What If You’re Not Married to a Feminist Man?

How do you handle that in the wake of #MeToo?

Recently, a reader wrote in with a question that felt really compelling: In this #MeToo moment, what do you do if you’re married to a man that doesn’t consider himself to be a feminist? I recently wrote about my struggles talking to my husband about the complex and varied issues around #MeToo. But at the end of the day, I’m married to a Progressive, who’s considered himself to be a feminist for as long as he can remember. (H/T to the feminist moms out there, raising feminist boys.)

So while we wanted to talk about this issue, nobody on the APW staff had a clean or simple answer to it… and some of us had wildly different opinions. So while we want to open the discussion to you, some of the smartest folks on the the Internet, we also decided to round up the variety of staff opinions on the subject, to get the discussion started.

But first, here is Katie’s question:

I’m loving all of the feminist discussion on APW lately. That being said, I think there is a gap that I would love to see discussed. It seems like right now there are two types of men.

1. The feminist men who might not get fully it. Those guys might need some education or enlightenment around microaggressions and systemic sexism, and on why their lack of action and awareness is an issue.

OR

2.  The [typically] Republican White Old Man who is the one doing All The Sexist Things (i.e., the ones in the news for assault).

But what about the regular guys? The ones who aren’t really feminists and aren’t concerned by or interested in hearing about systemic sexism. The guys who might have made some less-than-consensual or unaware-sexist choices in the past (and maybe even feel guilty about them now), but on the whole aren’t the ones we should be chasing with pitchforks and demanding consequences. The ones that aren’t doing the big bad stuff, but certainly are complicit in maintaining the status quo through inaction. These guys don’t deserve to be cut out of our lives, but also as feminists, we can’t condone their behavior either.

So what about those of us who are married or in relationships with these men? Because I can’t imagine that people are getting divorced over that time your husband was inappropriate with women in the workplace, or pressured a girl into sex a decade ago. People like Meg’s husband just need more awareness, but they are on your side. And the Harveys of the world are going to get what’s coming to them. But what about everyone else? I’d love to hear your thoughts, because honestly it’s these interactions that I find to be the most tiring.

There is a ton to unpack here, but here are some thoughts from our team:

Meg, Founder and EIC:

As you seem to have deduced, I’m probably not the person who is going to give you the answer you’re looking for. Because my short answer is I married someone who generally both talks the feminist talk and walks the feminist walk (not without flaws of course, but that’s to be expected with any ally). I wouldn’t have married a man that didn’t, because it’s not something I can live with. So in total honesty, I would divorce the person we’re calling a “regular guy” here. That doesn’t mean you should, of course, but that is my deepest personal answer.

My main issue is less that a guy maybe said something inappropriate once—because we’re all learning, all the time. But I couldn’t stay married to someone who wasn’t interested in understanding systematic oppression, of all kinds.

The one thing I do want to draw into question here is the idea that some of these guys maybe “pressured a girl into sex a decade ago.” That is rape, or at least sexual assault, and that is something that I don’t think any woman should be comfortable with. Not unless their partner is willing to dig deep, do the work, attempt to make amends (both to the person they harmed and to women in general). No woman is to blame for her partner’s sexual misconduct, but we each have to decide what we can live with, and how much work we expect our partners to do to try to repair the damage they may have done.

Related Post

My Husband Thinks Feminism Is a Whiny Trump Card
Maddie, CRO:

I painted my husband as a bad feminist for a long time, because he wouldn’t call himself a feminist. But when I put it down on paper, he agreed to give his kid my last name. He goes out of his way to hire women. He trusts women figures of authority (his doctor, etc.). In short, he wouldn’t call himself a feminist, but I would. In fact, I’ve actually seen a lot of self-avowed feminist partners who used that feminist identity as a shield for decidedly un-feminist behavior. (Like my friend’s boyfriend who identifies as a feminist, but then always talks over women in group settings.) So I feel like you have to assume every single male you know is complicit in some way, and then figure out what level they are on and what you can live with. I’d much rather prioritize that the men in my life walk the walk, rather than talk the talk. (Though in an ideal world, I’d take both.)

As for you, if you’re a feminist and you’re married to a man, and you’re doing the work, well, you’re already doing the work. And make no mistake, it is WORK.

