Feministe Feedback: Being a Feminist Boyfriend

Feministe Feeback

Your most recent entry – on what a feminist relationship looks like – is primarily pitched at female feminists. I, as a well-intentioned but nonetheless male participant in relationships, would really like to know the answer to that question. i don’t commit the obvious sort of mistakes that non-feminist guys do, or at least i hope i don’t. Nonetheless there are certainly crimes of ignorance, so to speak.

In fact, you should write a book answering this question – “how to be a feminist boyfriend.”

Perhaps I will. In the meantime, what are your suggestions for men who want to be good feminist partners?

88 comments for “Feministe Feedback: Being a Feminist Boyfriend

  1. April 11, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Deference is a privileged person’s best friend.

  2. April 11, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Listen. Please, for the love of all that is holy, listen.

    Then, when people you know (and from what I can tell, this will mostly be men) say stupid stuff, about feminists, about women, talk. Respond. Engage. Because whereas a bunch of my lover’s “friends” won’t listen if I tell them to back off about the “women – can’t live with them, can’t shoot ’em legally” crap, they’ll listen to him.

    Read this: On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name.

    Relevant and important bit:

    I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

    But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates women–to the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.

    And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

    As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women.

    It’s *hard*. I get it. I don’t speak up every time I should, I stew in silence when I should be speaking out, I understand. No one, especially not someone who loves you, is going to hate you for not speaking up.

    But *consider carefully* what you are saying when you don’t say anything at all. Silence is speech.

  3. April 11, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Actually, while I’m thinking on it, here’s just a random anecdote to consider.

    I had a really long talk with my lover a few years back asking him to try (and I know it’s hard) when we’re having arguments to do his best to *stay seated*. Why? He’s 6’10” tall. I’m 5’8″ tall. If he both stands up *and* yells at me, I immediately have a fear reaction that he’s going to hit me. (Why? I have no idea. I was never hit as a child. But it’s there.) And it makes *even less sense* than in, say, another relationship. My husband is disabled and doesn’t have the physical strength to harm me, should he even want to.

    In the ideal world in which I don’t live, we’d never have arguments, but that’s never going to happen (as long as he keeps being wrong *wink*), so we both try and stay seated when having them to try and avoid that immediate fear reaction.

    In all relationships there are going to be things like this to keep in mind, and I think part of being a feminist boyfriend or lover is to talk about those sorts of things, because they are important. Don *could* “win” every argument with me by looming over me and trying to dominate me with his superior height. Previous lovers have. But he doesn’t, because he didn’t laugh off my concerns or pretend they weren’t important.

  4. SarahMC
    April 11, 2008 at 9:27 am

    A few things that immediately came to mind:

    When your partner is angry, or upset, or offended by something, do not joke, imply, or insist that it’s because she’s premenstrual. Doing so dismisses her very real concerns and feelings.

    Stand up to other men who make misogynist or sexist remarks.

    Put yourself in her shoes. Examine your privilege and realize that she will experience things, as a woman, that you never have to deal with because you’re a man.

  5. Roy
    April 11, 2008 at 9:32 am

    As a guy who considers himself a feminist boyfriend, my take:

    1. As both of the above suggest- listen about feminist issues. I’m the sort of person for whom the term “verbose” was invented. I never use six words when twelve will work. But it’s really important to learn to recognize that there are issues where it’s important to listen and take in what is being told to you.

    2. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner questions, even ones that you think seem stupid or obvious. It’s a given that none of us are perfect, right? So, accept that and realize that you’re going to get things wrong sometimes. Be that as it may, it’s better to ask a question that you really don’t know or understand than to sit in silence and pretend you get it.

    3. Related to that: don’t engage in false deference or pretend to agree with things that you don’t. It’s important to listen and ask questions, but it’s also important to understand that feminism is not monolithic- there are differences of opinion even within feminist circles about what the “right” things to do or say or whatever are. You should have respect for your partner, and part of that respect, I think, comes from accepting that you won’t always agree, and not lying or pretending to agree when you don’t. If you start pretending to agree about something that you really don’t agree with, it’s going to come through, and it’s going to show a lack of respect for your partner.

    I think that the biggest part of being a “feminist boyfriend” is treating your partner with respect due a person and challanging yourself to be aware of the privilege that you have. For me, it means that we have some pretty serious conversations about feminist issues and we bounce ideas off of each other and we listen and learn from each other. It’s about being partners. *shrug*

  6. lt
    April 11, 2008 at 9:38 am

    I think this is the hardest thing is this: REMEMBER IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. If she’s ranting about some sexist injustice, it’s only natural to feel defensive, but try to let that go. She’s not mad at you. And you, as a feminist, can and should be angry too, even if that anger won’t be as visceral as it is for her.

    And here’s the beautiful secret: feminism isn’t a secret code you have to master to ‘get it’ and say the super-secret right thing at all times. It is, as has been said many times, the radical idea that women are people. If you hold that belief in your head, and look at the world and act as if it’s true, you should end up being a wonderful partner and person too.

  7. Macy
    April 11, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Amen, Anna. Stand up for us, because some people can’t hear a voice unless there is a penis attached.

    The following conversation happened between my husband (a reporter) and his photog after they covered a story on women boxers:

    Asshole Photog: Man, don’t you remember the time when women only played tennis and went shopping?

    Feminist Husband: No, and neither do you, you’re 20.

    AP: Still, don’t wish it was still like that? I mean, you wouldn’t let your wife box, right?

    FH: First of all, if Macy heard your say that, she’d throat punch you. Secondly, you’re an asshole. Thirdly, lets turn around so you can share your theories on what women should and should not be allowed to do with those boxers.

    AP: Whatever, man.

    Husband decided that sense he didn’t really through to him, he would make an official complaint to the news director. She set him right.

  8. JW
    April 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Macy, your huzz is totally rad. Let me second or third the importance of speaking to other men about feminism.

    Something I didn’t see already: educate yourself. Yes, your gf probably has read/thought/talked more on the subject, but don’t make her responsible for your education. She’ll probably have books or blogs or stuff that you could read, and ask for them, of course, but don’t act as if it’s her job to “feminist you up.”

  9. April 11, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Oh, JW, amen on that one. I love him, but lord, could be please *pick up a book*. I don’t have time to spend every minute of every hour regurgitating everything for him. (And vice versa, neither does he – I spent a lot of time reading disability blogs and books on disabilities, cuz it ain’t his job to hold my hand and walk me through accessibility issues, either.)

    This isn’t to say don’t ask questions and don’t have discussions and don’t engage, but it is to say take some of the weight off. If your lover is blogging or writing or talking or activist…ising… about these issues a lot of the time, believe me, your lover is exhausted about talking about it every day, and doing the 101 steps every day. It’s *nice* to come home to someone who will say “So, I was reading Feministe today and…”

  10. April 11, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I find that 90% of the typical stupidly sexist things I’m inclined to do in a relationship can be avoided with a simple mental double-check – “am I being stupid here?”

    With respect to the other 10%, the main thing is to *listen* and not go into defensive withdrawal.

  11. Sara
    April 11, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Everyone’s got great suggestions and I definitely second them. One of the most important things my bf does is pays attention and takes my concerns seriously. We don’t always agree on things, partly because he’s less engaged with feminism than I am but also because we have different pov, but he’s willing to discuss stuff with me and admit that he doesn’t know everything. Also, because of our convos, he’s more likely to notice sexism and misogyny in his daily life – to point out offensive advertising or lack of representations of women and people of color in the media. So I’d also suggest really paying attention to the world around you. If you’re aware of your male privilege and the way it colors how you see the world, you’ll be more likely to notice things that might otherwise escape you.

    Take action! Call people out on their bullshit, donate to feminist causes, read up on these topics, write to politicians about feminist legislation.

  12. April 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

    My husband should quit his job and give seminars on this. We’ve been together for 15+ years and he’s stuck with me thru my evolution. That said, he’s evolved too. It was just a few days ago that he said “I’m a feminist.” Of course, I’ve known that for years…it just took him a decade to realize it. haha!

    I think being a good partner to a feminist is to keep an open mind, support, support, support, and remember that unfortunately many of us can NOT turn off our feminist lens, even on a night out during that stupid movie.

