Feminist & Married: Being Feminist in a World of Male Privilege

Feminist & Married: Being Feminist in a World of Male Privilege feminism  male privilege

Male privilege

 

One of the biggest pitfalls of being a wife and mother is the fact that we women tend to put ourselves last.  It seems we have this need to help, fix and perfect everything around us, which I feel stems (in large part) from the extreme weight of too many social expectations placed upon us.

I remember as a child that I had to be the caretaker of my siblings when my parents divorced and my mom returned to school full-time.  My brother relished taunting me about all my responsibilities and insisting that he not have to take part in “girls work”.  That infuriated me, but over time, I came to expect it.  I had accepted it in the same way that I accepted my father’s constant requests for drink refills and a variety of other gopher errands I was responsible for around the house as a young girl.  When mom was busy, it fell on me to meet his needs by providing refreshments, changing tv channels, cleaning, preparing meals and disciplining my siblings.

I was accustomed to catering to men when I hit my teens and didn’t realize that I had the right to say ‘no’ to a relationship proposal.  Why did I feel the need to date out of sympathy or because my friends liked him?  I wasn’t interested.  I wasn’t impressed.  But I think that we’re taught from the very beginning that mens’ needs and wants come first and it lingers in our subconscious, without us really knowing that it’s there.

When I met my husband, I was still what they call a “people pleaser”.  I didn’t want to disappoint him and I was afraid to express my true feelings…why?  I’ve always been fairly outspoken and expressive in some circumstances, but in others, I didn’t enact my rights.  It seemed that personal expression became a privilege that I felt I wasn’t afforded when it inconvenienced certain individuals.

My husband is a good man, but it took a long time to instill his current feminist outlook.  While many men may like to believe that they are treating women fairly and equally, many times their actions can still result in the degradation and silencing of female voices and perspectives.  It’s not entirely on purpose and the lack of awareness that men have of their privilege mirrors white privilege in many ways.

As a girlfriend, fianceé and finally, wife, I struggled to preserve my personal identity.  He had a certain way that he expected to eat, lifestyle he expected to enjoy and set responsibilities he expected me to take on.  Many men seem to have an awful lot of expectations, but very seldom believe that they should bend or change to accommodate a relationship or a woman’s expectations.  Can we call this one-sided set of expectations privilege?  I believe it is.

So what is sexism?  I think it’s worth explaining since so many seem to believe that they are miraculously immune.  Sexism is “the belief that one sex is naturally superior to the other and should dominate most important areas of political, economic and social life.”  Based on this definition, it’s easy to see why men wouldn’t want to cop to any of this, but honestly, it’s very difficult for men not to harbor some underground sexism.  Now, men might not think that sexism is a system that they play into, but the reality is that many do.  They play into sexism when they place a list of expectations on their wives without any discussion, but which are instead formulated in their minds based on what society says women are capable of and useful for.

I think that getting your expectations crossed is something that all of us experience, male or female, but you have to admit that more often than not, men tend to step right into the decision making without leaving room for our opinions.  Women, you know what I’m talking about.  For many of us, we have to work hard in the beginning of our relationship to help make male privilege visible to our husbands.  It’s a lot of work, but if they love us, eventually the walls will come down and they will begin to see how they were also tricked by society, into seeing their expectations as “normal” and legitimate.

More and more the tables seem to be turning, however slowly.  There is a growing number of men who are involved fathers and husbands, who are stay-at-home dads and homework checkers, breast-feeding advocates and co-sleepers, who protect their little girls and encourage their little boys to be feminists.  I’m happy for the progress, but there’s still such a long way to go.

As a feminist, I have to say, I like to see men who are doing the work…fighting for equality and becoming aware of their own privileges.  That’s one less thing on our plate and one more man on our side.  ;)

What do you think?  How can we forge marriages based on equality and understanding?  Can you be feminist & married?

