Ask Team Practical: Un-Feminist Partner

Not feminist? Ok. Not down with equality? Not.

Is it okay if your husband does not consider himself a feminist? What if he believes in equality, but feminist buzzwords set him off for some reason? How do you fight fair when he feels like your bringing up feminism at all is like playing a trump card that will make you automatically win every argument, and you feel like not being allowed to bring up feminism is like pretending your relationship takes place in a vacuum and systems of oppression do not exist? Is his resistance a sign that he’s a privilege-denying white guy who needs to be educated, or that I’m a pushy harridan who needs to back off? Is it enough for him to be a feminist in deed, if he refuses the title? Should I be content that he does his best to help us balance our lives equally when it comes to careers, division of labor, and other personal-is-political issues, or is it necessary that he also parrot, or at least tolerate, feminist ideology?

Generating Real Relationship Ruckus

Dear GRRR,

In truth? Only you are married to your husband. I don’t have to live with him, so I don’t really have a say in what’s a deal breaker and what isn’t. Nobody’s partner is perfect, and we all individually decide what stuff we can tolerate and what we can’t. You aren’t going to have a hundred percent of the same interests across the board. Some things will be your passions alone, and that’s natural and healthy in its own right.

But, there’s a big difference between having a personal passion of your own that he doesn’t espouse, and having a personal passion that he disagrees with or dismisses. That second one raises a red flag for me only because it seems to tell of deeper issues (partners not supporting one another, loads of arguments in your future), and I only bring it up because you mention “fights.”

Using the word “feminist” is important to me. It represents solidarity to other women who are enduring sexism in painful ways I’ll never understand. It begins a conversation about what “feminist” means and broadens the definition outside of tired stereotypes. It clearly differentiates a specific fight for a specific kind of equality, emphasizing that sexism is still around and still impacting people. But, you know. Fine. I understand that some folks are reluctant to use the word. I’ll argue with them, but not condemn them for that. And in a way, guys get a bit extra of a pass with me because how many men have been forced to consider the issues of sexism? Before meeting me, my own thoughtful, observant husband never considered half of the stuff that I think about on a daily basis.

So your husband doesn’t use the word. That’s varying levels of fine.

What’s NOT fine is that this is clearly causing arguments. What’s even less fine is that it sounds like you aren’t necessarily fighting about using the word or other terms (patriarchy, slut shaming, etc.), but instead that sexist things are happening, and you feel unable to call them sexist. When you talk about using “feminism” as a trump card, it makes me worry that your arguments aren’t just about things that are happening in the world, in politics, outside of your relationship, but that you’re instead pointing out things within your relationship. That’s trouble.

Listen, it’s fine to disagree about stuff and have different passions and even slightly different values. That just depends on you and what you want from your relationship. Differences of opinion about the value of a specific term? That may or may not be a big deal. Just depends. But, if instead you’re asking what to do when your husband doesn’t recognize sexism and acknowledge that it’s a problem? That speaks to a bigger issue.


Team Practical, how do you engage your partner in conversations about feminism when they don’t identify as a feminist?

Photo: Kelly Benvenuto Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • GRRR

    Original poster here.

    You’re right that these fights aren’t necessarily about politics, but are about our relationship. These fights are taking place in the context of preventative maintenance conversations. In talking about how I want to avoid our distribution of labor in the house becoming unfair (for example), I might bring up feminism and how women typically do more, and I want to avoid that situation, so maybe he should try to do 51%, or even 60%, and then we’ll be likely to end up equal (or egalitarian) and he doesn’t like that.

    So it’s not that I’m pointing out that there is some sexism happening in our relationship, but that I’m pointing out that sexism could start happening in our relationship (especially as we tackle some new challenges), and I want to prevent it, and we are both struggling with how.

    • californienne

      I’m confused by this comment. It sounds like you’re projecting a million other historical households onto your own and creating an issue where there isn’t one.

      My husband and I have an ongoing discussion (that’s a polite way of saying it) about equal distribution of labor in the household. Part of this discussion is about what is really happening and part of it is about how we interpret what is happening through our own individual lenses (they’re both complicated, but quickly: mine=feminism, his=guy who grew up with a very loving mom who stayed at home and took care of the house). We can talk about what is really happening pretty easily (and these conversations are no different than those same-gender housemates might have) but as soon as these other forces take hold, watch out. For us, it is not productive to talk about these issues in a broader context.

    • Jacky

      So… Obviously take this with a grain of salt because I don’t know you, but it sounds like he might see your bringing up sexism that happens elsewhere as a preventative measure as pre-emptively blaming him for something that he hasn’t done. I could see being hurt and angered by that too. I really don’t like the idea of “pointing out sexism that could start to happen,” because you’re assuming that he won’t do his part in the relationship before he’s even had a chance to try. It seems much fairer to judge people based on things they’ve done or are currently doing, instead of things they might do in the future.

      The way I interpreted your original question was that he behaves and thinks like a feminist, but buzzwords like “male privilege” and “patriarchy” rub him the wrong way enough to start fights when you use them. That to me would seem like arguing over semantics, and if he’s a feminist in all ways but using the terminology and self-identifying with the label, then what’s the big deal? That’s kind of like my fiance, who thinks the word “feminism” belongs to women but believes in all feminist ideas. In my mind, supporting the cause “in deed,” as you mentioned, makes someone a feminist. I couldn’t care less if they don’t want to CALL themselves a feminist: I’d still see them as an ally.

      • Christina

        I, also, read the original comment as him being put off by labeling himself in a way he does not identify with, although his practices are within the typical boundaries of feminist behavior. [I’d like to take a moment to add that many men do not identify as feminists, and I know many feminists who are legitimately uncomfortably with men labeling themselves as such, but that’s another topic.]

        But your follow-up comments lead me to believe that you may be projecting future sexist behavior on him that *hasn’t happened* and that’s what he is offended by and you are fighting about. That seems unfair to me – it’s like if my FH told me that “When you get pregnant, you’ll be like those ‘other’ women who eat all day and do nothing and get really fat, so I would like you to spend extra time at the gym NOW so that you get into the habit and we don’t have to worry about that in the future.” Which, suffice to say, would really piss me off.

        The two of you have to work out for yourselves what you feel is an equal distribution of labor now, and what your expectations are in the future, but I disagree that he needs to be told he’s going to become more sexist later and should be doing more work now to prevent that.

        • Ros

          This, with a caveat.

          I think it’s important to not project future behavior onto someone when a) it hasn’t happened, and b) there’s no evidence it WILL happen for that particular person/relationship. Deal with active expectations.

          However: I’ve seen a LOT of really feminist women marry feminist-lite guys, and have functional and reasonably well-split divisions of labor… until they decide to have children. And then, without fail, the guy started slacking off, insisting that he needed as much “free’ time as he always had, paying for babysitters so he could play video games (true story)… ech.

          So I had always made it clear that, personally, I wasn’t going to have children with a man I thought would stick me with all the work (I may have used those exact words several times). I brought up examples of those particular friends over the past few years. And when I got pregnant and suddenly was the only one doing all the housework? I had 5 years of mentioning that this was A Major Problem to point out ,and it got fixed, FAST.

          Conclusions: you have to deal with the present, but there’s nothing wrong with clarifying that the balance you’re achieving should also apply to the future. :)

          • Rachel

            I agree with you on almost everything except the video game comment. I don’t see how a man getting a babysitter so he can play video games is any different than a woman getting one so she can get a manicure. Granted, getting a babysitter for the 2 hours a week he actually spends with the child isn’t ok. But if he does everything else 50/50 but sometimes needs a break? Go forth and play GTA!

    • Would it be possible for you to put a few disclaimers before your statements? Using your example of women doing more housework than men, I might say something like:

      “Babe, I feel like we do a great job of splitting household chores right now, and I really appreciate how you clean the toilets because you know it’s my least favorite task. I was reading something that said as marriages progress, women end up doing more housework than men even when both partners work outside the home. I’m kind of worried we could slip into a situation like this because [reason]. What do you think about that? Would you be open to trying to do >50% of the work so that we end up at a more equal/egalitarian split?”

      I do agree with Californienne and Jacky, though, that in general it’s more simple to address problems as they actually happen.