  13. preying mantis
    April 11, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I’d have to second, third, fourth (etc.) the recommendation that you not just pretend to apologize over or agree with something if you don’t understand or agree with what’s going on. It will eventually come up again, and your partner is either going to feel blown off and lied to or like you’re doing it on purpose to be a jerk. If you keep working at it until you both at least fully understand where the other is coming from, even if you don’t agree, it will save a lot of grief in the long run.

  14. April 11, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I also tend to think that a little “You know, I disagree — but I understand that I haven’t lived with your experiences, and my views may be colored by that” goes a long way. Respect people’s experience.

    From the other side: a little patience. It’s happened many times throughout my five-year relationship: we have an argument (or even just a topical discussion) where we disagree — but a seed was planted — and later (weeks, years, however long) he’ll have changed his mind on the subject. Give people time to digest.

    (That doesn’t excuse any wrongdoing or wrongheadedness, let me note.)

  15. April 11, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Lots of good stuff in this thead already!

    I’ve posted about this often enough in one form or another that I need to get my lazy butt moving and create a special category for it. Here’s one from 2005. Excerpt:

    A great many traditional women know that they will be assessed and judged by family, peers, and community based on their domestic skills and the behavior of their husbands. And as men, I believe we do have a role to play here! We must be willing to do more than “help out” around the house (the language of a child doing chores). We must proactively assert ourselves in domestic decisions, lifting a culturally-imposed burden off the shoulders of our spouses. While it is not our job to help our wives reject their backgrounds, it is our job to help our wives escape the prison of mandated gender roles. We do that not only by doing the dishes, but by being willing to say “Hey, it’s my kitchen too. I can take care of it, and I will take care of it. Let me be your equal partner here.”

  16. April 11, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Talking is fun — usually. Cleaning toilets never is.

    If you’re living together, or taking on big projects together, chances are she’s doing most of the scutwork, and chances are you’re not aware of a lot of the scutwork she’s doing. Make a conscious effort to be aware of that stuff, and to step up.

    Rule of thumb: If you think you’re doing half the chores, you’re probably doing a lot less than half. Shoot for sixty percent and you may hit fifty.

  17. Daiju
    April 11, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I agree with JW that it’s not the woman’s responsibility to bestow feminism on men. I just went back and read Holly’s entry “Sixteen Maneuvers to Avoid Really Dealing with Racism” and I think those maneuvers can carry over into avoiding dealing with sexism, including the mentality of being helpless and completely ignorant. I personally think that’s better than overt misogyny, but I still see a difference between someone willing to learn and someone actively seeking knowledge and contributing to the discourse and feminist activism.

    There’s debate about how much men should really be involved in the feminist movement, and I am certainly wary about the kinds of male involvement that, though well-intentioned, could actually be anti-feminist. (Here’s a satirical take on men in feminism.) But that’s why activism alone isn’t enough for men to be feminists. Take a few feminist issues (e.g. wage gap, reproductive rights, etc.) and just because a man is advocating and working for those things doesn’t mean everything about that situation is feminist.

  18. Alison
    April 11, 2008 at 10:50 am

    This is a link I have always found interesting. I think the advice for would-be feminist partners is to pay attention to that checklist and take note of how often those things happen — and then have a discussion about how to make things more equitable.


  19. Raoul_j_Raoul
    April 11, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Share your uncomfortable thoughts. Not necessarily every dumb-ass thing that pops in your head, but do share your uncertainties, doubts and resentments in a non-threatening way. For example, Spouse really wants to be able to work part-time until our children go to school. Part of me thinks it is selfish of her. Even though I also think it is silly to resent people for wanting to make their lives easier, nevertheless I sometimes do. Anyway, we talked about that last night because I didn’t want that to fester and come between us.

    Regarding the housework, I would second Hugo and Brooklynite. That home is yours, so do not help with housework, DO housework. Also, do not rely on your partner to tell you when the housework needs to be done. Managing that can be more frustrating than doing it. Notice when a job needs to be done and do it. BTW, I do think it is OK to have specific tasks. I clean the cat box and Spouse picks up the dog poop. I am ‘allowed’ to nag a bit if the poop hasn’t been picked up and she can nag me if the cat box is stinky.

  20. Marissa
    April 11, 2008 at 11:33 am

    First off I think the very fact that you are asking this question is an excellent sign. My advice is simple. Listen. Your experience is different than hers. Know that you come from a privileged position, which makes anyone blind to the experiences of marginalized groups. Listen and give creedence to that which fall outside of your range of personal experience.

  21. Anne Onne
    April 11, 2008 at 11:40 am

    I reccomend Hugo’s blog, because he posts a lot of comments about being a feminist man, but don’t be afraid to ask male feminists for advice, in general. Why male feminists? Because often, female feminists get bombarded by men who insist they worry about men’s issues rather than women’s ones, and asking lots of questions (often derailing the topic) which they could ahve found out with five minutes on google or blog archives. Clearly, you’re not doing that, but the consideration which you’ve shown in not steamrolling into any conversation and making it about you is the first important thing about being a male feminist. Also, go to the Feminism 101 blog and read up on the basics, or ask a question there. You can comment on even old threads, and it’s specifically there for people to discover the basics.

    I haven’t read all the comments above in detail, so if I repeat something mentioned, I apologise:

    – When she’s mad, don’t make jokes about PMS. If she is suffering from PMS and angry, she’s not angry with no reason, she’s angry because she did not have the patience to shrug off the problems that she does the rest of the time, because she cares about you. Pay attention, because addressing these concerns is important. Think of her anger as a way for her to truly tell you what she’s thinking, without the patriarchically ingrained ‘shut up and keep him happy’ getting in the way. It doesn’t mean you don’t talk lots the rest of the time, but it’s always good to consider and try to address problems, and likely that you might not be aware of some due to privilege.

    – Understand she will see the world in a way you don’t. She will spend some of her time mad at society, and mad at men. This is not about you, and it is not personal. If you disagree with her on a feminist issue, remember that she may have more relevant experience than you, and try to think through the issue after you have both calmed down.

    – When it comes to big decisions, there can be a lot of strain. In my experience, even fairly egalitarian men don’t like women making decisions. It’s something they’ve grown up with that makes them feel uncomfortable if they feel they don’t have at least a little more than half the power, but especially not less power. Sometimes, you will both disagree on a decision you need to make as a couple. If this is the case, you will probably think ‘why should she tell me what to do’ or ‘why should her opinion override mine’? This feels fair to you at the time, but if you examine all the disagreements and decisions you have ended up making, you will probably find that the majority have gone in your favour, with your partners being deferring or being overruled. Your privilege means that you expect to be the deciding voter in any given issue at home, that as the ‘man of the house’, you should decide. Fight it. Agree with your partner that the deciding vote in an issue shoulod be given to the partner with the most relevant experience in that field, or who will be most affected by it.

    – Help out in the house. If you both work, split it evenly, so that both can do the chores they prefer, if possible. If you can organise a set list or rota it might be helpful. You will probably fall into patterns where you do less than your share (work taken into account), so be on your guard as best as you can, and if she’s telling you she’s doing too much, listen and rearrange.

    – Consent. Oldie but a goldie. Don’t pressure her to have sex if she says no. Also, don’t pressure her to have sex if she doesn’t seem keen. If she isn’t into it, or says no, don’t repeatedly try your luck, don’t pester her through the night for sex until she gives in, and don’t assume that she’s suddenly consented five minutes after she said no, and try again. Sex should always be between two enthusiastic people. If she doesn’t feel like sex, you should try to talk with her about why that is. She could be feeling like she has too much of a burden, or there could be other reasons. Communicaiton is key here. Remember the only acceptable solution to the problem of a partner not sleeping with you for a long time (assuming it’s a monogamous relationship by agreement, and that you agreed sex would be a part of it), is splitting up.

    – Along the same lines, please please be aware that many, many women you know will have been raped, abused or harassed. That means many men you know will have raped, abused and harassed women, who you may know. Nobody expects you to ferret them out, and know who they are. They look like everyday men, same as you or anyone else. But be aware that they exist, and you will have dealt with them. If a woman, for whatever reason, confides in you, don’t assume she’s lying, even if you know the man and he seems a nice enough guy. Many get off scott free precisely because they look so normal. Be supportive of women, and don’t assume that looking like a nice guy, and being a rapist are mutually excusive, no matter what everyone else says. If one of your friends or coworkers is accused of something like that, the chances are everybody will rally around him and say what a nice guy he is, and how she must be lying. More than ninety percent of rape victims can’t all be lying.

