‘Being romantic’, agency and the (re)production and (re)negotiation of traditional gender roles.
Human, Nicola Glen.
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Romance is a ubiquitous, Western cultural context which is constructed as an important tool for relationship success. However, research by gender scholars on romance as a site for gender enactment has been limited. Therefore, this study investigated the way that romance and romantic gendered identities may be produced or resisted, and investigated how ‘being romantic’ may produce affordances for particular gendered identities and limit others. This study took an ethnographic discursive approach and five middleclass, heterosexual South African couples were recruited to take part. Each participant was asked to plan a ‘romantic event’ for their partner and was interviewed multiple times in different contexts. A total of 25 interviews were conducted over eight months in 2013. The transcribed interviews were analysed using a discursive approach to investigate how romance, masculinity and femininity were constructed and performed. The study’s theoretical model viewed the romantic context as providing a range of situated affordances and discursive scripts for identity production, and explored how romantic masculinity and femininity were co-constructed as different but complementary gender identities. The findings suggested that romance was differentiated according to time, effort, and flexibility in deviating from the discursive scripts that govern it. Three forms of romance emerged, and the more rigid the discursive boundaries, the more romantic it was produced as being and thus as offering the best access to emotional intimacy. This emotional intimacy was positioned as being central to relationship maintenance, especially within the context of marriage. It was found that romantic masculinity was characterised by chivalry and the active orchestration of romance. In contrast, participants struggled to operationalise romantic femininity, especially in ways that allowed for active romancing of the man. Some romantic feminine agency was presented in resistance to this gendered norm, but appeared to need more justificatory work and more effort in its execution in comparison to that of the men participants. 6 By studying the co-production of masculinity and femininity as a product of the romantic context, a key finding has emerged. It has been argued elsewhere that women are responsible for the emotional housekeeping of their relationships, and this was evident in the data as well. However, this analysis argues that the narrow, rigid scope of the situational discursive scripts of grand dates limit the ways that women can take the initiative to enact them in meaningful ways. Thus, our modern understanding of romance places women in a dilemmatical position: they are expected to do relationship-maintenance, but the greater comparative effort and the stigmatising effect on both the active romantic woman and her partner means that women must rely on men to produce it. While it is possible to re-imagine romance, until we can collectively reduce this normative pressure, we will be strong-armed into re-enacting romance in ways that support patriarchal, old-fashioned gender identities.