      • Victwa

        I have to say that reading this, even with the sweet-sounding “Babe” leading off, my first reaction would be, “WHAT? HELLS TO THE NAW am I doing more than 50% of the housework because of a statistic!” If, however, husband pointed out that he was carrying more of the load in X area, and could we address that, I would be completely amenable to shifting. Any time I have pointed out a way I felt things were imbalanced in our relationship, husband has been highly attentive and changed in order to address the situation. I guess that when I think of running your relationship by statistics, then my husband and I should never have gotten married, because over 50% of 2nd marriages involving children from the 1st marriage end in divorce. So maybe we should just not have gotten married…? Have we talked about how this stat exists and how we need to keep our relationship a priority in the face of competing demands for attention and stresses resultant from having kiddos who spend 50% of their time with different parents? Yes! Lots! But that’s also not our relationship Right Now. I think we have tried to use the statistic to remind us to PAY ATTENTION, because really, that seems to be the secret to all marriages everywhere, but we’re not running our relationship according to statistics. (See the entry from ROS above for further clarification…)

        • I don’t personally have this issue in my relationship, so I also wouldn’t be advocating for any sort of housework-by-the-numbers arrangement–I was just using the example given by GRRR. I think of it more as a template for gently initiating change, i.e. start with the positive, don’t attack the other person, be open to discussion. Sometimes with issues that I’m extra sensitive about (FINANCES), I can get a little aggressive and have to remind myself that I love my partner and that we’re on the same team. Using this kind of language helps me be as kind as possible while still making my point.

          • Victwa

            No, I totally get that your response was on framing the issue in a gentler way, and I agree–that’s very helpful in disagreements/conflicts/communication. I just offered my two cents that the content of that statement would not, for me, be remotely agreeable no matter what the packaging.

          • Haha, agreed. Nice packaging can help some things, but not all, that is for sure.

    • KC

      1. I get what you mean; the fact that this is what normally happens indicates that it is a risk/probability for your relationship as well.
      2. But, generally, people who are told “you’re not being fair!” or “you won’t be fair!” don’t tend to respond positively, especially if they feel it’s unwarranted.

      I’m wondering if bringing in cultural tendencies in other areas might help; for instance, saying “if so-and-so had a baby girl, what color do you think most of the clothes given to the baby would be? What about a baby boy? See, a lot of times, most people just go along with what is culturally expected, and that bugs me and I want to feel assured that it isn’t going to happen in this case in our relationship.”

      You could also note that if housework is not done, you’ll be judged disproportionately more than he will. I don’t know if he’s seen any of this stuff; if he hasn’t, then it’s harder to communicate (like communicating about street harassment; a lot of guys, since they are not women walking alone, don’t actually have experience of street harassment, so it’s sometimes hard to get what it’s like across).

      But it’s also possible that this particular line of argument has gotten as far as it can get in your relationship at this time, and the discussion needs to be either retired for now or just brought down to very concrete realities (chore splitting, etc.; hey, bring out the sticker charts if you both like them). After a certain point, if someone has felt attacked on a subject, any similar approach to that subject feels like an attack, even if it’s “smoother” than previous. I’m not sure what to do about this (and I’ve been on either side of this sort of conversation on other topics).

      • anon

        DING DING DING! Paragraph 3: Heck yes.

        My husband acts like I’m crazy because I clean up before friends/family are coming over. Well, boo, your grandma is going to see a pile of laundry on the floor and think “wow, she can’t manage a house” rather than “wow, my grandson is lazy about putting clothes away.”

        Note: his g’ma is a wonderful woman, but this is what she’s think.

        We split all other chores really well (he’s the best chef I know; I’m great at dishes), but I’m the only tidy-up-er.

        • anonother anon

          Thank you! I now have a title to put with it “tidy-up-er”!

          I had been quasi stressing about our household division of labor, and reading your comment helped clarify that to me, what had been causing stress was the fact that I am also the tidy-up-er.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Conversely, my family hosted weeknight dinner parties growing up. Often Dad would do all the cooking and cleaning, and Mom would arrive home from work just a few minutes before the guests arrived. Yet it was Mom who got the compliments on the cooking. She was good about correcting people politely, but it’s stories like these that illustrate underlying assumptions and unfairness, and I think they’re helpful for men not attuned to look for them.

        • CJ

          Oh man this drives me crazy! My partner is good about cleaning when he remembers too, but he does not feel the slightest bit of embarrassment about having people over when things are messy. And I think he thinks that I’m worrying too much about what people think when I explain to him why we *have* to clean if we are having a dinner party.

    • Chris

      I’m talking from my own perspective only here. Like the OP, my partner certainly doesn’t identify himself as a feminist. He isn’t used to identifying the role that social systems can play in our relationship, and he’s never given any though to the role that gender plays in shaping _my_ career prospects (or his, but that’s an even harder story for a middle class white guy to notice). However, I denied that any of that stuff mattered until a few years ago, and my own process of acknowledging the reality that gender does influence how I’m perceived in a professional world has been slow and painful. As the women closest to him, it falls to me to show him, gently and with love, the way that social constructs are influencing my professional career, and why understanding, for the first time, that my gender matters for my career makes me scared about certain patterns in our relationship. He doesn’t see it now, but five years ago I didn’t either, and I denied that gender mattered for my life on purpose.

      I have a disability, and I also work very hard to minimize the role that I see disability playing in my life, because it helps me minimize the role that disability actually plays in my life. I am healthier, happier, and can do more when I make sure my first assumption is “of course I can do that” rather than “how does my disability affect my participation in that”. When I run into things I can’t do, I try to acknowledge and move on quickly, because being upset about it will never change my physical reality, but it can change how I feel about my physical reality. Some peoples relationship to feminism might be the same way.

      I feel like I need to give him at least an equal amount of time to reframe how he sees the world, and I think thats measured in years, not weeks.

      • Shiri

        I know this isn’t at all what this thread is about but part of what you just said helped me understand why some other people in my life react to my chronic illnesses and subsequent limitations the way they do, and I want to thank you for that.

        It was – “When I run into things I can’t do, I try to acknowledge and move on quickly, because being upset about it will never change my physical reality, but it can change how I feel about my physical reality”

        • Chris

          Thanks, and good luck. Navigating the world with a body that doesn’t always behave is tough, in a multitude of ways.

    • C

      Letter writer, thanks for stopping back in to give a little more info.

      I think you *should* be talking to your spouse about your expectations regarding things like division of labor and the fact that women tend to take on more of the housework as time goes on (and as kids come along). My partner and I have conversations like this as well.

      However, a lot of this comes down to approach. Your husband will probably be more receptive if you say, “I am really grateful for how equally we divide up the housework and I hope we continue to do that in the future,” than if you say, “Someday you’re going to stop contributing completely and the only way to avoid that is make you do 60% right now.” (Which, yikes.) I think taking a positive attitude toward what he does well instead of accusing him of screwing up in the future is going to yield a better outcome.

    • mira

      Agree with so many responses here. I still feel really bad about the times early in our relationship that I read an article, got upset, and treated my Not-“Feminist”-But-Totally-Feminist husband like he was a Sitcom Dad. These days, most of the “preventative maintenance” conversations we have are related to babyraising in the near future, for all the reasons that have been mentioned. My approach has been twofold:
      1. Situate these conversations within a larger picture: “I love our wonderful egalitarian partnership and I want to make babies with you – but there are lots of things that terrify me about becoming a mom, and it feels important that you understand how this is culturally loaded for me in ways it’s not for you” (cue conversation about how hard I expect breastfeeding to be, or how limited my maternity leave will have to be, or what judgement I expect to experience from my coworkers.)

      2. Remember that I don’t own the facts. It’s easy to think of those awful statistics as weapons for an argument – but I don’t actually want to argue with my husband, nor do I want this to be a conversation in which I “teach” and he “learns.” I want a partnership of equals. So we’ve been trying to work from a common text. Last month, we both read Bringing Up Bebe and talked about what kind of parents we want to be, and what parts of modern parenthood seem crazy to us both. Last night, when I finished reading Jessica Valenti’s “Why Have Kids,” I flagged the chapters on breastfeeding and division of labor, and he’s going to read them so we can talk about them together*.

