Welcome to “Ms. Opinionated,” Bitch’s new advice column, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don’t.
What qualifies me for this awesome task? In an academic sense, nothing (though my degree in German Literature taught me a lot about Sturm und Drang), but I have lived, loved, done bad things, attempted to make amends, and generally come out the other side of it reasonably happy with myself and with as few regrets and as many good stories as possible. Plus, people have been telling me their stories my whole life, often unprompted, and asked for my advice. So now it’s your turn!
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
My boyfriend of 2 years and I get along GREAT! We are even getting married next year. We have similar interests and hobbies, work together very well, and are deeply in love. The only problem in our relationship is that I am an ardent feminist and my partner is about as far from that as you can get. In practice, he’s the best feminist partner ever. He shares in the housework, is more of a nurturer than me, and treats me like an equal in every way. He is the best lover I have ever had, really a 1-in-a-million man.
Despite this, he holds the most stereotypical privileged attitude! He honestly believes that women are equal to men in every way now, and that my “hang-up” on feminism is totally unjustified. This hurts me deeply because, in effect, he is invalidating every negative patriarchal piece of bullshit that I have to deal with every day. Conversations on the topic are so frustrating they bring me to tears. While he never objects when I have feminist discussions with others and host discussions and activities at our house, I am deeply disappointed and avoid all confrontation on the subject. Should I just learn to accept him, or should I continue to push the issue? I am worried further pushing will only push us apart, and losing him would be losing a great thing. Help!
In the history of advice columns, there is never a relationship question that starts off “My partner is great, but…” that ends with the advice the writer is seeking. And after years of giving great advice to friends who just wanted permission to keep doing what they’re doing, let me give you that first.
Not every choice that feels right to you or is right for your life is going to be the perfectly feminist choice, in part because we do live in a patriarchal system. No partner is going to be 100 percent perfect, or check off every box on the secret mental list of things that we want out of a relationship. And all of that’s okay. It’s even okay to be with someone who doesn’t self-identify as feminist! In fact, there are any of a number of great reasons for someone not to identify as feminist, from male feminist allies who don’t feel comfortable usurping that identifier, to womanists and their allies who feel that feminism’s long-standing race issues are not resolvable, to the folks who see gender as one of a continuum of intersecting privileges that underpin the current social system (see also: kyriarchy) but perhaps don’t define it as the dominant privilege at play.
But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)
Your boyfriend isn’t one of those people. He’s more of the type to say, “I reject your reality, and substitute my own.” He’s determined to believe, for whatever reason and against all evidence to the contrary—including but not limited to income inequality, the persistence of rape culture, the dominance of white, cisgender, straight, wealthy men in the power structure, and the daily experiences of the woman he loves—that “women are equal to men in every way now.” And, I hate to tell you, he’s never going to come around. He’s an adult, and the woman he loves has wept in an effort to get him to see the world through her eyes, and he’s simply decided that your way of viewing the world isn’t as valid as his.
I know that hurts to see written down, but you already knew it. So the question for you is whether the shared housework (which, in my opinion, should be a given rather than a bonus) and his nuturing-other-than-valuing-your-Weltanschauung nature and the great sex outweighs the fact that your potential life partner is going to treat your commitment to feminism and the very basis of feminism’s existence (gender inequality) as an invalid but ultimately unimportant pastime. Hosting discussions and activities at your house on something he views as a cute hobby (like a book club for Twihards!) should never bother him anyway—and, since it’s a home you share, as long as it’s not at 3am and people aren’t trashing the place, the idea of him objecting at all gives me a case of the side-eye—but it’s got to be awkward for everyone, including you, that one of the members of the household takes it as seriously as an alien-abduction reunion.
