What’s love got to do with it?

Wondering what one could write in a feminist blog on the global phenomenon, Valentine’s day, I am somehow reminded of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s “Love in the time of cholera.” Could one, for instance write something about love in the time of inequality? As soon as these words are written, I realise that this has been done practically throughout history.

I am asking myself whether modern-day girls still indulge in the romantic novellas which informed my and my generations’ ideas about romance and love between two people.
This genre was the blue print of romance between a woman and a man. The plot typically was about the feverish passion that a somewhat plain – but nevertheless beautiful in that girl-next door kind of way , twenty-something girl – feels towards the fiercely good looking, dark, broody, ruthless and wealthy/ influential in some way, male hero. Either the tall dark and handsome hero of the story has a particularly sinister streak, is/ was a ruthless womaniser or has a character trait that his love interest, the girl-next-door, recognises and is at the same time attracted to and repelled by. In some way, she believes that, because she loves him so, she would be able to change our hero, usually by making some sacrifice. Before she could do that though, our young heroine has to contend with and vanquish a possessive if much more beautiful rival. Our heroine usually was vindicated because the love rival’s selfish greed and evil ways were eventually brought to light in the shine of the heroine’s purity and selflessness. The stories usually ended with our hero and heroine passionately falling into each other’s embrace and we just knew that this will end up in a steamy night between the sheets.

Would these stories still hold sway over girls in Namibia? Amid the all the stories of abuse, violence, control and outright misogyny that one witness in relationships today, it would seem that many girls went through a similar romance schooling that I had. It would seem that girls and women still prefer the attention of that handsome, somewhat ominous male presence. The one who has to be changed – because we love him so.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where unless the heroine wants to keep and change her man, as well as fends off other love contenders, “sacrifices” must be made to prove her worthiness. The ultimate sacrifice in this case is that she will have unprotected sex with her hero. After all, she must demonstrate to her lover that she “trusts” him – irrespective of his reputation. Of course, the moment that a pregnancy or worse, an HIV infection, comes to light, our hero makes a run for it, leaving our heroine alone and in trouble. So much for changing the hero! He simply moves to his next conquest. Beware the girl who has the audacity to first break off with our hero. In Namibia, men believe that because they have “invested” in a woman, that woman has to loyally stick to her man, regardless of how she may be treated.  The girl who breaks off a relationship with a man here, must know what is coming. Our newspapers are full of these stories.

Boys similarly seem to have gone through this school of romance. Sometime last year, I had the opportunity to attend a function at UNAM where a frustrated young man lamented the fact that a man needs money to keep all his various lover girls in tow. This particular young man went as far as stating that – least he wants to appear wimpy in the eyes of his fellow men – a man may be forced to cheat and steal to keep all his various women in hair, nails and clothes, therefore (momentarily) happy (read loyal.) This attests for that ominous streak of the hero in the romance novella – I suppose.

Can there be no other romance stories in our country? For instance ones that promote ideas of equality and mutual respect? Or what about stories of a woman loving another woman, or a man in love with? Is this at all conceivable?

When we receive our obligatory red rose or box of chocolate this Valentine’s day, let us contemplate all the many types of romantic interests that may exist in our land and consider the many possibilities for new stories of love and romance.