      *secondary bonus: my “not a Feminist” husband is totally reading Jessica Valenti. Voluntarily. #win

      • jashshea

        I share your fears about parent- and, specifically, mother-hood, Mira. I admire the approach you’re taking and hope to be able to work through this similarly (we’re both super-researchers and need to feel level-setted to have good discussions).

        Over the years, I’ve gotten good at discussing my other fears with my husband and trusting him to support me/push me. I have to trust that he can handle this particular fear as well and not take it personally.

        Also, and you did touch on this, I don’t want him to feel like a big dumb oaf/Sitcom Dad around any future kids – I want us both to be good parents who can trust the other person to do the right things.

        • Rachel

          I love this-making sure not to treat our fully capable partners like the bumbling idiot ‘sitcom dad’. I need to remind myself not to do this now!

    • Sarabeth

      I can’t tell you how many times I had this EXACT conversation with my husband. He was offended that I thought he was going to be an unequal partner; I was pissed that he was blind to the innumerable social pressures that were nudging us towards inequality even if neither of us intended that outcome.

      Good news? The longer we were together, the more he was able to show me through his actions that he was actually committed to equality. When I brought up specific things that seemed unequal to me, he was on board with fixing them. That helped me to lighten up on the “what if?” anxieties about waking up one day married to a man who wasn’t going to do his half of the household labor.

      And the longer we were together, the more he was able to understand where my anxieties came from. Partly because I would raise the issue in casual conversation (and in ways that were not directed at him) frequently, which opened his eyes a bit to the larger social forces. He now calls himself a feminist, which he never would have done when we met.

      However, I think that the underlying issue here is that, whatever our arguments over the language and the details, my husband was always genuinely committed to an equal division of labor. He wouldn’t have framed it as feminism, but he always accepted his responsibilities for household labor. In fact, that was why he got so pissed when I implied he might not do so – for him, doing his fair share was an ethical obligation, so to him it felt like I was accusing him of being a bad person when I suggested he might not end up doing his share.

      Anyway, long story short, we had a baby six weeks ago. I’m not going to lie, it has put strain on our division of labor (I am on maternity leave, while he is back at work–who does the laundry now? It’s an ongoing negotiation). But I was willing to procreate with him because I came over time to trust that he would work with me in good faith towards an equal balance of labor. I hope that you are able to come to the same place, baby or no baby.

    • Kira

      So, a lot of these replies are saying that it doesn’t matter whether someone identifies as feminist as long as they act in accordance with feminist principles (or, y’know, basic human decency), or that it’s reasonable for male partners to feel defensive or wronged when their partners suggest that they will act in patriarchal ways, whether consciously or no. I understand that response; it is frustrating to feel stereotyped as a member of a particular group.

      However, I will say that for me, it’s crucial to have a partner who shares my commitment to recognizing and uprooting undeserved privilege. And that absolutely requires being proactive about sexism. As a feminist, I believe that patriarchy influences men and women in ways that are subtle and insidious and that need to be explored, often painfully, to create healthy and equitable relationships. Yes, it is humbling and threatening to see how one’s expectations and actions are shaped by one’s social position, but being able to bear that analysis is very important to me. If my husband had been unwilling to do that work, I would not have married him.

      • GRRR

        You are very right. The principles you talk about here are some of the reasons why I let this fight get as blown up as it did. I don’t think this issue is a dealbreaker for me or for these other ladies the way it is for you, and that’s ok for all of us. It doesn’t make any of us less committed as feminists. It’s just about where we each choose to draw the line in our relationships. One big reason I draw the line where I do is because I didn’t start learning about feminism until after I was already in a serious relationship with my husband. It would have felt like changing the rules to suddenly demand that he agree with me on issues that weren’t important to me until recently.

    • Rachel

      I totally understand your fear. I feel like if I don’t actively work to make sure that there is an equitable division of labour now, that eventually it will devolve into me doing all the work. I don’t want to wait until we have kids to find out that when push comes to shove, I’ll end up doing most of the childcare and/or housework. How do you make sure that the partner you’re marrying now will hold up his end of the bargain when life gets really busy?

      Even just today, I’m sitting in my graduate school class (full of highly educated women) and chatting with one of my classmates who has an 8 month old baby. And when I mentioned dividing parenting 50/50 she laughed and said that 90% of men will never change diapers and that no man will do 50% of the childcare and housework. This is a woman pursuing a second university degree while working. I just can’t let that become my life. I strongly believe that you get the life you create for yourself and you get the treatment you tolerate. I won’t be my mother and my grandmother. How do I have conversations with my fiancé now to make sure that I get the partner I want later?

  • MK

    My partner doesn’t consider himself a feminist (he doesn’t argue with me about it like the letter-writer, though, so I can’t speak to that). But after listening, it sounded like he didn’t call himself a feminist because he didn’t really know what that meant.

    He still doesn’t call himself a feminist, but he is one, in deed if not in word. And sometimes, quietly, I’ll say, “yes, that’s a very feminist perspective.” And that kinda makes him go “hmmm” because that’s HIS perspective, so he has to think about whether the label fits him yet.

    But I don’t care how he labels himself, as long as we share the same values.

    • californienne

      I love that! I’m going to start pointing out the feminist perspectives of my husband, too!

      • Yes! This is such an awesome idea.

      • MK

        Just proceed with caution! I do it “quietly,” not as a “ha, secret feminist, I caught you!” The tone here makes a big difference, I’ve found!

        • C

          The, “Ha, secret feminist, caught you!” made me LOL.

    • Jessica B

      My husband thought being a feminist meant hating men and didn’t like to be called one when we started dating–he preferred the term “equalist.” Living with two feminists who talk about the patriarchy and articles we read all the time that focused on the injustices of the world.

      I asked him the other day if he would identify himself a feminist, and he said he would identify as such if asked, and he said only in certain company (those who were raised liberal and understand that feminists are not all man hating lesbian bra burners). I see that as progress.

  • californienne

    Also, I wonder, does your husband eschew other labels? My husband is like this and I still think it’s a little strange. He’s a registered Independent, despite voting exclusively for Democratic candidates, for example. I grew up in a place where those labels (democrat, feminist) were pretty mainstream so they were embraced. He grew up in a place where those labels were minority opinions, so they weren’t used. I’ve contented myself with knowing that our opinions on these things are pretty closely aligned, even if we call ourselves different things.

    • Jacky

      My fiance registered as an Independent even though he always votes Democrat because he, too, grew up surrounded by Republicans… And I think he believes that his family won’t take his opinions seriously if he has that label attached to him. I kind of agree, having gotten the “Pfsh, typical LIBERALS!” reaction from my own conservative relatives that know I’m a registered Democrat. Republicans’ reactions to my fiance’s opinions are more like, “Hmm he just laid out a bunch of good reasons to support labor unions,” instead of “Obviously MSNBC brainwashed him into supporting labor unions!!!” I feel like this would be very relevant to yesterday’s “square peg feminist” discussion where we talked about feminists “passing as ‘normal’ people.”

  • GRR

    Thank you commenters for telling me to keep my focus limited to our actual relationship and not project or invent problems where there aren’t any.

    When I bring up feminism in the context of our relationship, husband gets upset because he thinks I expect him to make up for millenia of oppression instantly. He especially hates the term ‘male privilege’ because he feels like he can’t do anything about the fact that he has it. I only bring up the idea because I want to make him aware of things that he might be overlooking because his privilege allows him to.

    A question I probably should have asked: Is it even possible for a feminist to go too far and use feminism as a trump card to try to win every argument?

    • californienne

      I might say that you’ve gone a little too far asking your husband do do 60% of the chores now so that in 20 years you’re doing half and half, as predicted by some statistic.

      Also, clearly phrases like “male privilege” are off-putting to your husband (and I understand why). Perhaps you can talk about these things without using these phrases that cause him to shut down or tune you out. Again, rather than situating the conversation in a much broader context, perhaps just pointing out the things he’s overlooking (for whatever reason) is enough.

      • Stephanie B.

        “I might say that you’ve gone a little too far asking your husband do do 60% of the chores now so that in 20 years you’re doing half and half, as predicted by some statistic.”