Jareesa, Contributor:

You treat this the same way you treat the casual racist in your family; the person who isn’t a neo-Nazi but who has dressed in blackface for Halloween that one time in college, or the one who still crosses the street when they see “those people” walking toward them. You call them on their shit every 👏🏾 damn 👏🏾 time 👏🏾 and you do not let up. You talk about why their behavior, whether it was passive or active, was unacceptable. You help them understand why it was wrong and what they can/should do to make sure it never happens again. And then you pay attention and see if they’ve really learned and changed.

Keriann, Director of Brand Partnerships:

I don’t want to read too much into statements that may be rhetorical, but I think regardless whether they identify as a feminist, it’s crucial to any relationship that your partner listen to you about the things that are important to you and is on your side at the end of the day. Secondly, when I think of the men I know that have shady things in their past but in general are good people, husbands, and fathers, I keep coming back to this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” When talking about systemic problems it’s easy to generalize people into types, but every single incident comes down to individuals making choices—and often mistakes—based on their own unique path through life. I mean, humans are kind of well known to be deeply flawed and a mess of contradictions. Also, what Jareesa said.

Now we’re passing the question to y’all. How do you deal with the not-super-woke men in your life? If you’re married to one, how are you handling that in the wake of #MeToo?

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  • Mrrpaderp

    What a great topic to start off 2018. A lot of people are taking a hard look at the men in their life right now. And for some of them, it’s because they’re taking a hard look at themselves – their experiences, their relationship with “feminism” (either the word or the philosophy). Things change. It’s pretty natural that as your views change, your expectations of your partner will too.

    For quite a long time, “feminist” was basically a bad word thanks to the patriarchy. That’s softened now, though. Ten years ago I might not have held it against a guy for refusing to call himself a feminist. Now, though, he’s either sexist or too entrenched in his view of the world to admit that sometimes language changes. That kind of entrenchment is how perfectly nice grandmas still use terms like “the orientals” (to refer to people) but insist they’re not racist.

    If you’re a man and you’re in a relationship with a woman then you don’t get to indulge that kind of intellectual laziness. It reflects a fundamental lack of empathy for your partner’s experience. The attitude, I don’t care enough to try to understand you, is not compatible with a longterm relationship.

    • Sarah E

      Yeah, the lack of empathy is key, here. And I’m thinking of men I know who may be on the toxic masculinity train because they’ve never been asked to question it. Likely they’re on the “benign” sexism train that puts women on a pedestal, and so it’s harder for them to see how it’s harmful when they treat women as “special.” All of those folks, if they truly are kind, respectful humans, also need to empathize on both the individual and collective level with the women and femmes telling them what is wrong with the world.

      • Heir apparent

        Can anybody explain to me, what is toxic masculinity? Cis-man? Rape culture?

        So basically as a man I am a rapist because I have a penis? I am toxic because I am a man too? Because it is what most men I know are receiving as a message, why should we be allies?

        I am French and this is like another world to me. Just trying to deconstruct. Privilege is used for class for us, somehow it went to gender and race.

        Identity politics in America is so different from the French model. Not saying any of them is better, just that we noticed that wherever identity politics is strong, the country is ruled by the far right, like England or USA. Nothing about redistribution of ressources, class wars is so 20’s century. Welcome the 21’s.

        The left has been reduced to gender/race wars, while all the blue collars of the old economy are predators of liabilities. They now vote trump instead of the democrat party.

        I think trump might win again. And I am absolutely not a supporter. The lack of global and unified vision in American politics is staggering. As if everybody was racing for a piece of a pie that goes on shrinking.

        En marche.

        • Em

          The “toxic” in “toxic masculinity” is used as an adjective. Saying “masculinity is toxic” (what I think you’re hearing) is different to talking about “toxic masculinity” (a specific problem that exists.)
          (If you want a definition, check wikipedia.)

          • Heir apparent

            Thanks for the lead.

    • Emily

      “Intellectual laziness” is such a good term!

    • Meg Keene

      WORD.

    • Zoya

      Yes to your last paragraph! This stuff is WORK, and men have to be willing to put in the work to understand and validate their female partners.

    • MC

      Yes, 100% everything what you & Jareesa said. It’s fine if your partner wasn’t born being a super awesome feminist ally (none of us are?) but if they’re not willing to put in the work to understand the experiences of not only their partner, but others who don’t look or identify like they do… that is an untenable relationship for me.

