Feministe Feedback: What Does a Feminist Relationship Look Like?

Feministe Feeback

A really interesting question that I would love to know the answer to, because I really struggle with this one:

i’ve noticed that many women comment with anecdotes about their boyfriends or husbands and share some challenge that they face in relating their feminism to their male counterparts. i’ve certainly noticed the challenge in my own relationships, and, having read my mary daly, know what a bone of contention having relationships with men at all has been at different points for feminism and for feminists. i’m interested to hear from the readership what they think a feminist relationship with a man looks like. of course, of course every relationship is different – but do people have ‘rules’ that they follow, or lines that they won’t cross, in the name of feminism? since every relationship involves compromise, sometimes i have a hard time telling the difference between being kind, loving and accommodating and fulfilling my assigned submissive role as a woman.

How do you work feminism into your relationships? Do you think it’s even possible to have a fully feminist, egalitarian heterosexual relationship? Are there rules you follow, or red flags? How much do you compromise your beliefs in order to find and sustain love? And, this is me adding to the question, but how does this play out in same-sex or otherwise non-traditional relationships?

144 comments for “Feministe Feedback: What Does a Feminist Relationship Look Like?

  1. April 3, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    My current relationship is with a guy who believes that everyone should have equal rights, so when I first started identifying as a feminist, he had a hard time understanding, because, don’t all people deserve right, not just women? That conversation took a lot of explaining, but he was finally able to understand and accept my feminism and feminist perspective.

    Our relationship is odd when it comes to “normal” gender roles (I hate the word normal). When I visit him, he cooks, I clean because it fits our schedules. He constantly asks my opinion about things, and he took me to an informal job interview once in order to try to better include me in his work life which I can’t really relate to because of lack of understanding. I reflect this back to him by valuing his opinions and trying to include him in my life.

    Something that has come up in our relationship is chivalry vs. feminism. He holds doors for me, and he opens car doors for me, despite my constant, fierce resistance. He does this out of respect. I know this, because he has told me it is true and because I know the type of person he is, and I do not find it degrading because he does those things for people of all genders and ages. His chivalry is a form of respect and is not a slight, because he has more faith in my abilities as a person than even I do at times.

    I do not feel that I have to compromise my feminist views at all in my relationship right now, although I cannot predict whether or not that will change once we finish college, if I ever get married, etc.

    Those are just some thoughts for now. I have to get going. I’ll stop by later to see what everyone else says!

  2. Emily
    April 3, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    I’m about to get married to a sweet and wonderful guy who also happens to be a Republican.

    It’s interesting to me. The time we’ve spent dating and becoming closer and closer has showed me a lot about what he thinks and why he thinks that. It comes down to mostly economic concerns and has nothing to do with the social ones. (He’s disgusted by what they’ve done to his party in the name of religion.)

    I point things out to him, things he wouldn’t notice, and he sees them now. We had a whole conversation about why legalizing prostitution wouldn’t fix the issues inherent with prostitution, and about Twisty (of I hate the patriarchy) and her assertion that once money enters the transaction consent has been taken away. Turns out he totally agrees.

    There are lines I won’t cross. I won’t change my name wholely to his; if he wants to hyphenate with me, I’m in. I am still struggling with what to do with the names of our future children. I don’t let him play shit like that he doesn’t know how to do laundry or dishes because I know that’s bullshit because he’s lived on his own for his entire adult life. (He never tries these excuses, but I see other women, my friends even, allowing that. “He can’t do the laundry right, so I do it all.”)

    When people ask me about planning our wedding, I make sure to note that I’m not doing it all on my own. I don’t WANT to. I told my boyfriend the things that I care about, I picked three, and he picked the things he cares about, and we’re each making sure our own things are like we want them. He gets to pick the cake. I get to deal with the DJ. It’s like a foreign concept that the groom wants to be involved in the process.

    I do give concessions, though. He wanted to propose with a ring, and it meant a lot to him, so I agreed. He has some traditions he particularly likes (not seeing me in my dress before the wedding is one), and I’m willing to respect them because he’s willing to respect the traditions I loathe, like veils and being given away and unity candles.

    I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible I love this man so much, but I do, and it’s worth it, all the time.

  3. April 3, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Well, I guess I have to start by saying that I’m someone who feels that men can be feminists, and not just “feminist friendly”. I had the good fortune of marrying a feminist, and so things are easier for me than they might be for someone else. I’m not saying its perfect, but because he’s a self-identified feminist, he isn’t hostile to discussions about why certain dynamics might be problematic. We don’t exist in a vacuum and I think to some degree we both perform roles societally assigned to us. For example, I get a lot more stressed out about cleaning things up when my in-laws are coming over than he does because I feel like I’m the one that’s going to get judged for the state of the home. It’s not fair but it’s there.
    I don’t feel that I’ve compromised my beliefs in order to find or sustain love. I never continued dating someone if they were freaked out over aligning with feminism anymore than I would have if I’d found out they were racist or homophobic because I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with them and I have never been someone who sees being alone as being worse than being with someone who isn’t 100% amazing and makes you feel great about yourself. Here is my favorite example of what I think our gender dynamic is like with regard to feminism.

    (scene: His Apartment A few months pre-marriage)

    Me: “You know I’m not changing my name, right?”

    Him: “Seriously?”

    Me: “Yes, Seriously”

    Him: “Oh” (walks out of the kitchen and into the bedroom)

    Me: (turns the stove down, walks into the bedroom) “Are you upset?”

    Him: “It’s your decision”

    Me: “I know, but I want to know how you feel about it.”

    Him: “I’m upset, but I know it’s one of those things that I have no reason to be upset about. It was just something I took for granted, and I shouldn’t have. I just need some time with it.”


  4. Emily
    April 3, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    In addition to the pressure of “keeping the home” I’ve found that now that we’re getting married, we’ve been accepted into the set of friends who are couples. Which is fine, but some of them are super traditional in ways that make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to have girls’ night out with these women just because we are the wives of men who all went to college together. They’re nice enough women, but why can’t we all go out together?

  5. April 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    My marriage is nearly a reversal of traditional gender roles. My husband took my name when we married. I work outside the home while he cares for our child during weekdays. But one thing that I’m always conscious of is that a perfect reversal of the patriarchal mold is just as much being defined by patriarchy as perfect adherence to it. He does nearly all the housework, but I take the kid when I’m home. It might change when she weans, as I don’t want him to feed her a bottle unless I’m pumping that feed, and I leave my pump at work. I do a good chunk of the cooking.

    As long as both of you feel valued, and that your contributions to the marriage are close to equal and significant, I’d say that counts as a feminist marriage.

    But yeah, male privilege can assert itself in strange ways, and leak over the “compromise” thing. On a discussion board for new mothers, the question came up: “Does your husband wake up with the baby at night, or do you handle it yourself and let him sleep?” Most women let their husbands sleep. Some said that their husbands had medical conditions that made sleep very important, like migraines that could be induced by insufficient sleep. Compassionate, then, to let the partner with the migraine problem sleep, yes? But don’t women get migraines? No one answered, I get migraines so my husband handles every awakening. The other oft-given answer was that the husband worked all day and needed his sleep to function well. But when a woman said that she lets her husband sleep because he needs the energy to look after their two children all day while she works, it made me raise an eyebrow at both of these reasons.

    For the record, I usually wake up with the baby and let my husband sleep. Because usually she needs to be fed, and that’s me, due to biology. It sucks, but there’s not a lot I can do about it. I wake him up if she needs more soothing than that or I’m getting frustrated. I’ve woken him up just to ask him to change her, but I don’t do that often.

  6. Jen
    April 3, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Congratulations to Rachelgbd and Emily, because I’ve never had a successful feminist relationship with a man. It’s nice to know it’s possible.

    In men’s defense, I’m fairly young and I attend college full time. It’s hardly the place to find men that respect women, especially when your university is usually the top party school as voted by Playboy.

    My relationships with men are typically very short lived. I have the reputation of a “serial dater” because of the fact that I’ve at least gone out once with about half of my department. I suppose I’m attractive, and I do adhere to “normal” standards of femininity, so men ask me out a lot and sometimes I find myself flirting with attractive guys in my classes and it progressing towards having coffee together.

    However, it always turns towards sex about an hour to two into the first date. From men claiming they just want to get laid to asking if I’m up for a threesome with one of my friends, I’ve had no shortage of really bizarre and sleazy commentary. I feel like I’m on set at a porn movie. I don’t dress like a nun or come off as prudish, but that hardly means I’m willing to jump in the sack with anyone. Also, I really abhor hiding the fact that I’m attracted to both genders. As soon as I admit I’m bisexual, the conversation turns towards sex, and suddenly, our interaction is for the purpose of foreplay rather than getting to know each other. I’m constantly reminded that I’m a member of the “sex class” in most of my interactions with men.

    My relationships with women typically last longer. I even lived with my lover, for a time, before we mutually agreed that the spark just wasn’t there anymore. We split the tasks fairly evenly while we were together. I hate dishes, dusting, and laundry, so she usually took care of that or we did it together. I love cooking, so I usually took care of all of the shopping and cooking. But we’d usually just do the chores together, because we liked spending time with each other and talking over folding pants or a pot of cooking pasta. I never felt like I was confined in any sort of role, even though my friends instantly identified her as the butch and me as the femme in our relationship. In all of my other relationships with women, as well, I’ve been the “femme”. I have no idea what that means, other than the fact that I dress girly, because I never feel more like one gender than my partner. I figure that’s why my relationships with women are longer: because I don’t have to take a role, and make sure that my partner is happy in their role. I don’t have to reassure my boyfriend that he’s still a man even though I refuse to have demeaning and meaningless sex with him and wash his laundry when I’m dating a woman.

    I’ve had bad relationships with women to, it’s hardly all roses on that side of the fence. My longest relationship with a man was two months, and my longest with a woman was two years, one of which we lived together. I’m not friends with any of my male ex’s, but I still keep in touch with a few of my female ex’s.

    I find that men are less likely, at my age, to want a feminist relationship or check their gender at the door when they come home. I don’t want a man or a woman, I want someone that respects me and doesn’t want to play any roles or expect me to play a role that I don’t want to.

  7. April 3, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    My husband and I have been married for six years and have two kids, so we have already drawn a lot of lines as far as major decisions: we chose a new last name for our family, he does laundry and cleans and cooks, we support each other’s work and pursuits even though he makes more money than I do. I feel like I have an advantage because my husband had years of classes on feminism and social justice before we met in grad school, and he has an amazing mother, two strong sisters, and has always had a wide circle of fierce female friends.

    I think the biggest goal we strive towards is to try and make our relationship the best it can be for the two unique people we are, without falling into rigid gender roles, social traps or stereotypes. It’s a constant process, but for our two daughters, I think it will be an invaluable model.

  8. heather
    April 3, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    in my case, my boyfriend has identified as a feminist longer than i have!

    but i think it all comes down to feeling respected and supported by your partner. in my case, we try to split things like housework as evenly as possible, but since life isn’t perfect, sometimes one of us will end up doing a bit more. we’re willing to take on these extra responsibilities as a way of helping each other out; i’ve been cooking a bit more lately because my boyfriend is busy with school, but he’ll clean on the weekend so i can relax after a long week at work.

    as long as you’re not doing things out of some feeling of obligation, your contributions are acknowledged and appreciated and you’re supportive of your partner (these all apply to both parties), i think that’s a good start.

  9. April 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    This is really interesting, as I just had a discussion with my boyfriend about some of this stuff last night. It started with me seeing a poster advertising a showing of Star Wars on Spike TV that had a picture of Darth Vader and said something like, “A guy can only be called ‘Annie’ so many times before he snaps.” I got really angry about it, and he kind of rolled his eyes because he thought it was too “banal and stupid” to get angry about. I was like, “Yeah, but it’s that banal and stupid stuff that’s so pervasive that reinforces a culture that enables bigger things to happen.” He was like, “Hmm, I guess so,” and told me that one of the things he likes about me is that I find the energy to care about social injustices all the time without getting exhausted.

    I think that is the kind of thing that enables a pro-feminist heterosexual relationship. You have to start from some kind of common ground, and then you have to be willing to listen open-mindedly. I guess that’s true of a lot of aspects of relationships. It is often hard for people to recognize the level of privilege they have; I know I took my white privilege for granted for years and years, and still do so, though I try my best to cure that every day. So when you’re dating a guy, you have to understand that he probably doesn’t realize all the subtle ways he’s been privileged, and he has to understand that he’s going to have to examine some of those privileges.

    A little while ago, I dated a guy who was way not feminist enough, and that was a huge mistake. He told me the best way to advance feminism was not to challenge people’s beliefs, but just to excel in my field to prove that women are as capable as men. He also said that getting angry about small examples of misogyny does a disservice to “real” examples and makes everyone want to stop listening to you. Ugh. I’m getting angry just thinking about it. Glad I dumped his ass.

    I don’t know, I just think it would be hard for me to spend a lot of time with someone who wasn’t a feminist, or at least open to feminist views. It’s something that’s important to me, and so I naturally spend a lot of time talking about it. If anyone — friend, boyfriend, whatever — didn’t want to talk about it, or thought it was all wrong, we just wouldn’t have enough common ground on which to base a relationship.

  10. SarahMC
    April 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I love that my relationship is very egalitarian. I wouldn’t call it “feminist” specifically, because while I strongly identify as a feminist my boyfriend does not. He’s equality-minded in every way, but just doesn’t label himself as anything. He knows I’m a passionate feminist and he knows how much my “Feh muh neest” means to me, hehe.
    Luckily we have not had any feminist-related issues in our relationship. He likes to cook more than I do. He has never expected me to clean up after him or do his laundry or anything like that. He knows if we ever get married I’m not taking his name, and he doesn’t have a problem with it.
    He’s just never put me into a gendered box that way. Though he does sometimes say things like, “Oh, GIRLS!” if I do something stereotypically “girly” like buy five pairs of shoes at a time. That’s the one thing I do take issue with now and then – sexist jokes. Not degrading sexual ones, but he’ll pass along a video of a sexist commercial thinking I’ll find it funny and I have to tell him I don’t and why. He’s a man and he has privilege.
    My boyfriend and I are best friends. I know he loves and respects me for my intelligence and my sense of humor. That’s something I’ve never had to suppress around him.

  11. KellyS
    April 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I married a feminist. I think that’s the biggest step. I’ve had many male feminist friends over the years, and even would say that at one time I wasn’t a good one (then I grew up). Our ideals and expectations of people are the same, and when we take on different responsibilities in the household, it’s more of a nature of what bugs me and what bugs him. He cleans the bathroom, does half the laundry (depends on who has time that week), cooks when he can (he’s a chef, I bake), does the dishes, I do the bills, as he sucks at them, he does more of the repair stuff as I get frustrated with it…really, it comes down to he doesn’t “help” around the house but IS a responsible person who lives here and does chores.

    I didn’t change my name either, and he really didn’t care. We’re expecting our first kid, and he’s totally into being there to support me as much as possible during the birth. He will be there the same as I am (sans boobs) for feeding and diapering.

    I guess I just never would’ve settled for any less. Maybe that is where we sell ourselves short as feminists–we assume that men can’t be this thing, this other half and that there are “guy” things and “girl” things. Yes, even as feminists. Many women fool themselves into gender roles, and by allowing the men in their lives who subscribe to them, they shouldn’t be surprised when things don’t magically change.

    That said, I still like it when he holds doors for me, but like Amelia said, it’s out of respect not out of some “oh you’re too weak to open this door” attitude. I like that he will stand up on the train for a woman or an elderly person, and I think this is part of being polite–as I will also hold open doors and stand up. When one chooses to be offended, then I feel one is creating another problem that is politeness versus degradation. He is stronger than me, so won’t let me strain myself when I normally would to get something done.

    We plan that our soon-to-be kid will be a perfect gentlemen liberal feminist, whether male or female–both should apply. (And if gay, cross-dressing, mohawk-wearing, and/or skateboard-riding then cool, just be nice, keep good hygiene, and be considerate of others.)

    Yes, I guess I feel lucky. But that’s because I held out for the right guy, not the right image of a guy.

  12. Ismone
    April 3, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    With my current relationship (we’re getting married in June) the whole feminist thing is a lot easier. Because he calls himself a feminist, and we both respect and admire eachother. Plus, when it comes to intellectual arguments, we both call eachother on our b.s. and admit it to the other one. (I was used to being the only person who ever admitted to being wrong.) He was also willing to take my last name, but because he has the same first name as another close family member, we’re taking my great-grandmother’s maiden name. (She had no brothers, so the name was lost until now.) He does open doors, which I don’t mind (although I have minded it from others), because he is just being sweet. He has gotten over me paying for every other date—well, after one date, he did.

    I think the reason things work so well for us is that we are both very self-critical. If it were just me (as usual) I would be changing my views/opinions without my partner having to bend. That, as I learned in the past, doesn’t work very well.

    Also, I think that Rachel hit on something really important there, which is to let them express how and why they feel resistance to an idea. I have some pretty indefensible attitudes (from his perspective) and he has some from mine, but we are both respectful enough so that the other person doesn’t think they will get “in trouble” for saying something.

    Lines I wouldn’t cross–I have a hard time with gender essentialists, and with people who expect my career to take second place. But those relationships tended to dissolve anyways. I also don’t like guys who want me to boss them around—a good partnership, for me, means being with someone who will push back. Otherwise, I feel like I turn into the worst possible version of myself.

  13. Kristen
    April 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I think it’s possible, but requires (at least) three things (1) time, (2) patience, and (3) a person who is fundamentally kind and empathetic – even if he sometimes can’t see everything clearly.

    From time to time, particularly when we first met, my husband has spouted off crap undoubtedly drilled into him by the patriarchy. With time and patience its been relatively easy to show him that things are as simple as he thinks they are. I noted one example earlier today in response to a post by Cara on Curvature wrt why women may not report a rape.

    ” He thought the natural reaction would be anger and couldn’t understand why women didn’t immediately go to the police, didn’t try to prevent this from happening to someone else. My first reaction was to bludgeon him into submission – intellectually of course, but with particularly stubborn men that doesn’t quite work.