        I have to agree with this. By asking him to do more than half the chores now, that is inventing a problem where there is not one currently. And it’s also unfair to him, because it turns him from your specific husband into a placeholder for “generic male partner who has been shown by statistics to eventually stick his female partner with the housework”. If his past and present behavior haven’t shown any inclination to stick you with the majority of the housework, then don’t treat him as though he’s going to.

      • Rachel

        A quick note on the 60% thing – the best advice I had was always aim to do 60% each and you’ll end up 50 / 50 – as you’ll each have blind spots.

        Another way to describe it is when you’re living in a shared household always aim to do more than your fair share :-).

    • Could you talk about the ideas using different language? If it’s an issue of semantics, backing into the terms might be a better way to ease him into the labels.

      Also, in terms of male privilege, while he can’t erase it from his life, the better point is how he uses it. I refer to John Scalzi for better explanation:

      I don’t think it’s that feminism is a trump card, but the values that you espouse (collectively called feminism) are legitimate and if he’s going to argue with them, he should have well-reasoned values to back him up.

    • Rachel

      Could you elaborate on how one might use feminism as a trump card to win every argument? I’m not fully understanding what that looks like.

      • GRRR

        Yeah, I’m not sure either. Here’s my best attempt to recreate it:

        I say that my doing X isn’t the same as him doing X because one plays into sexism and the other doesn’t, and he feels like I’ve trapped him rhetorically, because if he tries to argue that I should do X anyway then he’s a sexist, and now he feels like I’ve forced him into doing X himself because if he doesn’t (insert anti-feminist dystopia).

        I know it makes a big difference what X is. Sorry I’m struggling to be more clear.

        • Rachel

          Hmm…could you maybe give us examples of some of the X factors you’ve argued about?

          • GRRR

            Moving for one person’s career, or who should be the one to move to end a long-distance period, assuming that one person will have to find a new job, who that should be.

            Who should be the one who always does a certain chore, or other distribution of labor issues.

            We haven’t specifically argued over name changes, but it would fit the pattern.

          • Liz

            Okay, with that frame of reference I would say yes. There’s a chance you’re using “feminism!” as a trump card.

            Being the woman doesn’t mean that you always get the final say to make up for all of the times that women didn’t get any say at all.

          • GRRR

            If my only goal in the argument were to win and get my way, I’d agree with you. But what if part of what I’m arguing for is just to be heard, to have him acknowledge that yes, these things mean different things if I do them than if he does them? I feel like whatever decision we make can’t be fair unless that acknowledgement happens first.

          • Rachel

            If you just want him to acknowledge that, then maybe start the convo there? As in, “Look, I’m hesitant to move for your career because I know that in a lot of cases, women are the ones to make that sacrifice. I need to know that you’re not expecting me to do this because I’m a woman, and I need to know that you value my career and that you’d do the same for me. Call me paranoid, but I’m worried that if I make this choice, I’m setting a precedent here and I need your word that this doesn’t mean we’re just going to fall into stereotypical gender roles.”

          • GRRR

            And if, after I work to couch things in the most diplomatic of terms, aiming only for acknowledgement, I still meet resistance?

            At this point it seems likely, after we’ve entrenched ourselves in our positions. Probably we need to just not talk about this stuff for a while.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I’d suggest adding concrete examples to your “diplomatic terms.” “My sisters and I always did inside chores, and my brother had the outdoors chores, and I felt that was unfair stereotyping, so now I feel, when you suggest we divide chores that way…”

        • californienne

          I think Liz nails it. Listen, it is a slow struggle for me not to get really irritated when husband asks me to get him another beer. Get your own damn beer AND get ME a damn beer while you’re at it. Husband’s retort has been that, playing into stereotypical gender roles or not, getting him a beer is just a nice thing to do occasionally. And he’s right. So, instead of rolling my eyes or silently screaming, I try to make a decision about the beer getting in the moment. Am I busy? Is he otherwise more occupied than me? Do I just feel like doing something nice for him? And then I do it or I don’t, but it’s not about feminism or gender. The flip side of this has also been sticking up for myself when I don’t feel like doing it, and feeling comfortable asking him to return the favor. It is not always perfect, but you know what, we’re both doing a lot more very small but nice things for each other.

          • Feminista

            Totally agree with this. Once we recognized we should just start doing nice things and stop overanalyzing everything we did for each other, it was like a switch had been flipped. We both became so much more giving and appreciative of the other. Love the example of getting a beer from the fridge.

          • Caitlyn

            I think this checklist is useful for every relationship- I am married to another woman and used to be rankled that she would ask me to bring her some water, etc, when she could do it herself. I gradually realized she was just more comfortable with these small requests, and that I could also ask the same of her, or gently say no if I was occupied. Sometimes it feels so decadent when my wife lets me be a lazy bum and brings me a cold drink when I’m reading, and it feels nice to let her be the bum sometimes too.

        • Feminista

          As a feminist married to a now self-identifying male feminist, I can say that yes, you can take it too far. My husband didn’t used to recognize himself as a feminist, and I think a lot of it had to do with me going through a (somewhat long) period when I turned many arguments into being about feminism/inherent inequalities and not our relationship. When I washed dishes 3 days in a row, I felt like I was doing it because I was a woman and he expected me to do so… when, in reality, it was because he was really busy those 3 days and I was around. There are other times when he washes the dishes for a week. It’s not about making every single moment or every single thing that you do equal, but rather having a long-term view. Hey, you’re gonna be together for life, after all! When it comes to big-picture things like moving for someone’s job, I do not think that it is un-feminist to move for your husband’s job, if that is the best collective decision for y’all. In the same way that you would want him to be open to moving elsewhere if you were offered a kickass job, it’s unfair for a woman to put her foot down and say, “I won’t make any sacrifices or consider that option because then that would be un-feminist!”

          • Jennifer

            That’s a great point. My fiance and I have only been living together a few months, and I find myself sometimes having those “Am I doing this because I’m expected to because I’m a woman?” moments. Some things the answer is yes, and we’re having those discussions. (Laundry! I once told him that he wasn’t allowed to do mine because he would mess it up, so he took that to mean he didn’t have to do any laundry ever. Oops!) But some things I’m doing because lately my schedule hasn’t been as busy as his, or because he was doing other things. (I did dishes 3 nights in a row – he was volunteering with kids one night, and was repairing a flat tire on my truck the other.) I know when it’s the other way around he’ll pick up the slack too. But it can be hard to remember when you’re standing at the sink for the fourth night in a row! :)

    • Emmy

      “Is it even possible for a feminist to go too far and use feminism as a trump card to try to win every argument?”

      Yes, I think it is possible, if for example that person defines feminism as something other than that people should be equal regardless of gender. I also think people can take the concept of equality too far. Men and women do have fundamental biological differences (though I think our society attributes too much to biology that’s actually socialization). Also, individual men and woman (and individual women) aren’t the same, so a very strict understanding of “equality” can get ridiculous. So I can see ways that people could go too far with feminism. Though it wouldn’t be likely to win any arguments!

    • KC

      In response to your last question, I think yes, it’s technically possible (“I get all the ice cream! Because feminism! You do alllll the housework! Because feminism!”), but it sounds like what you’re dealing with is more in the realm of wildly different starting assumptions/perspectives and hot-button words and not-ideal communication.

      *However*, when one person feels that something is unreasonable or unfair, then it can sound like you’re using a trump card when you’re actually just stating the facts of the matter in a way that feels abrasive to them. (Or sometimes you might be going a bit overboard, too. It’s not uncommon in heated arguments.)

      So, um, maybe you’re both right/wrong. ;-)

      (I would also note that if I use “these words are likely to cause him to feel” or similar phrasing in any comments, I am meaning “he is likely to respond in this way to this stimuli” (whether he ethically/morally/reasonably “should” or not) not “your words and only your words are Wrong and At Fault”)

    • GRRR

      This is exactly the point I’ve tried to make in an argument with him, and he hated it. But you are so right.

    • TeaforTwo

      I am not sure exactly what you mean by that question, but my experience has been this:

      Feminism, named as such, has almost never come up in conversations with my partner. I spent the first half of my twenties using the term “male privilege” in almost every conversation, but between me and my fiance, it does not tend to apply.