      My (white, straight, male) husband and I have been talking a lot about something that a white guy on the podcast Witch, Please said, which is basically that he often wishes his second thought could be his first – because our first reactions to things are often products of our socialization. So, for example, if my husband hears an sexual assault accusation against a famous person he likes, his first gut reaction might be, “No, that can’t be true.” But instead of just letting that initial reaction be his overall reaction, he has learned to say, “Hmm, I wonder why that is my first reaction? Do I want to have such a victim-blaming mentality? How does that attitude make women in my life feel?” etc. If he didn’t put in that kind of work, we couldn’t be married. (And we both work on this too with issues of racial justice & other social justice issues that aren’t integral to our identities.)

      • Lexipedia

        OMG Neil! I also like how often how he doesn’t take conversational space from Hannah and Marcelle, and totally admits when something is patriarchal and fucked up.

        I need more episodes. :(

      • penguin

        I just started listening to this podcast a couple weeks ago, it’s so great! I listened to the episode you’re talking about this weekend, and it really struck me.

    • Zoya

      Thinking about your second paragraph a bit more…I know several men who are explicitly uncomfortable calling themselves feminists, and also a number of men who call themselves feminists while continuing to engage in (and excuse) rape-culture-y behavior. I have much more patience for a guy who’s given it some thought and concluded the label’s not his to claim–even if I disagree with that reasoning–than I do for a guy who uncritically takes on the label while changing nothing about his behavior.

    • Anon for This

      “2. The [typically] Republican White Old Man who is the one doing All The Sexist Things (i.e., the ones in the news for assault).”
      After everything that’s come out about powerful Democratic men in Hollywood, the media, and elsewhere, we’re kidding ourselves if we’re mostly pinning this kind of behavior on Republican men.
      Sorry, but I don’t give any more benefit of the doubt to liberal men than any other man. And you shouldn’t either!

  • Emily

    The letter writer says that guys “who might have made some less-than-consensual or unaware-sexist choices in the past” should not be gone after with pitchforks, but why not? I suppose there are some men out there in the world that did some fairly terrible things in the past and now have worked really hard to make amends for that bad behavior. If this was the case, you would see evidence of their hard work. However if you have married someone, know that they were not just uniformed but actively anti-feminist, and are still asking the internet for help dealing with them; there’s no way your dude has reconstructed their belief system towards women and personally I could not continue that relationship.

    • Amy March

      Yeah to me that part felt very different from the framing of the letter.

      • Katie

        Hi! This was my letter! I’m not a great writer (though I actually am loving the broad discussion based on my choice of words), but I was really trying to refer to the guys that haven’t sexually assaulted someone, that haven’t sexually harassed someone at work, but rather the guys who talk over women at meetings, who don’t understand why catcalling is so scary, and who don’t understand the problem with wanting women to confirm to traditional gender roles or expressions of femininity, etc.

        • Katie

          Oh, or the big one for me – the guys who don’t understand how their success in the workplace was not merely a reflection of their hard work and skills, but rather that they benefited from all sorts of privileged that helped them get there, and as such, they should be using that power to help build a more inclusive workplace.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, any guy who engaged in less-than-consensual behavior and isn’t, like, giving money to rape crisis counseling non profits every month, and reading feminist theory to try to correct their shit… that’s a hard pass in my book. The mistake is HUGE, but humans are allowed mistakes. But only ones that they are working hard to rectify.

      • Amy March

        And if you’d rather not be inconvenienced with even hearing about feminism I have my doubts on your level of regret.

      • Abs

        This. Mistakes only get to be mistakes if you stop making them and try fixing them instead. Otherwise they’re just bad shit you’re doing.

    • EF

      yuuuup. I really, really like Meg’s answer and I really like Emily’s comment. it’s time to stop putting up with bullshit.

    • Katharine Parker

      Yes yes yes. I also object to the idea that we should accept men “who might have made some less-than-consensual or unaware-sexist choices in the past” as “regular guys” in a way that’s normative.

      • Emily

        I think it’s super normalizing. When women stop using “boys will be boys” to excuse the men in their lives, things will get better around here, I know it.

  • Julie

    I divorced the dude that didn’t walk the feminist walk and YOU SHOULD TOO.

    • Sarah

      Go you 👏👏

    • SS Express

      As the ancient Australian proverb goes: on ya!

      • S

        Strewth.

  • Another Meg

    Everything above is gold.

