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?