      Feminism does us all a great service when it points out ridiculous assumptions, like that women are the only ones suited to care for children, or cook dinner, or vacuum. It’s a movement that empowers women to speak up as individuals with voices and opinions and agency. But when you are speaking to your husband, you don’t need to speak as all women. Of course it’s feminist when I say “there is only one person in this household who gets pee on the base of the toilet, and I want that person to be the one who cleans the bathroom.” That will change nation-wide statistics on housework, but those statistics aren’t why I want him to clean the bathroom.

      Feminism is an analytical tool that looks at gender, but the behaviours it calls out are just bad behaviour, whether you’re thinking about gender or not. Not splitting housework fairly? SELFISH. LAZY. Calling your female boss a bitch? RUDE. STOP IT. Negging a woman’s body? MEAN. STOP IT. Slut shaming? VICTORIAN. STOP IT.

      I don’t think feminism needs to be named in a conversation about how housework isn’t being split, or that you don’t like your husband playing Grand Theft Auto, or whatever. . I think that it’s always going to be more effective – and frankly more accurate – to say “I am tired of cleaning the house while you are watching TV. This isn’t fair.” or “A video game where you get points for beating up a sex worker? I find that very upsetting and don’t want it in our household” etc.

      • Erin

        It’s a movement that empowers women to speak up as individuals with voices and opinions and agency. But when you are speaking to your husband, you don’t need to speak as all women.

        This puts into words something I have been feeling out with my own husband in the two years we have been married and it’s just wonderful.

        I’m lucky in that my husband is actually quite interested in feminism and considering things like the number of women in that movie with a speaking role and how expectations are sometimes unfair (he didn’t start that way – one of the reasons I love him is that he started to educate himself when I expressed that it was important to me and retains a curious and interested mind on the subject), but even in that case, it can be dangerous to insert our marriage into that framework.

        I have to trust that as my partner, my husband wants to be fair /to me/. We split the household work because we want to be fair /to each other/. It’s not about feminism – it’s about valuing each other as equals. It’s about making our relationship a place where we are both happy. So for the examples I’m seeing – chores, moving for a spouse, money issues – you have to make the choice that is good /for your marriage/. It’s okay to talk about cultural concerns and expectations and the weight that you feel – I mean, I hope it is, or the problems are deeper. But at the end of the day, who does the laundry and who moves for whose career is dependent on your particular circumstances and not on statistics.

    • My husband self-identifies as a feminist and regularly brings up topics of conversation about racism and sexism and classism and homophobia, etc. He also is pretty awesome at redirecting his guy friends when they veer into sexist territory with their jokes. By all accounts, he’s an awesome ally when it comes to these issues.

      That being said, if I pointed out his “male-privilege” (which, as a straight white guy he totally has) he would definitely bristle. It’s human nature to get defensive when criticized. When I want to point out different kinds of privilege, I’ve found I have better luck explaining things to my husband when I can talk about our shared privilege (as white, as straight and married, as well-educated, etc.). If I can explain ideas like privilege, in ways that share the burden, we can build the bridge to talking about male privilege. But it might be a lot to ask for, right out of the gate.

      • Also, if you *do* want someone to understand how basic privilege works, this article: is a must read.

      • rowany

        It’s been easier to talk about how I don’t have male privilege rather than focus too much on how my husband does have it. He then naturally sees how the situation would have been different if it happened to him as a male. When I complained about mansplaining for example, while it actually happens to him a lot, he realized that he’s able to say “shut up” more easily with fewer consequences than me.

        • Kat R

          YES. This is exactly how it has worked best for me and Fiance. We used to argue a lot about the use of the word “bitch” (I HATE IT, he doesn’t think it’s a big deal) and I kept arguing that he shouldn’t because Feminism and Patriarchy and Abusive Language and Privilege etc… He got defensive at perceived accusations, and we ended up in gridlock. When I finally explained it anecdotally (“I have been called that regularly since I was 11 years old because I do things like talking and standing up for myself. And your niece will deal with the same soon.”) He looked boggled and realized he never had to deal with that before. He stopped using the word around me, and he connected to the idea of male privilege without all the accusations implied in that exact terminology.

      • Claire


      • Rachel

        Ya I think it’s unfair to accuse individuals of having privilege. Societal groups are privileged, individuals have had a variety of experiences. If your husband was born white, straight and middle class- that’s not his fault. Yes he needs to recognize how lucky he is in relation to the opportunities that others have had but chances are he has worked hard too and if you attribute that all to ‘privilege’ that could make anyone upset.

        I think ‘male privilege’ can also be misleading. My fiancé grew up a poor, mixed race kid with divorced parents with mental health issues whose neglect of him and his siblings was abusive. While yes he is better off than a woman would be in the same situation, there’s really no way to look at his life and say that he is privileged.

        • Kay Lee

          I think you totally hit the nail on the head with why I bristle at the idea of “privilege” myself- and it doesn’t matter what it is (racial, gender, something else) it grinds my gears, all the same. Even when it wouldn’t apply to me (“male privilege”)

        • Jenny

          I don’t really think this issue is really about “accusing” anyone of having privilege when that person actually does have a “leg-up” in society or does benefit in some type of way because of their gender(male privilege), their race (white privilege) or the sexual orientation(straight privilege.) Statistics and facts can prove that people with of certain backgrounds, races etc. do have privilege over other groups because of systemic oppression. It’s all about acknowledging how we all have privilege in some way and becoming more educated on what we can do with that privilege. No, it is not her husband’s fault that he was born male, straight and middle class. But it is his fault if he makes his wife (who clearly has feminist values and ideals) feel like she has to censor herself. I think the word feminist does come with some negative connotation so it’s totally fine if he agrees with men and women being treated equally, but he doesn’t want to associate himself with the term. That’s not a big deal. It becomes a big deal when the person in the relationship with strong political values or ideals doesn’t feel like they’re being supported. GRRR needs to express to her husband that while it’s not a big deal that he doesn’t want to associate himself with the term, it is a problem when he completely dismisses the topic and makes her feel like she’s not being heard. You don’t have to discuss systemic oppression and “slut shaming” while at the dinner table every night lol But you should be able to feel like you can say what you want to say about something that it is extremely important to you whether it’s sexism, racism etc. without it causing a huge argument.

  • Ruth

    “But, there’s a big difference between having a personal passion of your own that he doesn’t espouse, and having a personal passion that he disagrees with or dismisses.”

    THIS! My husband and I think very differently on a multitude of issues, including feminism, but this sentence is really the key for us. While my husband doesn’t always agree with my views, he always respects them. We’ve had a lot of conversations about feminist issues – oftentimes, my perspective was genuinely new and foreign to my husband, and after considering it he sometimes changed his opinion. And sometimes he didn’t. (Guys are not raised to talk about feminism, and they may have never experienced sexism personally, like many women have – so it can be totally uncharted terrain to them). But I always feel like my husband listens really listens to my perspective, respects it, values it, and gives it equal weight – which is so important.

    I think it’s analogous to the dialogues my hubbie and I have had on religion – my husband is an atheist; I am not. While he may never believe, he respects my beliefs.

    When I was younger, I always thought my ‘soul mate’ would share each and every one of my beliefs, values and interests – now I realize no human can do that – but they can show respect and appreciation for where you’re coming from, and that makes all the difference to us.

  • Ros

    For me, it’s important to distinguish between the label “feminism” (not a deal-breaker) and the actions that go with feminism.

    My husband doesn’t identify as a feminist, but isn’t particularly political/opinionated overall, either. For me, that’s not a deal-breaker (I know women for who it would be, but… for me, the actions are more important than the label, when you get down to it. This is not a fight I’m willing to have.)

    That said, if I point out the underlying assumptions of an argument we’re having (for example: I’m quicker at cooking and housework because I’m a woman in a patriarchal society and I’ve been trained to do this for years; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend equal amounts of TIME doing the housework and that he can’t learn), arguments about the underlying issues would be a waving red flag. Because it’s one thing to say that you chose your choice and you know what you learn, but you don’t chose it in a vacuum or learn what’s not taught based on outside criteria.