To me, it would be very difficult to spend my life with someone who could look at the world we share, and the ways it has impacted me fundamentally differently because of my gender, and tell me that all of that was just in my head, or just something I did, or just something that happened to me. I, too, would be frustrated to the point of tears, and disappointed, and heartsick. But I have also learned that avoiding a frustrating, disappointing situation doesn’t actually resolve it, or make it disappear. Either you have to make peace with the idea that he’ll never even attempt to see the world through your eyes, or try counseling (separately or together), or leave.
Maybe he is a 1-in-a-million guy. But, with 7 billion people in the world, that means there are approximately 3,500 others just like him. Just something to think about the next time he tells you that men and women are totally equal.
Have a question? Email us with “advice” in the subject line. Anonymity guaranteed.
Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com
19 Comments Have Been Posted
Not just feminsim for me, thanks.
Rojas replied on
As a woman of color, I also want a partner who is socially aware and strives for social justice in other realms, specifically, race and class. As such, wherever this article states feminist values add that for me. I could never be with a man who denies the existence racism, classism, or sexism. If you can't acknowledge your white privilege or male privilege, you are denying my experience so you can get the hexk out of here.
lee replied on
Anonymous replied on
Relationships require compromise, period. Nobody is perfect. I suggest you teach him, and help him see your view, not reject his view completely. Maybe YOU could learn something as well. Just give it a try...
Sorry, what exactly do you
Victoria Whyte replied on
Sorry, what exactly do you think the reader would learn from him? That privilege doesn't exist
I agree. But.
Mary Song replied on
I agree with Ms. Opinionated. But. I think it's also so important to recognize when we, as feminists, are also rejecting someone else's reality. Just because he says he doesn't agree that gender inequality exists, does NOT mean he is turning a blind eye to the injustices to women in our world. He could be choosing to recognize the injustices to men in our world as well. As much as that sounds abhorrently insensitive to the relatively gross injustices to women, it is, in my opinion, a legitimate perspective - considering that he is a man. He is not a woman. If he is a kind, intelligent and thoughtful man, he CAN come around. If he loves his partner, he is not necessarily going to secretly demean her to the level of a Twihard-fan (;p). He is simply claiming the right to have an intellectual opinion of how the world works for HIM. In the end, that is all we all have to work off of - how the world works for each of us. To write off a good man just because of his political views reduces him to a one-dimensional view of just that. I fear that this is possibly a knee-jerk reaction more to claiming a victim status that women should relinquish. To refuse to acknowledge that men are victimized as well is deeply problematic to our own philosophical and political longevity as feminists focused on creating a more evolved future - a world of not only political equanimity but of philosophical magnanimity as well.
I literally don't understand
Anonymous replied on
I literally don't understand what you're talking about. Not to sound all snarky right off the bat, but I'm confused as to how you can have the beliefs you're talking about and agree with Ms. Opinionated at the same time.
Because this: "He is simply claiming the right to have an intellectual opinion of how the world works for HIM."
Doesn't make sense and is not a legitimate excuse for a dude to say there's no gender inequality.
Would you take the same stance if he were saying, "There's no racism anymore! Everything's fine there and you're making a big stink for no reason!" Or if he said, "There's no homophobia! Don't be so dramatic!"
I kind of doubt it, or at least I would hope not.
Those are not "legitimate perspectives." They are completely blind to the way things really are because they're injustices that have no real effect on a white, cis, male.
This is what is happening in the letter writer's relationship. He's saying, "Your feminism is a cute hobby and gender inequality does not exist." That's just denial and refusal to accept his own privilege.
That's not cool and it's not okay. Not all opinions are created equal. Sometimes people believe something that may in fact be "how they experience the world" but it doesn't make what they believe any less wrong.
On top of that, your argument seems to want to legitimize the whole men's rights movement and that is terrifying to me.
That said, if I've gotten you TOTALLY wrong, or inserted opinions into what your wrote that you don't actually hold, please correct me! I'd like to hear more about what you were trying to say.
Anonymous replied on
You cant change people. Period.
He's a grown man.
If he's not going to open his eyes to the misogyny around us/deny it's existence now, then what's going to happen in the future if you guys have kids?