    – Stick up for women, even when it makes you unpopular. Especially when there are no women around. Rather like in that onion piece, we women aren’t taken seriously by many men, and if you are willing to sit back and let them talk crap, or worse, join in, then it’s not really good enough. We need you to point out the crap where we can’t go, and influence the people we can’t reach.

    There’s probably more, but that’s a start.

  22. NYguy
    April 11, 2008 at 11:46 am

    What’s the feminist but equitable way to deal with the fact that my girlfriend (with whom I live) wants the house cleaner than I care about having it? I’m happy to do all the chores necessary to get it to where I’m comfortable, but that’s only about a third of the way to where she wants it to be.

  23. lt
    April 11, 2008 at 11:55 am

    NYguy – First of all, feminist=equitable, so “feminist but equitable doesn’t make much sense.” On the housework, work it out to do half of what it takes to get it where she wants it. If she offered to do something but did it in a way that wasn’t up to your standards, it would bug you too. “Where I’m comfortable” should be a house that she wants to live in.

  24. April 11, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Maintain a sense of humor–but don’t ridicule her principles in mean-spirits. I am a strong, dedicated feminist, but I don’t take myself super seriously all the time and I enjoy a nice balance of playfulness and serious intimacy. Also, be giving and open when it comes to sex; and for god’s sake, do not request, even in the most polite sensative way, for her to alter her appearance: ie shave her pubis hair/legs, lose/gain weight. There is no harm in mentioning you like something, but I think there is lots of damage done when it is asked for, esp. repeatedly. And finally, do not be scared to learn things on your own; nothing makes me happier than when my own boyfriend observes or informs me about something happening in women’s issues that I was not aware of OR a new way of looking at things. Keeps things interesting.

  25. Roy
    April 11, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    What’s the feminist but equitable way to deal with the fact that my girlfriend (with whom I live) wants the house cleaner than I care about having it? I’m happy to do all the chores necessary to get it to where I’m comfortable, but that’s only about a third of the way to where she wants it to be.

    Have a discussion about it and figure out how much it means to both of you, and what you’re willing to do about it.
    Part of being in a relationship is figuring out where compromises can be made, and figuring out how. If your feeling is that the house is fine at 1/3 clean, that doesn’t mean that you only need to clean it up to 1/3 clean. If you love your spouse and you recognize that it’s really important to her that it be cleaner than you’d otherwise make it, it could be that you realize “for the sake of our relationship, I will respect my partner’s desires and do a greater share, because I recognize that this is a compromise I can make for the sake of our happiness.”

    And that plays out in all kinds of different ways, and it’s up to you and your partner to figure out how. If there are other areas where you’re more particular, it could be that the compromise is that you do less cleaning but make up for it in other areas. I’ve reached compromises where, for example, I do the grocery shopping and cooking, but get a pass on the bulk of the dishes as a result. Our compromise was reached because I have stronger feelings about the groceries we’d buy but hate washing dishes, while she was less picky about the food, and didn’t like cooking. That compromise worked for us, but it might not work for your situation.

    In other words: Have a conversation about it, and figure out how you can fairly divide the work and still both be happy.

  26. Anne Onne
    April 11, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    NYguy, the chances are, you’ve been brought up to ignore what needs doing around the house, that someone else will do it, and that if it’s not done, it won’t matter. She’, on the other hand, has probably been brought up to help around the house, that it must be done, and to a certain standard, and that people will judge her on it. And it’s not a lie, they will. Your partner feels unfcomfortable because she knows that any blame for the house not being spotless will fall on her, even if it’s not her fault. She will probably do much more of the housework than you, because of this.

    It’s easier to lie back and do the minimum you feel happy with, because all your life, nobody’s expected more than the bare minimum of you in that department. But if you do that, you’ll either force your partner to do most of the chores to reach the level she feels required, or she will feel like she is being constantly judged for not keeping a cleaner house, and worry about that constantly. It’s not fair that the feminist option is that you have to do more work than you think necessary, but it is fair that as a guy, for once, you do more than what you feel is your fair share, because as a woman, she’ll be doing more than her fair share of nearly everything else. Realising your privilege, and not being afraid to put in what feels like more work than you should be is a step in becoming more equitable. It is acknowledging that women normally do much more than they should, and we let them. The feminist option is doing half of what she thinks is needed.

  27. April 11, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    NYguy, feminism is equitable.

    As for what you need to do — it sounds like you and she need to sit down and negotiate a solution that makes you both happy. Compromise will likely be involved. It worries me that you’re only happy to do what’s required for your own comfort, and apparently wouldn’t be happy going the extra mile for your cohabitating girlfriend’s happiness. But this isn’t a relationship advice community, per se. Do you think gender is playing a role in your conversation about housecleaning?

  28. April 11, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    What Roy said.

    When our first child was born my wife went back to work full-time after three months, and I stayed home. There were all sorts of childcare questions where my sense of what was right and hers diverged, and since I was taking care of the kid for most of its waking hours, there were tensions there.

    It wouldn’t have been appropriate for her to insist that I do everything her way — I wasn’t the babysitter. But by the same token, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to insist on doing everything my way — she was the mom. So we talked. A lot. And we figured out where each one of us was comfortable compromising, and where one of us was adamant. And then we both committed to wholeheartedly supporting what we’d agreed on.

  29. Q Grrl
    April 11, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Use your own birth control.

  30. Kristen
    April 11, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    My wife asked me to comment, so I’m commenting under name. I hope no one minds.

    Here’s my take on being a male feminist partner [in a hetero relationship] [see…wifely edits already]: Whatever shit my partner may have to put up with in the world outside, she shouldn’t have to put up with from me.

    Simple. Easy. To the Point. Inside our relationship she is treated as a whole person. Her opinions, ideas, idiosyncrasies, and irrationalities (like a hatred for all things coconut – even though she likes coconut in things I cook [Coconut is GROSS…you can put it in there…just don’t tell me about it]) are as valid and important to me as my own. Sure, I fuck things up sometimes. I don’t always understand what she’s getting at.

    But since her opinions and ideas are just as valid as my own, I listen. I try to understand. I try to see things from her point of view. I try to make sure that at least as far as I’m concerned she never feels less than the whole person she is.

    That’s it. Maybe not the best approach, but the best one I could come up with.



  31. April 11, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I think Anna’s comment about physical difference during an argument is really valuable. Listening, talking, communicating, questioning – all true. True, too, is that when there is an argument, and things are heated, is that physical difference is scary. Nobody has to hit anybody, or threaten to, for the difference to be scary. The difference is the difference.

  32. dragonfly
    April 11, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I checked out the check list Alison linked to and not only did I not have to check off any of them I am (as usual) baffled by anyone who would put up with that kind of crap. Women are constantly telling me how lucky I am to have a husband like mine. You know, because he shares the household and child raising responsibilities and treats me like a human being. This drive me crazy! I am not lucky. I would never have married or even been in a long term relationship with someone who did the kinds of things that were on that checklist. The signs appear very early, so there is no excuse for settling for a partner who would treat anyone this way.

    To add to the fingernails on the chalkboard “terminology” list. In addition to men who “help” with the housework in their own houses, I also love it when men “babysit” their own children.

  33. April 11, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    In love with my wife. Deeply.

    But we’re total opposites w/r/t intellectual backgrounds. I’m a writer, an editor, a designer. I can talk politics all day. She’s a scientist. Deals in topics that fling way over my head. Doesn’t really talk politics (but certainly listens).

    We’re both progressives, generally believing in the same political ideals. One difference- I’m an Episcopalian, she’s Athiest, but neither holds it against the other. Many ways to make a world, etc.

    I self-identify as a feminist. The worried side of me always wants to make sure I’m doing my half of the bargain. But although she’s certainly a progressive, she’s very quiet concerning anything feminism…I believe the idea in the back of her head is that she’s good enough in her work/life that the patriarchy is no match for her skillz. I occasionally ask if I’m respectful enough, if I’m doing my part, etc., but she mostly rolls her eyes.

    So, women people- Leave well-enough alone? Let her be? Understand that as long as she’s got no complaints, I’m doing OK?

