I had largely ignored the press around a memoir by Alisa Valdes called The Feminist and The Cowboy, which was being slobbered over by the anti-feminist press as some kind of massive truth-telling about the “nature” of men and women, sticking it to those stupid feminists who emasculate men with our bitchy demands to be regarded as people—which means that in relationships, we’re partners instead of as household appliances that provide clean homes, heirs, and sexual release. In the book, Valdes celebrates her boyfriend for forcing her into a submissive role, which she describes as letting go of feminism’s “dreary shroud of lies”* to embrace what she believes is a woman’s natural role, which is one with no autonomy: “We are the vessel. They are the elixir and the funnel. We are the earth. They are the plough and seed.”
You won’t be surprised, I suspect, to find out that Valdes’s relationship actually broke up months before the book went to press, which is the sort of thing that has clearly sent her agent and publisher into a tailspin of panic, since the main argument of the book is that if women learn to submit to controlling, misogynist men, they will live happily ever after in orgasmic bliss. You’ll be even less surprised to find out that her beloved cowboy beat and raped her, by her own description. Her post describing the violence was taken down, at her agent’s request, but Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic read and describes it:
As in many relationships, the cowboy’s escalation from controlling assholery to actual physical violence was triggered when Valdes accidentally became pregnant. When she said she wanted to have the child, the cowboy walked out on her. She lost the baby through a miscarriage, and foolishly went back to him…and then the violence escalated. Mostly he stuck to verbal abuse, with occasional physical threats, but there is at least one incident which she doesn’t call rape, but which sure sounds like something close to it.
At Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory got more details, specifically about one incident where Valdes, fearing that her boyfriend was going to hurt or kill her, jumped out of a moving truck:
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.
So anti-feminists like Christina Hoff Summers were championing a book about a relationship they claim is what women want deep down inside, and just the natural way, and all that blather. And it turns out it was a terribly abusive relationship with a man who cheats, abandons a woman he got pregnant to punish her for it (while no doubt grousing with his fellow conservatives about the evils of abortion and those stupid sluts with their contraception), dresses his girlfriend down, and physically and sexually abuses her. Their defense, I’m sure, is that they didn’t know, since she didn’t put that stuff in the book. (Well, she put in the cheating, so they’re on the record telling women that it’s a woman’s role to give fidelity to men who won’t give it back.) The problem is that the relationship, as it’s described in the book, sounds like it’s abuse even without these details. From Hanna Rosin’s review:
The verbal instructions the cowboy gives Valdes once she agrees to submit to him are a guide to daily living. No back-talking; no second-guessing; no sarcastic, smart-ass remarks. She must never exit the car unless he opens the door for her. She must never walk on the street side of the sidewalk. In one especially creepy scene, Valdes has just overheard another woman leave a voicemail for the cowboy saying she wishes he were joining her in the shower. The cowboy lies about the voicemail, and Valdes knows he is lying. But then she remembers some article she read saying that women were “biologically programmed” to find cheating men more attractive. “I was hurt, sad, and turned on.” He unbuckles his belt, and she throws her arms around his neck. “Biology,” she writes with a shrug.
Not “biology”. What it sounds like is an abusive man exploiting a woman whose shockingly low self-esteem makes her desperate for the validation of any man who will give it to her, even though the price she pays is having him insult her on a daily basis. Oh, and another abuse tactic is employed:
At a dinner with Valdes’ parents, the cowboy convinces her to keep her distance because they only manipulate her to serve their narcissistic egos. He also convinces her that her son’s diagnosis of autism is a “bunch of bullshit,” a byproduct of bad parenting and a liberal ethos and nothing a firm hand can’t fix.
Separating victims from their family and friends is Abuse 101. It allows the abuser to define his victim’s reality for her, and it keeps her from being able to reach out for help. So let’s be excruciatingly clear about this: Even before Valdes revealed the full extent of her ex-boyfriend’s abuse, the fact that Valdes’s boyfriend was an abuser was already crystal clear. He physically controlled her body, “disallowed” her to express her opinions, put arbitrary rules about “tone” and “sarcasm” on her comments so he could punish her if he felt she disobeyed (and he was no doubt judge, jury, and jailer on that), and deliberately separated her from her parents and her son. He also abused her son by trying to separate him from proper medical care. What’s on the page is abuse, and anti-feminists endorsed it, marketed it, and said that this is how it should be for women.
Sadly, Valdes’s love affair with her newfound belief that women are property and not people isn’t over, as she’s already started another abusive relationship.
She has a new boyfriend now and, she says, he “wrote the cowboy a thank you note, for having ‘tamed’ me and made me a better woman, which I totally agree with.”
Christina Hoff Summers specifically singled out “taming” as exactly what uppity bitches need in her endorsement of this abuse-is-great-for-women memoir:
An irresistible, post-feminist Taming of the Shrew. Don’t be scared by the premise. This is not a story about a woman relinquishing her identity. Quite the opposite. It is a riveting tale about how a brilliant, strong-minded woman liberated herself from a dreary, male-bashing, reality-denying feminism.
I do not agree with Summers that hating abusers is “male-bashing” nor “reality-denying”. In fact, by conflating all men with abusers, it’s Summers that is the male-basher here. I believe that men are perfectly capable of treating women well—and that doing so not only can be sexy, but is sexier than treating women like trash—but also that reality demonstrates this every day. It’s Summers and her ilk that are male-bashing and reality-denying.
I hope Valdes gets out of this rut, but unfortunately, once you’ve gone on record as a celebrator of male abuse towards women, it’s probably hard to back away.
*The anti-feminist press has a twofold strategy to demonize feminism, I’ve realized. For the male audience, they often prefer to emphasize fears that feminists are “sluts” who are using their “free” contraception to whoop it up and have all sorts of crazy, fun sex that doesn’t include angry conservative dudes. For a female audience, however, the story is much different: Feminism is a gray, unsexy existence, because men who respect women are supposedly bad in bed. What’s funny is that the story told to the men is probably closer to the truth than the story told to women, insofar as demanding equality is often good for your sex life, due to coming to bed with expectations that your pleasure counts, too. Just one more way that conservatives routinely fuck with women; even when it comes to their own, they reserve their stupidest, most transparent lies for their female audience.