    So, the next day I took him with me to a rape crisis center a friend of mine ran. I didn’t say a word, didn’t frame it, didn’t intellectualize it…just told him to hand out drinks and check on supplies. After dinner that night, he just sort of sat there for a while smoking and said that he was wrong (minor miracle).”

    On the other hand, some compromise may be necessary…not of your feminist beliefs, but in your actions. For example, before I met my husband I refused to let a guy open a door for me. Not ever. I’d get miffed. We had a very long, very annoying discussion about this over the course of about 3 days. After which he acknowledged that chivalry was at its core very sexist. But he argued (and I begrudgingly decided to believe him) that opening the door was not him intending to imply that I was weak or seeking to gain power over me, but him intending to do something loving which he compared to washing my hair in the tub or bringing me a drink after work. So I let him open doors if he manages to get there before I do.

    Which is meant to illustrate the following point, I guess. In feminist relationships (IMO) things are not about power and control. Sure I may take bubble baths and let him open the door and he may take out the trash and grunt at ESPN. We may in some ways fall into “traditional gender roles” but not the traditional power structure that those rolls were created to enforce.

  14. SoE
    April 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Interestingly, most men in their twenties I have met so far are quite open to staying at home, wifes keeping their names, sharing household duties and spending time with their kids. While I’m not so sure all of them really will stay at home once they realize it’s NOT plenty of free time, their other intentions usually seem genuine.
    But since Germany feels like stuck the stone age/50’ies when it comes to women and work and kids… :-/

    Regarding rules and red flags, I’m not a girly girl and somehow never met very traditional guys. Yet, it’d run away if a man is constantly joking about women, scanning every woman around, speaking to breasts instead of the face and every time I hear a line like “if my room’s too dirty, i call my mom to come visit me”.

  15. Emily
    April 3, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Lauren O wrote about privilege. I just can’t agree enough.

    One of the things we disagree about the most is social welfare programs. I have been trying to tell him that yes, he did work very hard in school and has saved money and lived frugally for a long time to build up savings, but the fact that he was born white and male and into a family that could do things like encourage him to go to college or help him with the money to apply and to move his belongings across two states, that isn’t something he earned.

    It is a frustrating process, but he’s starting to get it. A little.

  16. cortney
    April 3, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    I’m actually struggling with this question right now, so it’s been interesting to see the other responses.

    I’ve been with my (male) partner for almost two years, and in a lot of ways, it is a very feminist relationship. He’s pro-choice and down with gay rights and legalizing prostitution, and holds many traditional feminist political beliefs. We live together and have a divide the housework pretty equally. He’s comfortable with me keeping my name if and when we get married, and generally treats all the women in his life with respect.

    The issue is that he has a lot more money than I do. Part of it is age — he’s not only seven years my senior, he’s been in the workforce since he finished college, whereas I took two years off to go to grad school. He works in technology and I’m a journalist, so he’s in a more lucrative field. And he comes from a well-off family, whereas I come from a middle class background and have lots of student loans.

    Because of this, he winds up paying for a lot of things. I pay a portion of the rent and expenses, and I pay all my own bills and try not to rely on him to cover my costs for any essentials. But anytime we go to a nice dinner or take a vacation, he winds up paying, and that power dynamic makes me uncomfortable.

    I feel like I’m a bad feminist for letting a man pay for me, even though he’s not supporting me. I always dated starving artists before I met my current partner and really liked paying for them, and it’s weird to have the roles reversed.

    Am I overthinking this?

  17. Sara
    April 3, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3 years and we plan on getting married eventually. He self-identifies as a feminist as a result of conversations we had, where we’d talk about things like the pervasiveness of patriarchy, GLBTQ rights, reproductive choice and I pointed out to him that he all of his views were those espoused by feminism. And we continually discuss feminist issues, as a result of which he’s become more attuned to them in his daily life (i.e. expressing concern over a female coworker’s pride in skipping meals to lose weight or the stereotypical ways women, minorities and gays are represented in the media)

    As far as rules go, not many. We do the laundry together. I cook dinner because I like to cook, and also get home much earlier than he does, but then he cleans up around the house and takes out the trash. So we strive for an equitable division of labor. I do tend to take on more of my share, which is out of my own idea that he won’t know how to do it, if I ask him to iron or cut up vegetables or something. So that’s me, taking on traditional gender roles because of how I grew up, seeing my mom do all that stuff.

    I won’t be changing my name, which I think bothers him a little but he accepts it (still aren’t sure what to do about our kids – might hyphenate, or say that girls get my name and boys get his). We both want a non-traditional wedding, which we’ll plan together (well, probably him mostly – I hate planning).

    I wouldn’t compromise my beliefs to be with him, as much as I love him. Homophobia, sexism, anti-feminist beliefs just don’t work for me, and I couldn’t stand to be with someone who doesn’t respect me as an individual. Being a feminist is part of who I am, it’s part of the way I see the world, and I’m delighted to have found a man who shares that viewpoint.

  18. harlemjd
    April 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    “I do not find it degrading because he does those things for people of all genders and ages. ”

    In that case, I’d call his actions consideration, rather than chivalry. One is a strictly regimented set of rules grounded in women’s inferiority and the other is about being polite and helpful to other people. (if his consideration has tinges of chivalry in it, like if he HAS to open the door for you even if it’s easier for you to just do it yourself, maybe talk to him about the difference between the two)

  19. Steve Coffman
    April 3, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    This might be a bit incoherent, so bear with me.

    I am (and have always been) a self-identified feminist male, and I have really striven to have my relationships live up to that ideal. How well I’ve succeeded I’ll leave to others to judge. Honestly sharing and negotiating your needs and wants in a relationship has obvious rewards and isn’t that hard to do in the little things (although I still have to pause a conversation and feel for a minute to be able to articulate my needs, while my wife doesn’t). Although it’s well worth it, it is a lot of effort to constantly re-examine and re-negotiate the big things about our life. Without my commitment to do so, I can see how people drift into either resentment, or assert male privilege for short term gains at the expense of long term relationship quality.

    I chose a career and companies that would allow me to flex my time to have a day a week taking care of my infant daughter while my wife couldn’t. It made a huge difference, because she had more experience with infants, and I didn’t want to be just a helper, but did want to be an equal co-parent.

    I worked my 4 10 hour days outside the home, did all the dishes, most of the cleaning, wash the diapers, planned meals for our daughter (once she was eating). My wife just did the bills, our social calendar, breastfed, and worked outside the home as a teacher. When we were together we were pretty equitable in child care. Breastfeeding was enough of a full time job that it was pretty equal (only slightly tilted in my favor), and I think it’s why she was able to continue breastfeeding past the magical 1 year recommended. When our daughter started to eat more food and breastfeeding was just three times a day, I started to get resentful that I had so much less leisure than she started to have, but it took me a little while to be able to put my finger on what I resented and articulate that. We had to renegotiate and things were great again.

    My wife loved her job, but hated herself for doing so, feeling she was being a bad mother for not being 100% devoted to our child (which I thought was unhealthy). She quit after we had paid off enough debt that it was sustainable to live on my income alone, and it was difficult for me to support her in that choice. I didn’t want the stress of being the breadwinner, nor the threat of intrusion into my day a week to be a primary caregiver. I realized that my feminist ideal didn’t amount to much if I didn’t support women like my wife choosing not to work outside the home. (although my wife doesn’t have any patience for “feminist ideology” either way). As a partial compromise, I changed jobs to a government job with less risk of layoff at a reduced salary, and she found some writing from home work that could be done during my Daddy day.

    At home, she found ways of reducing our cost of living that allowed her to cut down on her writing. And with her working from home on her writing, on my weekday she’s not wholly absent, and this added to her now doing the bulk of the childcare (it was grandparents before) which has eroded some of my empowerment as a parent. We’re in another round of renegotiating (she’s aware but waiting on my trying to feel more confident there’s nothing else I’m starting to resent). Our second child is on the way in mid July, and so things will change again then. Once we’re done having babies, and the kids are in school, “the plan” is for my wife to go back to working outside the home again, but we’ll need to negotiate that as well since circumstances will be different then when we agreed on it.

    We have a constant dialogue, and spend more time talking than any other couple we know. Is that a successfully feminist relationship? Again, I’ll leave that to others judge, and would appreciate the feedback.

  20. Steve Coffman
    April 3, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    To sum up the above, I think that a feminist relationship takes a strong commitment, and a lot of constant re-evaluation, re-negotiation, and conversation. My wife is not committed to feminist ideology, but she is committed to dialogue and negotiating needs, and that seems to be enough.

  21. April 3, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Yeah, I grew up in a society where everyone holds open doors for the person behind them. What else would you do, let the door slam in their face? But I was *baffled* when I first saw some guy attempt to dance around so that he would be the one holding the door for the woman in front of him.

  22. radgrltx
    April 3, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks for opening this question up to lesbian relationships. As a lesbian, I’ve experienced relationships with both feminist and non-feminist women. The non-feminist relationships were particularly challenging because I found it very difficult to subscribe to oppressive gender roles while in a same-sex relationship. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why a woman wouldn’t support her own gender equality.

    Of my non-feminist relationships, one was with a “femme” and the others were with “studs”. The “femme” that I dated insisted that I open every door for her and wear men’s clothing. Ultimately, this didn’t feel comfortable to me because I sometimes liked to dress feminine or feel pampered myself. The relationships with “studs” didn’t work out because they always tried to be the boss of me and tell me that my clothes weren’t feminine enough. One stud that I really cared for approached me in an angry confrontation about my shoes — they weren’t frilly enough for her. Another stud I dated was more to the transgender end of the spectrum and made me call her “William” and refused to let me see or touch her vagina. Sadly, non of my non-feminist relationships worked out.

    Fortunately, I now believe that I’ve found my soul mate. She’s a little bit on the tomboy side (which I find really cute), but doesn’t try to dominate the relationship. In fact, we have a pretty equal power balance. We split chores, bills, decisions, everything. I’ve avoided a lot of discomfort simply by entering into a relationship with another feminist. I can talk to her about sexist messages in movies or articles in Bitch magazine without her feeling threatened or uncomfortable. And feminism isn’t the only thing we have in common — we both love intellectual conversation, independent films, performance art, museums, big cities and the outdoors.

  23. Susan
    April 3, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I think being able to talk openly to one another about absolutely anything is the most important thing. I’m the sort of person who analyzes everything and can be extremely articulate (or at least verbose) about it all, and so is my boyfriend, so we’ll have these long, rambling conversations where we clarify our views (and modify each other’s). We argue a lot, but in really productive, non-hurtful ways, and if anyone wins more than the other, it’s I. (Which is a good change from the dynamic of a relationship I had before becoming a feminist, in which I was usually the one who Learned From the argument in the end.)

    Conversation is important not only because we really know where each other stands on important topics, and have come to agree with each other a lot, but because it really takes care of issues that could become serious relationship problems if ignored. If you get into the habit of asking “Does it bother you that…?” or speaking up and saying “I would rather you did/didn’t…” even when you’re not entirely clear in your own head why something bothers you or might bother the other person, in the discussion you start you’ll very likely figure out your own stance on something and understand and be understood by the other person much more clearly. By this method, which has become second nature, my boyfriend and I have learned to respect each other’s preferences and neuroses rather than silently be irritated by something. It’s so much better to have it all out in the open, even if at first it seems awkward to talk about feelings that seem irrational or unimportant.

    Another thing I love about my boyfriend, and will demand of all future relationships if this one ends: He calls himself a feminist. I know so many men who express sympathy for feminist ideas, but shy away from actually identifying themselves with feminism, as though that might compromise something about themselves. With my current boyfriend, I feel like he’s standing with me, instead of secretly (and possibly reluctantly) cheering me on in a task that he himself can’t participate in. When I mentioned this to my boyfriend, he passed on a quotation he admired (I can’t remember who originally said it): “Feminism is about justice, it’s not an exercise in identity politics.”

    Now that I have got into a relationship with someone who is actively committed to looking at me as an equal, and absolutely succeeds in doing so, I find that a lot of the feminist-related problems that remain aren’t so much between us as they are in my head and in the world around us. Having grown up in a patriarchal society, I find that some of the indoctrination has stuck on a visceral level even though I’ve rejected it cognitively. I find myself wondering things like, should we get married (not in the plans at the moment), will I feel a little cheated if we cut out the romantic stuff that actually arose from the idea that the woman is being transferred as property from her father to her husband, and that celebrates virginity? I don’t want to perpetuate sexism with such a socially-important commitment ceremony, but will there always be this little girl inside me who’s read too much about princesses? I’ve found a lot of relief from these longings and worries by, again, talking to my boyfriend about them. We’ve had some good conversations about pressures on women to have certain expectations of their lives and bodies. It’s a great thing to be able to share these anxieties and not fret about them secretly because they might make him lose respect for me.

    And then, of course, there are the challenges I don’t face, by being in a heterosexual relationship, where even if we don’t get married or live up to all the romantic ideals, people don’t blink an eye if we walk down the street holding hands. I need to remember that there are a lot of systematic injustices I don’t have to deal with just because I’m with a member of the opposite sex.

  24. thegirl
    April 3, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    In my feminist relationshp it is my boyfriend that is the feminist. I am much more traditional (patriarchal) with the way I view relationship roles than he is, and feel uncomfortable when my “roles” are taken away from me. He wants so badly for us to have this equality, and it makes sense to me, and it is something that I think I can agree with, but see, the thing is, I love him, and i want to take care of him in the ways I know how, like folding his laundry (he does the wash on his own though), or cleaning up the kitchen, or things like that, and I’m not really sure how to not do them for him. And really, it could end up making him feel like he isn’t doing his job properly because I am doing this housework when he feels that I shouldn’t be.

    What do feminists do to show their significant other that they care about them, and want to do things for them, as I am sure their mate wants to do for them? I mean, sometimes it’s just nice to make dinner for them, you know, and you don’t want to have to worry about the gender role issues.

    It makes less and less sense as I type, and I apologize, but I wanted to give my little bit.

  25. Luna
    April 3, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I am married to a man. Have been for almost 13 years now. I took his name. He asked me if I was planning to, I said, “Are you kidding? I can ditch my name [uncomfortably spelled totally uncommon name] for yours? I’m all over it!” I was so sick of spelling it for everyone, and now it’s a common, one syllable word that every Kindergardner can spell. YAY!

    My husband is a socialist, with feminist leanings. He’s still getting used to seeing his privilege as a white male, but he’s working on it. That helps enormously.

    In the house, he does at least as much as I do in terms of housework. He does all the laundry, including the cloth diapers (ICK!), vaccuuming, garbage and recycling. I do all the cooking (which is considerable, because of food allergies we cannot EVER eat out, and cannot eat almost any processed foods). We do food shopping together most of the time, or he runs out in the evening for little things (he can run to the store in a quarter of the time I can walk there).

    I stay home with our kids. I have a very part time job (6 hrs per week – down from 12) as a secretary – I bring the 2 year old with me – they’re very progressive that way. I’m well overqualified for that (M.A. in linguistics), but he has a job with benefits. I could probably find a full time job in my field in another province, or even on the mainland, but I’m quite happy being at home right now. Sadly, when the kids are both in school, I’ll probably want something, and won’t be able to find it. Even if we moved.

    Despite the money difference, my husband has never once made me feel like it’s his money he’s letting me use, or that he’s supporting me. Never once. He’s cheap, God knows, and goes over every cent we spend, but he has not once made me feel bad for not making a lot of money. I’ve done it to myself, mind you. He says, “Well, it’s not your fault that the work you’re doing at home isn’t paid work! It’s just as important as what I do, moreso in the long run.”

    And, despite the fact that he goes out to work every day and I’m home most of the time, he never suggests that he shouldn’t have to do housework. Never.

    It’s good. I love things like this. :)

  26. April 3, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    You might want to edit the post, Jill, so it says, “What does a feminist opposite-gender relationship look like?” Rather unclear otherwise. :)

  27. wall-flower
    April 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, Cortney, as I was reading your post, I thought: I could have written that! I am in almost exactly the same situation. My partner is feminist, we split housework, he’s pro-choice, he would never expect me to take his name when we get married later this year (we never even had to discuss it — he just knew), he respects and admires my work, etc, etc, etc. But I’ve been in grad school now for… jesus, 7 years?… and I have a profession that will probably never be paid as well as his, plus many many student loans. So we split the rent and bills, but he pays for “luxuries,” like trips or eating out. And for a long time I struggled with this from a feminist POV.

    But after a while, I came to realize that love and trust can and should overcome certain situations that may not be ideal on the surface. I mean, if he was coming home with diamond necklaces or making you feel in some way like you were prostituting yourself for his money, or if either of you felt like he was “taking care of helpless you” (in a patronizing way), that would be one thing. But the way my fiance put it was, “well, if we split X [this vacation, this nice dinner] down the middle, we wouldn’t be able to do it because you can’t afford it. And I want to do this thing, so I’m going to pay for it.” We also don’t go around advertising the situation, either, you know? It’s never this big gesture of I’ll get this, little lady.

    With a relationship, you’re looking out for each other. If he suddenly experienced financial dire straits, I would absolutely support him (even though it would be very difficult) — we would work something out. It just so happens that he’s in a better financial situation now.

  28. Michael
    April 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    As a man I would like to put my two cents in concerning this post. You are an equal, men who believe woman are naturally submissive miss the idea of current though. Compromising in a relationship is a very important aspect, however the idea that you should at least sometimes fulfill your “role” is neglecting who you are. Feminism is not just a political movement, it is a belief that there is equality between the sexes. Some men may have trouble comprehending several feminist frames of though, perhaps because of the way many men are raised. Sometimes a woman in the relationship has to stand up and tell the man in their relationship that they are equals and you will be who you will be, a person male or female should never have to compromise their frame of though.
    I would also like to mention that in a relationship it does have to be equal in order for the woman to preach equality. Lets face it preaching equality while forcing the man to pay for everything sends a mixed message. Equality comes with a price and until that becomes part of our culture the idea of men being the boss of the relationship will never change. Change takes time, but it also takes effort even if it means buying your boyfriend jewelry for your anniversary. ; )

  29. Jeff in OH
    April 3, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    I don’t know if it’s OK for a man to answer this, but I’ll give it a shot. My partner and I were friends for years before things turned romantic, and I more or less introduced her to feminism. She lived (and we now both live) in a rural very conservative area where gender essentialism and patriarchal norms tend to go unquestioned. When we used to chat about her or her fiends dating lives, I was appalled by the some of the behavior they not only accepted but actually blamed on themselves. I offerred up some feminist reading suggestions and encouraged her to question a lot things that few people around her did.