  34. April 11, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    I have to second the “Remember that everything she says related to feminism and the patriarchy is not necessarily about you” bit of advice. And third and fourth it.

  35. Ladylike
    April 11, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I second Q Grrl’s point.

    Taking responsibility for your part in preventing (or creating) a pregnancy is incredibly important. Like housework, birth control is all too often thought of as the woman’s responsibility. Ultimately, because she will be the one who gets pregnant or not, the decision should be up to her, but you can lessen the burden of responsibility by taking an active role.

    (Warning: generalized assumption) I would guess that most feminist women who are having sex that could get them pregnant have thought about their birth control and reproductive options and have made choices about what forms of birth control, if any, to use and what would done in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. Still, if your female partner is already using birth control (pills, diaphram, etc), don’t assume that a conversation doesn’t need to be had. She may prefer to use condoms, or a combination of methods.

    Also, don’t forget the financial aspects of birth control. Birth control costs can be pretty high, depending on what method is being used. If both of you want to prevent pregnancy, maybe both of you should be contirbuting to the costs. She might be interested in a diffrent method, but be unable to pay for it alone.

    Just asking her how you can take an active role in birth control usage is a great place to start.

  36. jamesPi
    April 11, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I would like to ask a question about this. As husband to a self-identified feminist my life has been enriched and its been a great journey of almost nine years now. We’ve both learned a lot, from each other and tons of external sources such as blogs like these, books, discussion groups, panels and so on. What do you do when you can handle all the day to day stuff, things go mostly smoothly, all forms of labor (house, job, financial) are equitable but you get into serious debates/arguments over specific issues?

    For example the wage gap mentioned above, she gathers up all her stats, research, and so on, I gather up all of mine and at the end of the day, or many many days, we dont agree and that just simmers over time with occasional flareups. Neither of us believe its not there we just see the problems at different points and have very different outlooks on solving it. Same thing happens with other issues such as shared parenting, rape prosecution, and so on.

    To contribute to this and not just ask questions, I’d say whenever your SO is venting or ranting or whatever you like to call it about something dont feel the need to automatically respond with your take on it or how you would fix it, sometimes she just wants/needs to vent and sure as heck doesnt need an off the cuff analysis. I’d also like to fifth the point about it not necessarily being about you. I would also like to point out that you don’t have to accept anything and everything she says as 100% “right”, accept and value her experience, her view on things, be respectful, ask a lot of questions when its a good time to and understand that our understanding of the world and players in it changes over time.

  37. April 11, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Love your partner for who they have been and all the people they could become. Consider your partner a valuable gift to the world.
    Defend them against anything (other people, economic circumstances, cultural norms) that limit their potential.
    Think deeply about whether your behavior limits or expands their potential.

  38. Anne Onne
    April 11, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    D.N.Nation, though I would always suggest talking, if she is comfortable enough, but doesn’t feel like talking about anything in particular, and you have examined things and can’t see anything that needs adressing, there’s not much to do, is there? Everybody is different, and it could be that she’s happy the way things are. Not having complaints isn’t a guarantee that ther is no subtle form of inequality, it only means that the person’s expectations are being met. But it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect completely equal non-affected by the patriarchy relationship, and that none of us are aiming for perfection, but for the best we can make it.

    Other option is bringing this up generally to her, which you probably have. Either way, just remember to try and be supportive when she does have concerns. You can’t address a problem not raised, so unless you have a reason to believe that she’s sitting on an issue and not telling you, there’s not much to do about it other than keep trying to be equitable.

    I think the best advice for a feminist guy would be that they should be willing to learn. We all make mistakes and mess up, but those of us able to examine our actions, to learn ant to apologise and try harder are going to have more success in this area.

  39. carol h
    April 11, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Love her body no matter what is looks like to anyone outside the relationship. I’ve been with my partner/husband for 35 years, from my feminist awakening in the early 1970s to our conventional middle class life today. He has always loved my body no matter what it looked like or what I did with it. He loved it when I was a young, hot, and hairy since I stopped any part of my body in 1973 as a polical statement, and he loves it know when it is middle aged, saggy, and still mostly hairy. He loved my long, thick, dark brown hippy hair and he loves my short, gray, old lady hair. He loved it pregnant, pregnant, injured, sick, fat, and not-so-fat. He has never tried to change or give his opinion on what I looked like except to tell me he loves me exactly the way I am on every single day. He is blind to what the outside culture says that I should look like and that is feminist to me. He treats our 21 year old daughter the very same way, and although I wish she wouldn’t shave quite so many parts I do too.

  40. carol h
    April 11, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    That should read as below

    hot, and hairy since I stopped shaving any part of my body in 1973 as a polical statement

  41. carol h
    April 11, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    That should read as below

    hot, and hairy since I stopped shaving any part of my body in 1973 as a polical statement

  42. preying mantis
    April 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    “So, women people- Leave well-enough alone? Let her be? Understand that as long as she’s got no complaints, I’m doing OK?”

    Personally, I’d say keep nudging her–don’t push, but don’t drop it entirely–challenge her if she engages in actively anti-feminist speech or behavior, but maybe focus more on feminism as a sociological good than on feminism as it pertains to her and your household for the time being. If you’re right about why she doesn’t identify with feminism, you may be inadvertently challenging a defense mechanism that she’s not willing to have questioned yet when you try to apply that directly to your relationship. She may be more open to seeing the problems as they apply to a broader “society” or other groups of women right now.

    Otherwise just keep the lines open and do what you can on your own.

  43. dave
    April 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    NYguy, I had the exact same trouble. I consider myself a feminist, and of course every shared-living-environment relationship (with or w/o it being a gf/wife/partner) includes its arguments about cleaning.

    But I think that the general tone of the responses to your (NYguy’s) question–“Do it to her level of comfort, you ogre”–is a little strange. I agree with the moderate position: it’s not all about what you want, particularly with shared living spaces. But to suggest that he subjugate his own view (opinion, desire) of how the cleanliness/effort ratio should look like, in favor of taking on her standards? Compromise is reasonable. One partner dictating the other’s chores? One partner dictating how the house should look? Unreasonable in most cases.

    With that in mind, be careful of gender stereotyping the tasks, or of assuming things get done by magical fairies at night. If you want X cleanliness, and she wants 3X, then guess what? You’ll have to do more than you would if you lived alone. Do it smart, and you gain her favor. Be sullen and argumentative about it, and you both lose trust and respect.

  44. April 11, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Number one: educate yourself. Do your own research, do your own reading, and don’t expect to be spoon fed and led step by step through feminist theory, particularly feminism 101. Ilyka’s post, reprinted at Feminism 101, is worth reading–it lays out exactly what I mean when I say that you have to take responsibility for your education. Your significant other is not there to hold your hand and serve as your tutor 24/7.

  45. Kristen
    April 11, 2008 at 2:41 pm


    M still here.

    Neither of us believe its not there we just see the problems at different points and have very different outlooks on solving it. Same thing happens with other issues such as shared parenting, rape prosecution, and so on.

    My perspective. What are you arguing about? If you’re both trying to get to the same solution – equal pay, co-equal parenting, vigorous rape prosecution – then it seems silly to argue over different paths to the same solution. In reality, one solution isn’t going to solve these complex problems. You probably need several solutions. Why not acknowledge the value of her contributions?

    On the other hand, it could be that neither of you are feeling like the other is actually listening. It happens. You argue and you’re so focused on be right you stop listening to what the other person is saying accept to form your counterarguments. If that’s what’s going on, then just stop arguing. Don’t try to change her mind. Just listen. You don’t have to agree to listen.

  46. April 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Also, recognize that if your girlfriend is talking about feminism and feminist issues (e.g. reproductive rights, rape, sexual assault, sexism at work), be ready first and foremost to listen. Listen, consider what she’s saying, and figure out if she is just relieving stress and feels comfortable enough with you to vent and trust that you’ll understand, or if she is interested in debating the issue with you. One of the challenges that I’ve had in friendships with men is that my male friends (like most of my friends) tend to be argumentative. And when it comes to arguing about stuff such as the farm bill or books or TV, I’m always willing to debate, even when they take a devil’s advocate position. But when it comes to feminism, rape apologia, and sexism, they have an extremely difficult time understanding that I can’t stand their devil’s advocate arguments (e.g. rape apologia) because these aren’t abstract matters, these are issues that directly impact my life every single day.