If anything, it'll grow.
He's not a sexist pig <i>yet</i>.
Sometimes, you just have to decide You, or Me.
eh, people learn and change
lee replied on
eh, people learn and change and adapt constantly. maybe he won't change how you want him to, or maybe he will. you can't force anyone to change, but people learn from each other all the time.
Growing old can lead to funny things
Pipari replied on
An author I quite like wrote his most recent book from the viewpoint of a young immigrant woman who gets sold into sex slavery. He didn't do a bad job. When asked about the choice of theme and character, he answered that "every man turns more feminist the older he gets".
I thought about it for a while, as to whether this is true and why it could be. I think there are two important turning points in a man's life that could lead to such development: (1) having a daughter. Seems to work wonders on making men alert to the concerns of girls who then turn into women. (2) getting to the point in life where the little fella downstairs no longer controls all thoughts and actions. All of a sudden women appear as HUMANS, and no longer pussies on legs. And my god are these humans in some respects having to take a lot of shite...
Get out now...
Kathleen Farmer replied on
IME, someone who does not respect and validate your experience in one area, will (and likely already does, if you are honest with yourself) not respect and validate your experience in other areas. Denying your reality is, ultimately, abusive. There is a difference between acknowledging that patriarchy is damaging to everyone and denying the existence of sexism despite all evidence to the contrary. Please, before you marry this man, examine your interactions with him in other areas very closely. Does he deny your emotional and intuitive experiences in the relationship as well? I think it is unlikely that this is the only area in which he dismisses you and what you know to be true. It will only get worse and more pervasive the longer you are with him. Get out now.
This is what I was thinking
Anonymous replied on
This is what I was thinking as well. Treating your lived experience as an academic question that's up for debate is a pretty serious red flag for me. In that situation, I start to question what will happen next time I try to tell them something they don't want to hear.
You can change people... but only to an extent
TheNewGirl replied on
You know, I think you can sometimes change people, at least to the extent that they're genuinely ignorant of a subject matter, and are flexible and open to change of perception. As a woman of color, I totally identify with the sentiment that a person can feel really emotionally exhausted from the idea of having to 'teach' someone else, but the reality is that people are so poorly educated in early life and untrained to observe the nuances of institutionalized and social discrimination (particularly if they exist within a hegemonic society as a privileged member), it's pretty likey that you'll be called upon to school a variety of people at various points in life. If you want to be part of the solution, get used to schooling people. But if someone who's supposed to love you contends that they have the answers to the realities of YOUR experiences as a woman, woman of color, etc., and the answers include the theory that equality abounds then there's a problem, yo.
I'll share a little of my own experience on the matter. I happen to be engaged to the most diehard, old school, 1970s style Englishman on earth - I mean, this guy fries his 'chips' in a pan of oil along with sausages, likes his kink traditional (M/F), talks about how he likes the fact that I do '*lady things*' when I break out nail polish or shave my damn legs, shudders in remembering the feminism of 1980s Britain, pinches my butt in mock sexual harrassment, jokes about how 'all those books' read will give me 'fancy notions' (I'm working on a cultural/critical studies MA), and the list of gags goes on. But in all seriousness, he'd never met anyone like me before, and the only place I ever saw anyone vaguely like him was as a caricature The Benny Hill Show. Some of his antics have been role play, others have been him genuinely representing who he is and his social and cultural experiences, BUT let me tell you one thing: once we met and I gave him a 'crash course' in (my version) of black American chick-dom, when it comes to my experiences as a black person and a woman he doesn't play. He reads and wants to engage with every piece, every essay I write on these matters, has grown to look scornfully at any negative experiences involving discrimination that I have or may encounter as a black person and a woman, and isn't afraid to confront those issues and any individuals perpetuating those issues. He's even had to cut a few friends loose after discovering they weren't as tolerant as he assumed they were. He has reverence for my African American and Jewish heritages, detests cultural amnesia and denial about what women and ethnic minorities have experienced and continue to experience, and calls people who are hateful towards gay folks all manner of 'pricks' and 'tossers'. Inequality makes him angry, and that's putting your money where your mouth is. He may display the sort of surprise and hurt over these matters reserved for someone who is coming-to after 49 years as a plain, old white guy who could afford not to be more aware, but I have to give the man credit because once he woke up, he hasn't looked back to his old, ignorant life, unless it is to marvel about how unaware he used to be. As far as I'm concerned that's what's important, and I commend him and people like him who are able to allow themselves to embrace concepts and walks of life they've previously been unfamiliar with. What an inspiration.