    We definitely struggle with feminist issues. Only since we’ve lived together have I come to understand that it’s not only doing housework, for example, that’s a burden; but that being the one who keeps track of it is a burden too. I was always happy to do an equal share, but she was the one usually keeping track of what needed to be done. We also have vastly different standards of cleanliness, but reading about and discussing the deep social programming and the routine social pressures that are placed on women over that issue has both made me more motivated to come closer to her standards and has helped her sincerely loosen her standards (as opposed to just compromising with me). I’ve still got a ways to go with that one, but I’m still working on it. There are plenty of other places where I struggle with overcoming the blind spots privilege creates, but I wont’ go into them all.

    A lot of little things that have come up in this thread, though, often involve me taking the feminist perspective. I’ve always done courtesy things like opening doors for anyone regardless of gender, but it came up when we first started dating that she really liked “chivalrous” acts that only flowed one way like opening the car door or lighting her cigarrette, and that bothered me. She was floored (although happily so) when I would try to initiate sex only to back out if I saw that she wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but seemed to just be agreeing to make me happy. She wants to take my name when we get married, but the idea kinda bothers me. I’m not going to fight over it, but I’d feel better if she wanted to keep her own. She loves the diamond engagement ring thing, and I find it obscene both for the implications of buying her and due to my familiarity with the history of the diamond industry.

    I’m making her sound really traditional, and she’s not. She’s actually very independent and strong-willed (it was actually her resolution to stop being so opinionated and forceful in order to not scare men off that sparked our first conversation about feminism) and a lot of the social programming aimed at women in a patriarchy seems to have just naturally bounced off her. She just hadn’t really thought deeply about issues of gender and power before we became close a few years back.

    If we have a kid, that will be an interesting one too. She’s never been around children much, whereas I grew up in a large tight-knit family with kids all over the place. My mom did daycare in our house, too, and I – even as a boy in a Midwestern suburb – was the most sought after babysitter in the neighborhood. Diapers and bottles and screaming fits are old hat to me. I know that 24/7 is a whole other world, but I’m well prepared with basic skills. The nexus of my comfort level and knowledge, her complete newness to infants, and all the intense psychosocial baggage surrounding motherhood, will – I’m sure – create some interesting situations.

  30. puggins
    April 3, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Patience is probably the key to a successful feminist-friendly relationship, at least when it comes to some men.

    I consider my self pretty enlightened for a male- I read and occasionally post on feminist blogs and discuss feminist issues with my wife. I STILL make the occasional thoughtless remark. She corrects me, I apologize, try to understand why I made such a stupid comment and we move on. If she weren’t open to me occasionally putting my foot in my mouth- and conversely, if I weren’t open to criticism- then this relationship wouldn’t work as well as it does.

    And note that I specifically mean patience, not tolerance. All tolerance does is make the woman frustrated and give the jackass the license to do the same crap again. You tolerate things that don’t need to change. You have patience when change doesn’t happen overnight.

  31. Flora
    April 3, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    My husband self-identified as a feminist before I met him and for the most part he is pretty great. We lived together for a year and have been married for ten years. I did not change my name which did not bother him in the least. I do 95% of the cooking but he does the laundry, we do the shopping together and cleaning and dishes are divided between us according to whim or who has the most energy on a given day.

    An issue that did come up which might have been a major problem was resolved
    successfully because he is a feminist. We both work long hours and have to wake up early and there are many nights where we are both so tired that we fall into bed way too tired for sex. However, every once in while, he would wake up a few hours later, aroused, wake me up and try to encourage me to have sex. The first few times, over the course of six months, I would sleepily reason that it was best to just give him a quick blow job so that I could get back to sleep. He would make an attempt to reciprocate but I would push him away because I just wanted to get back to sleep. I always felt he was secretly grateful for this because his conscience was clear.

    Although this was not frequent I began to feel that I was being woken up specifically to give him a blow job and would feel vaguely depressed the next day. So the next time he tried it I absolutely refused to wake up. The next morning I asked him whether he would wake me up and insist I go make him a sandwich if he woke up and his stomach was growling. Naturally he was horrified at the suggestion and quickly understood what I was getting at, called himself an insensitive jerk for treating me as though I were object, and 5 years later it hasn’t happened again. So while his feminism isn’t perfect and his privilege sometimes gets in the way he is able to grasp things when I point them out.

  32. April 3, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Oh, I just saw your last sentence! Nevermind.

    Anyway, my response is pretty simple: I don’t date people who don’t grok feminism. They don’t have to agree with me point-by-point on what is and isn’t sexism, what aspects of sexism are most important to fight, etc. But if I tell a sweetie about something sexist that’s pissing me off, my sweetie’s response had better be either, “Wow, I agree that that’s some fucked-up shit,” or “I’m not sure I understand how that’s problematic; can you explain?” I don’t date people who dismiss feminism or claim that sexism doesn’t exist anymore.

    Over and above that, I trust my gut. Do I feel like this person wants me to submit just because I’m a woman? Do I feel like this person doesn’t respect my intellect and boundaries? Do I feel like this person expects me to take on certain duties or roles in our relationship because I’m a woman? If so, I’m out. I’m fine with doing the dishes; I’m not fine with my sweetie telling me or implying that I should do the dishes on account of my ovaries.

    I’ll also note that I’m young and I haven’t started a family yet, but I am only willing to coparent with someone who will go absolutely 50-50 with me. I’m not going to end up like my mom, who is a very strong woman who nonetheless gets 80 percent of the childcare duties while my stepdad dicks around in the garage. Grrrr.

  33. Sondra
    April 3, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m a junior in college, and before college I was pretty much apathetic about “issues”. Then I identified as an Atheist and began to think about things more. One of the issues I became concerned with was reproductive/sexual rights vs. Catholicism (I was raised Catholic), which naturally led me to explore feminism.

    It’s been hard for me in some respects with my boyfriend of six months. He’s wonderful when it comes to being against marriage like me/me taking his name/inequality types of things, but even though I am starting to notice and learn more about feminism and sexism, sharing it is hard.

    It takes a long time of me learning about something before I even begin to feel like I can talk about it/argue about it/defend my position (confidence issues on my part), so I’ll see a commercial or something and basically say to him “do you notice this too?”

    He’s been really responsive however, and it’s been great for me to see him thinking about things in new ways like I am, and I’m glad to feel like I’ve been able to make even that little bit of difference in a person, boyfriend or not.

    At the same time, I’m not a confident feminist yet, as I stated before, so I feel like I may be holding him back just as much as any set ideas that he already has about feminism. When I am afraid to speak up about things that bother me in front of my friends, or compromise my beliefs in certain situations, how can I expect him to see me as a good example?

    I feel like I’m in a healthy loving relationship, but there are still things I’m working out with myself before I can address those issues in him.

  34. Jen in Ohio
    April 3, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Having been in relationships with both men and women, my experience has been that it can be an each-to-each thing — some men seem to understand what’s problematically sexist without too much trouble and some women have a lot of trouble with gender role signifiers and what those ought or ought not to mean in intimate relationships.

    So, for example, even in lesbian relationships there can sometimes be issues like the partner who makes more money also presuming that she’s entitled to the lion’s share of power in the relationship or that the other partner ought to compensate with additional domestic labor or some such. Even though this is a traditionally gendered role division, it’s still a very pervasive social message, and I’ve seen it in enough femme lesbian relationships (and androgynous lesbian relationships) to stop thinking of the problem as a gendered one at the core, and come to see it more as an issue of how power is constructed (which, granted, is often an extremely gendered construction, and is one reason why masculinities also need a major overhaul).

    That said, like the Jen who posted upthread, I’ve also had less trouble feeling pressured into inequitable or undesirable roles when I’ve been in relationships with other women, which has led me to strongly prefer being intimately involved with women, despite still having attractions to men. At this stage of my life, I’m flatly unwilling to consider non-feminists as potential partners regardless of sex or gender. I’m in my late 30s and maybe it’s just me but damn I am tired; I’ve no patience left to do that kind of 101 stuff in my intimate relations.

  35. Kristen
    April 3, 2008 at 6:02 pm


    What do feminists do to show their significant other that they care about them, and want to do things for them, as I am sure their mate wants to do for them?

    For me this is essentially the issue. What would make him feel loved? Not what do you think should make him feel loved ’cause he carries a penis. Some of those things may fit into traditional gender roles (my husband like my pecan pies, buttermilk bread, and apple muffin tops) but some of them are not (I pay the bills and do the taxes).

    Most of them have absolutely nothing to do with gender roles though. For example, I take care of scheduling because my husband literally can’t remember what year it is most of the time let alone what day it is. But accepting that (minor) flaw and being willing to take the time to help him without recrimination is one way I show him that I love him. Get it? Loving isn’t big grand gestures…its day to day caring and consideration and that is entirely individual.

  36. April 3, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    thegirl, feminism doesn’t mean never cooking, cleaning, or taking care of children. It means not having to do those things based on your gender. It means acknowledging each partner’s needs and wants and personality quirks without saying things like, “Well, of course he wants that; men always want that,” or “Women just like flowers and diamonds!” My boyfriend loves it when I cook dinner. He also loves to cook dinner for me. “Cooking dinner,” to us, is not “a thing that women do for men.” Nor is it “a thing that women must never do for men, because that’s sexist.” It’s “a thing that people do for each other when they want to be caring and creative.” Or, better yet, “a thing that people do together for fun”!

  37. April 3, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I would never say that it was anti-feminist to let someone do something special for you if they can afford it and want to. I’d never even say that it was anti-feminist to let someone support you if that is what you both agreed upon and wanted. It’s only anti-feminist if he disrespects you because of it or “expects” a certain power dynamic due to economic status. But as far as picking up the tab on certain things you do together when he is outearning you, that’s not anti-feminist, it’s just good math.

  38. Mariann
    April 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    There should be mutual respect. There needs to be two people treating each other well and with equality. I would hopefully be attracted to someone who has the same views as I do. Feminism does not ned to be extreme, shoved down someone throat. A man who feels that a women is less than a man isn’t a man who I would date. If I discovered these views later on I would attempt to talk to him but ultimately if he refuses to change his views, it is not the relationship for me. I believe a woman can be fully feminist. A relationship shouldn’t be about hiding who you really are. Rules should be being comfortable and happy. If a make makes you feel really sad and uncomfortable, that is a red flag. A relationship doesn’t need to be about politics and feminism but if a person in it in compromising heath and happiness it becomes an issue. I have compromised my beliefs in the past and I was unhappy and unable to really care for him and he did not love me. I am learning how not to do that anymore, because I want something real. I guess it would play out similarly in same-sex or non-traditional relationships. People are people.

  39. Bea
    April 3, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I have a wonderful FWB who told me today that not only did he firmly believe being a feminist makes me better in bed, but that hearing that I think about gendered issues and consider myself a feminist was one of the things which initially attracted him to me. I think that’s pretty fucking cool.

    My last relationship was full of gender-related issues, not because the guy was particularly sexist (he’s one of the most genuinely respectful men I know) but because we both had our socialization to contend with and neither of us quite managed to ignore gendered expectations and just be people together. Also, while well-meaning, he was occasionally clueless and it was hard to make him understand just why he was being clueless, I think in part because he grew up in an environment where certain gendered issues were less prevalent, and didn’t get that they’d been major problems for me my whole life.

  40. Lindsay
    April 3, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    I recently had a long internet discussion (long distance relationship… gross) about why my boyfriend doesn’t identify as a feminist. Knowing my boyfriend and how insistent he is about gender equality, I was surprised that he doesn’t consider himself a feminist. His argument was that “feminist” makes people think it’s just about “women’s issues” as opposed to gender equality and that the term often gets bogged down in negative connotations. Calling myself a feminist is very important to my own identity and marks a period of when I became aware of how gender issues push and pull on my own interactions with and in society. Right now we both recognize the differences in each other’s viewpoints and I hope one day he’ll self-identify as a feminist, but I’m ok with him not identifying as long as he’s still passionate about gender equality.

    There was a period where I wouldn’t let him open doors for me, but I’ve changed my mind about that. And usually he’s opening it because he gets to the door first. I figure it’s ok as long as I open doors for him as well. So often when we go through double sets of doors, he’ll open the first one for me and I’ll open the second for him.

    For last names (in case of marriage), I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. The only option that’s out is hisname-myname – I have an uncle who has the same first name as his last name and that’d be creepy having my last name be my uncle’s name. We’re both planning on going into academia and publishing books, so it could depend on when we get married and if I have any books published under my original name.

    From reading other people’s posts, I agree that it takes a lot of communication, but communication is essential for any relationship I suppose. A lot of communication and the willingness to redefine and rethink aspects of the relationship.

  41. Poetry
    April 3, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    #22 and #35: Word on lesbian relationships. I’m a lesbian dating a feminist and I run into gendered constructions of homosexual relationships all the time. When I tell people about our relationship, they sometimes ask, “Who’s the man in your relationship? Do you consider yourself femme?” My girlfriend and I reject these gendered labels. We don’t want to mimic a heterosexual relationship.

    Also, talking to my straight friends, I think dating lesbians is much easier in terms of feminist issues. Not to stereotype excessively, but every lesbian I know is also a feminist. Also, the power dynamics just aren’t as pronounced. We don’t have to go through any bullshit about who pays on our dates or who should initiate sex or who should be more dominant.

  42. April 3, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    I’m a male, self-identified feminist and feminist-ally, BDSM Dominant; and I am largely heterosexual in my choice of partners. I strongly feel that consensual BDSM relationships, while not necessarily being feminist, at least tend to promote feminist values in many cases. That makes my observations perhaps a little bit of an outlier in terms of how applicable they are to anyone else!

    The relationship I’d like to mention is one that didn’t work out, and the reason it didn’t work out was a big “red flag” situation.

    I was introduced to a woman who was beginning to explore her sexuality and an interest in being a BDSM Submissive, and a relationship started to develop between us. She had a history of being submissive in a non-BDSM sense in two previous failed marriages, and I guess that should have set off warning bells straight away, but it didn’t. Eventually we got to discussing how a BDSM relationship might look where the power exchange extended beyond the bedroom. The red flag (or rather, it should have been a red flag) was when she told me “but that’s just what I mean by ‘marriage'”. In my defence, I only really continued with the relationship because I had some damn fool notion of maybe teaching her (or better, introducing her to feminist Submissives and Dominants who could teach her) about feminism and its benefits. In the end, her deeply ingrained patriarchal views meant that she wasn’t able to cope with the idea of me having a “feminine” side that I wanted to express, and the relationship died a death because of that. So as a BDSM Dominant, I don’t think I could ever be happy in a relationship with a woman who wasn’t at least on some level, feminist or at least feminist-aware.

    Maybe this isn’t the right place for this, but one thing that, as a guy who’s learnt enough skills to be able to contribute properly around the home (cooking/kitchen work especially, also laundry and ironing shirts – not so much tidying and hoovering, despite my best efforts to improve my skills there) – one of the big “red flag” things for me was when a woman observed me contributing in a place where I’m living (it was usually when I was living at my parents’ home) and says within my earshot to my mother (or some other female acquaintance of mine), “I see you’ve got him well house-trained”. Sometimes it’s even been said to my face. It’s a different effect when men say something similar, because they’re just likening me to a woman (since I believe women are equal to men, I don’t have a big issue with that to take personal affront – although I might very well speak up to say that everything I do is manly, because I am a man!) When a woman says it, it not only affirms the patriarchal gender roles, but is also a direct belittling of my choices, and says that I do not deserve respect because of it. Whether she identifies as feminist or not, that’s not going to fly with me as a statement of gender equality or egalitarian living.

  43. April 3, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    I’ve written on this a lot. Here and here, for starters.


    Our marriage is feminist because we practice mutual responsibility for each other. My job is not to “protect” my “dainty and fragile” wife from a cruel external world. She’s not on a pedestal, and she’s not going to break if she’s exposed to the ugliness of the world. Her job is not to protect her “well-meaning but clueless” husband from the emotional complexity of women’s “inner world.” The fact that my wife has a uterus doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of strong and decisive action; the fact that I have a Y chromosome doesn’t mean I can’t be emotionally insightful and nurturing. In this marriage, at least, we take turns handling the “emotion work”, providing reassurance. We each take on the role of Inspirer and Primary Care-Giver as circumstances dictate. Illness and exhaustion take their toll from time to time, and it’s absurd to imagine that in an egalitarian relationship, there is no room for the handing off of roles.

  44. Kristen
    April 3, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    . His argument was that “feminist” makes people think it’s just about “women’s issues” as opposed to gender equality and that the term often gets bogged down in negative connotations.

    My husband has a similar issue with the word “feminist.” He thinks the word is too broad and has no central cohesive theory…(i.e., there are too many people with views he disagrees with that call themselves feminists). He has a point, but I think its important to call myself a feminist. We’ve agreed to disagree on this one. (FYI, marrying a philosophy who writes constantly about the importance of clarity in definitions…not always a fun experience…)

  45. Subgrrl8
    April 3, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    A lot of really great responses here. Love the comments about privilege, equality and power structures.

    For me, my relationship is feminist because it is not based on or structured around gendered ideas of personality, responsibility, or life roles. My partner does not expect me to do all the housework because I am “the woman”, and I do not expect him to do the “manly” stuff just because he is “the man”.
    We didn’t intend to marry at all because it is an institution that we both abhor for being sexist. However, the reality of the world is that I will not have access to affordable health insurance unless we marry, because hetero couples are only allowed to marry in our state (no domestic partner benefits for us!), and I need health insurance because of my disease that needs managing.

    More than that, in every way, we are equals. We have equal say in all purchases and parts of the relationship. We parcel out household chores based on who is ok with doing it or has a particular way that neurotically must be done in a certain way. (He is obsessive about clean floors, more than I; I have neurosis about how my laundry is folded, he does not. Etc. and so forth until the whole house is clean.)

