What happens when a raging liberal feminist Latina starts dating a conservative, traditional New Mexican rancher? You get The Feminist and the Cowboy, a turbulent memoir by best-selling writer Alisa Valdes that is by turns thought-provoking and exhausting.
Divorced with a young son, Valdes meets “the cowboy”—that’s what she calls him throughout the book—via an online dating service. She’s skeptical, having been raised by ultra-hippies who think those who watch Fox News are dumb, evil or both.
“The list of things they hated was quite long and occupied most of our family dinnertime conversation,” Valdes writes. “It included the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, Capitalist Pigs, Phyllis Schlafly, Fascist Pigs, John Wayne, Conservative Pigs, Imperialist Pigs, Colonialist Pigs, The Rich, Racists, Religion, Sexist Pigs, Lawrence Welk, and Displays of Patriotism Anywhere but Communist Countries and Indian Reservations.”
But the cowboy is incredibly handsome and persistent, convincing Valdes to let him travel from the rural ranch into Albuquerque for a date. What follows is a stormy relationship marked by yelling matches, tantrums, steamy sex, repeated breakups and anguished text message exchanges. When Valdes finds out the cowboy is still dating another woman, she comes completely unglued. It culminates with an ultimatum: The cowboy insists that Valdes drop the drama and let him make the rules for their relationship.
“By forcing me to back down, the cowboy—and I realized this with a sense of astonishment—was actually forcing me to trust someone other than myself,” Valdes writes. “Seen in this light, the cowboy’s desire for ‘control’ was actually quite loving.”
Their relationship is so toxic that it’s hard to separate it from Valdes’ very smart analysis of how her ultra-feminist upbringing hamstrung her ability to trust a man or, really, anyone. By filtering her thoughts through the cowboy lens, she seems to be defending a relationship that is based largely on turmoil and one whopper of a power struggle.
Valdes has certainly earned her place as a noted writer: Nominated for a Pulitzer as a staff writer for the Boston Globe, she has more than a million books in print, including The Dirty Girls Social Club. It’s why her decision to bare all in this less-than-flattering portrait is all the more fascinating. Throughout the book, Valdes comes across as bitter, immature and self-destructive. And yet, she also shows that she is smart, very funny and brutally honest about both her strengths and shortcomings. Ultimately, her candor is somehow the best and worst thing about this very revealing memoir.