    I guess what it boils down to is: be willing to recognize that you have male privilege. Be willing to step back, examine yourself, and ask, “Am I coming at this from a position of privilege, that is affecting how I see the world?” Listen to your partner and consider what she says. Understand that sexism isn’t an abstract notion, that it’s something that affects her life as constantly and closely as breathing, and that can make a difference between how you and she are approaching discussions.

  47. April 11, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Is Bill Clinton being a feminist partner here?

    Hillary called me and said ‘You don’t remember this. You weren’t there, let me handle it.’

    I said, ‘Yes ma’am,'”

    Bill Clinton, who was in Indiana campaigning for his wife Friday, told reporters.


  48. April 11, 2008 at 3:26 pm


    Love your partner for who they have been and all the people they could become. Consider your partner a valuable gift to the world.
    Defend them against anything (other people, economic circumstances, cultural norms) that limit their potential.
    Think deeply about whether your behavior limits or expands their potential.

    Once upon a time they called this being chivalrous, honorable, or just “being a man.”

    I think the answer to the question in the post is: be decent. I don’t think it particularly matters if you call it being feminist or anything else, since the concept has had many names over the course of history.

  49. April 11, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Assume that your girlfriend is the expert on being a woman, and in this case it sounds like you should also assume she knows more than you about feminism. If she says women get catcalled all the time, or women are 24/7 aware that they are vulnerable, or that “mankind” is a sexist word, begin thinking about those statements from the assumption that she’s right. You might still come to the conclusion that you disagree, but those few minutes when you genuinely believe her, and try to see the world as if those statements were 100% true, are validating and in some cases will convince you that she is right.

    If you can tell whatever issue you’re discussing is really important to her, but even operating from the assumption that she’s right doesn’t get you close to understanding or agreeing, sometimes it’s a good idea to admit you don’t understand but promise you’ll try to in the next few days or weeks. Then go do what everyone on here has already suggested: educate yourself. I’d imagine that when you disagree and she’s particularly upset about the issue, only part of her frustration is with the fact that you disagree, and part of it is from the fact that she either can’t articulate what she wants to, or that she knows she’d have to do a whole lot of tedious context, background work to make you understand.

    The “Educate Yourself” suggestion is also good because not only is it not her job to educate you, but nobody can read everything. If you’re both reading, it’s pooling your resources, kind of the whole point of pairing up. Two heads are better than one, etc.

    And my last suggestion is the hardest for me to articulate. Figure out your own privilege, and accept that you unfairly benefit from societal systems. If you don’t have a handle on your own privilege, everything your girlfriend (or any feminist) points out will feel like a personal attack, which will make you defensive, which will transform the discussion into argument which you are trying to “win.”

  50. April 11, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Do your share of the chores, be supportive, and try never to use the phrase “reading too much into it”.

  51. April 11, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    It’s *nice* to come home to someone who will say “So, I was reading Feministe today and…”

    A caveat about this advice: do not think that Knowing About Feminism gets you off the hook for your behavior. I have a male friend who reads feminist blogs from time to time (mostly Feministing and One Girl Wonder, the feminist comics blog), and sometimes I get the sense that since he’s a straight dude reading feminist blogs and mostly agreeing with them–not the most usual occurrence, admittedly–this gives him enough Enlightened Male points that he doesn’t really have to question his behavior in other areas (generally not a problem, but every now and then I get the sense it might be but he’d never wonder that himself because, hey, he reads Feministing! he’s, like, totally down with feminism!).

    Also, re: sex: consent is important, but I would also recommend asking a lot of questions. Even I, a very strongly feminist woman in my beliefs, don’t alway feel comfortable expressing my desires in the bedroom. Some women don’t orgasm from PIV intercourse, and some guys find this a threat to their manhood or whatever. Don’t be that guy. Ask questions, and ask for specifics. (she should of course do this too! i’ve always thought of this as one of the keys to a happy sex life). Also, maybe I am the only woman in the world ever to have had this situation, but if she says, no, I didn’t have an orgasm, and that’s really okay, no, really, that’s okay–it’s okay. Really. Don’t push it.

  52. April 11, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    It seems to me that the guidelines for a feminist relationship are the same as the standard guidelines for a healthy relationship. Talk with, not at. Listen. Compromise. Respect. Accommodate. Stick up for each other. All that jazz.

  53. kiki
    April 11, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    What’s the feminist but equitable way to deal with the fact that my girlfriend (with whom I live) wants the house cleaner than I care about having it? I’m happy to do all the chores necessary to get it to where I’m comfortable, but that’s only about a third of the way to where she wants it to be.

    I was just reading this same question on another blog and one the men provided this BBC link. “”an employed woman does 15 hours a week of housework when she lives with her employed partner, up from 10 hours when single. Meanwhile the men, who do seven hours while living alone, do only five when they co-habit.” Perhaps you need to rethink your contribution.

  54. April 11, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    The topic that no one has really tackled here is, how can a man be a feminist boyfriend to a woman who doesn’t identify as feminist and who may, in fact, exhibit some internalized sexism? Is it a boyfriend’s place to send his girlfriend to Feministe?

  55. jamesPi
    April 11, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    m. I of course value her opinions as she does mine. To make it a bit more clear, its ideas and issues such as prison abolition and exactly how vigorous rape prosecution should be, its very similar to the feminist blogosphere in a way, there are positions that are very different yet still under the feminist umbrella. the dynamic of our het marriage makes this, in its own way, more complicated than it sometimes gets on these boards and usually ends up with one of us being branded a reformer (as it not enough) and the other an anarchist (as in wanting to completely tear down many social/legal institutions) both with the same goal of equality for all.

  56. Ros
    April 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Anne Onne’s list pretty much sums up a lot, I think.


    1) Respect her space, and not just in terms of cleaning.
    -There are some things that she’ll clearly identify as “hers” – don’t go there without clear permission. In my case, anyone going through my closet, bedside table, or computer without EXPLICIT permission will find themselves summarily ejected from my apartment (anything else in in the apartment, including the medicine cabinet, is pretty much fair game, though). You wouldn’t do this to friends (I most sincerely hope) – give your girlfriend/wife the same respect. Yes, even if you live together.
    – If you don’t live together, participate in upkeep if you’re around a lot. For example, my boyfriend stays over 3-4 nights a week – and does dishes, helps sweep/clean the bathroom when needed, etc. Basically, having two people there more than half the time makes twice as much mess, and it isn’t fair that the same person be the one to always to the upkeep.
    – Don’t be a slob in her space. Simply put: you should be less slobby than she is while in her space. She puts away dishes? Hangs up towels? Makes the bed? Make the same effort – picking up after someone else is no fun at all, and coming back to “your” house when someone else slobbed it up is even less fun.
    – Don’t push into her personal space if she wants to be left alone. Similarly, don’t feel rejected because she wants to be alone for 20 minutes, or because she doesn’t feel like sex just then. It usually won’t have anything do to with you – and we don’t need to deal with the guilt trip of “you didn’t give me a hug when I wanted one!”. Not fair.

    2) Listen. Different things matter to different people, and she’ll likely let you know what she appreciates/dislikes. It doesn’t matter if these things are completely and utterly ridiculous by your standards – they matter to her. In the same way that little things can matter to you. For example: I HATE people reading over my shoulder and looking at my computer screen. It shouldn’t matter WHY I hate it – the point is, please, don’t do it. Respect little likes/dislikes, even if they don’t make sense.

    Related to the listening – don’t do things because other women have enjoyed them, or because women stereotypically do. Listen to what she likes (in bed AND out). Example: I dislike flowers. Anyone who knows me is aware of this. Getting me flowers after an argument will NOT make things better.

    Really, though, I think that most of these things can be summarized by: don’t treat your girlfriend like “a girlfriend” or “a wife” (in the pop-culture-understanding sense). Treat her like a person you respect. The two shouldn’t be different, and it disturbs me that they are.

  57. April 11, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    In fact, you should write a book answering this question – “how to be a feminist boyfriend.”

    From my difficulties in explaining feminism to the partner I’ve had the last year and a half, I’ve made it my goal to write that book!