    On top of that, our sexual relationship has always been about mutual desire and respect, and he’s into my kinks (and I’m into his), so we have equality in the bedroom too. He doesn’t “expect” me to do anything should he have a hard on- either both people are into it or it doesn’t happen. That is something entirely new, compared to my not-so-feminist dating past relationships. He was always respectful of me and my desires, as I am of him.

    And whatever the issue I have with a thought or thoughtless comment of his, he is always willing to talk it out, have a discussion and listen to my reasoning. And likewise on my part toward him. He’s never ducked from examining his privilege, and we actually talk rather than fight on this stuff. I like being able to talk to him about my fears, my insecurities without him either a) dismissing me as “silly” (srsly, one guy I dated called all my emotions “attitudes”), or b) fighting me for no reason other than I think differently than him.
    He respects my differences, and doesn’t have any unspoken expectations of me, my behavior, or my looks. Hell, the fact that he finds me sexy without fetishizing me (I’m a pretty hefty frauleine) is amazing and awesome.

    He’s not only a sexual partner and a romantic interest, but he’s such a good friend to me as well. He’s literally the best fun I’ve ever had with a male of my species (and being 99% het, this is a big thing for me).

    That’s why I’d say we are a feminist couple. Kudos to all the good relaitonships up top. Let’s keep the good vibe going and show those gender role lovers what they’re missing! ;)

  46. SarahMC
    April 3, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Thegirl, what do feminists do for their partners? The same things every other person does. Making your partner a nice meal is not the same as restricting yourself to the role of Family Cook. Folding your partner’s laundry when they’ve had a rough day is just a nice thing to do. Folding it as a matter of course, because you’re a woman, is entirely different. If I’m feeling particularly lovey dovey towards my boyfriend I’ll buy him a book he’s been eyeing or something. Or I’ll give him a beej, heheh.
    To address Cortney’s question, I know where you’re coming from. I make more than my boyfriend does, but because my rent is about twice as much as his, he has a lot more money to work with after paying housing expenses. So he ends up paying for meals and drinks more often than I do. Say we go out to a movie, dinner and then drinks with friends – I’ll buy the movie tix, he’ll pay for our dinners, and then we’ll each get our own drinks or something. We just mix it up. Neither of us feels it’s either of our “role” to pay for this or that. We just do whatever works that particular day. Sometimes he’s low on cash for whatever reason so I’ll treat him for the weekend, and sometimes it’s the other way around.

  47. SarahMC
    April 3, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    I have a longer comment in moderation right now, but I wanted to add that I agree with the poster who said women who seek equality must accept ALL aspects of equality.
    I got into it with a bunch of other ladies on Jezebel one day, in a thread about dating. All these self-identified feminists were saying they always make the man pay on the first date, they think men should always be the ones to propose marriage, yada yada yada. I was appalled, and said it’s not fair to demand equality in some arenas whilst insisting on keeping the few apparent “privileges” of traditional womanhood. I was met with a lot of resistance, but I explained that when I say I’m opposed to gender roles, I mean I’m opposed to gender roles. I suppose that’s what makes me a “radical” feminist, as opposed to those who want equality in the workplace but prefer traditional gender roles within relationships.

  48. Elizabeth
    April 3, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    For me it’s a little different because I’m 16, but I’ve been in a relationship for over two years now, so I figure I have some decent input.

    There isn’t really anything I try to avoid or anything, what we do kind of just works fine for everybody on its own (obviously there are arguements, but nothing serious.) I am a very loving, caring woman and do often fit the female stereotype, but since that is me I don’t let it bother me. I suppose we work out alright because he understands my need for equality and my unwillingness to do things simply because I am a female. This may be due to the fact that he is black, so although we are both put down in very different ways, he understands that those little things can be hurtful and demeaning. We have discussed moving in together once i start college (he’s older than I am, and is willing to be dragged along to where ever I happen to go). I think with cooking, cleaning, etc. we will be fine. We will probably trade off, he likes certain foods and can cook them well and visa versa. I refuse to clean everything, and he has been brought up to do much of the cleaning, so he is used to it. We’ll probably switch up different jobs. I guess overall I just do my thing, he does his, and we compromise if an issue arises. When it comes to paying, whoever happens to have more cash pays, or we split. Unless of course someone plans something special. With BC, he usually buys condoms, but I’ll pitch in if he needs it. I plan to go on the pill or something like that, and when I do he will help where help is needed. Basically, we both put our fair share into everything in our relationship and do what we’re good at.

  49. jamesPi
    April 3, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    My wife and I do not identify as feminists, our outlook on life is pretty similar after working on a few things for a couple years. As far as the division of housework and all that, we do fall into some of the classic gender roles but we don’t really care. When we moved in together we discussed what we like to do, what we were best at and in the end just divided things up along those lines. I do the cooking and the finances, she does the laundry and we both do general cleaning. I end up doing everything when she deploys but thats just the way it goes. We were both military for a long time. I no longer am, she was faced with a lot of sexism especially because she was promoted very, very quickly and that caused quite a bit of anger from some of our more “old-school” coworkers. Working through that and a number of other issues shaped both our views on feminism, all the strides it has made and all the work left to be done. We don’t identify as feminists as we both generally dislike labels and while supporting many feminist causes, my wife chairs/is active in a few groups on women in the military and we are both involved in a few other things, we also support some of the issues covered extensively by those dreaded MRA’s, especially shared parenting, prosecution of false police reports, and female on male domestic violence. Amazing the confused looks you get when you tell someone you read shakesville, feministe, pandagon, feministing, etc……and glenn sacks religiously. It seems strange to us when we say we are for complete equality and get quiet applause for detailing the atrocities committed by our military brethern and contractors and then get a mean look from that same person when we bring up gender sentencing discrepancies or any other similar issue, my wife seems to get the worst of it but we figure we’re still learning and its the journey, not the destination.

  50. April 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    SnowdropExplodes, there’s an interesting essay about BDSM and feminism here, if you’re interested. It’s kind of tangentially related to the topic at hand in that it deals with traditional dominant/submissive gender roles from a feminist perspective.

  51. Siobhan
    April 3, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    The biggest hurdle in my relationship with my male partner is not in dealing his expectations, but in my own programming.

    My husband is a former squat-punk who really doesn’t care if the house is full of crap so long as the rain isn’t getting in. My mother was a survivor of the “super-mom” generation; women who were expected to be both full-time bread winners and nurturing mothers with spotless homes. I have a hard time teasing out the difference between what’s really important to me (a clear space to work, maybe?) and what I feel is expected of me. (What if people come by and see this mess!)

    It feels so incredibly banal to be still focused on who does the housework after all these decades. But I’ve already left two long-term relationships over this exact issue because the answer always seemed to be “me”. And I already have a job. (And for the record, one of those long-term relationships was with a woman.)

  52. April 3, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Love this thread! My boyfriend is also a self-identified feminist, and it’s pretty awesome. As to the money thing: We have a definite socialist bent to how we divvy up money stuff. We do it as a proportion of how much we make to how much our pooled income would be. So say I make $65 and he makes $35 (just for the sake of easy math), then I pay 65% of our bills and he pays 35%. Otherwise, if we were splitting it fifty-fifty, then he’d have far less left over for what he wants to spend his money on, and the burden falls mostly on him. Right now we make almost exactly the same amount, but when I get my raise, we’ll sit down and recalculate and adjust. The day to day stuff though, like when we go out to dinner, we just trade off, whoever has it, has it.s

  53. Allyson
    April 3, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    I would like to suggest that women (and men) struggling with what an egalitarian heterosexual relationship looks like refer to Christine Overall’s Heterosexuality and Feminist Theory (refrences below). The feminist philosopher argues that it is possible to have a feminist heterosexuality, if it is separated from institutionalized heterosexuality. She suggests that this is accomplished by each partner taking a critical perspective, becoming aware of the priviledges attached to their relationship and then rejecting that privilege and striving against heterosexist oppression. In addition, she aruges that a feminist heterosexuality can only be present when it is a consciouschoice; in other words, she argues that a woman must engage in critical reflection, identify that she is attracted to men and act accordingly. A feminist heterosexualtiy cannot be one that is automatically assumed because self-determination is not present there.

    Check this out – it really should be required reading for budding feminists!

    “Heterosexuality and Feminist Theory,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 20 #1 (March 1990): 1-18. (refereed)

    Reprinted in A Reader in Feminist Ethics, edited by Debra Shogan (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 1992): 467-484.
    Reprinted under the title, “Heterosexuality and Choice,” in Living With Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics, edited by Alison M. Jaggar (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1994): 499-504.
    Reprinted in Moral Issues in Global Perspective, edited by Christine Koggel (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999): 333-343.
    Reprinted in Sexuality: A Reader, edited by Karen Lebacqz and David Sinacore-Guinn (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1999): 295-311.
    Reprinted in Open Boundaries: A Canadian Women’s Studies Reader, edited by Barbara A. Crow and Lise Gotell (Prentice-Hall Canada, 2000): 262-269.
    Reprinted in Open Boundaries: A Canadian Women’s Studies Reader, second edition, edited by Barbara A. Crow and Lise Gotell (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005): 365-372.

  54. Cymbal
    April 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm


    I just dumped a dude who I liked in many respects.


    He would not admit that he had even a smidgen of privilege. To him, male privilege did not exist. ‘Women have ALL the privilege!’ he would proclaim. ‘They can get laid anytime!’ If you mentioned women’s issues at all, you were a raving feminazi. He claimed there was not- and HAD NEVER BEEN- any such thing as sexism. Why? ‘Because I’ve never seen it!’ yeah.

    My defense is that I was clearly not thinking with my brain. He was cute as hell. He was fun in other respects. He was a complete fucking idiot about sexism. Never a-fucking-gain. Ever.

  55. April 3, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I think after my last relationship ended, I decided that it was better to be alone than with a guy who wasn’t really, truly a feminist who Gets It. Not that I was consigning myself to a sexless life, but I had a policy of keeping my distance from anyone who wasn’t able to get his mouth around the word “patriarchy”. I lucked out, by finding someone who finds the patriarchy to be a ripe target for humorous abuse, but I can’t say that such lightening would strike twice.

    I do recommend, however, going to liberal political events to meet men and wearing your feminism on your sleeve. That turns some dudes on, and improves your chances.

  56. April 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I actually just got out of a patently non-feminist relationship. It was completely one of those “How did you get into that, you’re so assertive/feminist/smart/tough” situations, but I let myself get in too deep even with signs that I should’ve noticed.

    So these days I find myself fearing that every relationship I have is going to be just like that. I’m slipping into expectations of gender roles rearing their ugly heads.

    This thread has cheered me up a lot.

    I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had a really feminist relationship. The best ones I’ve had have been with guys who were impressed with my mind, were proud of my accomplishments, and shared responsibilities. But reading through this thread makes me realize both how far below par my relationship was, and that a good one really is possible. Thanks.

  57. April 3, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Of course, during the deal-breaking conversation, I realized that I’m really on an extreme in terms of standards. I clarified with both this boyfriend and the last by the 3rd date: No Republican tendencies, no religious belief at all (even agnostic leanings gets under my skin), and no fucking tendency to say that rap isn’t music. I was wavering on my last boyfriend for having one too many Pink Floyd CDs than I was comfortable with, but swallowed my doubts, which I probably shouldn’t have done, since it turned out he didn’t like Bowie, either.

    I can’t recommend holding out for the right guy enough. Being abrasive has served me well, because it’s like a Roto-Rooter for assholes. Clears the path for the good ones. Almost all my regrets with men come from shutting my mouth when I should have spoken up.

  58. April 3, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    His argument was that “feminist” makes people think it’s just about “women’s issues” as opposed to gender equality and that the term often gets bogged down in negative connotations.

    I never hear women making this argument. I suspect part of the reason it’s attractive to men is that it gives them a way to pretend that they don’t have to deal with their privilege and male dominance. Which is fucking noxious, like when white people whine about racism against white people.

  59. Jo
    April 3, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    My last serious relationship with a dude was with a man who, at the start of our relationship, identified as a feminist.

    He was all about an equitable, egalitarian distribution of those ‘traditional’ relationship roles and repsonsibilities. We both cooked, did laundry, cleaned, paid for dates, etc. Sometimes he bought me dinner and took me out, and sometimes I took him out. We were in roughly similar financial situations, so money things were split relatively evenly as well. Most of the time, he was kind, listened to me, and demonstrated that he cared about me. He wasn’t a particularly “manly” man, rejected all of the macho stereotypes. On the surface, all the signs of an egalitarian relationship, right?

    To be honest, I don’t think any of that made our relationship feminist. Those things are about treating a partner like a decent human being, like someone you love. Not being a sexist asshole isn’t the same thing as being a feminist-ally or a feminist identified dude, and it doesn’t make a relationship feminist, as far as I’m concerned.

    The kicker for me? When it came to actually deconstructing male privilege, challenging patriarchy, going beyond the rhetoric of “equal rights” and talking about social, institutional, and individual expressions of male privilege, and oppression of women – the hard parts of being feminist ally, he was unable to actually examine how his behavior contributed to oppressive dynamics either in our relationship or on a more global scale. He was unable to look past the personal and recognize how his complicity in a patriarchal system served to keep me, and all women, and queer people, oppressed and perpetuate systems of inequity. That’s the tought stuff, but I think that THAT’S what makes a dude a feminist.

    That’s not to say that I don’t think women can be happy in relationships with well-intentioned cismen who love them and support them and care about them and aren’t sexist assholes. There are, clearly, lots of feminists in just those sort of relationships. But I wouldn’t characterize those relationships as feminists.

    I know a few dudes who make an active effort to deconstruct and challenge their own privilege in their relationships and the rest of their lives. But those men are few and far between, in my experience.

    As for the way these dynamics play out in non-heterosexual relationships, I think it’s definitely still a salient issue. There’re certainly replications of sexist, heterosexist dynamics in queer relationships. There’s plenty of internalized sexism, even amongst queer women, and I think that sometimes, expectations of butch/femme dynamics reinforce sexism. But generally, I think that the odds of creating a feminist relationship are higher in queer relationships. I certainly know that even though my current (female-bodied) partner hasn’t always had the same sort of feminist convictions as I do, she is more invested in examining both of our own internalized sexism, and supporting each other in living feminist lives and developing an intentionally feminist relationship. My feminist convictions don’t come across as a challenge to WHO she is, which I think definitely makes it easier for us to examine the way that sexism is enacted in our relationship.

  60. Thomas, TSID
    April 3, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Dr. Confused, I have a house full of small children. I do all night duty, unless the night is so bad that I’ve already been up six or eight times. It started because my spouse had our first by C-section. She couldn’t haul his oversized bulk out of the basinette, so he slept on my side and I listened to his breathing. When he needed to feed, I handed him over, helped her position him, burped him and put him back. Since my spouse simply does not function while sleep deprived and I can, it just kept up from there through the rest of the kids (and they’re not all sleeping through yet.) Unlike our woman-does-night-duty friends, when my kids are hurt or scared or sick, they want Dad, or at least are as willing to be comforted by me as my spouse. Since I’m a long-hours professional, I really really value that relationship, and wouldn’t have done it any other way. Also, if they wake me on a weekend, I take the brood down for breakfast and Elmo videos while my spouse sleeps in an hour or two. She does so much; I have to take the load off where I can.

  61. bj
    April 3, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    My girlfriend and I reject these gendered labels. We don’t want to mimic a heterosexual relationship.

    I think this statement is based on faulty logic. In a straight relationship, in order to make the relationship equal and feminist, each partner has to work to understand and resist culturally prescribed gender roles that say men must be x and women must be y. In a lesbian relationship, both partners are women. Neither one is culturally required to act “like a man.” In a situation where one woman is butch and one is femme, and, for the sake of argument, the femme does the dishes and the butch takes out the trash, they are both still women. There is no cultural dictate that says femme women must do “woman” things and butch women must do “man” things, because, well, they’re both women. Women are supposed to do “woman” things, full stop. Women are also supposed to spend their emotional energy catering to the needs of men, not other women. So if two women get together and decide, “hey, I feel like taking out the trash and I like wearing ties, and you feel like doing the dishes and you like wearing heels, so how about we do that,” well, that sounds pretty much like a negotiated, feminist relationship to me. How is that any different than deciding you both like to wear lipstick and work on big rigs together?
    Also, the argument that butch/femme relationships are aping straight relationship relies on this bizarre assumption that butches somehow magically get male privilege because they wear men’s clothes or something. Try walking around looking like a boy with breasts and let me know how great people treat you. I can tell you from experience, being the bearded lady at the circus isn’t fun. And if the assumption is that, well, if a butch/femme couple walks down the street people will think they’re straight and afford them straight privilege, try being “found out” some time and see how much fun THAT is. There is no straight privilege for anyone but straight people.

  62. Jasmine
    April 3, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Well I think Iwill chime in with my little story. My husband and I met in college. After getting together, breaking up then getting back together a year later after we both learned and matured alot, was when I started to be more vocal about my feminist views. We appreciated a lot of the same things. He doesn’t think it’s “gay” to go to the ballet or the theater. I feel that he appreicates and repects my feminist sentiments and will listen to my rants about Maxim or Axe body spray (he HATES their ads and thank god would never think of wearing the stuff) and occasionally points out an ad that seems sexist.
    We split the housework and he does most of the cooking as he likes to experimet with differet recipes and tries to get me to try new foods. However when we began talking marriage I originally wanted to keep my own name. It seemed to bother him and we discussed. I think initially I wanted to keep my name more so for shock value. I decided to hypenate my name instead. Once I told him that I was reluctant to replace my hispanic last name (I and my family are Puerto Rican) with an anglo one because I felt like I’d be losing a part of my identity as a Latina woman, I think he understood it a lot better. When others asked me what my “new” name would be and I told them I was hypenating I got the occasionaly “Oh that’s modern” type remark.

