chapter  7
14 Pages

Loving Him for Who He Is: The Microsociology of Power

ByLENA GUNNARSSON

In contemporary western welfare societies power asymmetries based on gender are not legitimate. Yet, ideological and judicial norms of gender equality co-exist quite harmoniously with a persisting reality of gender inequality, even in the Nordic countries ruled by strong norms of equality. Heterosexual coupledom is perhaps the site where this contradiction is most marked. In western societies the forming of heterosexual couples is generally based on individual choice motivated by the mutual experience of love. Not surprisingly, this historically specifi c grounding of intimacy in intimacy alone has given rise to optimistic accounts of democratized love. If being together is entirely a matter of the rewards each of the parties experiences from this being together, then, Anthony Giddens (1992) famously argues, the lack of equality will motivate the less profi ting party to end the relationship. Nonetheless, empirical research shows that the increasing lack of external impetuses for staying in relationships is not a suffi cient condition for equal negotiating power within the relationship (e.g. Dempsey 2002; Dryden 1999; Duncombe and Marsden 1993; Holmberg 1995; Jamieson 1999; Langford 1994, 1999; Strazdins and Broom 2004). The most poignant expression of the poor realization of norms of equal intimacy is the wide occurrence of violence in relations whose raison d’être is supposed to be love and where there are no signifi cant economic obstacles forcing women to stay.