Sunday, 21 February 2010

Unpacking romantic privilege

Based on this essay, unpacking white privilege*, and on leftover thoughts from Valentine’s Day- that it endorses the privilege romantic people have in this society anyway. Here’s my list, off the top of my head. There’ll be a lot of important things I’ve forgotten, and your mileage may vary, but:

Daily effects of romantic privilege:
1. I will constantly find my lifestyle endorsed and promoted above all others in every form of media.
2. My lifestyle will be the promoted as the only safe place to raise children, to not die alone, sometimes even the only place to experiment with consensual sexuality.
3. When I want to ditch people I’ve known for years to spend time with someone I’ve just met, it will not be questioned.
4. When I make unhealthy decisions in my love life, I will continue to find that these decisions will not make me seem less mentally secure, or that my lifestyle will not be seen as less valid.
5. If I am romantically compatible with people of the opposite gender, or live somewhere that supports same-sex marriage, I will have all the benefits of marriage- visitation rights, property rights, inheritance rights.
6. I will further be able to declare my main life partner in a universally recognised ceremony, particularly if I am monogamous.
7. I will escape stereotypes of impotency, madness or coldness.
8. I will be able to have children easily, and probably rely on either financial or time-related support from my partner in raising these children. I will also often be able to adopt relatively easily.
9. I will be able to easily explain my marital situation, and people will instantly accept the validity of my relationships.
10. If I am single, the things people say to comfort me will probably have that effect. They are unlikely to make me feel more broken and insecure.
11. I will have one of the major commercial holidays of every year dedicated to making me look and feel special. More if I become a traditional mother or father.
12. I will have card/present shops, as well as books, magazines and entire industries catering mostly to my style of relationships.
13. I will be able to spend most of my time in the company of like-minded people.
14. I will always be able to qualify my relationships in binary terms.

I’m going to stop there, because it occurred to me that this isn’t necessarily the most helpful way of looking at it. Yes, there is a lot of privilege on romantic people in our society, and it’s important to understand that and unpack it, but there are also a lot of advantages to aromanticism, largely in that you can more easily change the relationship models to suit you. So, for example, number 3 becomes “I feel valid in spending my time with people I’ve known for years, and not treating a near-stranger as suddenly the most important relationship in my life.” Numbers 11 and 12 become “I do not feel forced, simply by my romantic status, to indulge in ceremonies that are often needlessly tacky and capitalist,” while 13 becomes “I will gain the ability to respect other’s views by being surrounded by wildly different priorities.”

These privileges are definitely there, and they do hurt- privileges like the ones above were the reasons I was in confused denial about my possible aromanticism(/pomoromanticism?) for so long. To say that you don’t expect to have any romantic relationships in your lifetime seemed, and still seems, to me to be accepting a role as a second-class citizen, and, as a white, British, middle-class man, the loss of even that small* amount of privilege shocked me.

And it should be discussed. But there is little point in discussing this idea as a hierarchy. Romantic people are trapped in a gilded cage, similarly to men. While they have privilege, they also have unwritten laws following them everywhere. The position of the aromantic or pomoromantic in society should be seen not as a deconstruction of every time romance is held to be better than aromance, though these are telling. Rather, it should be seen as one of a whole host of narratives which can work to pull down the traditional romance structure which, like the traditional gender structure, works well for few, and to replace is with something freer, more individualistic.

*Insert statement here clarifying that aromantic struggles are less than black struggles, while also pointing out the stupidity of the oppression Olympics.

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