Conversely, I couldn't date or marry anyone who remained in such a state of willful ignorance that he would have the audacity to tell me that things are equal now. It almost smacks of passive aggressive hostility, don't you think? I don't care how many dishes the dude does. Hell, my guy does dishes, washes the dog, massages my feet, sweeps, does laundry - look, as long as he knows the deal, I don't care how little or how much housework he does, but it's a bonus that he's willing to pitch in. It is my belief that part of walking the walk means that if I couldn't happen upon a guy who already had his head screwed on straight, I might make choice to be with someone who was willing to listen and try to process a few things about what it is like to walk in the shoes of those who weren't born into white male privilege. The latter's where I ended up. I know that for me it would be a very sad life indeed if I had to face life's challenges being who I am out in the world facing what I face every day, and then had to come home to an ignorant partner who echoed or perpetuated the invalidation and negation of my experiences and experiences of other minority people through denial. That would be so esteem wrecking and demoralizing. It's a level of interpersonal hostility that I'm simply not prepared to subject myself to. I just couldn't do it.
Thank you for this comment.
In Thought replied on
Thank you for this comment. I'm in a relatively new relationship of about 9 months and have been struggling with this issue. While I've always considered myself a feminist, I've become much more concerned and passionate about feminist issues in the past few months, perhaps simply because I've been doing more reading and paying more attention to the 'daily sexism' that happens to me and women in my life.
My problem is that I'm not sure where my boyfriend stands on feminism. In terms of his actions in our relationship, he doesn't seem sexist at all. He in no way expects me to cook or clean for him; I am more educated than him, and he has told me he respects and admires me for those accomplishments; I've said I would never change my name if I was married and he had no problem with it; we pay for things equally; if I ever have a decision to make, whether it be about a life decision or my appearance, he tells me its my life/body and I can do whatever I want; etc. He's even commented on how silly it is that there are still half naked cheerleaders in the NFL.
The things that I have noticed, however, that make me skeptical are just comments he makes, usually as jokes, that seem to indicate that although he may fundamentally believe women should be equal, he doesn't see how joking about it perpetuates stereotypes and sexism. For example, his friend was complaining about a girlfriend, and my boyfriend said something like, 'oh women'. Or he'll make a joke when he comes home and says 'where's my dinner'. I know he doesn't mean it, but these are just small things that I notice SO much now.
Am I making too much of these comments? I'm afraid to actually have a talk with him about feminism because I'm afraid he's going to dismiss it as silly or not needed. If he would do this, I would have to seriously reconsider our relationship. He's very caring and usually very open-minded. I only hope he's as willing to learn as yours!
Anonymous replied on
I hate to be so blunt about this point but I don't think a woman (even one he loves) can make him see the problem here. The biggest issue with informing the world about feminist issues is that not enough "white privileged males" stand up and own it as real. As a "white privileged male" i find myself in a overwhelming minority as someone who stands up and informs other privileged folks that life is not so peachy for women, minorities, or rape victims.
There is an issue with some folks that the word feminist conveys something negative to them. More often than not I find people dislike a particular feminist, not the ideas of the movement when it gets explained to them. I also think the manly men out there dislike being marked FEM anything even if they believe in the ideals of feminism.