    I expect: a partner who shares the available workload equally. A partner who is open to alternate viewpoints. A partner who doesn’t dismiss my experience because it’s not his (example: if I say “that guy is a creep and he date-raped my friend”, I don’t want an argument about how he’s a nice guy and we should give him another chance. To quote an ex-boyfriend.) A partner who actively works to be non-misogynist, and who doesn’t blink at having women as bosses and colleagues and doesn’t treat anyone differently. I specifically want a partner who actively takes over half of the traditionally “female-managed” relationship roles (social organizing/emotional support work/planning and scheduling/housework/chores/child-rearing/etc).

    If I have all that, I don’t find the label that important. If I don’t have all that AND there’s a resistance to the label, I have problems.

    Your boundaries may vary with your partner, but I did find it was really important to separate the labels from the actions on the “what’s really important to me” list.

  • kcaudad

    My husband also will not identify as a ‘feminist’ and gets all worked up when the media labels something as ‘feminist’. But, he also gets this way when something is labels ‘racist’ or ‘leftist’, etc. He tends to question when things get lots of attention and are labeled in a certain way.

    His immediate thought on ‘feminists’ goes straight to the 1960’s bra burners! He just can’t get past the historical context of the term. But, he acts in ‘feminist’ ways and agrees with a lot of the ideas. Our relationship is very 50/50. As long as he is acting in a way that I am okay with in our relationship, and towards others, I am fine with him not embrassing the terminology. We like to debate big issues, but there are several things that we ‘agree-to-disagree’ on. ‘Feminism’ being one of them! I have tried calling him out on it, but that usually makes it worse in the heat of the moment.

    On another note, I find that labeling eachother and name calling are not usually helpful! Especially in the middle of a ‘disagreement’ or ‘debate’.

    On another note, my husband also cannot understand when my mind goes to hypatheticals and ‘what-ifs’ for the potential future. Even if it is an attempt to ‘avoid the situation’ in my mind. I have hurt him already by discussing things in that context. He felt like I was being accusitory and saying that he would do those types of things in the future, when really I was just getting worried and trying to ‘avoid’ something that I saw someone else go through. From my experiance, you need to trust your relationship and your partner that they wouldn’t allow those types of things to happen.

    • Historical accuracy note: no bras were ever burnt in the name of feminism. The closest that ever happened was a photo shoot for a glossy magazine, where they had some models throw their bras in a trash can.

      • Kira

        Oh man, I feel like I get so tired explaining this everywhere I go. Thanks, Kyley. :)

  • Rachel

    In my experience, it’s possible to talk about feminism-related issues in your relationship without using the word “feminism” or even “sexism.” You mention household chores, and how you don’t want to be stuck doing all of them. I was the same way and knew the statistics about women doing more…so I basically said to Eric, “Hey, listen, I work just as hard as you do and I often have to put in more hours because I’m struggling to get my career where I want it to be, so I can’t also be responsible for cooking every night. I just can’t.” At first he was trying to say that he didn’t want to have to leave work earlier than he’d like to come home to cook and take care of our dogs, but I was just kind of like, “So…you think I should do it then? Care to explain why?” He pretty quickly drew what I’d consider a feminist conclusion and now we split that stuff. There was no need to “play a feminism trump card” because that really boils down to “playing the treat me like an equal trump card” which is just…well, unless someone was seriously anti-feminist, I can’t imagine they’d straight-up refuse to treat you fairly and like an equal. And it doesn’t sound like that’s what he’s doing to you, so it sounds like you’re on the same page in that regard.

    On the other hand, when talking about politics or current events, I feel like using words like “the patriarchy” or “slut-shaming” or “privilege” or “fucking bullshit” (which is the one I probably use most when talking about feminist issues) is important and necessary during a lot of those conversations. So if I was always worried that I was being That Feminist or That Angry Black Woman when I talked passionately about this stuff to my partner, we’d have a serious problem. I think that these conversations can certainly make people uncomfortable, particularly people with lifelong privilege, and I think it’s fair that it takes them time to become comfortable with it…but on the other hand, if I consistently felt dismissed on these topics or felt like I couldn’t get angry, I don’t think I could stay with that person.

    • Exactly. The Please Treat Me Like An Equal trump card works just as well as the more efficiently-worded Feminism trump card. Even for larger issues The Rules Should Be The Same For Everyone card or the Acknowledge and Validate Everyone’s Life Experiences card can be played well.

      • An APW deck of cards, anyone?

        • Dude, we APW-ers have the BEST ideas :-)

        • KC

          Cards *For* Humanity?

    • never.the.same

      Yes, Rachel! If I can’t say something like, “That is some patriarchal bullshit” around you without fear of upsetting you, then we’re not going to be friends and we definitely are not going to be partners.

      But for GRR, I think the larger issue that you’re facing is at least in part a problem of communication. You say “feminism” and he hears “man-hating.” You say “patriarchy” and your partner hears “men” (or even “you”). These are NOT THE SAME and you need to be clear about that. I have to think that some of what your partner is objecting to and feeling defensive about is that he feels like you’re not responding to HIM as much as you are responding to a SYSTEM over which he has no control.

      If feminism and gender roles are only coming up in fights or personal conflicts (and it kind of sounds that way), you’ll never get him to consider these issues rationally. I bring up feminism all of the time, and my partner and I often talk about how we are treated differently due to gender. But I would never use feminism as a personal weapon against him, or imply that he was doing less housework because he’s a man. Feminism is ultimately about treating a person as a human being first, not as a man or as a woman primarily. That’s how I want to be treated, and that’s how I treat him.

      It sounds like you’re using feminism the way a partner might use a past wrong-doing or habit against their partner. Like, “Well, you cheated 10 years ago, so taking out the garbage every week is just something you owe me.” Or maybe, “Your parents did your laundry your whole life and mine never did it for me, so now you need to do both of us and it’ll be equal.”

      That math doesn’t work out, and that might be how your partner is viewing feminism. It’s more like, “You had the privilege of not doing your laundry, ever. But now that we are partners, I expect that we split it” even if your partner expected that he’d keep getting the same privilege just because that’s the way it’s always been.

    • The word feminism (or really any of its synonyms) don’t need to come up in personal discussions. Your individual relationship doesn’t need to right every single historic wrong against women, it needs to fulfill each of your needs – and throwing in what are also political buzz words to that discuss can just confuse the issue. Coming to a relationship where you both feel equally heard and valued will often end up looking pretty darn feminist in its division.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        As far back as elementary school I was taught that if I couldn’t explain something in simple language, I didn’t understand it very well. Jargon has its place, but it’s limited. Like all important things with a history, the terminology of feminism carries a weight that isn’t always helpful for conveying actual ideas.

        It sounds like the terminology is not just unliked by GRR’s husband, it’s new to him. Now, there are good reasons why the husband should learn the terminology and be comfortable with it, but the ideas are more important. So focus on the ideas for awhile.

    • Sarabeth

      Yeah, the talking about the patriarchy needs to happen in my life. I could not be with someone who could not hear that.

      I’ll say that one thing that helped make that more possible in my relationship was that I spent time talking about how the patriarchy is bad for men as well (not in equal ways, but still). My husband went through some tough years in his work and family life early in our relationship, and one of the things we talked about then was how he was just not brought up to talk about his emotions with people, or really process them at all, in part because British but in part also because men. And when sh*t got rough, that was a problem. He needed those skills, and didn’t have them. Framing things that way helped him see feminism as a movement that, while aimed primarily at improving the lives of women, would end up making things better for everyone.

  • NH

    I wouldn’t date or marry someone who didn’t think gender-based oppression was a serious problem. I couldn’t. We would spend all our time arguing about it, because I notice it all the time. My name for that is being a feminist. If someone thought sexism and misogyny were big issues, but didn’t want to use the word feminist, I could work with that. But my political values are really central to my personal values and identity, and it’s hard for me to be close to people who don’t have the same basic values and view of the world. YMMV. I am not saying anyone else should feel the same way about their personal and political identities, but I also don’t think you’re being unreasonable to feel strongly about this.

    I am also not straight, so that makes it easier for me. I married another queer woman! We’re both feminists! What are the odds?

