Who said that marriage and feminism are incompatible?
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of feminism? I'm willing to bet that the last thing you think of when it comes to feminism is marriage. After all, feminism is all about women's rights. It represents freedom from stifling, traditional things like marriage and family.
Obviously, feminism has nothing to do with men! In fact, men should be very scared of it. According to the ever-wise and all-knowing Fox News, it will definitely ruin all the men in our great nation, transforming them to "weeps and wussies." Clearly this is a threat to national security.
I mean, we just can't have women being all strong and independent and stuff. That's just no good for anyone. Or is it? There's a growing host of evidence out there that feminism (scary as that word may be) actually benefits lots of people. Even children. Even men.
On the surface, some people point to the rising divorce rate and the increase in cohabiting couples to say that feminism has destroyed the institution of marriage. However, if we look more deeply at the issue, we can see that men's lives have improved as a result of the feminist movement in every possible way, including more time with their children and fewer discriminatory laws. And let's not forget better sex.
So can feminism really benefit relationships? Or even marriage? Many would say no. Some feminists have expressed the belief that marriage is an outdated institution which only benefits men, and therefore completely at odds with feminism in every way.
Is it possible for a feminist to have a happy marriage? Despite the opinions to the contrary, I would say yes. Although I consider myself a liberal feminist, I have been happily married for the last eight years.
I'm sure you're wondering, "How is this even possible?" Well, I'm going to share with you my seven secrets to a happy feminist marriage. Promise you won't tell anyone.
1. We're as faithful as dogs — to ourselves.
And by this I don't just mean faithful to your spouse. I mean faithful to yourself.
When Nick and I first began living together, I used to enjoy cooking a meal for us every now and then. After we had been married for a year, I had slipped into the habit of cooking dinner every night, unless we went out to eat. Nick innocently believed that I still enjoyed this task.
For a very long time, I allowed him to persist in this charming delusion, even though deep inside I feared that I might be turning into my mother. I told myself that it was no big deal, but the truth was, resentment was gathering force like a hurricane.
It finally all came to a head after a really long day at work when I came home to find that I had forgotten to defrost the steak. These two trivial occurrences triggered a screaming match. Well, I guess you couldn't really call it a "match" since I was doing most of the screaming.
With no shortage of profanity, I let it be known that my husband was a parasite on the backside of humanity whose laziness had transformed me into exactly the kind of subservient doormat that I'd always despised. As you can imagine, it took us a while to get over that one. But after some discussion (and profuse apologies), the result was a more equitable system of sharing this domestic task.
Ironically, I had thought it would improve my relationship with Nick to hide my true feelings about our domestic habits. I felt that my resentment was a small price to pay to make him happy. In fact, the very opposite was true.
In this article, expert blogger Elizabeth Stone writes, "By not being your authentic self, ironically you're threatening the exact relationship you were afraid would end if you spoke up. It's only fair to make a serious effort to communicate whatever is bothering you to your partner directly. This includes picking out a time and place where your message is likely to be heard by them accurately. You should not already be distracted or screaming at each other about something else. If you choose not to express yourself until they understand who you really are and what you want, the responsibility is yours. If you clearly tell them and they don't change their behavior or negotiate with you, then fine, it makes sense then to lovingly choose to accept it or leave the relationship. But it's downright cruel to drop the bomb on someone who loves you because you chose not to tell them about this critical need of yours they never knew existed and subsequently could never meet."
In a nutshell: You can't expect your partner to meet your needs if he has no idea what they are.
2. We fight the battle between our ears.
Well, we resolved the dinner disaster and everything was smooth sailing for a while. Until Nick casually mentioned that Patrice was back in town.
Ah, Patrice. Golden-haired, goddess-like Patrice who resembled a Victoria's Secret model. Patrice, who still inhabited his Facebook feed, his Instagram and (I imagined) his memories.
When we first met, the empty holes in stories of his relationship to Patrice left my imagination running riot.
I learned a lot from that relationship, but it's over now.
I really messed that one up.
She was really beautiful, but man, I was stupid.
And now here she was. To his credit, he didn't try to hide anything.
"Hey, it's no big deal or anything, but I wondered if we could all go out to dinner or something."
"You know, just so we could catch up."
"How do you know she's in town anyway?"
"She texted me."
And he gave me that look. The one which always melts my heart, no matter how mad I am. "You're more important to me than anything and if you don't want me to text her back, I won't." And this gave me a much-needed reality check.
The truth is, Nick and I each had a difficult past. I had the baggage from my parents' very dysfunctional marriage. Nick had the comparatively small carry-on of his long-ago fling with Patrice. But was it really necessary for us to hold that baggage over the other person's head for eternity, like some kind of ransom note? If so, I was doomed. We both were.