 

Comments

    • biculturalmom says

       @BellaVidaLetty Thank you Letty.  I'm so glad you enjoyed it.  My husband and I talk a lot about this and in the early days of our relationship, I don't think I quite understood what was happening or why I felt so compelled to do everything HIS way.  We have a much more balanced marriage now, but still, unlearning behavior that's been expected of you since birth (for both men and women) can be extremely difficult.  Thanks for reading amiga!  :)

  1. LizLayton says

    Hello, an interesting article and I find myself agreeing with you. I'm in my second marriage and married to a very good and kind man. Like you in the beginning I felt the overwhelming need to meet his needs and do things his way, but over time and with his help I would say I found my voice. But it is tricky as both men and women are indoctrinated from birth and so enlightened as we both are we still find ourselves subconsciously falling into those sexist stereotypes. I think the main thing for us is, he doesn't have to think about stuff that naturally 'falls to the woman'. If he's going somewhere or off on a course he just goes, if he asks me to come I say….umm who's supposed to look after the children? That kind of thing. If I wanted to go somewhere of course he would look after things, but what I'm trying to say is I have to ask, where he can just go do it. We're still very much in the traditional role, he's the breadwinner, I'm the carer.I'm not complaining so long as it's a choice, when the choice is taken from you it's not so fun and that goes for men too. I think my husband would actually make a very good stay at home dad/husband, but for him that's still not the expectation. Sometimes I feel a little confused, I argue with myself and think am I just falling into a stereotype and letting the side down or am I genuinely happy doing what I'm doing, how much is me and how much is ingrained societal expectations? But yes, you can definitely be married and a feminist and so can your husband, it's about equality in the relationship, like you say,balance. 

    • biculturalmom says

       @LizLayton Liz, thanks so much for your comment!  That is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.  It's difficult because men don't even realize the choices they have that we don't, because the expectations fall on us…such as with taking care of the kids.  For me, it's the same.  My husband will take care of my daughter, but I have to ask because it's assumed in every instance that she is my responsibility.  I love my husband and he tries very hard not to slip into these expectations, but like you said, it's so ingrained…and for me too…most times I don't even protest or suggest otherwise…something I'm working on.
       
       
      I really appreciate your comment Liz.  Thank you so much for adding your thoughts.  <3

      • LizLayton says

         @biculturalmom Your most welcome! I definitely think it works both ways, if we bring sons up they should be treated equally too, none of this boys don't cry, boys are no good at caring, boys are no good at cooking and cleaning. Boys are wusses if they like homelife and looking after kids. It needs to stop. Sometimes it's not only about male privilege.Of course, even if boys are brought up in a strong female household we're equality is the norm, they then have to contend with the outside world, where male dominance and privilege is everywhere so it's still going to seep in a little, just like it does with us women. Just coming at things from a different viewpoint ;)

  2. Maria Wen Adcock says

    Well-written post. So true that a lot of women are taught to be pleasers and putting ourselves last. I can relate. I am lucky that I’m married to a man who likes to cook and does not expect me to always do “traditional women’s work” around the house. We both help out.

    • biculturalmom says

       @Maria Wen Adcock That is great Maria!  Yes, things are definitely improving.  ;)
       
      My hubby does more than most men…dishes, laundry, etc…so I think I've got a good one…lol.  ;)  But still, he has to catch himself at times.
       
      I think that having strong women in his life, even before I came along, was one of the main reasons that he is so open to understanding the female perspective…and I'm grateful for it.  :)

  3. Andres says

    This is a very interesting topic, one which my wife and I have struggled with a few times. We share many responsibilities in our lives. We do have some “traditional” roles as she stays home at our office and does most of the interior house work.

    The other day we had an argument about an expectation that I had of her. We struggled with this idea that I was hoping that when I arrived from an early morning practice session for our boy on a Sunday that she would have been able to have breakfast ready for all of us to eat together. It was a Sunday and by the time we arrived she was relaxing and I became upset. We discussed and I quickly understood her point. I really appreciated her explanation and reasoning, and realized that I had been socially constructed to expect this from my wife. Her point was that it was a Sunday and she had nothing to do that morning. As her husband it would have been nice for me to support my wife when she felt she needed a break. She is so right. I value her strength and it has always been something that I admired in her since we were teenagers in high school together. I continue to learn and grow as a human being, a father, a husband, and a feminist :)

    • Chantilly Patiño says

      Andres, thank you so much for sharing that. :) As women we tend to take on too much, trying to keep up with the expectations, but we have to realize that we can’t do it all…and having supportive men in our lives who realize the same is also important. You obviously have a strong, caring wife and I’m glad she has a willing and able listener in you. So, so important to support each other, to compromise both ways and to give each other those all important breaks.

      Thanks for reading and sharing! I can totally relate to your story. ;)

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