  63. Emm
    April 3, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    I think I’ve had a feminist relationship. my last boyfriend, of many years,considered himself a feminist and tried to be very aware of these issues and not to make any assumptions about our roles just because he was a man and i was a woman (though i do love to cook and he does love to fix things with a hammer and nails…) one great triumph i had in that relationship was convincing him that it was sexist and discrimination against poor people for medicaid not to pay for abortions.

    in my current relationship (we haven’t gone to the boyfriend/girlfriend label yet) we havent talked specifically about whether he’s a feminist, but he is very liberal despite having grown up in a conservative republican household, and seems to effortlessly behave as a feminist man. he has never expected to get cookies for acting right. i think we will have a conversation about feminism soon, and see what happens…

  64. Darcie
    April 3, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    For me it’s not a question of working feminism into my relationships. It’s something of a prereqisite for any person I am interested in, so it’s always there. In other words, I am not interested in someone at all unless they’ve shown they have some progressive social awareness, or at least a willingness to learn. Its not something I actively choose, it just is. I wouldn’t nessesarily reject someone for not using key words, so to speak, its probably like preferring people who have brown hair or who share your hobby. It’s becuase I unconsciously assume non-progressives treat women and other people badly, so it’s automatically out the door.

    In relationships, It’s not always the word “feminism” outright, but the individual I am dating now calls himself a feminist. He tries to be aware of things like race and class, and is all over homosexual and transexual rights. (But methinks he needs some education about how being a young white male from a fairly well off family has gotten him where he is) I think the first time we used the word “feminism” I sort of threw it out there in a conversation once, and was suprised at his insight into the matter.
    I think we tend to automatically assume men don’t want to discuss this “women” stuff, or admit to supporting equality, but I’ve seemed to find plenty of men who are right out there with us.

    So.. back to the original question, I think I said it’s already “there”. You just need to makre sure your partner is comfortable with the words. Sometimes with men the beliefs are there, but putting a name to it is difficult for various reasons with which every reader of this is probably well acquainted.

  65. Darcie
    April 4, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Hm, oops, I was going to add…

    As far as practically, “what does the relationship look like?”

    It sort of depends. Usually I’m the one doing the cooking and dishes and stuff, even at his house. But as far as I am aware, that’s not for any gender-related reasons. He is simply not motivated to get these things (like dishes and putting things away) done, but I do it so he doesn’t get shit from one of his parents, and for other practical reasons (so we can not have to worry about it in the morning when there’s no time). For example, if one of his family members is in the kitchen at his place, I usually do the dishes just to keep myself busy.

    Does his laziness with the dishes have something to do with gender? Maybe. I wouldn’t put it out of the question, but he’s lazy and forgetful with a lot of other things, too. I just automatically see a task to be done and do it, and he’d rather leave it for a few days and get to it “eventually”. He’s generally immature and not serious about things, so that’s how I justify the lack of gender-connection.
    Love the progressive stuff, but the laziness? Certainly not life-partner material, sadly.

    Hm, these will be interesting things to think about!

  66. zuzu
    April 4, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I’ll let you know when I have one.

    The best I’ve had is *not anti-feminist.*

  67. zuzu
    April 4, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Oh, and the cleaning issue? Is one reason I am seriously leery of shacking up. Because while I’m basically a slob myself (though I’ve gotten much better!), I’ve gotten a taste of how easy it is for a guy to shift work to a woman just from sharing a secretary with a guy and winding up fully responsible for buying the joint gift for Secretary’s Day.

    (Which was already uncomfortable because our secretary was a Jehovah’s Witness and didn’t *do* holidays, but she was actually quite gracious in accepting gifts for Secretary’s Day because it was expected in the firm culture that the lawyers give, and the secretaries receive, gifts. Also, she gave us stuff for Boss’s Day, which blew my mind, because I had no idea it even existed, let alone had I absorbed the idea that I was a boss.)

  68. April 4, 2008 at 12:34 am

    I think the question “What does a feminist relationship look like?” gets to the heart of what I was clumsily guest-blogging about on these very pages last summer. It was an attempt for a hetero-boy (me) to confront the contradiction of (or reconcile) my professed public commitments and my private privileges and expectations.

    I believe I strive for a feminist relationship. I can testify to what that striving looks like for me. It involves a lot of conversations about power between the two of us. About expectations, questioning and confirming, especially in spheres of life that I imagine are the most gendered – sexuality and life in public and at home. The striving looks like two people sharing feminist texts, and our thoughts about them. This blog, for instance.

    It is perhaps a cliche to point to open, honest, equal communication as some sort of ideal and/or panacea – whether you’re listening to Oprah or reading Habermas. But I think that’s the target, and I think the feminist relationship aims to make sure that the gender aspects are included in that conversation.


  69. enlightened
    April 4, 2008 at 12:52 am

    All these self-identified feminists were saying they always make the man pay on the first date, they think men should always be the ones to propose marriage, yada yada yada. I was appalled, and said it’s not fair to demand equality in some arenas whilst insisting on keeping the few apparent “privileges” of traditional womanhood. I was met with a lot of resistance, but I explained that when I say I’m opposed to gender roles, I mean I’m opposed to gender roles. I suppose that’s what makes me a “radical” feminist, as opposed to those who want equality in the workplace but prefer traditional gender roles within relationships.

    There is nothing radical about your thinking Sarah. You are either a feminist or you are not and femiinism does not stop at the threshold of one’s home.

    If you are truly a feminist the role of primary breadwinner is genderless and I would submit to you that regardless of what most women may say the role of primary breadwinner is not a burden they would prefer to bear.

    A situation was posed to me not long ago and let me try it out on the folks here. Let’s say we have a feminist heterosexual couple where both he and she are well educated, career driven and both have promising careers, but she earns slightly more than he. They marry and share housekeeping responsibilities more or less evenly. Then they have their first child. She takes eight weeks off from work to be home with baby (which in her case is paid because most corporate employers to do offer that). He takes paternity leave too, but rarely is that ever paid, nonetheless he takes it unpaid, because he is a good feminist and, of course, he loves the baby and because he works for a smaller employer his employer is not governed by FMLA so he doesn’t 8 weeks but only 6. So 14 weeks after leaving the womb the baby is off to daycare or maybe and aupair (if this young couple can afford it, but a nanny is out of the question). She is still lactating and misses the baby, and he does too, but he is not constantly reminded of it by his lactating breasts. Nonetheless, she is made of tough stuff and they continue on in their mutually understanding way. Time goes on, she gets over yearning to be with her baby and focuses on her career. Then she is made an incredibly attractive career offer, a chance of a lifetime, except it is on the other side of the country, in a place where there are glut of people who do what he does and in the place they presently are at, his career has grown some roots and there is real promise for his career advancement. The offer she is made, however, will result in a more than doubling of her salary with ample opportunity for advancement, but for him it is not so clear as to what his career prospects are. But they are feminists so they make the move to accommodate her career advancement. He gets a job, but it is not nearly as lucurative as what he earned in their former locale. Then they have another baby, because they are still in love. She takes sometime off, but not too long because not only does her new career opportunity offer large compensation, it also carries large responsbilities and the cost of childcare for 2 children in their new locale is rather steep particularly in relation to the now relatively miniscule compensation he is making. So they decide he is going to be a stay at home dad. He has some mixed feelings about it, but he’s feminist and she is too so they do it. So now not only is she the primary breadwinner, but she is the only breadwinner. Initially he enjoys his new role as a stay at home dad, and she enjoys the increased income and prestige, but misses her babies and time goes on and somewhat unexpectedly they have third child and her career has started to plateau. She really can’t afford to take very much time off at all and goes back to work after only 4 weeks. He gets to stay at home with the kids and she is seeing younger women who work for her leaving to fulfill their roles as mothers, something she never really done over any signifiant period of time. Her work is now a job and she starts to grow a little resentful of her husband, “why isn’t he more a man” she thinks, “why do I have to bear the burden of primary breadwinner, isn’t that his job”? She is no longer a feminist but he is and she doesn’t like it at all.

    So what do you think of this situation. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme a situation. Suppose you both have very important work commitments and the baby gets sick and you can’t get a babysitter, who is staying home with the baby. I submit that in the absence of children being a feminist couple is easy, but bring children in to the equation and it becomes nearly impossible. A flurry of articles came out last year on the issue of primary breadwinning wives and the effect on relationships one of which I will link to here.


  70. Sara
    April 4, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Emily, since getting married, I’ve found myself in some really crappy conversations with some of the wives of my husbands’ friends.The only thing this group of women has in common really is that their husbands all hang out together. Once I was trapped in a conversation about the care and grooming of husbands. Holy shit that sucked.

  71. Sara
    April 4, 2008 at 1:07 am

    It’s hard not to take this opportunity to annoyingly gush about how awesome my husband is, but I’m going to try to show some restraint here and not embarass him, since he comments here on occasion. My take on whether a heterosexual, romantic relationship meets the description of “feminist,” has not especially a lot to do with, say, breaking down traditional gender roles, but how easily each member of the relationship is able to make their own decisions about what to do with their time and energy. As long as my gender isn’t being used by my partner to obligate me to do something I’d rather not, I’m happy.

  72. enlightened
    April 4, 2008 at 1:18 am

    This is the other article I wanted to link to on this topic:


  73. April 4, 2008 at 1:21 am

    it turned out he didn’t like Bowie

    I hope that was the moment you kicked him to the kerb!

  74. Daiju
    April 4, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Several people have mentioned chivalry as a point of contention and I agree. There is a fine line between chivalry and kind gestures, and it is often difficult to discern which category men’s behaviors fall into. Sometimes behaviors might make sense regardless of whether they are chivalrous or kind. Since the most common rationalization for chivalry I hear is physical strength, I’ll use that as an example. If one person is physically stronger (whether male or female), it would perhaps be a kind gesture for that person to take on a physically strenuous burden. Men who take on more than they can handle for the sake of chivalry or “manliness” just looks ridiculous. I think that can be generalized to people regardless of sex and gender though. Of course, when a physically strong male takes on a physically strenuous task, he may be acting based on gender roles and chivalry and it is the attitude behind the action that I think matters most. Behaviors that happen to overlap with gender roles are different from behaviors that purposefully adhere to gender roles.

    I was taking an ethcis course last semester and the sinking of the Titanic was one of the disasters we looked into. The class was almost entirely male and so no one seemed troubled when a point was made that the people on the ship had some ethical criteria because women and children were given priority when it came to evacuating to the lifeboats. I don’t really see much ethical about having to choose who gets to live and who gets to die. When I asked for a justification (why this was “ethical”), the most common responses were regarding the “physical fitness” of men. Men are generally stronger than women so they are “natural protectors”. Of course that argument doesn’t make any sense when you are talking about freezing cold water and the likely possibility of drowning before dying of hypothermia. This has nothing to do with the course of action that makes the most sense or saves the most lives and everything to do with chivalry. Basically, whenever behavior is based on things that don’t matter (differences in genetalia don’t matter whether you’re on a sinking ship or opening a door), there’s a problem.

    If I understand correctly what Jo (response #60) wrote, I think that is right on. Behaviors are symptoms of sexism and you can’t claim that someone is anti-sexist and feminist just because the symptoms don’t seem to be apparent in a discussion on politics. How many men are aware of what’s going on when they are walking along a pathway at night and there is a woman walking a few yards in front of them? How many of those who are aware will make their position known by making some loud sounds and how many will choose to go in a different direction because the situation makes them physically uncomfortable? How many don’t notice when women avoid them or if they do notice, how many will blame women for being “sexist” against men? How many men think about sexism that doesn’t personally affect them and actively work with other feminists to change laws, social norms and perceptions? How many are really aware of male privilege? Even feminist women are constantly learning about male privilege. It’s not like you know everything once you are a feminist. Some feminist women may not be aware of the inherent male privilege when men walk around alone without worrying about being sexually assaulted. The difference is that feminists are constantly questioning and critically examining society and relationships. A man can hardly be considered a feminist if he is content with his limited knowledge and passively supporting a few feminist causes. I think a feminist relationship requires both partners to be active feminists. That means feminism is an identity rather than an interest.

  75. April 4, 2008 at 6:53 am

    To me, having a feminist relationship means I can send my boyfriend the link to this thread without being afraid he’ll think I’m a crazy feminazi. We try to balance things, like cooking and paying and whatnot, but mostly I just need a relationship where I have the right to ask him to think about feminism and male privilege.

  76. Lux
    April 4, 2008 at 7:34 am

    This thread reminded me of this Guardian column. I think it’s very true that het “feminist couples” have better sex lives, if only because feminist women know their bodies better and are more willing to ask for what they want in bed, and also that men are equal persons with their own turn-ons and not machines that have to be satisfied according to social custom.

    My best friend is strongly feminist and we have a lot to talk about, especially since our mothers were both second wavers and we are discovering for ourselves what feminism means for us. We have a lot of intelligent discussion and I’ve been able to get a much better handle on my beliefs and the theory that goes with them since he and I became friends. I haven’t been with my boyfriend long and we don’t often discuss politics, but he has never tried to talk me down from fighting for something I believe and admires my drive, even if he doesn’t get it. I know it hurts him to see me when my beliefs cause me pain, but he has never tried to dissuade me and has my back, so maybe it’s time for me to give him a bit more credit and start talking to him about it.

  77. Emma
    April 4, 2008 at 8:15 am

    My husband comes from a household in which his father goes out to work and his mother does all the housework (I was very young when I met him, well before we started dating, so had never actually encountered a household like that – in my world all women worked).

    It’s not a positive example of that dynamic, either, unlike a lot of families I’ve known since. Obviously the kids have left home now, and their mother is absolutely miserable. She lives in the middle of nowhere with few friends, and her mental health has become questionable. She is absolutely a cliche of wasted intelligence etc. His father sees no reason to move, as he gets all the social life he needs at work.

    His home town is also a cliche – small-town mindset, with a lot of racism and little tolerance of anything different.

    I hadn’t taken the full unpleasantness of his home life in (violence, no communication, middle-class 1950s model family on the outside etc.) before we started dating. If I had, I might have run a mile.

    My husband still has problems that stem from his upbringing – he vowed never to hit a woman after seeing violence towards his mother, but it’s not fun to have your stuff smashed. And he doesn’t do housework at all, unless I point out that it might be a nice idea –

    Whereupon he does it willingly, and apologises for not noticing in the first place. And I believe he honestly tries his best to control the violent impulses too.

    He is a lovely, caring guy. He considers himself a feminist, and considers the major feminist beliefs self-evident. He can spot (and call out, in a social context) racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism and cissexism in a heartbeat. He understands that he cannot notice his own privilege, and that he has a great deal nonetheless. He can discuss politics coherently. And most importantly, he listens to my opinions and respects them when they differ from his.

    The point I’m probably failing to make? A good person, who is willing to learn, can ignore every power structure laid down for them. A truly egalitarian partnership will never need rules.

  78. April 4, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Thomas, thanks for that. It’s good to hear that not all mothers end up doing all the night duty.

    I’ve often heard that it’s kids that really test the gender equality of a relationship. Everything is coasting along fine, then a baby comes out of a woman’s vagina and needs to latch on to a woman’s breast, and all the ideology and negotiations come crashing down. We’re negotiating it; it takes a lot of talk, but I think we’re making progress.

    Now I have to see if I can get the kid I just nursed to sleep to not wake up as I take her off my lap and put her next to my husband, so I can get dressed and go to work.

  79. tps12
    April 4, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I think the money thing is an interesting issue. With the gender gap in income, it’s going to come up in a lot of heterosexual relationships. It seems to me that the feminist response is not in avoiding such relationships, but in dealing with them so as to minimize the patriarchy-reinforcing consequences of them. I really like Bitch PhD’s take: http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2005/11/my-radical-married-feminist-manifesto.html

  80. bookbat
    April 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    The biggest trick in my book for having a feminist relationship is having a boyfriend who was raised in a feminist household. His mom kept her name, so he has no expectation I’ll change mine, though when we have kids there’s a strong chance they might take his name, as my last name makes middle school really challenging. His parents have a long standing division of household labor that seems to work incredibly well. He happily supports all of the organizations that I work for, and would do so even if we weren’t dating, and works to educate his male friends on these issues, too. And before we started dating, I subjected him to my “litmus tests” of did you vote, did you vote pro-choice, are you pro-choice, and are you not a jerk. When he responded to the “are you pro-choice?” question, he said yes, and then expounded on the good work done by Planned Parenthood.
    The hardest thing for us is figuring out the long-term trajectory for our location and job preferences. I’m currently in a phd program, so after graduation he moved out to be with me. Once I graduate and he figures out his grad school plans this will become somewhat more problematic. At this point we use the criteria of “we move to the place where either one of us has the cooler, more awesome job”, writ large. So my academic gig could win if he stays in project management, but if he say, becomes a comedy writer in New York, we’ll go in that direction. We’re always trying to do the best for both of us, but sometimes decisions must be made.
    On a lighter note, he was the only guy on campus my senior year of college who purchased a “Vaginas are for Lovers” t-shirt to help fund the Vagina Monologues on campus, and he actually wore it around. And to decide who pays, since we’re at roughly equal levels of compensation (he makes a little more, but not enough to make a huge difference where we live), we determine who pays the check at the restaurant through rock-paper-scissors, best 2 out of 3.

  81. other orange
    April 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I adore my husband, and his family circumstances led him to identify as a feminist guy- his mom went back to school when he was a kid, and his professional, engineer dad took care of the children when she did; cooking and cleaning and imparting the extremely important lesson that mom’s dreams and mom’s career and mom’s future are just as important as dad’s. That’s never left Mr. Orange’s view, and he’s a true partner in every sense. He loves cooking (such a good cook !) and working on our home together and entertaining (he’s really into hors d’oeuvres.)

    That said: he’s a man, and he has male privilege blinders on in places that I’d never suspect. He bought a bottle of Axe body wash, not really thinking anything of it, because it was on sale. Later that week, my girlfriend and I were watching tv and an Axe commercial came on- we laughed at it, and basically picked it apart from a feminist angle, and Mr. Orange actually got upset. It blew my mind. This is a guy who regularly mocks beer commercials for their stupidity, who calls out sexists in his competitive workplace, who actually talks back to his friends when they make rude comments about women.

    I talked to him about it later, and he finally seemed to understand where I was coming from, and that it wasn’t him- that it was the ridiculousness of a commercial that basically advertises bath products like a date-rape drug. Still, it shook me for a second, to see that our culture of “anxious masculinity” can have an effect on even the best guys, in ways they don’t even recognize at first.

    Like anything, a good feminist marriage is a work in progress- lots of talking, lots of listening, lots of hors d’oeuvres. Okay, maybe that last part is just us. ;)

  82. catfood
    April 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I do recommend, however, going to liberal political events to meet men and wearing your feminism on your sleeve. That turns some dudes on, and improves your chances.

