“I worry about the unquestioning acceptance of the models of romantic love out there.” —Susan Ostrov Weisser, Ph.D.
Adelphi professor of English Susan Ostrov Weisser, Ph.D., has long specialized in high literature like the Romantic poets or the 19th-century British novel, but her most recent book starts out with a close reading of The Bachelor. Yes, the reality TV show.
That’s because Dr. Weisser’s book, The Glass Slipper: Women and Love Stories, (Rutgers University Press, 2013) is about more than love stories in literature. It’s a broader cultural study of the linkage between women and romance and about romance as a kind of cultural script—a glass slipper—into which we fit our feelings.
In her book, Dr. Weisser looks at how narratives surrounding women and romance emerged, starting with Jane Austen and moving from there all the way through Victorian magazines to contemporary films, and even women’s Internet dating profiles.
“It certainly wasn’t always the case throughout history that romance was assigned to women,” Dr. Weisser says. “In the Victorian era, love and marriage became linked to women through another topic, which was also being intensely examined at the time—the nature of gender and the ‘proper role’ of women.”
Feminism, the sexual revolution and women’s increased economic independence have, of course, dramatically shifted our thoughts on the role of women, Dr. Weisser says, “but romance is still a story that is mainly aimed at women.”
So why has the link endured?
One possible explanation: “Just turn on the TV,” Dr. Weisser says. “You’ll see even for very young girls the idea of being on sexual display is hyped like never before. Romantic love is a way of ensuring that a woman is not going to be devalued or exploited. A man needs you emotionally, not just sexually. It ‘solves’ the problem.”
While Dr. Weisser is quick to point out that The Glass Slipper is far from an advice book, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any words of advice to pass along to young people. “I worry about the unquestioning acceptance of the models of romantic love out there,” she says. “I think they’re stifling. Who is to say it’s not love if it doesn’t have a happy ending?”
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