Is it true that “Love is all we need” and “Love Trumps Hate”? These two slogans are common at protests these days. But I am here to say love is not enough – it will take more than love to create a better world. Furthermore, for women, especially, “love” can be a site of oppression.
Recently a twitter conversation between Sarah Silverman and a misogynist troll made its rounds on social media. Silverman responded to a guy on twitter who called her a sexist slur by showing him compassion and understanding. It turned out, I guess, that he had chronic back pain and she helped find him some sort of health care. Ok. This was upheld as a wonderful – ideal – way to interact with online trolls.
To me it seemed typical of the way women and girls are trained to respond to men who mistreat us: try to understand why they are so angry and then work hard to meet their needs, hoping that they won’t do it again or do it to another woman. This is not liberation; this is socialization that reinforces and entrenches our oppression.
Feminists need to be clear that, for women, love can harm, kill, and oppress. There are men who love the women in their lives but also harm those women (or other women). Love for family can keep women from questioning the way in which our family structure may actually be rooted in quite harmful sexism. Many loving moms I know feel intensely guilty for doing any self-care because they associate loving their children with extreme self-sacrifice. Or they feel guilty not wanting to do most of the housework because it is a “labour of love” for their family. Even (especially?) in families and romantic partnerships we need more than love – we also need a sense of fairness and a commitment to equality. It is actually when women step outside of our care roles and express feelings such as anger that we seem to be most detested by sexists.
Love can reinforce oppression. This is true for sexism and so, of course, manifests in the virulent intertwining of sexism and racism. Many women of colour, for example, work in extremely exploitative jobs (linking right back to slavery) that involve caring for the children of the people who oppress them. They might have been (or be) the only person in a child’s life who was (is) “loving” but that rarely prevented (or prevents) those children from growing up to uphold the same system of oppression and exploitation.
Love is a wonderful thing. I love many people, non-human animals, places, books, plants, food, etc, etc. I am, like Che Guevara, motivated by “great feelings of love” for the Earth, non-human animals and humanity in my activism. But in order to fight against systems of oppression, we need more than love. We need to have an analysis of the way in which racist patriarchal capitalism works and a clear set of strategies and tactics based on that analysis. Sounds boring, maybe, but it’s a far more useful way to understand why people oppress and exploit others. Being filled with rage and hate is an awful thing for anybody, including activists on the left. Hate cannot build movements that inspire, create a better world, or bring about liberation. But, there are other feelings and emotions that are as important as love. There is a place in our movements for joy, passion, sadness, disgust, and anger. The question is what do we do with those emotions? How can they help us build movements that can truly grow, inspire, and change the world?