    I think the first words I heard from my girlfriend were, “I’m a feminist.” (Okay, the actual first words were probably closer to, “That’ll be $20.21, will you be paying cash?”)

    That was in 1985 or maybe early in 1986. And yeah, it was a turn-on.

  83. eli bishop
    April 4, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    i feel like the luckiest girl ever! *cue violins & singing birds*

    no, seriously. i labeled myself an “independent” woman but not a feminist for all the reasons “full-frontal feminism” was written. but then it seemed like men i met said they wanted independent women — but it turned out they didn’t want them -too- independent. red flags for me now are “you can’t [x],” where [x] is walk at night, buy a motorcycle, etc etc. one of my “aha!” moments was the man who slyly said as he was making himself lunch one morning, “well, all the -other- wives pack their husbands lunches.” good thing we weren’t married, then, i thought! but it made me laugh out loud: “i don’t even make my -own- lunches! why would i make yours?”

    when i finally found a man who didn’t judge my independent streak and was “exceedingly fair” in his dealings (even down to a proportionate rent split), i felt better; we didn’t have a lot of spark, but i felt if i couldn’t make it happen with him, i just wasn’t going to be able to make it happen.

    then, kaPOW! i met a boy who was vastly more feminist than i was. he’s done a ton of activist and volunteer work for a variety of social change, he’s worked for a rape crisis center, he wore dresses when he was in college. he can actually quote feminist theory and has a library of feminist books. he is the kindest, most generous person i’ve ever met. he specifically notices his privilege and his first reaction at criticism isn’t defensiveness. he does a lot of self-work around expectations, boundaries & safety. he encourages me to live more loudly and take up more room. he was the first boy who told me i could say “no” at any point for any reason & it’s true. for the first time i felt like i could totally relax around someone, and his examples made me claim my feminism and become a better person myself.

    we handle the household issue in a fairly haphazard manner in part because we both have such flexible schedules. we’re most successful when we have decided a schedule around a task (say, laundry or groceries and meals), then whoever is free to do it when it’s scheduled can do it. we’re both not planning on having children, so the largest issue we have is our salary discrepancy, and that’s all my issue, not his. however, i find i feel more responsible for the social schedule and conversational lubricant around family & other friends, but we’re working on that. :)

  84. Poetry
    April 4, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    @post 62: I’m very aware of the difficulties that gender non-conforming people face. What I mean is that when straight people ask me who the man is in our relationship, they’re imposing their heteronormative gender system on us. We’re not willing to make our relationship conform to their gendered expectations just because it’s easier for them to comprehend. If a lesbian couple wishes to identify as butch/femme, that’s not a problem. It’s a problem for my straight friends to impose a gendered system on us when it doesn’t exist in our case.

  85. Lorelei
    April 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    my boyfriend is basically apolitical. he’s very concerned about consumerism and corporations taking over everything, but otherwise doesn’t identify with a party and just cannot bring himself to sign up for any one ideology (he blames this on reading too much philosophy). which is fine with me. whenever he does say something vaguely political, it’s pretty much nothing insane or republican, so it doesn’t really bother me.

    i can get him around white privilege, but not white privilege if you’re poor. he grew up absolutely destitute so the conversation just reduces him to tears, so i don’t try anymore.

    male privilege confuses him a bit, but became more clear to him when one day, someone commented on his outfit (he was dressed in a suit but with nowhere in particular to go). some guys stopped him and asked him what he was dressed all fancy for, and kind of poked fun at him.

    ‘wow, i feel like an object or a sideshow. what the hell.’

    ‘see, the fact that you are in shock that this happened to you is part of male privilege. i have people commenting on my outfits all the time, and not usually because i’m oh-so-classy. infact, i have strangers comment about all sorts of things that are none of their business. it’s because i’m a woman. this almost never happens to you.’

    which he got.

    in any case, he has a basic understanding of how institutional oppression works (because he’s interested in classism), so if i ever have to vent, it doesn’t usually turn into an argument. but i have many feminist friends to rant to, so if it doesn’t work out ranting to him, i just call a girl friend, haha.

    sometimes i have random outbursts of something happening and me yelling, ‘HOLY FUCK, I HATE MEN.’ he now knows that he should probably respond with, ‘i know, lorelei, i know. it’ll all be okay.’


  86. Lorelei
    April 4, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    also, he not only knows i wouldn’t change my name if we got married, but also really doesn’t want me to. Lorelei Hislastname would sound really dumb, we both decided.

    i’m disabled (PTSD — i find it very hard to work more than 15-20 hrs a week). the understanding is basically that if/when he had enough money, he would be happy to ‘take care of me’ — that is, be the sole financial supporter. but if it comes to pass that i can work sufficiently, he wouldn’t be all like OMG THOUGH YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO STAY AT HOME and wants me to work. which i don’t congratulate him on because wtf that would be so shitty of him if he didn’t. but i’m just saying.

    he is also very ‘domestic’ and basically takes care of the house by himself. i do the laundry, though.

  87. April 4, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Where do you all find so many feminist men???

  88. April 4, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Dr. Confused:

    “Everything is coasting along fine, then a baby comes out of a woman’s vagina and needs to latch on to a woman’s breast, and all the ideology and negotiations come crashing down.”

    I’m wondering if there might be some ideology in the “needs to latch onto a woman’s breast” part. In my view babies need nourishment and a nurturing touch, and that can as easily come from a man with a bottle as well as a woman with a breast

    The reason I mention it is that I generally did lots of the nighttime feedings, simply because I enjoyed it and my wife doesn’t react as well to lack of sleep. This worked better for us, because while she initially wanted to breastfeed she discovered it wasn’t necessary.

  89. enlightened
    April 4, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Since my prior comment is awaiting moderation for now about 2 days, let me try again. Heterosexual “feminist” marriages without children pose very little in the way of challenge in my view, however, bring children into the equation and things get very complicated and difficult, particularly if both husband and wife have strong career aspirations. Unless you can afford a full time nanny children will take away from time devoted to your occupation. What if each of you has a work commitment and when you wake up in the morning your pre-schooler has a 101 fever and is throwing up and you can’t get a baby sitter and daycare won’t take them. Don’t think that doesn’t happen because it does. Even in a childless couple when you have 2 people with strong career aspirations what if one gets an a very attractive offer in another part of the country; in an area that may not be particularly good for the type of work the other does. Feminist relationships can be very complicated. Marriage is difficult as it is and it becomes even more so when career issues conflict.

  90. Ismone
    April 4, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Mary Tracy9, I only found one. Of my other boyfriends, the first was vaguely liberal, and treated me with respect, but probably assumed he was smarter than me (and cheated on me), the second probably had feminist leanings, the third was definitely not (he called himself a ultraconservative, which I thought was a slight overstatement), the fourth just loved women, and the fifth (and final) is a feminist.

    Honestly, I told him after we got serious that I never thought I’d find a guy like him, that I thought I would have to compromise on some things that were important to me (politics, family size, career choices, awareness of sexism).

    But you can turn the good ones! My younger sister, who has been writing a lot in her school paper about feminist issues, ‘turned’ her fiance. They had been having all kinds of discussions about sexism, and he said to her (in private, we’ll work on the public declarations) I think I’m a feminist too. He still does dumb gendered stuff (pulls this whole “ball and chain” routine) but he is getting there.

    Even with the non-feminists, I went for teachable moments, by insisting on paying for dates, or helping with physical tasks, or explaining how I felt on certain issues. (I have now taken to telling many guys about being groped in public, catcalled and threatened, and how friends who have been victims of sexual assault acted to dispell rape myths. A lot of times, particularly because I listen to their stories about experiences they had as boys or men or based on whether they grew up, even if they initially express disbelief, usually they become sympathetic and say things like ‘wow, I never knew that.’)

  91. Ismone
    April 4, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    The parents and husband of one of my friends did nighttime feedings because mom needed her sleep. She was very grateful. I know pumping isn’t supposed to be great fun, but considering my guy’s lesser sleep requirements, I may be doing quite a bit of that when we have kids.

  92. Banisteriopsis
    April 4, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Several people have mentioned chivalry as a point of contention and I agree. There is a fine line between chivalry and kind gestures, and it is often difficult to discern which category men’s behaviors fall into.

    Asking why they did it helps. If your partner *always* gets the door, that’s probably not kindness. Likewise if it’s really important that they do (or do not) do it. Like if I carry the big bag because I’m stronger, that’s kindness. But if I insist on carrying all of the bags, that’s chivalry.

  93. Banisteriopsis
    April 4, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Oops that first paragraph should be quoted.

  94. enlightened
    April 4, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    This is not a comment, but a question. How does a feminist couple handle career conflicts? Is there some likelihood that a primary breadwinning wife may grow resentful of her lower earning husband if she can’t afford to stay home with children when they come along? What percentage of heterosexual marriages are “feminist” marriages and what percentage of “feminist” marriages end in divorce?

  95. Stephanie
    April 4, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    As someone recently engaged and living with my boyfriend, I have the internal struggle of who does household chores. For the most part, it has been divided along the lines of who “enjoys” doing what – I like to cook, so he does the dishes. He likes to dust (I know…) so I sweep. etc. It is still a bit uneven, but it is mostly because he has lived in what I would consider unlivable roommate conditions and doesn’t really know what it takes to keep a clean house – like the fact that you have to clean the tub.

    At the same time, a lot of our traditionally gendered work is done based on necessity and time, he works full time and goes to school so I am home a bit more. I, however, will probably make more money throughout our lives so when kids come into the picture he is more than willing to stay at home and manage the household.

    Politically and philosophically, there are still some things that we don’t see eye to eye on, but conversation usually solves any rift due to either of our prejudices (for example my previous thought that any punk band not fronted by a woman was inherently misogynist by association).

    While there is by no means perfection, the planning of our wedding and marriage has actually been a celebration of the equality within our relationship. I’ll share my favorite instance:

    Setting: Sitting on the couch browsing online.

    Him: “You aren’t going to change your name, are you?”

    Me: “Um, well I’m not sure since I’m not attached to my father’s name and more attached to my mom’s (which is my middle) but I also don’t want to give in to paternal lineage.”

    Him: “Cause I don’t think you should.”

    Me: “Really?”

    Him: “I fell in love with Stephanie X… I don’t know who the hell Stephanie Y… is. Changing it just doesn’t make any sense.”

    Me: “What about our kids?”

    Him: “We can do whatever, if you dont’ want them to hyphenate I can always change to yours or we can both use your middle.”

  96. jackieO
    April 4, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Are there any posters who would consider themselves in a feminist heterosexual relationship that have been married for more than 15 years and have more than 1 child. How has it worked? Who is the primary breadwinner? How many couples like yourself do you know? Do you think of your relationship as unique?

  97. April 4, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Allyson, thank you for citing that book — I haven’t commented here before but wanted to share that it has been very helpful from a feminist perspective that my (male) partner and I have rejected institutionalized heterosexuality in many ways by choosing not to be legally married. Giving up that privilege — refusing to participate in that particular institution on the basis that it is applied in a way that is discriminatory — has meant that we have had to make many conscious decisions that married couples take for granted. For instance when we bought our house, we had to understand what it meant to own property together — did we want to each own half or each have equal claim to the property? We cannot be on one another’s health insurance, so our jobs are important not only for the income they provide. Although our political choice to remain unmarried has been a sacrifice in some ways, we have also learned a lot by not signing a marriage license.

    I feel very lucky that I found my partner when I did. On our first date, the subject of feminism came up and I asked him whose last name would his future children have, and he said the woman’s because she gave birth to the child so it seemed only fair. True to his word, five years ago we had our first child, who has my last name; and two years ago his brother was born, also taking my name with their father’s name as a middle name. We both continue to work, and although I respect the many situations in which feminists either choose or find they must stay home with their children, and although it has been painful at times not to have more time with my two beautiful boys, there was never any question but that my career is part of my identity. There have been years when I was the higher earner (IRS calls it head of household which is interesting) but in recent years I have earned slightly less than my partner.

    enlightened, I don’t have statistics but I will tell you this: my partner & I have been together for 10 years and have two children. There are a lot of things that are challenging about how we have built our lives together, but for us it always comes back to open and honest communication and a willingness to listen to and respect one another’s needs. We love one another and love our kids, and treat all the members of our family with respect.

    To me, that’s what a feminist relationship looks like.

  98. April 5, 2008 at 12:34 am

    I’ve often heard that it’s kids that really test the gender equality of a relationship. Everything is coasting along fine, then a baby comes out of a woman’s vagina and needs to latch on to a woman’s breast, and all the ideology and negotiations come crashing down.

    When we were doing the night feeding thing, we co-slept and I wore no shirt to bed and nursed in my sleep.

  99. enlightened
    April 5, 2008 at 1:01 am

    There are a lot of things that are challenging about how we have built our lives together, but for us it always comes back to open and honest communication and a willingness to listen to and respect one another’s needs. We love one another and love our kids, and treat all the members of our family with respect.

    Those are the keys to any successful marriage. What you both have given up are a number of legal protections and tax advantages. Did you know that if your partner becomes disabled, while the children will receive a dependency benefit. you will not which you might have otherwise received if you were married. Historically, children have taken the father’s last name so as to assure who the father was. Who the mother is can hardly be mistaken, (though on some very rare occasions that has occurred thanks to hospital screw ups). I have researched my genealogy and would like to pass that on to my children obviously that may get lost along the way if they don’t have name identity with me. I hope your wills are iron clad, because if there is a defect you enjoy no presumption of spousal inheritence and it could open up claims to collateral heirs.

    Although our political choice to remain unmarried has been a sacrifice in some ways, we have also learned a lot by not signing a marriage license.

    What have you learned and at what cost? Your failure to “sign a marriage license” relieves you of certain obligations to one another and disqualifies you for certain privleges and government benefits. Our law favors marriage in many ways, rightly or wrongly, but the notion of declared commitment to many is comforting. Is feminism anti-marriage?

    It doesn’t sound like the difference in your incomes are all that great? But what if the disparity in incomes broadened and he became dependent on your income for one reason or another, would you feel the same about him? Would he be less of a man to you? What if he got to enjoy alot more time with your boys than you did, would you grow resentful?

  100. Kristen
    April 5, 2008 at 3:19 am

    How does a feminist couple handle career conflicts? Is there some likelihood that a primary breadwinning wife may grow resentful of her lower earning husband if she can’t afford to stay home with children when they come along?

    Well, speaking solely for myself…I think your focus is slightly off. In a marriage (feminist or otherwise) both individuals have to share common goals and be flexible about how they reach those goals. It cannot work if you each want to take a different path to a different destination. And frankly what would be the point if you tried? Finding that common goal and a common path may take some negotiation, but if you have each others happiness in mind it isn’t that hard. Fortunately or unfortunately, this only works if the other person’s happiness is at least as important to you as your own.

    In my marriage/relationship our goal is to move back home (Hawaii) with enough money that we can live off what will undoubtedly be the pathetic salaries we’ll earn in the islands after we test our wings (so to speak) in the wider world. For us that has meant that at least for now my career needs to come first since I make, and will always make, the most money. BUT that doesn’t mean we just do whatever I want. When we moved to our current city, we looked at several choices that were roughly equivalent and decided on DC since it did provide for a great career opportunity for me and an opportunity for him to continue working in his field – although at a much lower level.**

    And it may not always be my career that dictates what we do, for example my husband would love to move to a particular city which would allow him closer access to the “brilliant” people in his profession. It isn’t something we can do until we are more financially stable, but in a year or two we may be able to make it happen. I’m not so enthused about the location (snow=evil) or that my career will likely take some hit, but I am thrilled that I’m helping this person that I love do something that he has dreamed of for years.

    So I guess my point is this, in my opinion, partnerships or marriage aren’t about individual wants or desires, they’re about the unit. If there is resentment then its essentially because that person is more concerned with his or her own needs than with the needs of the unit. Its not bad to put your needs first, particularly if the other person (or persons) involved are doing the same thing, but it isn’t what I think marriage is about.

    **Yes I know we are extremely privileged to be in this position. Not everyone gets to *choose* a city or a profession.

  101. eli bishop
    April 5, 2008 at 3:57 am

    Mary Tracy9 says:

    Where do you all find so many feminist men???

    strangely enough, on craigslist! though a life partner wasn’t what either of us were looking for. :)

  102. eli bishop
    April 5, 2008 at 4:42 am

    enlightened, i don’t think feminism is “anti-marriage” (have you been reading the other comments?) but my partner & i have also chosen not to marry: in part because of the legal discrimination against homosexuals, and in part because of its entangled history. (but i don’t mind if -you- get married. mazel tov! i’ll even come to the wedding with a big gift.)

    we are no less committed: we’ve arranged things like health proxies, wills & beneficiaries. we certainly would appreciate the benefits of marriage and might be amenable to domestic partnership (now available in oregon!) if it were available to heterosexuals. but again, we don’t plan on having children, which i think would likely change that decision.

  103. The Amazing Kim
    April 5, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Enlightened sez:

    Feminist relationships can be very complicated.

    All relationships are very complicated.
    Feminists in relationships are just more likely to talk about their problems, and not apply one-size-fits-all solutions. Frankly, I think the tone and rapidity of your questions a little disingenuous.

    If anything, my beau became more of a radical feminist than I am, after I introduced him to the basics. Probably not up to Jo’s standards (in that he doesn’t call out his male friends when he could) but compared to the rest of the country town that is Brisbane he’s flipping Andrea Dworkin. Being from northern Queensland, he’s still an incredible racist, but we both have to work on our white privilege.
    In our lovers, (because who’s monogamous these days?) we both look for “aware” individuals, at the very least. I’m proudly out and queer, and he’s Mr Hetero Straighty McStraightpants, so we’ve both learnt a lot from each other’s experiences picking up. Since we both have head problems (high-five (but not too loud!) to Lorelei from a fellow PTSD sufferer!), housework can get a little neglected in place of exercise/quiet times, but we muddle along. Probably the thing we argue about the most is video games. As in, I’m way better. Oh yes.