    I think the most important thing for me is being willing to listen. Growing up in a sexist society that reinforces and rewards (hetero)sexism, sometimes feminist ideas don’t make much sense, especially since in the U.S. women are more or less (it can be argued) “equal under the law” which of course doesn’t translate to social equality. So be willing to listen and to challenge yourself to think differently, because understanding feminism requires it.

    Another thing that’s important to me is understand that representations matter, and that they are meaningful in light of institutional sexism. I can’t tell you how many times I have to counter the, for example, “well men are sexualized sometimes too” argument from men, who don’t realize it’s not always the representations in and of themselves but the way particular representations link back of power and ideology in damaging and normalizing ways.

    Lastly, understand that “free choice” and “what I want” are (at least in part) socially constructed and often are dubious. This goes with the (genuine) response “well, if a woman chooses to do/say that, you can’t really critique it” that comes from an understanding of feminism as simply about expanding choice for women, and that freedom is (mostly just) freedom to choose. But, for me at least, it involves more than that–including how gender ideologies and issues of power affect choices and desires.

  58. Cecily
    April 11, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    This is a quibble, but it’s also kind of a big pet peeve of mine:

    Anne Onne said:

    Consent. Oldie but a goldie. Don’t pressure her to have sex if she says no. Also, don’t pressure her to have sex if she doesn’t seem keen. If she isn’t into it, or says no, don’t repeatedly try your luck, don’t pester her through the night for sex until she gives in, and don’t assume that she’s suddenly consented five minutes after she said no, and try again. Sex should always be between two enthusiastic people.

    Not every het man has a bigger sex drive than his female partner. It’s a big cultural assumption that isn’t without fallout. I have been in both situations (in different relationships), the sex-resistant and sex-starving partner, and I find I barely ever find anyone talking about being a woman in the latter situation. Part of it is that our culture’s view of masculinity stigmatizes a man who isn’t super-libidinous, and that women therefore tend to be quiet about those situations out of loyalty. Women and men both vary, and I’m tired of the stereotype that all men are gagging for it and all women are gatekeeping.

    Like I said, it’s a minor quibble, but I really wish I didn’t have to encounter this assumption on feminist blogs, and I do all the time.

  59. April 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I only read some of the comments, sorry if I repeat things. Mainly it is, as people have said, about listening and taking the initiative to learn. But a few tips: sexually, remember penile-vaginal intercourse is not The Goal of all sex. In arguments, take her anger seriously. When people don’t, it’s usually in one of two ways – playing it down “you’re cute when you’re angry” or playing it up “AHHH the angry female bitch monster is going to break my balls!” See anger as a flag that something is wrong and pay attention to that thing. See anger as a normal emotion that women are allowed to have. On the flip side, allow yourself to express emotions like sadness.

  60. piehat
    April 11, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    What’s the feminist but equitable way to deal with the fact that my girlfriend (with whom I live) wants the house cleaner than I care about having it? I’m happy to do all the chores necessary to get it to where I’m comfortable, but that’s only about a third of the way to where she wants it to be.

    First of all, as others have already said, feminist = equitable. Second, how much housework did you do when you lived by yourself? Because regardless of how clean each of the two of you want the house to be, you definitely shouldn’t expect to do less housework than that. It’s not intuitive (it took me a while to realize it), but two people living together actually means very nearly twice as much housework as one person living alone. (Twice as many dishes, twice as much laundry, twice as much dirt in the bathtub.) So I’m wondering if part of the problem is that you’re expecting to do less housework than you did when you lived by yourself.

    If that’s not the issue, then definitely discuss it with her, and first of all find out why she wants things so much cleaner than you do. Take what Hugo says into account — she may be worried that she’ll be judged by others for the state of the house. (Note: she may not realize this is something you’re not worried about because it may not have occurred to her consciously that she gets the blame for it and you don’t.) And that is a valid worry, even if it doesn’t worry you. Remember that you have not been and will not be judged for this by the vast majority of visitors (including your family and hers), so you can’t know what being judged for it is like or how hard it is for her to deal with it. If that’s a concern for her, then it really is fair for you to pick up more of the work. It’s a burden she has to bear that you don’t — picking up some of the slack in the housework itself will help to make up for that burden.

    Lastly, I agree with what Roy says. Just talk to her about it and try to come to an arrangement. Maybe there are things she hates doing around the house that you don’t mind doing — or something that’s not housework, like doing all the driving or the grocery shopping, that you can do instead of housework. One caution about this, though, from personal experience — if you work out an arrangement like this, DO NOT be too rigid about it. Sometimes she’s not going to feel like washing the dishes (for example) and sometimes you’re not going to feel like driving (for example). If you have specific assigned tasks, be willing to take over your partner’s tasks sometimes to give her a break, and make sure she does the same for you.

  61. eli bishop
    April 11, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    i’m copying some of this from the previous thread, because i had no idea how much i was missing from my liberal boyfriends until i found a truly feminist partner:

    “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.”

    after 5 years i continue to be impressed with his ability to be specifically un-defensive & un-entitled, even if i am being unfair. i can have bigger reactions (both positive & negative) with him. he gets that “equality” doesn’t mean “the same,” so “fair” doesn’t have to be 50/50. after 30+ years of feeling compressed, quieted, watchful or dismissed, his biggest contribution to our feminist relationship is letting me be more me.

  62. eli bishop
    April 11, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    oh! oh! and he introduced me to the whole “emotional work” concept. it explained so much about the disparity i had felt in other relationships: that it was my job to provide the social lubricant & maintain the social calendar, to remember birthdays, to clean before company, to remember the preferences of him & friends, to say all the right things at the right times, etc etc. to be explicitly relieved of the sole responsibility of emotional work was -huge-.

  63. Anne Onne
    April 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Cecily, I wasn’t trying to suggest that men have more of a sex drive than women (I don’t personally think this is the case, and both men and women can at various times need space and respect). We were however, trying to give advice to men in general. In society, we don’t teach men to value consent, we put all the onus on women to protect themselves in various ways that don’t work. I was trying to address this, by reminding feminist men that they have an obligation as feminists to not pressure their partners into sex. They have the privilege of their position, as well as their size in their favour, and man-on-woman rape is more common than woman-on-man rape. That’s not to say that women shouldn’t also make sure their partner is consenting (I pointed out BOTH partners have to be enthusiastic ), and that men shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘no’ and mean it (they should!), but I felt that the focus of the question (how can a guy be a better feminist/have a feminist relationship) justifies the focus on teaching men not to rape their partners, seeing as how neglected it is.

    I acknowledge that I could have included a disclaimer, though.

  64. Cecily
    April 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks, Anne. I hoped you wouldn’t feel too singled out (and that my hunger wasn’t making me too crabby), it’s just that usually this quibble of mine flares up in threads about consent that are way too serious for me to air my peeve. This one seemed personal-life and light enough I could finally unburden myself! Thanks for taking it in the spirit it was meant.

    On topic: I think being aware of the ways women’s voices have been dismissed over the years is super-important. The PMS and “oversensitive” remarks people have mentioned are parts of this…another one I think of is ‘crazy’. A lot of female behavior, frustrations and even sexuality over the years has been pathologized and treated as mental illness, and personally, if a man dismisses something I do, say or feel as ‘crazy’ I feel a huge sting from that. Anyone else with me, or is that a ‘being a feminist boyfriend to Cecily’ rule?

    Oh…this may be too elementary to even mention, but since I’m a big geek…praising your girlfriend for her ‘non-girly’ interests. If you self-identify as a feminist man, this may be too obvious to even mention. However…in geek circles, there tend to be more men than women. Women who share geek interests — videogames, roleplaying games, sci fi, what have you — can be fetishized, which is bad, or merely feted, which is neutral. However, it’s good for men to be aware that if they praise their girlfriend for “being one of the guys”, “liking guy stuff”, “not being girly”, blah blah blah, they are enforcing arbitrary gender categories for activities AND implying it’s bad to be a girl. I see this a lot in geek circles.

  65. Stephanie
    April 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Remember the golden rule and treat her how you’d like to be treated regardless of gender.
    It’s funny how many people forget that rule when it comes to dealing with the other sex and the idea that they should be treated differently.