Call it whatever you like , I like humanist personally but feminist does just as well, but its men who need to inform other men about the crap non-white males deal with every single day. If he doesn't get that, he's is just as bad ,in my opinion, as the guy that tells rape jokes and doesn't get why some people don't laugh.
Just because something hasn't happened to you, does mean it is not happening somewhere right now. If you deny this fact, you are part of the problem.
Some people DO change, though not all
Mandy replied on
My father adjusted his viewpoints, first when my mother was pregnant, and second when I came out as queer. Simply put, he cared more about the people in his life over any ideology he grew up with.
Not everyone is like this, though. I have encountered many very rigid people who won't change regardless of how they feel about somebody. Which is why so many homeless kids are queer.
What exactly does he think a
Anonymous replied on
What exactly does he think a feminist is? Does he think of the straw feminist that is in about every TV show/movie? This was me and my husband over a year ago. I hated the term feminism because I thought all feminist were straw feminists. It wasn't until I stumbled upon a few videos that my eyes were opened and I was completely ashamed. My husband took a lot more convincing, and even though he unknowingly held many feminist beliefs, he didn't want to identify himself as a feminist and was unconvinced that feminist were anything other than male hating women. He did come around and now often becomes frustrated with the way race and gender are portrayed in media. (being zombie movie lovers, we have a drinking game with this for the Walking Dead) He now identifies as feminist. It was hard for him to to come to terms with his privileged and that his life is a lot easier than women and men of color. He was completely disgusted with the harassment Anita of feminist frequency received (and he would have been regardless of becoming a feminist because he's always hated when men would harass women in the games he plays, but now he sees how bad sexism is in nerd culture.)
So I guess my point is, does your fiance think that feminism is simply the straw feminist? Have you tried to show him any internet videos?
If he refuses to budge on this issue, then I would get out of that relationship. How long has he been this way? It may be a bit much to expect someone to change their world view over night, especially since white men are taught from birth that the world is theirs, but if this has been going on for years then I would be very concerned.
FablePony replied on
I´ve had similar problems with my recent ex-boyfriend. Except he even self-identified as a `feminist` which I perceived as pretty ironic. I talked myself blue in the face to no avail. It continued to disturb me until I couldn´t take it anymore - I ditched him and now that I have won a little perspective I´m extremely glad I did it.
The problem I´ve had all my life is that I´ve primarily encountered men who are socialised to be like this. I´m still waiting to get to know one who isn´t. To be honest, I´ve lost faith that there are any.
While this is sad, I´m not prepared to compromise on this point.
I´m really glad somebody addressed this topic, as I often feel as if I am the only one with these difficulties concerning relationships.
Ms. Opinionated nailed it.
MattOKC replied on
<p>I'm a male who specializes in working to end sexual violence and provide services to victims. I'm also the partner of a female survivor. I wrote the booklet, "A man's guide to helping a woman who has been raped." And wow, did Ms. Opinionated nail it. And wow, have some of the trite comments taking swipes at feminism missed the point.
I thought this line was incredible: "He honestly believes that women are equal to men in every way now, and that my "hang-up" on feminism is totally unjustified." It reminded me of the Ani Difranco lyric, "I know what you’re thinking, That’s just redundant / Chicks got it good now, They can almost be president." I get emails from SO many guys who want advice about how to help their girlfriends. Some of them are amazing, and they do a great job of supporting. But sadly, just as many are writing with the hidden agenda, "I'm tried of fooling around with her 'rape' issues. What can I do to move her along already?" You can spot the difference with one easy test: does he think feminism is his partner's hobby, or does he see it as something that HE is also responsible for? Is it just "girl stuff" that he thinks he has to wait out, or does he see it as something that changes him, too? Again, Difranco:
Feminism ain't about women
No, that's not who it is for
It's about a shifting consciousness
That'll bring an end to war
So listen up you fathers
Listen up you sons
Which side are you on now?
Which side are you on?</p>
Ms. Opinionated: All the Advice You Asked For, and Some You
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