On Alisa Valdes’s Conflict With Feminism, Her Cowboy & Domestic Abuse
If you’ve been reading the blogosphere lately, you’ve likely heard about Alisa Valdes and her memoir, The Feminist And The Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story. Valdes is the author several romance novels and the debut novel The Dirty Girls Social Club (as Valdes-Rodriguez), which landed her all kinds of accolades. She was even named one of the top feminist writers under 30 by Ms. magazine. Then, somewhere along the way, her feminist principles started to chafe: she felt like men were emasculated (“icky ‘liberal’ men,” she calls them in the book) and she resented feeling like women wore the pants. Soon Valdes fell for a Fox News-watching, macho cowboy who exuded an alpha male sexiness and she started to submit to him in their relationship. As the Amazon.com description of The Feminist And The Cowboy says, Valdes discovered ” “when men … act like men rather than like emasculated boys, you as a woman will find not only great pleasure in submitting to them but also great growth as a person.”
Alas, it didn’t quite work out the way. In fact, following the publication of The Feminist And The Cowboy, Valdes has now come forward to say the cowboy raped and physically and emotionally abused her.
I have honestly avoided reading The Feminist And The Cowboy because it puts the same ugh feeling in my stomach as books by Ann Coulter. Valdes’ “fairy tale” about how feminist principles ruin relationships (which, as Amanda Marcotte at Raw Story writes, is not true) sounds like the same “FEMINISM IS ALL LIES!” swill that you can get any day of the week from Pat Robertson, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, or Phyllis Schafly. It should come as no surprise Valdes’ book was blurbed by Christina Hoff Sommers, the anti-feminist author of Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women and The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Men.
Valdes calls her beliefs “difference feminism,” meaning that men and women are equals but inherently suited to different tasks in life. Basically, it’s gender essentialism: men are this way, women are that way, and never the two shall meet. Throughout her book, Valdes explains how she “found herself” and felt so much happier when she let her man lead their relationship — which, she seems to be arguing, is because he was so much better suited to the tasks of decision-making (being a man, and all).
The fly in the ointment, however, is that Valdes’ cowboy turned out to not even be a benign head of household, but a straight-up abusive asshole.
Just how did the cowboy abuse Valdes? Physically, sexually, and most certainly emotionally. As reported by Salon.com, on January 9, Valdes wrote a blog post — which has since been deleted at the behest of either her publisher or her agent (she told reporters both) — claiming that once during a 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.” She also describes jumping from his moving truck because she was afraid he would kill her. According to The Atlantic, which saw the post before it was pulled offline, the cowboy “stuck to verbal abuse with occasional physical threats.” At Slate, Hanna Rosin’s review of The Feminist And The Cowboy described how the cowboy would cheat on her and lie about it, while she convinced herself that she would “share” him if it meant she got to keep him. He criticized her parenting of her son (by her ex-husband), calling her mothering capabilities “bullshit.” In a blog post from September entitled “Goodbye To The Cowboy,” when she and the cowboy broke up, she described how “five percent” of their relationship was “painful, controlling, emotionally abusive, crazy making chaos.”
I’m disappointed in a few things here. One, that instead of writing a story about how she reconciled her feminist views with her desire for a more traditional male partner — a subject which could be useful to many, myself included — Valdes trashes feminism, which strikes me as irresponsible and ungrateful.
Two, that the man she chose to “submit” to abused her, further making it seem as if all “dominant” men are secretly abusers. That simply isn’t true. Violence isn’t manly and strong men don’t need to control in order to be strong.
And last but not least, Valdes seems drawn to abusive — or, at the very least, highly questionable partners — and that makes her a less-than-ideal choice to dish out relationships advice. Valdes’ new boyfriend, she told Salon.com, actually “wrote the cowboy a thank you note, for having ‘tamed’ me and made me a better woman, which I totally agree with.” You read that right: her new boyfriend wrote a thank you note to her abusive, rapist ex-boyfriend thanking him for “taming” her.
I do believe that feminism — the belief that men and women are equal and deserve equal treatment and opportunities — is not incompatible with more traditional gender roles or even more traditional relationships. Feminists can be stay-at-home moms married to financial providers; feminists can wear makeup and heels. To quote the great Zooey Deschanel, “I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?” What’s important if you want more traditional roles to constantly be having an honest, nonjudgmental conversation with one’s partner(s) about whether what you’re doing works for you both.
But that’s not what Alisa Valdes had. Like, at all. Unfortunately, she only seems to have realized this — if she’s realized it at all — after the fact.
Reviewer Noah Berlatsky has actually read The Feminist And The Cowboy and here’s an observation about why the book is problematic that is so spot-on that I simply must include:
In my review, I argued that The Feminist and the Cowboy idealizes masculinity and power. Valdes talks incessantly about the beauty of discovering her feminine, submissive side, but the real energy of the book seems to be directed not towards validating the submission, but towards idolizing the discipliner and his bullying. She says that dating the cowboy taught her to reject second-wave feminism’s disdain for the feminine … but in fact, the book reads as if she had simply found someone who embodied that disdain for the feminine. And he embodied that disdain most obviously through his disdain for her.
Well said: The Feminist And The Cowboy and all Valdes’ ensuing blog posts about the relationship read, somewhat sadly, like massive self-justification for being in an abusive relationship. She can try to gussy it up with frilly curtains — It was a “feminist” experiment! That worked! (Until it didn’t!) — but it’s plain as day what really happened. If I was her publisher, I would be pissed off at having been sold a false bill of goods. Then again, her publisher is the one who gave her this mouthpiece in the first place, so fuck them.
I do believe that feminists can be in relationships with more traditional men who aren’t abusive dickheads. But Alisa Valdes’ sordid tale simply hasn’t been an example of that, from start to finish.