  104. enlightened
    April 5, 2008 at 9:55 am

    You are amazing Kim! I take it you have no children? You are right all relationships are complicated, but feminist relationships are even more so. And who’s monogamous these days? I am. And for kids I think (along with probably several million child psychologists) will tell you that is what is best for kids.

  105. April 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

    I believe a feminist relationship is an honest relationship. If you know who you are and are up front about it, the right guy/girl will accept that.

    My husband and I started dating when I was 17, so he actually watched me grow into the feminist I am now.

    We’ve gone through milestones. About a year ago, I helped him realize that it was okay to call himself a feminist. He felt he would be co-opting something, taking something from women if he used the word to describe himself. He didn’t think it was his place to be a feminist. I helped him realize it was just a name for what he already was.

    Our relationship works because we’re both independent, thoughtful, reflective people.

    At times, he does think I/other feminists look too hard for inequality, but he listens to my explanations and, a lot of times, I help him see the reasoning behind the argument. We don’t look for oppression, it’s just there. Sometimes we don’t notice it. That’s why it’s good to be constantly analytical.

    As far as logistics, he works from home, so he gets stuck with most of the domestic work. He loves to cook for me, and is a much better housekeeper than I am (though we both hate housework). He doesn’t complain, and he doesn’t feel threatened.

    Relationships are hard, but if your partner understands you and listens to you, I think anything is possible. It’s about respect. I didn’t marry a feminist, but I helped create one. Not by pushing, not by nagging, but through thoughtful conversations and analysis. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

    I’m in an equal, thoughtful relationship that is always evolving. I hope everyone else can be so lucky.

  106. Ismone
    April 5, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    How are feminist relationships more complicated? I would think that the fact my guy doesn’t think I’m from Venus (and therefore, he is capable of understanding me, and therefore, he works to understand me) de-complicates things a whole lot.

    Also, I’ve never seen any studies discussing monogamy and children. Polyamory is different than cheating. (Although neither are life choices that appeal to me.) And most of the studies discussing marriage and children are flawed, because they do not correct for the mother’s education, physical wellbeing, or psychological wellbeing. (And usually, they only consider the quality of mothering, not fathering, or not parenting in general.)

  107. strawhat
    April 5, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Our relationship looks very traditional from the outside, I’m sure — middle-aged, married in church, old house in leafy suburb — but from the inside it’s not. Since we moved in together these 15 years ago, chores have been allocated according to who does it better/who likes to do it, which means I handle home repairs & he handles cooking. I know, I know, the domestic sphere is not the same as the philosophical sphere, but the domestic sphere is where the philosophy meets the pavement.

  108. MBW
    April 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    I’m really late coming to this conversation, but did want to add my experience because I think it’s outside “the norm” in America. I married relatively late (31), after years of failed relationships, many of them with men who would consider themselves feminists. I learned after time that I wasn’t really looking for a “convert”, someone who had come to feminism after lots of introspection and proper training. I wanted someone, like myself, raised in a culture where feminism was the norm, and patriarchy, if existent, an unwelcome late-comer. For me, it meant marrying not only another Indian (feather, not dot), but one from an Eastern agricultural-based band, where egalitarianism, and even, on some level, matriarchy, was a central tenet of everyday life. Clearly, not every Tslagi or Wabanaki man has been able to reject the colonialist patriarchy forced on us for centuries – most, in fact, have not. But I found it easier to find someone whose world-view was in tune with mine, where it was more likely that we’d have to negotiate the kind of music (I’m not a fan of powwow, he’s not so fond of ska) than our gender roles. We just hit twelve years and added four new members of our respective tribes, and while we each have more favored tasks (he likes to do dishes, and I cook most dinners) they’re never set in stone (he did laundry yesterday after a night of barfing kids.) He’s even more peeved at the misogyny of this election cycle than I (and I’m pretty peeved) despite neither of us being Clinton supporters (don’t support Obama either, fwiw.)

    I’m pretty cognizant of gender theory (in my pre-family life I was an archaeologist who specialized in gender during the Ethnohistoric Period) and am pretty content that I don’t have to go through many of the negotiations many of you do. It certainly makes me appreciate that there are very decent men out there who are able to shrug off culturally ingrained patriarchy – but even more, it makes my appreciate how much easier my relationship is, not having to spend so much time and energy working that all out.

  109. enlightened
    April 5, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Isamone: how are feminist relationships more complicated. Presuming you have two people who have strong career aspirations it is one more thing you have to negotiate and since for many our careers are an intergral part of our identity, making compromises that affect our career advancement is difficult and may even be damaging to our sense of self.

  110. Ismone
    April 5, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    How is that different than two-career non-feminist relationships? I would think they would have higher levels of stress.

  111. Jasi
    April 5, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    My husband (and I) believes in equal rights in all things. Stereotypical roles are deeply set in our (and our cultures) upbringing, so sometimes we have to remind each other. Once we start talking though, we always come to an agreement on what’s fair, what we’d want for ourselves and our children.

  112. Mel
    April 5, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    It’s kind of something I’ve taken for granted in my current relationship. While I still call my partner on the occasional racist comment, the only times I’ve ever had to call him on anything misogynist have to do with Hillary Clinton (and I respect not liking her politics; the problem is when he started saying the usual “oh, she’s too aggressive and inflexible” stuff that no one ever says about male politicians). I probably do more of the household chores, which is frustrating–it’s not so much that he expects me to do them as that he’s not good at forcing himself to do unfun things. We’re working on it.

    We keep our finances separate and split the household bills. At this point, my career and education are the priority–he has a high school diploma (sort of) and I’m working on my M.S. Long term, he probably needs to start his own business. If we ever get married, there are no expectations about name-changing (other than that he’s not changing his because it’s awesome and he goes by his last name anyway). We’re on the same page about children (don’t want). I make more money, which is not a problem for me as long as he manages to pay his half of the bills (he doesn’t always, which IS frustrating); what he does with his money beyond the bills is his business, and what I do with mine is mine. Mutual purchases are negotiated. I doubt either of us will ever be rich, but we should be able to manage comfortable. I do all the driving at the moment because he doesn’t have a license (this is a bit frustrating to me because I get tired of driving, but moreso to him because he has to rely on buses).

    (enlightened: I grew up with my father’s surname, and what typically happened was one of three things a) people were confused because my mom and I didn’t share a name, b) people assumed I had my mom’s name because she was much more active in my schooling and activities, or c) people assumed she had taken my dad’s surname. Some were extremely rude and insisted on calling her Mrs. Dad instead of Ms. Mom, despite her expressed preference. How is this any better than giving children the mother’s name if the woman does not wish to give up her name upon marriage?)

  113. enlightened
    April 5, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Isamone, typically one of the characteristics of a feminist relationship is the importance a career holds for the woman. In more “traditional” marriages, the man is the primary breadwinner and accommodations are made to promote his career advancement and, even if the wife works in such relationships her income is generally secondary and not going to compel a family to move or make significant changes in the family lifestyle, whereas, in a feminist relationship, as I understand it, the husband and wife’s career advancement needs to be considered particularly if their earning power is equal. When family decisions effect both husband and wife’s career aspirations that is more complicated than making decisions that only affect one spouse’s career aspirations. That is how it is different. In other words in the traditional view, two career households are largely feminist households.

  114. MBW
    April 5, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    (enlightened: I grew up with my father’s surname, and what typically happened was one of three things a) people were confused because my mom and I didn’t share a name, b) people assumed I had my mom’s name because she was much more active in my schooling and activities, or c) people assumed she had taken my dad’s surname. Some were extremely rude and insisted on calling her Mrs. Dad instead of Ms. Mom, despite her expressed preference. How is this any better than giving children the mother’s name if the woman does not wish to give up her name upon marriage?)

    Our kids all have my name. We never discussed it, since my name is easier and neither of us are the ethnicity of his name (it was his step-grandfather’s name.) My husband decided a few years back that since he was being called Mr. W anyway, why not just change his name. He now hyphenates – we married when he was in his mid 40’s and he was established in his career, so he maintains some name recognition. Ironically, we learned a few years ago that it was the surname of his great-grandmother.

  115. enlightened
    April 5, 2008 at 11:58 pm


    First I don’t think you are typical and you didn’t mention children so if you don’t have any that certainly makes things more flexible. In my situation my wife makes nearly 4 x what I make. I am the primary caregiver to our 3 kids and I work full time too. That is the way it has always been. When we first married we made approximately the same, she did make slightly more, but nothing like the margins she does now. About 7 years into our marriage and after 2 children, my wife was extended a phenomenal offer, but it required that we move to a part of the country that had I never been to before and it was at a time when my career was starting to take root. From the time the chilren were born I was the one that got up in the middle of the night to feed the kids and get them back to sleep, I have changed about 75% of their diapers and I have absolutely no regrets about that. However, we made the move to accommodate my wife’s career and my career took a hit from which it has never fully recoverd. The phenomenol offer made to my wife, well didn’t turn out as great as we had hoped. My wife’s career has plateaued and now we have 3 children. My wife has grown weary of bearing the burden of primary breadwinner and she now takes antidepressants. A couple of weeks ago, she seemed a little down and I said “What can I do to make you feel better”, she looked me in the eye and said “MAKE ME MORE MONEY!” You might as well have carved my heart out of my chest. That hurt, alot.

    I was raised in a feminist household. My mother worked and my two older sisters have been active members of NOW since they were young. One of my sisters was personal friends with Betty Friedan. I do most of the laundry in our house. About 80% of the home cooked meals my kids have eaten in their lives I have made. And now I see what many on this board might call a “feminist” relationship falling apart. So pardon me if I seem a little skeptical and bruised. I think feminist relationships have an idyllic quality about them, but when it comes to the hard knocks of practical application in the real world, well I don’t think you will see them survive on a wide scale. The fact is most women would prefer to be supported. I believe most women would like to work too, but they do not want to bear the burden of primary breadwinner and I don’t believe you will truly have a genderless society until the role of primary breadwnner is not associated with one gender or the other.

  116. April 6, 2008 at 12:20 am

    enlightened: yes I know that. No I would not respect him less or resent him; I used to earn $10K more than him and since I’m not a total jerk I was perfectly happy about the situation. No feminism is not anti marriage, it is pro respect. Obviously you are not a feminist.

  117. enlightened
    April 6, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Rosalie, I beg to differ, I think I am a feminist– see my post at 116 and a$10,000.00 difference in income is not significant. Respect is a necessary quality in every successful marriage, feminist or otherwise. I asked the question whether feminism was anti-marriage because it seemed like most of the posters were not married. Didn’t you say you were not legally married? That is what prompted the question.

  118. April 6, 2008 at 8:34 am

    enlightened, I hadn’t read 116 when I wrote 117 — we must have posted at around the same time last night. I can understand why you would feel hurt, and it is helpful to know that your pain is what was motivating your, frankly, insulting questions to me — questions which assumed that I have not given consideration to what my family gives up by the choices we are making. I have given deep consideration to what we are doing. I was also feeling insulted by the accusation that I would feel differently about my partner or like he’s not a real man if he were doing the very things I love about him. If I earned more money I would feel he was supportive of my career and I would appreciate that. I already wish I could spend more time with the kids, but not so *I* could spend more time — so that they kids would have more time with their parents. So if my partner were the one doing that, I would be happy for my kids, not selfishly unhappy for myself. I’m not an idealist, I’m a cynic, and I know myself pretty well — something you seemed to doubt in your questions to me.

    And you may think $10K is not a lot of money, but when one of you is making $21K and the other is making $31K, it sure does seem like a lot of money.

    Your current situation with your wife sounds very painful. Just as my experience can’t be generalized — I don’t expect everyone to be legally unmarried for a million reasons, 99% of them practical/legal — neither can yours. Your wife’s comment hurt you very much, but is it possible that rather than representing an abandonment of feminist principals or statement that you are not a real man, she was expressing something that many male primary breadwinners feel, which is to be exhausted by the pressures of her job? To me, it sounds like the problem is not feminism, but the particular situation you are in. When she said make more money, maybe she meant she doesn’t respect you; but maybe she meant “I want my life to be different and if I didn’t feel the pressure to earn this high salary and work these long hours, life would be better.” Maybe the problem is you need a smaller house so you could afford to live on less — maybe she just hates her job — maybe her job demands too much of her time. These seem to me like human concerns, not feminist or anti-feminist concerns.

    As you said, a successful marriage is always based on respect and trust. In my family the respect part is rooted in feminism, but I know many wonderful couples who would laugh or make a face if I asked them if they identified as feminists. They might have traditional gender divisions of labor — but they respect one another and sincerely feel that their life works for them. An abusive, manipulative, or disrespectful relationship between feminists might be a relationship with feminists in it, but it’s not a feminist relationship. So if your wife is not treating you with respect, that’s another thing entirely. I hope that’s not the case for your sake — with such a long commitment and three kids in the picture — I hope that you and your wife will get through this difficult time and find a solution that will work better for your family.

    Thank you for explaining your situation because your questions seemed disrespectful at the time, but now I see where they are coming from, and just hope you and your wife can break through the pain and make a change that will work for both of you.

  119. enlightened
    April 6, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I meant no disrespect to you and I apologize if that is the way it came across. My feeling at this time is that had I perhaps sought a more traditional woman who valued the role of supportive wife I might not now find myself in this very difficult situation for me and my children. As far as buying a smaller house, I would happily do that, except my wife loves this house and refuses to sell it and quite frankly we probably would have a lot of difficulty selling it if we were to try right now because of the housing crisis. Before I saw this house, my wife called me at work and said I found the house we are going to buy, this was about 8 years ago, and when I saw it and the price tag, I said we can’t afford this house. She insisted and was counting somewhat on an anticipated increase in both our incomes, which has not happened to the extent necessary to allow us to live in this house without some financial stress.

    she was expressing something that many male primary breadwinners feel, which is to be exhausted by the pressures of her job

    Yes I am sure that is what she is feeling and it makes me feel very badly that she feels that way, but that is part of my point. This burden of primary bradwinner which she is bearing has historically been borne by men without complaint. In fact, for many (if not most) men it is the preferable role and I would submit for most women (note I did not say all) the preferable role is to be supported by their men and I think additional evidence of that assertion can be found in some of the popular literature that has come out in the last couple of years and which I cited earlier.

  120. Ismone
    April 6, 2008 at 4:50 pm


    First, I am sorry to hear that you and your family are having a difficult time. But I really don’t think most women want to be wholly supported by a man. Certainly not most women of my acquaintance. We want to act and exist in the real world. As gender roles are loosening up, and women’s education is increasing, there are more and more heterosexual marriages where the wife makes more than the husband. Popular literature is so damn revanchist and unsupported it makes me want to throw things. Contrary to myth, women aren’t opting out in larger numbers, even among those who can afford it. Men are getting more involved in housework and childrearing, and while doing these things is not some kind of silver bullet that slays all marital ills, it is a really good thing.

    But I disagree vehemently with you that all two-career marriages are “feminist” marriages. Where I grew up, it was virtually a necessity for a couple to have two careers to get into a house, and let me tell you, most of those marriages were not feminist. So I think that because you are frustrated with your current situation, you are blaming it on being a good feminist, instead of on the fact that your wife is clearly having a rough time, and from what you say, taking it out on you. If the entire burden for supporting the family was on you, as in a traditional marriage, and your career was on the rocks, you would have no recourse. Here, it happens to be your wife’s career that is not going as well as planned, and yours that is suffering as a result of choosing to prioritize hers. But I don’t think there was any guarantee that if you had put yours first, you now would be doing quite well. You could, in fact, be worse off. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up and accept things the way that they are. It sounds like you and your wife have to talk a lot of things out in order to work out the stresses that are currently threatening your marriage. The end result may be changes in your lifestyle, or the end result may be realizing that although money is tight, you can make it through.

    I really wish you the best of luck. I understand that trying to put some sort of cause on what you are suffering through is very tempting, because it gives you back some control over your life. (If I change X, everything will come up roses.) Anyone who tells you that is selling something. But I’m really not happy with the fact that, hurting or no, you are jumping on other people’s decisions and relationships which are faring quite well, and attempting to find the chink in the armor to make yourself feel better. That’s really not so great. And regardless of your intentions, that is exactly what your behavior looks like to those of us you are criticizing.

  121. jackieO
    April 6, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    most women want to be wholly supported by a man. Certainly not most women of my acquaintance

    Isamone on this point I respectfully submit that enlightend may be correct, your experience notwithstanding. The fact is that in 2 out of every 3 couples the man is the primary breadwinner and not the woman. MSN.com recently did a survey of 74,000 people (good sample) of when dating who should pay the tab. The results can be found at the following link. I would be interested to know what the divorce statistics are in households where women are the primary breadwinner. I also don’t think enlightened was necessarily referring to two career households but rather to households where the woman is the primary breadwinner, after all didn’t he say he works full time and is the primary caregiver to his kids? In some respects I think he has a point, however obnoxious he may make it that households where the wife is the primary breadwinner friction and confusion may be more apt to occur, not that it couldn’t be worked out between understanding people, but it probably is more work.


  122. KW
    April 6, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Enlightened, I’m sorry for your family situation. I hope that you and your wife find a solution. Back when your situation still seemed like a hypothetical, I thought “Well, they should never have moved for her career if he didn’t want it.” I think that a strong feminist relationship would take both partner’s wishes into consideration.

    Also, I agree with you that many women want to be taken care of, at least many women of my aquaintance. It’s very sad for them, but they want a husband or boyfriend to pay for the first date, make more than them, and take care of the scary parts of life for them. Someone upstream mentioned that even feminists hope for traditional dating patterns. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking hurts them throughout their lives.

    I have a question for everyone, which will be ironic because I am railing against confessions in another thread: I feel bad because my husband does more housework than I do, and because he is better at it than I am. (At least on his interpretation- we come from ethnic backgrounds that have different concepts of cleanliness.) I think, “I have been trained all my life to do housework, and yet I’m not good at it???” Why does this bother me so much?

  123. April 6, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    I think enlightened’s point is that he thinks most women want the benefits of sexism — a very odd point to make on a feminist blog. Downright anti-feminist, I’d say.

    Jackie O, if you live in an oppressive cultural context, in some ways it’s easier to be “normal” than to be the exception to the rule. Maybe enlightened’s wife really does want to be put on a pedestal; I’ve never met the woman. Some women do want chivalry and traditional roles etc. I don’t relate to where that comes from, but some women buy into sexism all the time. It’s a struggle not to, for anyone, man or woman. If it were easy to deconstruct hetero-patriarchal normativity, we wouldn’t have sexism any more, would we?

