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