    • NH

      In the world of practical advice: maybe he could read some books or blogs about feminism, patriarchy, and male privilege. There are actually lots of things guys can do to work against patriarchy and undermine male privilege. This is a great list for academics (helpfully called Don’t Be That Dude) but there is a lot of writing about feminism out there, some of which is conveniently introductory.

      • Caroline

        I find tht me reading about feminism and talking about what I read has been really helpful in education my fiancé about feminism. When we met, he was moving from teenage misogyny to feminism, but was not really very educated about it.
        I think what has helped him grow a lot as a feminist is our discussions from my learning about it. He absolutely wears the label now but more importantly he really walks the walk. I read articles to him, or send him articles or discuss rape culture, from all angles, and discuss with him articles I find about what men can do to change it (calling out people for making rape jokes, calling out harassers, etc). We talk about articles and experiences of sexism. It’s less “This is feminism!” And more “Hey, I found this article. What do you think?” “Wow, that’s messed up! Our culture is really like that for women? *moves more towards feminism*”.

        And sometimes it is more directly educating him. We were walking down the street one day and a guy was calling something to a woman passing by. He had a clearly harassing tone of voice to me, and I raced by, since I wasn’t sure if he was harassing me or her and was nervous. My partner went over to the woman and said “hey, that man is trying to get your attention. He’s asking you to come talk to him.” He clearly thought she must know him and just couldn’t hear him. Once he told me what he had done, I explained that the man seemed to be harassing her, and my partner had just contributed to it. I explained she almost certainly heard him too, but was ignoring him as the safest thing she could do while waiting for her bus, and that he should approach similar situations by asking her if the man was bothering her, loudly, or otherwise stepping in. He felt horribly and that made it stick really well for next time he sees a man harassing a woman. It had never occurred to him that the other man was harassing the woman. I think that type of feminist education can happen without using labels like feminism.

        Many men just don’t see sexism in the world, and there are lots of ways of opening the eyes of the ones nearest and dearest to us without using words which are off putting to men who haven’t had their eyes open to patriarchy. Although sometimes you have to call it out as you see it as patriarchal BS. Also, I think it helps to talk about how we all have aspects of privileged and oppressed identities. Some of us have more than others, but a white straight man may have grown up poor an feel oppressed by classism. Recognizing that and validating that is helpful as well. Yes, he is more privileged than a poor woman or person of color or … but the system was crappy to him too because of xyz. I find it helpful when discussing feminism with men who are resistant to the idea, to acknowledge my own privilege, and recognize ways in which he was oppressed by the same systems of oppression that oppress women. “I have privileges that you don’t, because I grew up wealthy just like you have privileges I don’t as a man” (speaking for my own partnership here) goes over better.

        • Jennifer

          Yes! I think this goes back to what was talked about a few weeks ago, when there was a post about a racist/sexist family issues. Sometimes the problem is simply ignorance – my fiance was so completely oblivious to things like this before we met. He’s definitely come a long way since then, but we’re still working on it. He’s a small town country boy who never left the town he was born in. There’s a whole lot he hasn’t experienced and doesn’t know yet! But he’s definitely open to learning and the more he understands the more it is clear to me that he’s more feminist than he realizes. He took his 12 year old cousin hunting last week – and SHE had a blast :)

  • Marisa-Andrea

    I get what the original poster is trying to do but maybe using the word “feminism” makes the husband feel defensive and you aren’t fighting fair to speak.. Here’s the thing: there are lot of people who believe in equality for both sexes and genders but do not identify with feminists. Feminists do not have a monopoly on believing in and promoting gender equality and I don’t force people to use terms or identify with terms they don’t feel comfortable with. I’m gonna inject some intersectionality into this discussion: feminist and feminism is EXTREMELY problematic amongst many women of color who either currently identify as feminists or have in the past. It isn’t because these women of color do not agree in principal with feminism, it’s that mainstream feminism has been very problematic in its failure to be intersectional for starters. So with that being said, I think it’s very important to recognize that the term feminism is problematic for a lot of people for a host of reasons. And I don’t think someone who doesn’t like the term, even if that someone is a man, automatically needs to be educated about feminism etc. Don’t assume that they don’t get the principles. Maybe they do.

    My suggestion would be to one day ask him, outside of the preventative convo or what have you, why he doesn’t like the term. Also ask him, outside of these preventative convos, what he thinks about equality and gender roles. And then observe if his actions line up with he says. Just because he doesn’t LIKe the term and it riles him doesn’t mean there’s a problem.

    • Kay Lee

      As a WOMAN who doesn’t like the term “feminism”, I couldn’t agree more. There are a lot of issues with it. And every time I try to “educate myself”, to be open minded about feminism, feminists and the use of the term, I uncover more problems. I could write pages about the issues, but I’ll just say this- not liking the term or the language, not aligning myself with the feminist movement does not mean that I don’t see women as equal. I do. I see EVERYONE as equal and deserving of equal rights, choices and freedoms. So I chose a word that fit. I identify as an egalitarian- NOT a feminist. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get along with feminists or learn something from them (as long as they play nice…I’ve been given flack for my views before), and have valuable discussions on topics that are important to feminists. Which is why I’m here, reading and commenting on this blog.

  • This is a struggle for me, in large part because my husband has a sexist boss. He works will several women, for a female boss, who holds completely different and higher standards for his work than the women in his lab. He used to call her a feminist all the time and I finally broke him of that habit by pointing out she was treating him differently because he is male, not the other way around.

    I think she could learn a lesson in feminism. They work in a typically male dominated field. From my interactions with her, it seems like she doesn’t know how to help other women. She wants to, so desperately, and she should, but instead of holding her female employees to the same standards as the men in their field, she rarely criticizes their work (which I find counter productive. Your employee will never excel if you’re afraid to correct them). Instead of empowering them and kicking ass and taking names, she let’s them slack off. In a male dominated field there is nothing worse than this (to me) because you’re perpetuating the issue. Which frustrates me because his former boss was also a woman and had ridiculously high expectations for herself and everyone in her lab. She might have been a real ball buster, but she got shit done.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Also, wanted to point this out: One problem that many intersectional feminists have with mainstream feminism is sort of white middle class women, in the name of feminism, feeling like they can go around and tell other people that they really ARE feminists when those individuals may say they are not. The failure here? Labeling someone what you want to call them instead of respecting their perspective is the height of white heternomative privilege. So if someone says they aren’t a feminist, we shouldn’t decide for them that they really are. Food for thought.

    • Audrey

      Absolutely. There are a lot of WOC who don’t identify as feminist, for example, because they don’t feel mainstream feminism acknowledges their struggle.
      And that’s okay. Hopefully, intersectional feminism will get more press and we can all move forward together.

  • GRRR

    I’ve been really reassured by all the ladies saying they’re married to guys that don’t like the term feminism. I was afraid I’d get the side-eye for deigning to marry someone so “unenlightened.” Whew! Although for the most part I think these equality-loving guys just don’t understand what feminism is about.

    • meg

      Some APW *staffers* are married to men who don’t (they might use the words “refuse to”) identify as feminists. So no side eye here. I happen to be married to someone who’s does identify as feminist (because of these conversations, I asked him how long he’d thought of himself as a feminist, and he was like “Hummm, always I guess???) But we fight alllll the time (for fun, when drunk) about what we think feminism is. But that’s just the kind of thing we do for kicks ;)

      Anyway, no judgement.

      And I’d add to that, if you’re feeling insecure about your husband NOT identifying as a feminist, that may be causing you to use it when you don’t need to, or as an unfair way to win arguments, because that’s what we do when we’re sensitive about things. In our house, where I’m less sensitive (on this particular issue), we’ll sometimes talk about things in big picture cultural ways, “It feels unfair that as a man, your job is less flexible than mine. It upsets me, but it’s not your fault.” The only time I ever remember it coming up in a personal way, in a “you have some serious male privilege on this that I need you to work through” way, was on our kid’s last name. But that’s a different epic story for another time.

      My point is just this: if you’re husband generally acts in a feminist way, I’d guess that the number of times you need to bring up his specific male privilege (vs, our culture is sexist sometimes), is a very very low number of times.

      • Claire

        And, I’m still hoping you’ll share your epic kid naming story, Meg.