    As for enlightened’s claim that men have suffered from the pressure of being primary breadwinner without complaint: ridiculous. Men have historically been able to use this pressure as an excuse to abuse their wives (I’m the man of the house, you will submit), refuse to help around the house (I have to work for a living), drink to excess rather than admit to anxiety or depression, have affairs (my wife doesn’t understand me) and blame their troubles on their harping, nagging, needy wives. I mean, the “norm” for men as primary breadwinners is that they make the money, mow the lawn, take out the trash and then spend their free time at the bar with other men, complaining about their wives. Sexist men will complain about their marriages but won’t change anything because they benefit from women’s unpaid labor.

    But just to state the obvious: feminism isn’t about earning more than a man. It is about not being discriminated against, put in your place, patronized, raped, beaten, mutilated, disrespected or controlled because of your gender. Enlightened’s account of his wife’s treatment of him sounds like she is not respecting him or valuing him because he is not conforming to gender norms of masculinity. This is not feminist behavior, it is sexist behavior. So his point is moot. Is a feminist relationship possible? His story has no bearing on that question. It is an example of a non-feminist relationship, not proof that such relationships don’t exist.

    But Isamone, JackieO… I’m enjoying the conversation with you. At first I was annoyed to feel so under attack, but now I’m feeling clearer and have appreciated your insights, so, thank you.

  124. Agrado
    April 7, 2008 at 3:03 am

    I realized that I’m really on an extreme in terms of standards. I clarified with both this boyfriend and the last by the 3rd date: No Republican tendencies, no religious belief at all (even agnostic leanings gets under my skin), and no fucking tendency to say that rap isn’t music.

    Yay, I am sooo the same way. I just had a first (and probs last) date with this guy this past weekend who was pretty boring but I decided to take him to a bday party where my friends were so at least I could have some fun that evening. Later on after a couple glasses of wine and a shot or so of vodka I start grilling my date about who he’s voting for this year and politics in general and after 5 too many comments about taxes and him saying he wasn’t voting for anyone, I knew it would never work. My friends said I was kind of mean to him by being argumentative and judgmental (I think I said something along the lines of “Just so you know, I judge people based on their politics. I think Republicans are either stupid or selfish. Or both”) I think he was a Republican and he is Christian so it’s really not going to work out. Yet despite my abrasiveness and perhaps not so subtle attempts at trying to make this guy realize we weren’t compatible, he still wants to hang out again.

    Since my last long-term relationship a few years ago (that was decidedly not a feminist one), I’ve basically just met a string of douchebags. Maybe 1 or 2 ok guys in the mix. I often just feel like I’ll end up living by myself with a couple dogs, and really, I think I’d be much happier that way then dealing w/the guys i’ve dated again. At least I know there are a couple of awesome-sounding guys out there after reading some of these comments. My tolerance for sexist assholes has gotten so much lower and I am far more discerning now than I was a few years ago. And I think that’s a good thing, even if that means I’m single most of the time.

  125. SarahMC
    April 7, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Enlightened, stop conflating “feminist relationships” with “two-career relationships.” Most people work, women included. Plenty of career women are non-feminist or even anti-feminist. And a lot of feminists are SAHMs!! Not all feminists are interested in having high-powered careers; that’s something I’ve learned from really listening to feminist women rather than making assumptions based on media stereotypes.
    You are also assuming that, feminist or not, all men desire and pursue high-powered careers. Your definition of “feminist relationship” is very narrow, and your insistence that it’s just too darned complicated, based on your relationship, is absurd. I suppose it’s too complicated for some people to live their lives free of gendered roles and expectations, but that doesn’t mean feminist relationships are more complicated by any objective standard.

  126. Ismone
    April 7, 2008 at 10:27 am

    JackieO, right, but those 2/3 include people like my parents. Even though one of my mom’s profs. stopped talking to her when she decided not to get a Ph.D, for whatever reason, in her professional life my mother hasn’t looked much farther than teacher or administrative assistant. Which is why I pointed out that women as the primary breadwinner families/two-career families are on the rise. Also, WRT to dating, I have three things to say. First, while 74,000 is usually a good number, where the survey is online you have a selection bias (who chooses to take the survey?). Also, as Ms. Manners points out, the person who asks the other on the date is expected to pay. Currently, for most first dates, that is the man. Third, I think that some women are hypocritical about not wanting to pay for dates. As someone who always insists on paying for dates (I have never let a man pay for anything without a strict reciprocity promise–ok, you can pay this time, I’ll pay next time), I can tell you that men are resistant to it. I get my way, but I think it did convince two of my older, more traditional-minded exes that I wasn’t serious about them and this was just a fling. (Or perhaps they wanted to believe that anyways, and it had nothing to do with me paying.)

    Now, if you are talking about a woman who is the sole earner and a man who is a SAHD, yes, those numbers are still small, but they are increasing. And there are more spaces now for men to talk about staying at home.

    They way I see it, we ain’t there yet, but we are making progress. And regardless of who is making more money, a feminist relationship should mean that both partners’ wants, needs, and desires are given equal weight.

  127. Kristen
    April 7, 2008 at 11:24 am


    I am very sorry to hear that you’re going through a painful time. If I can make a suggestion (one you are obviously free to ignore or deride), perhaps the two of you should take a few days and talk about what is going on. She seems to have some different expectations (hence her disappointment) and you seem to also want something different from this relationship. The two of you might want to talk to each other about what’s going on. Perhaps there is another way to meet those expectations together. I’m sure you want her to be happy as I’m sure she wants you to be happy. Even if you can’t find a way to meet your joint expectations (for whatever reason) perhaps talking about will at least make the two of you feel you’re on the same side.

  128. Sydney
    April 7, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    What an interesting thread! I’m glad to see there are so many feminist relationships out there.

    In my case, I wanted, and finally got, an egalitarian relationship. After trying to make relationships work with men who claimed to be feminist and like strong women, but then whined when I insisted they with the housework, this time I didn’t compromise. I made a willingness to be equitable with household chores a prerequisite of a serious relationship. (Over and above my previous insistence that we split who pays for dates in some fashion or other. I can’t count how many men I had first dates with who insisted on paying, saying they were “old fashioned”. No second dates for them!)

    It took a long time of holding out. I’m 42, and I met my boyfriend when I was 40 and he 33. Before I found him women would tell me that it wasn’t possible to find a man like that, that if I wanted a relationship at all I’d better lower my expectations. But I believed someone like that was out there. It was a good call. Not only is our relationship egalitarian, but he is truly a third-wave feminist. He reads Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, and introduced me to the world of feminist blogs. My feminism is very much personal, and about being able to live the way I want to live. He is much more politically aware. He actually introduced me to the concept of third-wave feminism. I have struggled with the ideas of second-wavers, and he let me know that there were others who felt the same way I do.

    We’ve been living together for 7 months now. We share household chores (of course), make decisions together, and alternate who pays when we go out. We split the household bills equally (it helps that we make about the same amount). The only rule I follow is an internal one. If I ever feel resentful that things aren’t fair, I stop and do an internal check: why do I feel like that? Is it justified? How can I change things to feel less resentful? Sometimes I find myself doing more than I need to. Partly that is habit, since he moved into my house and I’m used to doing all the chores myself. Sometimes I think it is patriarchal programming that I need to watch out for. He’s more than willing to do his part, I just need to communicate with him what I think needs to be done, instead of doing it myself and then being resentful.

  129. enlightened
    April 8, 2008 at 12:31 am

    the “norm” for men as primary breadwinners is that they make the money, mow the lawn, take out the trash and then spend their free time at the bar with other men, complaining about their wives

    That’s the norm? Please, you don’t mean that do you? I know no man that does that. I also, know no man who earns 4 x less than his wife, except myself. The men I know spend their spare free time coaching little league, volunteering at their churches and/or synagogues, occasionally playing golf, competing in marathons, taking their kids to ball games etc. They also mow the lawn, do repair jobs to their houses and cars and take out the trash. Your comment is sexist. But that’s ok, because you are a woman and women are immune from sexist remarks.

    Because I earn so much less than my wife I feel compelled to contribute more in the domestic sphere, so I do more of the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the grocery shoppping and the hands on child care. I know my male friends don’t hang out at the bar. I would like to mow the lawn, but my wife hired a landscaper to do that because she says I don’t have time. I also take out the trash.

  130. Katie H.
    April 8, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I don’t think that I have ever had a fully feminist relationship. Although, I do believe that it is absolutely possible. My last boyfriend told me that I could not be a feminist because women are now equal to men, he told me that feminists only want women to be better off than men, and then he concluded that there was no such thing as feminists. He would not listen when I tried to explain myself, my point of view. He told me that people who have power will always abuse it and use it again those who are inferior. I think that if you find the right person who is willing to truly listen and take in your point of view, even if they do not agree with it, they can respect it. I don’t have a problem with the whole, taking of a man’s last name during marriage, but understand that this is a very important topic for some people. I think the basis for a feminist relationship is about respect, understanding that you are not always going to agree about every issue, but having compassion enough to understand each other’s passions. Of course, I think feminist relationships are easier when both parties are feminists, but a lot of the time you do not choose who you fall in love with. One thing I will not tolerate in my relationships is the use of “Bitch” and “Woman” to get my attention. Sexist jokes only fuel the fire of stereotypes and objectify women as less than human, by taking away a part of their identity.

  131. enlightened
    April 9, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Now, if you are talking about a woman who is the sole earner and a man who is a SAHD, yes, those numbers are still small, but they are increasing. And there are more spaces now for men to talk about staying at home.

    There has also been quite a few articles that have appeared expressing wives’ dissatisfaction with the notion of being primary or sole breadwinner a sampling of which I referenced and linked to earlier and they are as follows:

    http://www.more.com/sex-dating/marriage/love-and-money-breadwinner-wives/ and


  132. enlightened
    April 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    They way I see it, we ain’t there yet, but we are making progress. And regardless of who is making more money, a feminist relationship should mean that both partners’ wants, needs, and desires are given equal weight.

    And how do you resolve the issue if those “wants, needs and desires’ conflict. In a household that follows “traditional” roles the likelihood of conflicting “wants, needs and desires” is less than in a household where both spouses are pursuing career advancement.

  133. April 11, 2008 at 9:56 am

    My first boyfriend was a total mummy’s boy. He was SO into gender roles and the likes, it was infuriating. I hadn’t even noticed I was much of a feminist till we started having a conversation. Unfortunately i live in a society that believes men should be waited on hand and foot, and as long as they make money, then its okay.

    This guy was no different. I blame his upbringing though. His mother never really imposed any sense of housekeeping/personal care on him, always leaving it to his sisters, so naturally he expected that in a relationship. To add to my grief, he had an ex that practically lived to cook and clean and provide sex for him. My, was HE disappointed when he got to know me. I told him I saw no reason why I should come over to his place, and then I’ll end up in his kitchen or cleaning his house. He did that to a female cousin who used to stay at his place (that poor girl was treated like a slave and she seemed so COOL with it), and I didn’t hide my disgust. HE seemed horrified at this concept, and I found myself constantly losing patience with him. He was just so LAZY. If there was no woman around, this guy literally starved. After a couple of months I let him go.

    It was at that point it became clear to me that I could not have a guy who was so deeply ingrained with these old-fashioned laws. 80% percent of the guys (and women *gasp*) in my country think that way, so I guess I have a long wait ahead of me, but I don’t mind.
    Having a boyfriend didnt get me my job, my friends or any of the things that make me happy.

  134. Dawn
    April 11, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    My husband and I have two boys, ages 5 and 3. We were married for 9 years before I had Son#1. I took his last name when I got married and made my unmarried last name my middle name. We were married after college. He supported me through law school. I supported him through a master’s degree in computer science. When I had my first son, I went back to work after my six week leave was up. Husband delayed his parental leave and took the next six weeks to stay home with Son#1. The baby went to a daycare center afterwards. When I became unexpectedly pregnant with Son#2, something had to give. I negotiated with my employer for a reduced case law and a four day a week schedule, which I maintained until Son#2 was three. I took a hit in salary for that, but it was worth it. In January, I went back to work full time and my husband left work to start nursing school. He’s switching to nursing because 1) he is burned out on computer science and 2) nursing gives him a more flexible schedule, so that he can do more with the boys.

    We split chores and kid duties pretty much evenly. He does the dishes and the vacuuming. I clean the bathrooms. We both do the laundry and pick up the house. He baths the kids every morning, while I make breakfast and get their clothes together. We split the pick-up and drop-offs at preschool evenly. He takes all of the responsibility for the kids when I have to be out of town for work. He takes the kids to swim lessons. I take the kids to their grandparents for the weekly grandparents’ visits.

    When the kids were tiny, we traded shifts. I would go to bed and he would take the 11 pm feeding. (I pumped milk and he bottle fed it.) I would get up for the 3am shift and feed the baby. He changed as many diapers as I did, and wiped up the spills.

    When nursing school is over next year. (It’s an accelerated BSN), he plans on working 3-4 days a week (12 hour shifts) and I plan on going back to a 4 day a week schedule at my law office.

    The boys are having a great time with their dad right now, but I miss my three day weekends with my kids.

  135. enlightened
    April 12, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Dawn are you a partner in your law firm? No firm I have ever worked for (I have only worked in small firms – fewer than 14 lawyers) would someone with your schedule make partner, unless you were bringing in a substantial amount of business and if you are home taking care of children even if it is just one day a week, you are not likely bringing in a lot of business. Given the transitions of your husband’s career, it is not likely that there is much disparity in your incomes. If your income were substantially higher than his and your life style reflected it, I wonder how things would be between you and your husband. It sounds like your relationship is pretty balanced. I believe things go awry when the wife’s income becomes significantly greater than her husband’s.

  136. Ismone
    April 14, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Enlightened—so why doesn’t the relationship go equally awry when the man significantly outearns his wife?

  137. chareth
    April 14, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    not that it’s new, but i consider myself so completely fortunate to have been dating a wonderful feminist guy for several years. we have had arguments and disagreements, but i can’t recall a single instance where he said anything i took to be remotely sexist or made me feel in any way demeaned. we share the same progressive political beliefs and frequently talk about gender issues–i don’t mean to cast him as the “voice of dudedom”, but i do sometimes ask him for his perspective as a straight man about a given situation, just because i want his input and balance. we do occasionally slip into some traditional gender roles in a superficial way–he can’t iron very well and neither can i, but i’m slightly better at it so i’ve ironed clothes for him now and then. he doesn’t know anything about cars and neither do i, but he helps me with minor car things sometimes that he knows just a smidgen more about than me. he also kills bugs, but i think that has more to do with my literal phobia of them than “oooooh save the poor, delicate princess from the mean, nasty spider!” he also is pretty grossed out about doing it, which he voices frequently and never adopts some kind of cavalier “i’ll save you” attitude about it. he just knows that killing bugs is something we both abhor, but i am like psychologically incapable of doing so on most occasions, so he helps me out and i appreciate it. i suppose these could be considered traditional gender behaviors, but in the context of our larger relationship, they seem like genuine personality traits manifested and displays of mutual helpfulness to me. the much, much bigger picture is that we have good, equitable conversation, feel free to communicate our problems with each other, share expenses more or less equally (well, proportionally these days since i make a lot more money) and don’t tend to expect each other to act in some stereotypical way. sure, he gets annoyed and maybe a tad bit territorial when other guys hit on me, but he also trusts me implicitly and lets me handle the situation because he knows i can take care of myself and that these guys are just as annoying to me. he isn’t the slightest bit bothered that i make more money or have a more demanding job and conversely i don’t care about what kind of social status he can provide me–i just want him to have a job that he likes and is good at. fundamentally it’s about trust and respect, i guess.

  138. April 14, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    @90 (enlightened): How did you manage to TiVo my life? I’m dealing with *exactly* these issues right now. My spouse, a feminist-in-training who grew up in an ultraconservative misogynist/ racist/ homophobic midwestern environment, and I, a self-identified feminist who grew up in a highly political German women-only household, are both extremely career oriented (he’s an academic, I’m an engineer) and work in two different parts of the same state at the moment. We have almost the same income; his career would be taking a hit if he moved where I work, and mine if I moved where he works. Previously, the conundrum was, since geographical mobility is key to a successful career, should I transfer to the other side of the country for a promotion, or should I follow my “heimat instinct” and stay within a one-day commuting radius? Now that I may be pregnant, this situation has been complicated by whether to continue my career as a woman in engineering and potentially perpetuate the exploitation of local WoC who work in the “traditionally female” childcare industry, or to take him up on his offer to stay home with the baby, finish up the PhD that got lost in the economic shuffle years ago, and slip into the uncomfortably patriarchally defined role of a SAHM. While I realize that I sound like a crazily privileged white prick, I also realize that my practical choice in this situation has political impact–on corporate maternity policy, on the upbringing and values communicated to the child, on the message this sends out to the communities of which we are a part, etc. So, a feminist relationship is really one of negotiation and careful planning and prioritizing, in which changing one’s priorities is an equitable undertaking. At this point, my spouse decided to take a small career hit and apply for two academic jobs that popped up in my geographical area, and I in his, but if nothing happens, the one of us who makes less will most likely bite the bullet–which, of course, is a decision built on the fact that women still make 80 cents on the male dollar. In other words, putting one’s actions where one’s mouth is doesn’t always generate win-win situations.

  139. April 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Enlightened, these threads are for feminist women and men to exchange ideas and help each other out. They are not the place for you to air your grievances about feminists or working women. You are derailing the conversation and going against the whole purposes of this topic. That’s why I’m deleting your four comments in moderation. And while you’re welcome to leave (productive) comments on the rest of this blog, the Feministe Feedback sections are for feminist-minded people, so I ask that you no longer comment on them.

  140. Betty Boondoggle
    April 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    The fact is most women would prefer to be supported.

    Fact, in this case, meaning “something I pulled out of my ass “.

  141. Ismone
    April 15, 2008 at 8:03 pm

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  142. July 31, 2008 at 10:44 am

    About Enlightened, the dark side want to see you do not. Consequences have each action, and no different feminism is.

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