relationships have a lot of excuses for the behavior, and then suddenly its a million times worse, and a woman is trapped, usually cut off from friends, and also from family, all the people that would help her, and with that support, the hope of escaping. It is so sad, and its infinitely more depressing that a book about a woman allowing this to happen to her is being published, at least as I understand it.

  3. When I read this blog the first thing that came into my head was what possessed this women to stay in the marriage for as long as she did. Obviously this is a abusive relationship and the love he had for her was apparently little to none because no spouse would cheat and treat there loved one the way he did if there was remotely any love there. I also feel there are other ways for women to embrace your feminity without having to go through suffering and physical pain. This is definately not the way I would want to live my life, I much rather choose a mate who will love me uncoditionally and do everything equally. I think that the quality of life will be a whole lot better than the life where you have no rights and is fearful for your own well being.

  4. Things like this are so frustrating because the “family values” people like nothing more than a supposed convert. However, it seems like Ms. Valdez wasn’t really a feminist to begin with if she thinks her first husband “let” her hyphenate her last name.

    It seems as if her idea of freeing herself from feminism was really freeing herself from the burden of having to think for herself. Life becomes a lot less complicated if someone makes all your decisions for you. The problem with that, aside from the obvious, is that the kind of person who wants that level of control over another person probably has a lot of issues of their own.

    Also, Ms. Valdez’s idea of femininity is only in relation and is defined by what she thinks masculinity is. By choosing to identify femininity as submitting to men then you make it meaningless without a man there to define it.

  5. I was interested in the fact that Valdes grew up in a feminist household. More than anything, this illustrates the culture clash in the US on a small scale. Additionally, it shows that what one grows up knowing can change later in life. I know many feminist men and women who grew up in very gendered culture. It seems strange however to see change working the other way. As much as this situation points to a cultural problem, in which a subculture in the US believes it is okay to abuse women, it is also a sad reminder that many people seek “pleasure + wound” relationships, knowingly or otherwise.

  6. This makes me really sad. First of all I don’t understand why anyone would like to be in a relationship with someone who treats them like crap and secondly I don’t understand how someone could treat someone like crap. I was reading in our class textbook on how men tend to believe they’ve found love with someone they have a sexual relationship with when in actuality they do not love that person at all. I think it’s time our society starts teaching men how to be more open to having emotional connections. Why are we so afraid of men being emotional? And why do men think it’s ok to treat women like crap in the first place? Who is teaching their kids that this is ok? I think part of it might be a psychological problem that the man is having and takes it out on the female. And that all could be helped if men were more ok with their emotions. I think that we should forget about women being the nurturers and that HUMANS should be nurturers!

  7. “The Cowboy and Feminist”? Oops, this is not the title of the book! Instinctively I put the male first. I correct: “The Feminist and the Cowboy.” There we are not talking about Jane Fonda and Ted Turner but about an accomplished feminist writer and a regular ranch manager who watches Fox News – not only a man thing by the way!
    Let’s try and understand the relationship. Can’t help starting with the male again! I see that ranch manager as a trained cowboy who follows his instincts. Take a cat, move a toy in front of him and the cat will see the toy as a prey and pounce on it. Take a good looking woman and the cowboy will see a calf that needs to be cut out from the rest of the herd. Take a good looking feminist and that cowboy, whose biases are certainly stronger than average, will see a rebellious mustang and will force him, I mean her, into submission.
    I don’t try and excuse the attitude, he is all governed by his basic instincts.
    The feminist is a smart woman so her attitude is more difficult to understand. It could be that the view of the lonesome handsome cowboy sent the Marlboro Man image from her childhood back to her mind. Or going much further back in time, that the muscles of the athletic ranger awakened the primordial instinct buried deep in the female collective unconscious -or in the females’ genes- since thousands of years: pick the stronger male, the most fit for reproduction, to augment the chances of survival of your species! She is already a single mother so she is probably not looking to make babies, though wanted or unwanted, she gets pregnant.
    All those arguments can explain why she started the relationship with that guy but I have trouble understanding why she became that “doormat.” Was she that “male deprived”? Was he such a good kisser or better…? (she speaks about “orgasmic bliss”) Couldn’t she afford a car or was she afraid to ask for a ride out of the ranch? Or was it that little 42 year old voice inside her brain telling her “you are getting old and less desirable, it’s your last chance”? I think that very few women have masochistic tendencies but some of them would rather surrender to abuse and humiliation than having to face the prospect of a lonely life.
    People often think that all is a question of luck but I remember reading (can’t remember where) that when it comes to finding a good mate, or trying to find a job, individuals often get stuck in the same pattern and put themselves unwillingly at risk of facing the same mishaps again and again. If you’d ask her, she would certainly prefer pleasure associated with love – I do, most of us do- than pleasure with wound but the worst thing for that unprepared “feminist” is that the violent relationship has created a faulty wiring in her brain and she is likely to make the same mistake, picking the wrong type of lover again and again.

  8. Why would someone want no rights? It seems to me that many women who enter in doormattery do so because them came from difficult backgrounds (single motherhood could qualify as one ) and the submissive lifestyle somehow provides a sense of “security” and “predictability” without the difficulties and uncertainties inherent in the previous situation.

    And that sounds quite disturbingly like “freedom from” and “freedom to” from The Handmaid’s Tale.

  9. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Did I say Thank you?) for writing this. Thanks.

  10. Interesting that she felt like she was “liberated” from feminism when she was clearly stuck in an abusive relationship….I’m always skeptical of anything that is supposedly “biological” or “natural”, especially when it comes to gender roles

  11. Jesus Christ :/ There’s a lot to be said for consensual, negotiated 24/7 D/s lifestyles regardless of which sex is the dominant party, but this just sounds like a crappy, abusive relationship.

    And the “natural” order of things? I’m no Marxist/Feminist but anyone with a basic knowledge of anthropology can tell you that female dominated, matriarchal societies are just as common as patriarchal ones throughout human history, as well as the animal kingdom.

    Sometimes I just don’t know with people lol! I think a well defined power structure/roles are important in a harmonious relationship, however it has nothing to do with gender, and certainly any kind of abuse should not be tolerated.

    Great post as always 🙂


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