The short answer is, we did not go out to dinner with Patrice. However, I did learn how important it was to let go of my feelings about the past and felt grateful that he was able to do the same for me.
3. We overcome the inevitable storms.
Here's the thing that every happy-ever-after love story conveniently leaves out: sometimes there will be storms. And not the pretty, picturesque, romantic kind. The loud, scary, dangerous kind that make you wish you could be anywhere but there.
For us, a storm came with the unexpected loss of Nick's father early in our marriage. Following that tragedy, Nick was plunged in deep depression. I tried everything I could to fix the problem. Pep talks, self-help book suggestions, top-notch oral sex. But my frustration grew as I realized that none of these measures were going to fix the problem.
What Nick needed was simply my presence. He needed me there in the storm with him, just waiting for it to pass.
Storms are scary when they are happening and sometimes you're afraid you (or your marriage) might not make it out alive. But coming through a storm together is very rewarding and will make your marriage much stronger in the long run.
4. We truly respect each other.
It goes without saying that the birth of our first child resulted in some new routines and some re-negotiating. Getting up at 6 AM, especially after your sleep has been interrupted numerous times, is something that no one appreciates.
It's important to note here that Nick and I are united in our mutual loathing of mornings. This was no big deal before a child entered our lives, but now things are different. Obviously, leaving our infant son to his own devices while both parents sleep in is not an option. For a while, both of us were getting up at 6 AM, leaving us both grouchy and resentful. That didn't seem like a great option either.
Now we honor each other's need to get some extra sleep by taking turns with the early morning shift. There is the occasional morning when Mason demands that Mommy (or Daddy) needs to get up too, because why stop at one when you can have both. But we have gotten very good about holding firm that the other parent needs his/her sleep right now.
We put this philosophy into practice with other things, too, like when I need to go work out or Nick needs a night out with his friends. Everyone needs a time-out every once in a while, and this truly makes us better parents and partners.
5. We're our husband's best PR agent.
I'm Nick's biggest fan. I might even call myself his publicist. I know, I know. You're about to ask, "What kind of feminist are you, anyway?" Well, you see, it works both ways. At its most basic level, feminism is really about empowerment and equality for everyone, not just women. And so, in a happy feminist relationship, we uplift each other.
Nick is the first person on my PR team, too. He is the first person to point out if I look nice when I come into the living room, dressed for work. And I'm the first to point out what a great cook he is. We build up each other's positive image to everyone, and especially to our children.
But it wasn't always like that. Like every new parent, I felt completely humbled and overwhelmed by the needs of my child. With a tiny new baby on the scene, the pressure was on. I just knew that if I did the slightest thing wrong, my child would be injured or irrevocably screwed up, probably needing therapy for life.
Something about the intense vulnerability and need of that new baby makes you want to put everything else on the back burner. Including your spouse. But I learned that this is a terrible mistake.
In fact, the best thing that you can do for your child (and yourself!) is to preserve a strong relationship with your partner. In the end, everyone benefits. In the true egalitarian spirit of feminism, it is a win-win.
6. We have more sex.
Remember when you first started dating and you couldn't keep your hands off each other? What happened to that? It's true that with all the demands on our time and energy, sex can start to seem less important, even like a chore.
There came a time in our marriage when it seemed like there was always an excuse not to have sex. It was too late. I was too tired. The kids might wake up. I had too much work. He had too much work. Um, laundry.
But the benefits of sex (physical and emotional) are just too great to be ignored or postponed. Conversely, there are many negative physical and emotional effects to allowing sex to disappear from your relationship. The bottom line is that making sex a priority in your relationship benefits everyone.
7. We make ourselves happy.
Weddings are giddy occasions. My wedding day (albeit very stressful) was the happiest day of my life. But after the photos came back, after the presents were opened, I found myself torturing myself with worry. What if Nick was just like my dad? What if I was really just like my mom? What if I was just trapped in a cycle, like everyone else? What if I was just doomed to fail?
I came to realize that these doubts and fears were part of who I was. No one else could fix them for me. If I didn't learn to deal with them myself, I would never be happy. In fact, the research proves that we each have our own individual baseline for happiness. Expecting another person to change this is really a recipe for disaster.
So do what you can to find your own happiness within yourself so that you will not need to look to anyone else for happiness. Be sure to eat right and exercise, no matter how much of a challenge that may seem, because feeling great physically will enhance those feelings of happiness.
I'm truly grateful every day that I found someone who fully supports my ambitions and goals, and that I have not needed to sacrifice these things in order to enjoy the benefits of an intimate, long-term partnership and family.
I have always believed that feminism was about supporting, uplifting, helping other humans to become their best selves. Is it crazy to think that a good marriage should be based on these things, too?
I don't think so. In fact, in this age of rising divorce rates, a good dose of feminism may be just what we need to make our marriages not just good, but mutually empowering, as they were meant to be.