Meet Moira Weigel, Author of "Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating"
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]N[/dropcap]avigating the world of dating is a feat – and often particularly for women. And since studying history is really just another way figuring out the present, Moira Weigel’s Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. It’s, in her words, a feminist history of dating. Genius, right?! This week, we chatted with Moira about feminism as a verb, the art of editing, and her next big feminist project.[divider type="thin" spacing="10"]
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
Hi! I'm Moira. I'm a writer and an academic, currently finishing up a PhD at Yale University–although as of this spring, I moved to the Bay Area. Don't tell. I spend my days, reading, writing, and when I am lucky, teaching. I love to teach. I translate from time to time too, most often from German.[divider type="white" spacing="10"]
Can you tell us how you define feminism and how that plays a part in the work you do?
I define feminism roughly the same way that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did, and Beyoncé made famous: as a belief in the social, political, and economic equality of all people, regardless of their gender. Because we live in a sexist world, commitment to this ideal requires striving. If we want equality we all have a lot of work to do. Still, the energy that I see among young people today, and in the new social movements, gives me a lot of hope. I think often of a line that I think the feminist writer and activist bell hooks uses in one of her early essays, about how it is more productive to think of feminism as something one does, than to wonder whether one "is" a feminist. hooks writes this way about love, too, as an active and world-changing form of care that we can extend to one another. I think that more expansive kind of love has a key role to play in feminist movements too.
In practice, feminism shapes almost everything I do. I discovered it relatively late, by the way. I must have been twenty-five when I started to take a serious interest in women's writing, women's history, and so on. Until then my shelf had always been mostly male; it had never occurred to me that was a problem. It makes me feel slightly less foolish that many of the most brilliant women I know say the same: When you are young and ambitious, I think it is easy to imagine that forms of gendered oppression or structural disadvantage that you have read about won't happen to you–or that if you try just a little harder you can beat them. Anyway, in my mid twenties I discovered 1970s feminism and it lit my head on fire. Now much, if not most, of what I study and write has to do with gender in one way or another. It's affected the kinds of stories I seek out, and the kind of teacher I want to be. At a practical level, it's helped me seek out female friends and mentors, and also try to connect with younger women, listen to what they're interested in, help if I can. I've had students so smart they scare me, but there's nothing better than learning from younger people.
As women, many of us are socialized to believe that we have to compete with one another for resources and opportunities–that only one of us will get to sit in the one seat that has been allotted for a token woman at the boys' table. Feminism has helped me see that this is a misconception, and that it keeps women down. By engaging and helping one another, we can grow the conversation and create new opportunities. Instead of fighting over that one open seat, let's build a new table, and a bunch more chairs.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
[pullquote align="right" cite="Moira Weigel" link="" color="" class="" size=""]...many of us are socialized to believe that we have to compete with one another for resources and opportunities–that only one of us will get to sit in the one seat that has been allotted for a token woman at the boys' table. Feminism has helped me see that this is a misconception[/pullquote]
I became fascinated enough by dating to want to write a whole book about it for two reasons: 1) There seems to be so much anxiety about how to date, how much other people are or aren't dating, the "right" way to do it, etc. 2) When you look more closely, you see that these anxieties are almost always conservative, almost always serve to express beliefs about gender and sexuality, how men and women should be, how gays or straights should be. (Though usually, I have to say, these panicky articles are for straights.) Dating is one of the most important theaters where we rehearse and perform our gender roles. I wrote my book because I wanted to provide context that might help dispel this anxiety and bring some clarity to the conversation.
It's not self help, exactly, but I do hope that it is helpful–because anxiety is often used as a weapon against straight women, to make us feel that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, not chill enough. So I hope the book helps women understand and forgive themselves. Of course I hope readers will share some of the delight I took in a lot of what I found in the archive. And I always hope above all that people laugh at my jokes.[divider type="white" spacing="10"]
What was the most challenging part of writing the book? The most rewarding?
The hardest part was choosing what to include and what to leave out. I began by setting a constraint, which was itself hard: since this was first and foremost a description and critique of the cultural construct, "dating," from a feminist perspective, it would mostly focus on the kinds of people around whom that ideal had been constructed: straight, college educated, urban. You could write many more books about folks who don't fit that label; I included one or two chapters but I would like to write and read much more. The first draft I turned in to my editor was still nearly twice as long as the finished book. Readers will never know how hard it was to choose just one out of two goofy 1920s sex jokes or enraging tales of sexual harassment etc.! But seriously: I discovered early on that if I was not careful, the history of dating could quickly expand to be the history of everything–the economy, technology, wars, fashions, medicine. That was the best part, too. In research, as well, it felt like it never turned off–Because once you look for it, gender is everywhere, shaping the contours of our lives. And once you tell people you are writing a book about the history of dating, they open up and tell you their secrets. That has definitely been one of the most fun parts, just getting to hear so many stories–while writing the book and touring since it came out.[divider type="short" spacing="10"]
What's next for you? Any upcoming projects our readers should know about?
I am working on a proposal for a short book tentatively entitled The Feminism We Need. The plan is for a mix of memoir, history, reporting and argument. Stay tuned!