  66. Lisa
    April 11, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    I’ve dated a lot of self-identified feminists who have a large amount of work to do before I would say they treat women as equals. I’m attracted to loud, confident men, and even the most liberal among them regularly take up more space than they should and ignore the voices of women (often my friends who are less assertive than I am in male dominated spaces). I actually remember a conversation around a table where my boyfriend and other male friends argued loudly with each other about the concept of “voice” in a gendered context but COMPLETELY ignored the comments of a quiet friend of mine as she spoke about people not taking her seriously. I, unlike my friend, have learned to assert myself in a stereotypical “male” way by interrupting and speaking loudly in this type of situation, but I shouldn’t have to. (I got pissed and explained to BF afterwards exactly how offensive that conversation was… ie their WORDS may have seemed feminist, but their BEHAVIOR was absolutely rooted in the patriarchy, and it was completely unacceptable. There’s nothing I hate more than academic feminism that has no foundation in the real world.)

    I learned through those experiences to look for partners who not only let me speak but who ask me to speak up. It’s a lot like what eli bishop said about having a partner who lets me be more me… For me that means means providing a space where I can be more assertive without being scared of the reaction. It’s very hard for me having been in an abusive relationship, but we work on it together- him allowing me to have a loud voice and me allowing myself to speak up.

  67. enlightened
    April 12, 2008 at 1:46 am

    I just want to understand this, if I just let my wife have a “voice” (whatever that means) I don’t have to do 80% of the housework, 75% of the childcare and I don’t have to defer to my wife’s career to the detriment of my own to be a good feminist husband?

  68. exholt
    April 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    The 15th commenter Caroline posted this at pandagon here:

    Don’t freak out and take it personally when she gets angry while in your vicinity (i.e. not directly angry at you). React like you’d react if one of your guy friends was acting really pissed off — i.e. assume that maybe it’s not about you until proven otherwise, and maybe just ask “Dude, is everything all right?” rather than getting all pissy because her anger makes you uncomfortable. You give your guy friends the right to be pissed off sometimes without making them responsible for your comfort; give your girlfriend the same right.

    And my response:

    Some of us cannot help freaking/tuning out because angry displays, especially loud temper tantrums tend to trigger traumatic memories of abusive authority figures like some older relatives or some of junior high and high school teachers, especially when the anger was caused by something that we had nothing to do with.

    To some extent, this sounds like the “No matter what, it is your fault” BS my cousins, classmates, and I had to put up with growing up.

    Moreover, I was raised to believe it is wrong to subject another person to one’s anger unless s(he) is the cause/reason for it.

    Is there something I am overlooking or misreading in my response? How should I deal with my fear/disdain for displays of angry feelings from anyone, especially ones which take the form of loud yelling tantrums in the context of relationships?

  69. preying mantis
    April 12, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    “Is there something I am overlooking or misreading in my response? How should I deal with my fear/disdain for displays of angry feelings from anyone, especially ones which take the form of loud yelling tantrums in the context of relationships?”

    I think you may be thinking of someone ranting at someone else rather than, for instance, at the television set while watching Chris Matthews while someone else happens to be around. Or just being generally angry after hearing or reading something that should be rage-inducing if you’ve got half an ounce of empathy, rather than acting in an aggressive or hostile manner towards someone. A lot of guys have the automatic response that tries to smother the evidence of anger–“cheer up,” “don’t let it get to you,” “Why do you care about that?”, etc.–because they’re uncomfortable with the display in a way they probably wouldn’t be if it were coming from another guy. It’s the personal relationship equivalent of telling someone you don’t know to smile.

    If someone’s got their own problems with that which don’t stem from the subconscious belief that women are an amenity rather than human beings–if your partner yelling at Chris Matthews is triggering, or you find your own anxiety ratcheting up because you’re around someone who’s angry about something–it’s something that would have to worked out in the context of that relationship.

  70. Karinna A.
    April 13, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Can I second or third or twentieth the suggestion to be responsible for housework? Neither my DH or I are particularly neat, and he does pitch in willingly around the house. But. I am the one who usually has to ask for him to do things, and I do get resentful. Why, when it’s perfectly obvious that the bathtub is filthy, do I have to be the one responsible for initiating its cleansing (either by cleaning or by asking)?

    Anyway, my own relationship issues aside, my suggestion is to start seeing dirt. Vacuum the floors once a week, even if they don’t look dirty. Figure out what needs doing when, and which one of you should do it (and then keep your end of the bargain). Whoever said it upthread is right: sometimes it’s not the actual work of housework that’s daunting; it’s the mental work it takes to keep it organized.

    (And also try to realize that she might not ask you to pitch in, even if she’d appreciate it. There’s a strong cultural antipathy towards women who “nag,” and frankly, it seems like a lot of times, merely asking a man to do a chore is defined as “nagging.” She might not ask because she doesn’t want to be that dreaded nag.)

  71. kiki
    April 13, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Karinna, thank you for your comment on “nagging”. There are so many men who when asked to do anything around the house reply….yeah, yeah I’ll put it on my honey do list…stop nagging.” It’s a great play for them; don’t do anything, wait to be asked and then play the “nag card”. It’s the lazy patriarch’s trifecta. It’s an attempt to silence women and shame us into submission.

    Just try and count the number of times Clinton has been referred to as a nag.

  72. miwome
    April 14, 2008 at 3:22 am

    Oh, boy, I just had to share this. What can I say, sometimes you gotta brag.

    My boyfriend and I have recently gone long-distance as he’s abroad for the quarter. In the last couple days he’s been flooding me with talk about how beautiful/sexy/smart/funny/gorgeous/amazing I am, how much he misses me, how he wants to get in shape/figure himself out/be strong/etc. for me, how he hopes x, y, and z are “okay with me” or I won’t look down on him for this or that. When he’s drunk he likes to talk about marriage. We are both 19. So I was freaking out and trying to figure out why, because I really don’t have a problem with commitment.

    We talked about it for the second time tonight, and I finally said:

    Me: Saying [insert earlier paragraph] is just not something I can deal with, because it’s all on me–what I think, what I want, whether I approve, how I feel. Live for yourself; take responsibility for your own feelings instead of handing them to me. I can’t take the pressure.
    Boy: You’re right. I haven’t been fair to you. I’ve been a nice guy, but I haven’t been fair. I want to change the way I think about you–not as a part of my person, but as the person I love.
    Me: That’s the money right there. I’m so posting this on Feministe.

    I dunno, to me that is the worst version of invisible work–taking someone’s raw thoughts and feelings, processing them, and handing them back in some kind of organized/palatable/explicable form. I’m caring and a good listener but I learned in my last relationship there’s only so much you can do before you stop being a person and become an idea.

  73. Chris
    April 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I have been reading through the comments and have started to get concerned that the thread has started to move from advice to a rant about guys who shouldn’t be considered nice, not to mention feminist. If I had a significant other that accused me of nagging for mentioning something once, there would be issues. Anyone that thinks pestering their partner to have sex (whether in a long term relationship or one that’s a few months old) because they want it is not Nice. They are selfish and self-centered and couldn’t touch equality with a ten foot pole.

    Getting back to advice, if you want to be a more feminist boyfriend (or a better spouse/partner in general) treat your partner better than you treat yourself. Do more to make them comfortable, do more to relieve their stress or take away stress inducing activities, treat them better than you want to be treated. Most importantly, do all of that because you love them. No other reason will suffice. Love your partner to the point of sacrifice. Because, in a committed relationship, your girlfriend is already doing that.

    As a personal anecdote, when I first started dating my girlfriend (we’ve been going out just shy of two years now) I would come to her place and wash the dishes that had been sitting around all day, the ones I had no help in creating. I did it, not for credit, but because I wanted to be useful and I wanted to help make things easier. I also have an incredibly high standard for cleanliness and from day one took it upon myself to meet that level. My girlfriend still tells the story of the time I came to her place before she had come home from work. I knew I had 30 minutes to wait for her so I took everything out of the kitchen and washed the floor. The only reason she knew about it was because I hadn’t quite finished putting all the furniture back by the time she got home from work (in my defense she was 10 minutes early).

    I didn’t do it for credit and I definitely didn’t do it because I figured she would owe me anything. I did it because I could, it needed to be done (by anyone not specifically me), it was the right thing to do and because I knew if the situation was reversed I would appreciate that act of kindness.