    I’d only add that if I was married to someone who held problematic views, I’d try to (slowly) introduce some new perspectives that might take him from “regular guy” to “feminist who messes up occasionally but is trying” (which is probably every single one of us, TBH).

    I agree that the title is less important that the desire to do better and keep learning, and the understanding that women do not currently have equal access to power, that disabled women, NGC, and WOC have less access than abled, cis, and white women, and that everyone has a privilege backpack.

    And, of course, behind every ally is a tired marginalized person who we all need to thank.

  • Zoya

    I was talking to a friend about this the other day. We agreed that for ciswomen who are attracted to men, pursuing romantic relationships with men in this culture means being wrapped up in some degree of patriarchal bullshit. It just does. The exact amount varies by person, by relationship, by so many other things. But it’s there. It’s omnipresent. And different people have different tolerances for how much bullshit they will put up with.

    My friend’s response, thus far, has been to just drop out of the dating pool. She has decided she’d rather be single and awesome than have to deal with all of this. My response has been to seek out men who are already feminist-inclined and open to being schooled; I married one of these men, and he has consistently validated my decision to invest trust and emotional labor in him. Both my friend’s choice and mine are equally valid, and they each come with significant upsides and downsides. We’re both still struggling with that.

    • Pickle

      My personal solution may not be available to everyone, but worth adding to the list I think: marry a trans man :)

      • Amy March

        Right and I appreciate the smiley but as a resident straight single lady, really not here for happily married women even hinting at the solution being “just don’t be with cis men.” I get it, and obviously understand that for some people non-cis-men (I mean to say anyone other than cis-men) are the preferred/only option, but I want a romantic relationship with a cis man, problematic though they may be.

        • Pickle

          Um. I would really like you to reconsider this comment and hopefully edit it once you have. In what way is suggesting marrying a trans man saying “don’t be with men”? Trans men are men.

          • Amy March

            That wasn’t my intent at all. Sorry. I was responding to both you and Zoya’s comment. I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t saying trans men aren’t men.

          • Pickle

            I appreciate the edit. I would still suggest some thought into why you consider cis men to be the only viable dating option for you. To me, my recommendation falls into the “seeking out men who are already feminist-inclined and open to being schooled” category, except trans men usually don’t need to be schooled. I think a lot of straight women, and people in general– including myself before I fell in love with my partner– would be a lot less attached to only dating cisgender people if they spent time addressing their internalized transphobia.

          • Amy March

            No. I get to be attracted to the people I’m attracted to, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for you or anyone else to suggest that needs rethinking or that it’s transphobia.

            It erases my experience and the experience of other women who want to be with cis-men to suggest we just actually consider not wanting it. And that’s what I was reacting to with my first comment.

          • Pickle

            I think that if your attractions just happen to line up with social oppressions, they are worth looking at. It’s not a coincidence that you most commonly hear “I’m just not attracted to black people, or asians, or bisexuals, or fat people, or trans people, or short men”. I made a point of acknowledging that I also have internalized transphobia because this is not an attack, and at one point I felt the same way that you do. Even saying that you’re not attracted to trans men suggests that you have a very specific idea of what trans people look like and are like, since you’re ruling out the idea that you could ever be attracted to one, and that in itself is transphobic. Nobody in this comment thread has suggested that there’s anything wrong with wanting to be with cis men, just that many women prefer other options, so I am a little unclear on why you are so threatened.

          • Meg Keene

            Guys, I’m going to close out this convo for now. I think points all round have been made, and at this point it feels very unfair to dive into people’s personal attractions. The mods will leave these comments for now, but remove future comments.

          • Transnonymous

            I’m making this comment with the understanding that the mods will remove it, but I think it’s important that the team here sees this and this is the fastest way for me to get this across. I don’t want to personally call out anyone who has commented on this thread either, and please do not take this as a personal attack on anyone.

            Hi, trans man and frequent visitor and commenter on APW. There is a difference between “I don’t want to date someone with a vagina/penis” and “I don’t want to date a trans person.” Saying that you don’t want to date a trans person is transphobic. Here’s why:

            1) Whenever someone says “I don’t want to date a trans person” that is almost always code for “I don’t want to deal with a trans person’s genitals.” This makes a lot of assumptions about what a trans person’s genitals look like; both vaginoplasty and phalloplasty are becoming more common and accessible. Refusing to date a trans person because you believe that their genitals resemble that of the sex they were assigned at birth (and that they use those genitals in cis-normative ways) is transphobic.