        • Another Annie

          Me too me too me too me too… it’s what I’ve been hoping for during all of feminism month!

          • meg

            Not during feminism month. It’s been feeling like it’s still a little sensitive for people (not us, but still) to write about it just yet. But I’ll get there!

    • Tuppet

      I don’t like being called a feminist. I’m pretty egalitarian about most things and have a job in a male dominated field (where I’m just as good as the guys and people pick up on that pretty quickly) but that’s where it ends. Just as me being short doesn’t mean I have issues with tall people because they get a better view, me being female doesn’t mean I have issues with guys just because society expects different things from them.

      My husband is a feminist. He runs programs for students in a male dominated field and secretly lobbies girls to join his programs waaay more than guys so that he can foster women in the field and overcome stereotypes.

      Now imagine that he suggested that statistically speaking women work fewer hours and so could I work longer days to make sure that I don’t slip into that kind of behaviour. um, no, not happening – I’ll work the hours that are reasonable for my job and that’s it. If it turns out that at some point I work part time then that is ok too – so long as that works for us, the statistics should have no bearing on our lives.

      • Kay Lee

        Yay! Another woman who doesn’t like being called a feminist!!! I’m not alone over here in my corner. I’m an egalitarian, and I fully embrace that term, but I despise the term “feminist” (and some of the ideas and buzzwords that come with it) so I refuse to use it. My fiance calls himself a feminist. Go figure. (And I also work in a male dominated field and am quite good at what I do thank you very much.)

      • stayce

        I know this thread is… pretty old, but: “me being female doesn’t mean I have issues with guys just because society expects different things from them.”
        I don’t have issues with guys- in the abstract or the specific- either, and I’m a feminist. I definitely have issues with, say, a culture that expects different things men and women just because of gender. I work in a male-dominated STEM field and feel very fortunate in that I have had a lot of male (and female!) mentors and supporters. I also have a lot of social/economic/racial privilege and I’m sure that’s smoothed the road for me in ways I haven’t even noticed. My girlfriends who don’t have the same privileges? Who started in the field a few years before me? Have had different, (negative) experiences, and a lot of the time it seems like there has been no other real explanation other than gender bias. I sure as hell have a problem with that.

  • Elizabeth K

    First, I totally understand where you are coming from. I spent way too much time worrying that if my husband mowed the lawn while I dusted the house that it meant that we were falling into gender stereotypes and OMG WHAT WOULD HAPPEN WHEN THE KIDS CAME?! Until my husband reminded me that I hated mowing the lawn. Which is true.

    However, I will say that I don’t think bean counting in a relationship is a particularly helpful way to deal with things. Nothing is ever going to be completely even or completely fair. There are always going to be times when one person contributes to a relationship more or in a different way, so a 50/50 division of all labor all the time isn’t all that feasible. Obviously if it is terribly out of balance, that is something to discuss, but otherwise, I think it is important to find a rhyme that works for you at the moment without worrying too much about what it could mean five years down the line. And never fight about hypothetical situations.

    • Victwa

      Yes about the bean-counting. We’re in a bit of a situation where I work in a salaried job that affords me a fair bit of freedom to set my hours and often work from home. It’s not that hard to put a load of laundry in or do a few dishes. My husband works a job with hourly wages, and has really early hours (like 6am early) and is also in school, so he’s studying hard when he can (i.e., when he gets home at 8:30, like last night). He’s in school to get a different job with hopefully a better schedule that will allow him to do more of the kid drop off in the morning, for example. Right now, I’m probably shouldering more of the traditionally womens’ labor stuff (child drop off, cleaning), but I also recognize that it’s because I really do want to support him in being able to have a different career (because ultimately that will benefit ALL of us, including me), and the only way that’s going to happen is for him to work a ton and then study on the side. I have definitely had moments of “Hey! I’m doing a lot!” and he’s really aware of that and tries really, really hard to shift the load when he can. I usually do more going out and socializing with friends than he does– I have no idea when the last time he went out with a friend was–because he’s trying to balance out what I’ve been doing, but it’s not in the “each person did the exact same number of chores” situation.

    • Anon

      Very much agreed. One of the hardest parts of my marriage has also been my letting go of my attachment to strict tit-for-tat fairness and an obvious 50/50 split, things that my younger feminist self thought were vital to an egalitarian marriage. As our pre-marital counselor explained, just because you feel like you’re doing more sometimes does not mean that your husband is oppressing you or you’re not fighting the good fight. Sometimes a less than 50/50 split makes sense for your lives for whatever reason. Also, I realized I tend to feel like things are unequal when we’re falling into traditional gender roles (me cooking, him mowing, fixing, etc.), but that has more to do with the angst I feel about being the one doing traditionally female those tasks (despite enjoying them more) than the actual division of labor (which is pretty equitable).

      This is all to say – I think it’s important to talk about gender equality with your partner and be aware of gender dynamics in your relationship, but sometimes at least for me the baggage that comes with viewing things through the lens of gender roles can be unproductive and distorting when it comes to tackling the actual challenges of your day-to-day relationship.

    • Kathy

      So much “Exactly” to this! Scorekeeping is brutally damaging to a relationship.

      Play to your strengths. Find the right combination for you and don’t worry about what gender role anything has traditionally been.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Sometimes when an issue or habit is causing strife in a relationship, it’s best to just take if off the table. APW often recommends paying someone to do the chores you’re fighting about.

    I have another idea: Trade off on doing all the chores. One week, he does all the cooking and cleaning; the next week you do. The first few times you’ll both probably miss something and accuse the other of slacking off. And/or you’ll turn it into a competition. But if you can get to a place where you can recognize you’re capable of splitting the chores 50/50 in your relationship because you’re completely trading off, then you can move into a respectful conversation about splitting the chores more efficiently than trading off usually is.

    • meg

      I like this idea, by the way. Sometimes just taking something off the table, at least for awhile as a time out, can do wonders.

      • Tess

        To that end, I know it’s been said before here, but hiring a cleaning service is some of the best money we’ve ever spent.

  • Sarah

    Short answer, YES, it can be enough for him to be a feminist in deed but not in name. The word “feminist” by its nature is a sexist term and I understand why some men don’t want to be labelled one, even if they believe in the values of it.

    My husband was shocked to hear me describe myself as a feminist (which he interpreted to be a man-hater), as shocked as he was to hear me say that he was one too. I don’t care if he ever calls himself a feminist; I care that he respects me as his equal partner and would raise our daughters as equals to our sons.

    I know he’s a feminist when we are arguing and he stops me and says, “Hey, we’re on the same team here” reminding me that we should be working together and not against each other, or when he’s got a dilemma at work and he comes to me for advice, just as I do with him, or when he tells me I’m his best friend (his other best friend is a girl too).

    I recognize that as a man who went into a male-dominated educational field and works in a male-dominated trade, his exposure to feminist education is terribly limited. There are many women’s issues he’s just never considered before, just like I’ve worked in the public sector all my life and since I’ve been with him I’ve learned a lot about business, things I’ve just never needed to think of before. We’re learning from each other.

  • GRRR

    One thing a really good girlfriend can do is tell you when you’re off base without making you feel like crap about it. Thanks for straightening me out, ladies.

    • mira

      Grr, I just wanna say thanks for sticking around and engaging everyone on this with such an awesome attitude. Obviously this is something that a lot of us struggle with in one way or another, but someone had to have the guts to put themselves out there and bring it up. You rock.

  • This blog has been so topical lately! It’s like you guys are reading my mind.

    I am lucky enough to be engaged to a man who happily defines himself as feminist and more than open to talk about how the patriarchy impacts our relationship.

    I’ve recently been made to feel pretty bad about myself by a group of friends for “taking things too seriously.” Which I believe I can interpret as calling out oppressive behaviour in others, or not laughing at sexist/racist/oppressive jokes.

    I guess all I’m trying to say is thanks for these comments – it’s very illuminating to see how all of you have handled your struggles with identifying as feminist in your relationships, you’ve given me a lot to think/feel about.

    • Rachel

      I, like many feminists before me, feel that I am working to make this world a better place for my child and for every child I care for (I’m a teacher). Keep fighting the good fight, the more feminist parents out there, the more children will be raised with awareness, the better this world will be.