    That is the mindset I take into all relationships and is the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone for having a truly equal relationship.

  74. Intransigentia
    April 14, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Someone said this to me this weekend, and I think it applies: If you’re wrong, apologise. If you’re right, shut up.

    On a more serious note, though, keep in mind that as a man, you haven’t had to deal with (and as a result, potentially be scarred by) a lot of the shit women get in a patriarchy. Respect that.

    For example, she may want to set limits on how or where you can touch her, not just during sex but also other times. She may be unable to tolerate being tickled, for example, or rough-housing, or being picked up or carried around. As a man, you can’t have lived how threatening those experiences can be for a woman. Understand that, and take those limits seriously.

    In addition, even if your partner has not been raped by a man, chances are good that she has been harmed or threatened by a man, and darn near 100% that what she has witnessed in her life has made part of her concept of the class “men” include “someone who is capable of doing me harm.” This isn’t personal, it’s just rational. If you use even subtle dominance behaviour (making yourself bigger and/or louder through posture and/or voice) to get your way, you are just reinforcing that idea. As a man, you need to be extra-careful about dominance behaviours if you want her to feel that she is really your equal.

  75. Ari
    April 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    I’d just like to point out the critical first step: Don’t date an anti-feminist girl. It doesn’t work. ;) I tried it once and it revealed to me just how key sharing my political and social sensibilities has to be for any relationship I get into.

    I have thought about this one a lot myself, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

    I think the first key really is just to talk, talk, talk- stop making assumptions about what she’ll think, how she’ll want to be treated, or what she’ll want to do because of her gender, and start making assumptions based on how she’s acted, and what she’s told you, and talk about those assumptions, and clarify everything about the relationship, (you don’t have to do it all at once, but you do have to do it) setting boundaries and rules together that work for both of you. Don’t assume she’s approved something unless she’s been pretty clear she has- and don’t let her get away with the same for you. Just because you’re probably the more privileged one doesn’t mean that she can pidgeon-hole you back without harming the relationship- because there will almost definitely be areas where you won’t be a typical patriarchal guy, either. One of the big reasons unequal relationships develop is because people don’t always examine our privileges. If you can talk and decide about things like who does the housework, if you want kids who’s going to be the primary parent, who pays for whom, and how to manage disagreements fairly, then you’re doing well both in the feminist sense and in the relationship sense.

    The second part is independence. Don’t push things onto each other that you’re not responsible for. It’s important for you to worry about your feelings, and her to worry about hers- one of you pushing off your expectations on the other all the time makes the relationship very unequal. Take responsibility for your own feelings in the relationship and don’t turn them into little checks that the relationship has to pass for you to be happy. I’ve been on both sides of this one and it’s pretty destructive for the relationship, even if you do state what the checks are rather clearly. No matter how in love either of you are, you’re still two people, and if you don’t acknowledge that both of you deserve to be able to make decisions about the relationship without being under pressure, then it’s going ot go south fast. Another part of independence is also that sometimes you just have to do something extra for your partner because you’re the one that’s better at doing it, even if it unbalances the equality of work for a little bit. As long as you’re not doing it all the time, and your partner reciprocates, it’s not a problem.

    The third part is to be perceptive of privilege- keep in mind that you have privilege, but don’t let that control or define your part in the relationship. As a man, that means you need to let women have space to speak, and not dominate the whole dialogue. It’s much easier to talk than to listen, for both of us, but she may have been talked over by men a lot more than you have by women. It means you should discuss what makes your partner feel threatened or disempowered, and keep it in mind in your relationship. It also means that she has an obligation to give you some space to deal with these things- while it’s not her fault you’re privileged, if she cares about you then she should acknowledge that it may not always be easy to admit to or overcome privileges that you haven’t been conscious of.

    The final part, I think, is respect. You both deserve respect for working hard, or being smart, or being strong, or being skillful. It doesn’t matter whether it’s gymnastics, cleaning, looking after a kid, managing money, making people aware of social injustice, or whatever. And it doesn’t matter which of you does which. Recognise the good achievements when they come. Value work that each of you do, especially if it’s work that goes unnoticed or unpaid by the wider community. Share each other’s interests. Identify what makes you proud of each other. That helps you remember why it’s worth going through so much trouble to treat her equally.

    Maybe I’m going to be controversial here, but I think you can still have a relationship that’s “feminist” in the sense of both people owning it and co-determining it with equal say, while still falling largely into traditional gender roles. Just so long as the choice was free of both pressure and expectation. It’s not “wrong” for either of you to keep some of those roles if that works for both of you, so long as you’re sharing the responsibilities of your relationship roughly equally.

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  77. zonker
    April 22, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I’d just like to point out the critical first step: Don’t date an anti-feminist girl. It doesn’t work. ;) I tried it once and it revealed to me just how key sharing my political and social sensibilities has to be for any relationship I get into.

    Amen to that.

    I do not claim to be the world’s most pro-feminist dude. I’m just not. So there’s the disclaimer. But…

    …I was in a long relationship with an anti-feminist woman. I’ll spare you all the details, but my point is that it was really, really hard–especially, in fact, around amandaw’s #1 comment on deference.

    If you’re listening and deferring–from a pro-feminist male point of view–to someone who casts everything in a patriarchal (anti-feminist) light, I can’t exactly explain the dynamic but I guess it just looks weak. If either partner is used to thinking in terms of gaining control over the other, she or he will probably tend to see legitimate strength in the other also as a threat to control. And she or he will see deference in the other as weakness or submission.

    I guess what I’m saying is that a pro-feminist mindset in a man in a hetero relationship is (a) a good thing; but (b) a source of vulnerability. A woman who rejects feminism, or who understands it poorly, isn’t a good partner for that kind of vulnerability.

    BTW, the trackback to Lumpesse in comment #80 is interesting. I totally agree that pro-feminist men have to take a serious look at what masculinity is supposed to mean to them.

  78. Peter
    May 28, 2008 at 12:24 am

    This was a great thread to read. Lot’s of useful advice. I’d like to think that most of it I already know, and at least try to practice, I’d like to think that I’m enlightened, but it’s good to hear it again. And be reminded of it.

    I took note of the comments pertaining to standing up to other men, who behave inappropriately. Don’t be an enabler, is the message I’m taking away. I get it. I try to engage misogynist behavior from other men, in cyber forums. Sometimes, I chicken out. Sometimes I get dogpiled by guys who accuse me of seeking to curry favor with the women in the forum. Trying to get in their pants, so to speak. Like the only reason a guy can be in solidarity with feminist women, is because he wants to get laid. Like, on this one political forum I participate in, I’m always trying to call out the guys who use the c*nt word. I try to call them on it, and point out what a harmful word it is. It’s really the gender equivalent of the N word. It never fails, some knuckedragger will give me crap, and suggest I’m just trying to get laid by the liberal women. LOL. Yeah, trying to get laid on a political forum. That sounds like an idiotic scheme. I try to be consistent, and challenge racism, sexism and bias. But, its good to be reminded how important it is, here.

    But, whatever crap I take is nothing in comparison to some of the toxic and misogynist stuff some women have to take on discussion forums. So, I guess I shouldn’t complain.

  79. AlexMagd
    June 25, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    1) Listen to your partner and consider what she has to say

    2) If she brings up an issue that you’re unfamiliar with (e.g. using the word ‘actor’ rather than ‘actress’) be prepared to discuss it reasonably rather than dismiss it out of hand

    3) STAND UP FOR FEMINISM; challenge other men (even your best friends) about the sexist comments they make. Challenge presumptions about gender

    4) Read up. Seriously. Chances are if you’re with a feminist you’re both quite intelligent; you’ve probably read books on loads of different topics. Pick up some books – ‘The Female Eunuch’, ‘Men In Feminism’, whatever – and educate yourself.

    5) Treat her as a person, not a gender (it saddens me that this is necessary)

    6) Swallow your pride. Many men come to feminism through their partners and there’s no shame in it. If being with a feminist is what brought you to gender equality then good for you; now you can spread the ideas to others!

  80. Griot
    June 27, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Great thread- learning a lot. My question may sound dumb, but seriously: Since I was a kid, I was raised to think that terms like “hon”, ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘baby’ etc were sort of demeaning, diminutive things to call someone. So, I don’t use them… so what do you do for terms of endearment?

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