In the run-up to Venus Retrograde, I was re-reading Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady like an inoculation. Like, these are the stakes, girl. You can either hole up in your house with your dignity and your 87 rose bushes, or you can warble on to your exes like Poor Lord Warburton and Poor Caspar Goodwood, following Isabel around Europe for years after she turned down their marriage proposals. “How about now?” they keep asking her. “Do you want to marry me now?” Even after she marries someone else. “How about I marry your step-daughter, that’d be cool and not at all stalkery, right?”
They showed up in cycles, the two rejected suitors, and I bet if someone clocked it, every time they showed up to give her sad cow eyes again, Venus would be running backwards.
James, with his Ascendant at 0 degrees Virgo and his Venus in Pisces was not about to sully himself with romantic love and sexual contact, but he got it. That dude understood what terrible fools we make of ourselves for love, how we get stuck and trapped and choose really badly, and his books are just the perfect amount of poison to shake you out of complacency.
So let’s do a Venus in Leo Retrograde reading list, yeah? Something that will help us use this time well and keep us from buying international airline tickets, I’m so sure that guy was the one and I really need to tell him in person right now. Keep our brains occupied. And it’s true that most love self-help is a nightmare of heteronormative, sexually regressive terribleness (eat it, Why Men Love Bitches), we can find a few good books worth reading.
Let’s jump right in, yeah? Too often we think there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed before we can really love. And that’s where we stop thinking. We don’t think enough about society, about how our culture’s confusing messages about love and sex and romance and marriage (marriage is death a trap a hell from which no escape is possible versus marriage is super important if you don’t get married you are an enormous failure) puts pressure on us.
Illouz is brilliant, and she takes a sociological viewpoint to show, actually, it’s not you and your daddy issues, it’s culture that is keeping people romantically unsatisfied. Marriage, love, and relationships are all in the process of being redefined, and people are miserable in the process. There’s no big fix, no big idea on how to survive this, but it at least lets you see if you’re alone, it’s not your fault.
How do feminists think about sex and love? Because let’s face it, we don’t always fall in love with the enlightened. People are indoctrinated with stupid ideas about gender, and sharing your home, your life, your time with these people, who suddenly expect you to behave in a really specific way just because of your chromosomal burden can be a nightmare.
This goes for men in heterosexual relationships, too! There are still women you’ll be totally into only to find that they expect you to provide, they expect you to hide your emotions, they expect you to perform your masculinity in traditional ways, and that’s not okay, either.
Both bell hooks and Lynne Segal think through these issues, hooks focuses more on how to find and live with love while still living up to your own ideals, and Segal writes about how our sexual behavior and the way we think and talk about sex is still trapped in old gender stereotypes.
It’s important to remember Venus is not just about relationships. It’s also about pleasure, beauty, connection, fairness, empathy. And so we should talk about a woman who worked out her Venus in Leo perfectly, and that would be Coco Chanel.
I mean, yes, she was terrible sometimes. She moved in with a Nazi during the occupation of Paris for godsake. But. She was all about beauty. Practical beauty. Beauty that suited women themselves and didn’t just decorate them and make them useless (unable to breathe, walk, or hold their heads up straight) because useless is how men liked their women back then.
But Chanel was Venus in Leo, it was conjunct her sun. That dignity, that sense of royalty, that desire for adoration ruled her life and career. (And her loves — she did not have relationships, she had romantic affairs. And as soon as the magic wore off, her men were discarded, even dukes, even Igor Stravinsky. She never married. Can you even picture Chanel married?) And I like her own memoirs, as told to the poet Paul Morand, the best, even though it is full of lies. But of course a Leo would prefer the performance over the real thing.
It’s important because Chanel asks us, what do you do with your Venus? It’s fine to just sit back and use it to think about your next hairdo, but how do you turn it into a verb? How do you create from that space? She did it her whole life, she can be our guide.
Oh, I love Wendy Steiner. And here she contemplates the removal of traditional Venusian ideals from art, literature, and the public sphere during the 20th century. When we think of beauty and love as cheap — and when beauty becomes bait for sex only — what happens? How do we feed those needs inside of us, how do we even acknowledge they are there?
It was published more than ten years ago, but it’s still relevant. I mean, the greatest love story of our time is a guy who ties up some woman and hits her while he bangs her? And it’s not, here’s the love I have for you so much as, here are the helicopters and cars and properties I can make available for you. We’ve replaced Venus with provocation, and there are consequences for that.
Which is not to say Steiner wants women to go back to being useless decoration. Beauty has to be rethought, so that it is not equated with weakness or passivity anymore. But for that to happen, Venus has to be invited back in, talked to and listened to.
Jessa Crispin is the editor of Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. She is a tarot card reader, specializing in issues with creativity and writing. For more information, go here. Her first book, The Dead Ladies Project, about love and travel and art, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago, October 2015.
Image: Lang Leav
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