Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Loving to Survive

Cover of "Loving to Survive," featuring red text on a tan and white background
Image from Thrift Books

Title: Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence, and Women’s Lives

Author: Dee L.R. Graham

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger Warnings: Discussion of rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and abuse

Back Cover:

The authors of this book take Stockholm Syndrome as their starting point to develop a new way of looking at male-female relationships. “Loving to Survive” considers men’s violence against women as crucial to understanding women’s current psychology. Men’s violence creates ever-present, and therefore often unrecognized, terror in women. This terror is often experienced as a fear for any woman of rape by any man or as a fear of making any man angry. They propose that women’s current psychology is actually a psychology of women under conditions of captivity, that is, under conditions of terror caused by male violence against women. Therefore, women’s responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages’ responses to captors.

“Loving to Survive” explores women’s bonding to men as it relates to men’s violence against women. It proposes that, like hostages who work to placate their captors lest they kill them, women work to please men, and from this springs women’s femininity. Femininity describes a set of behaviors that please men because they communicate a woman’s acceptance of her subordinate status. Thus, feminine behaviors are, in essence, survival strategies. Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive.

This is a book that will forever change the way we look at male-female relationships and women’s lives.

Review:

This was an interesting book.

Right off the bat I was skeptical of the concept – that because of male violence, all women have Stockholm Syndrome (a phenomenon called “Societal Stockholm Syndrome” in the book) and women’s relationships with men are filtered through that lens. (There was also an implication that heterosexual women are only heterosexual because of Stockholm Syndrome, which was just plain weird to me.) But I decided to give it a chance.

The book started with a discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. It went over in detail the Swedish bank robbery that the syndrome got its name from, which was actually a fascinating read, and covered the conditions necessary for it to develop. Then it moved into examining the situation of women in (modern American) society and matching that up with the conditions for Stockholm Syndrome to develop.

Some of the points made sense – like that women have no way to “escape” from men or be completely positive that they will not be victims of male violence. Others – like the idea that the only perspectives women have access to are male perspectives – seemed like a bit of a stretch. Dee had some good ideas and gave a solid explanation of many aspects of patriarchy, but ultimately, I was unconvinced. It’s definitely a theory worth exploring, but in my opinion, there just isn’t enough solid evidence to call it a fact.

The last chapter, though, was worth the entire read. It covers ways women have and can resist the patriarchy and is full of practical, actionable things you can do to work on de-Stockholm-Syndrome-ing yourself. I’m not a woman, but I definitely plan to use some of those suggestions.

And speaking of that – I am not a woman (I’m agender), and I also don’t have a lot of experience with male violence, so I didn’t find this book all that relatable. Women and those who have experienced a lot of male violence will probably see themselves more in these pages. This book also doesn’t even touch on trans or nonbinary issues – it is 100% about cis women and cis men.

Overall, though it lacked enough evidence to convince me, Loving to Survive presented some good ideas, made some solid points, and gave an excellent discussion of the violence aspect of the patriarchy. And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating read.

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