Love in Chains

The fact that a woman is only "allowed" to love those who are above her on the class ladder and is not supposed to fall in love with someone who is younger, less successful and below her in social status (and preferably not a woman ) is more evidence of women's lower social status.

Last month the feminist psychologist and theoretician Carol Gilligan visited Israel as a guest of the Mishpat journal. Among Gilligan's greatest contributions is her formulation of the feminist struggle as a joint struggle by women and men to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy, which prevent them from realizing and enjoying the full range of their abilities.

One of the arenas in which we manifestly remain shackled is that of romantic love. In analyzing the concept of "free love" that developed in the United States in the 1960s, Gilligan stresses that anyone who understands it to mean only the removal from sexual relations of monogamous inhibitions is missing a critical part of the picture. "Free love" was about loving people who in the past were not considered legitimate objects of love for them. Thus, in the 1960s men demanded the right to love men, women demanded the right to love women, and whites and blacks in the United States demanded the right to love each other.

Now, more than 30 years later, we are more liberated sexually than previous generations. But does the fact that as a society we place fewer sanctions on exchanging sexual partners mean we can love freely? Consider the case of an Israeli-born, 24-year-old Jewish woman who believes she has spontaneously found her match. It is highly likely that the object of her desires will be a Jewish man, at least slightly older than herself and with a higher earning potential. The field of opportunities for the average Israeli man is identical, in reverse.

Does this not somewhat diminish the fantasy that out of all the people we come into contact with, it is when we are looking at "the One" that Cupid shoots his arrow? Isn't the truth that cultural shackles prevent us from experiencing people around us as legitimate objects of love?

Leaving aside those groundbreaking Hollywood couples, let us ask how many Israeli women could fall in love with a significantly younger man? How many Israeli men could fall in love with a woman who is more successful professionally than they are? The reality shows featuring eligible bachelors and bachelorettes searching for love demonstrate the narrowness and predictability of the experience by which we seek to live with intoxicating spontaneity.

Were we to look more closely at these definitions we would find they tell us something about the strong grip of the patriarchal worldview. The fact that a woman is only "allowed" to love those who are above her on the class ladder and is not supposed to fall in love with someone who is younger, less successful and below her in social status (and preferably not a woman ) is more evidence of women's lower social status.

Because of this, if a woman wants to be seen as having climbed the patriarchal social ladder she must partner with someone of higher status (male, older, more successful, with the same or a higher social background ). In other words, the feminist struggle to liberate of love, represented by Gilligan, will continue for a long time. We experience passion and falling in love as spontaneous, even uncontrollable emotions, and that is part of the charm. But so long as our love is constrained by prejudice on either side, it is no freer than the gaze of a horse with blinders.