            2) You cannot tell that someone is trans just by looking at them. If you believe you can, you are incorrect. For trans people who started hormones at a young age, have been on hormone blockers, or have been on hormones for five years or longer, it is often impossible to tell unless they tell you. If you enter a relationship with someone whom you believe is cis, and they then disclose that they are trans, and your automatic response is to end the relationship solely because they are trans, that is transphobic.

            This is not to say that people are not entitled to their preferences. But it’s important to realize that your preferences can be transphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, or otherwise problematic in some way, and it’s important to be self-critical and examine why you have those preferences. Additionally, there’s no need to put your problematic preferences out in public even if you do have them. You would never say “I wouldn’t date a person of color.” Similarly, don’t say “I wouldn’t date a trans person.”

          • Pickle

            Thank you so much for your grace and eloquence in writing this. I truly hope it is not deleted.

          • Meg Keene

            I think it’s fair to say that we all are attracted to different things, and have fundamentally different sexual orientations, and that just is what it is. You might like tall men, or short men, or femme women, or… etc. etc. Maybe one day you’ll meet someone that will change that for you, but maybe you won’t. We all have our attractions, and we have to figure out how to make our lives work while being true to our deepest selves. I don’t think it’s fair to call someone elses attractions transphobia.

          • Pickle

            See my response to Amy. I think that we all have internalized biases that impact what and who we are attracted to, and they are worth examining. This all reminded me of a good article I read on how this relates to race awhile back: http://www.rolereboot.org/sex-and-relationships/details/2016-04-yes-dating-preferences-probably-racist/

          • Meg Keene

            Closing this comment thread for now. Thank you all for points made.

        • Mrrpaderp

          My solution is dating men 10 years younger than me. They seem to be more woke than our generation. And they’re so excited to learn!

  • Amy March

    I have two main thoughts about this.

    One- the guy you are describing is the Type 2 you identified. He is the problem. He is the harasser. He is the assaulter. He is the one who creates the hostile environment. If “regular guys” is guys who maybe raped someone that one time but feel vaguely guilty but not enough to care to hear about feminism than yes bring on the pitchforks actually.

    Two- I think you figure out if and how you stay with him the same way you would any other major values disconnect. Does he listen? Does he respect your views? Do his actions towards you and your family reflect values you are comfortable with? Only you can answer that. It’s easy to sit here and say leave him! but all relationships involve compromise and I think it’s really individual how much you can or should or want to bend.

    • Mary Jo TC

      Is it only the line about “less than consensual” that makes you say this guy is the problem? Because with the exception of that line, the letter made me think about guys who passively accept patriarchy, don’t challenge it, aren’t very aware of the issues or very self-aware, but not actively committing crimes or making things worse in a big way. If we cut out that line, would you answer differently?

      • emilyg25

        What bothered me is “aren’t concerned by … systemic” oppression.

      • Amy March

        It’s certainly the worst part, but if you’re a man who isn’t concerned by systematic sexism and complicit in it, then yeah. You’re the problem. You’re the one sitting by and letting sexual harassment happen. You’re the one who hears the reports and has the power to act but doesn’t.

        • Mary Jo TC

          Ok, fair enough. I just wanted clarification.

        • Meg Keene

          Well, but also, you’re the one actually harassing, right? At least once or twice.

      • Meg Keene

        I mean, if we also add in “inappropriate with women in the workplace”, not to mention “complicit in maintaining the status quo”… then… I mean. If these guys are not the problem, who is the problem?

        There are very few men who’s crimes reach the scope of Harvey Weinstein—though arguably, you don’t know if someone’s crimes would reach that scope unless you give them that level of power. The Harvey’s don’t make the world we live in, they are a product of it. Sure, they belong in jail. But if we think they are the problem, I think we’re deluding ourselves.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I came way late to this party but had to comment on this because one upvote wasn’t enough. I agree so hard with both of these points, and I think it’s so important to acknowledge that “it’s easy to sit here and say leave him”… because I think this could super easily have been me. I don’t know about other folks, but it took me until my mid-twenties to even embrace feminism myself, much less to expect men in my life to do it. I was raised in a culture of “regular guys” much like this question describes and idk, if I’d gotten married younger, it probably would’ve been to a very problematic man. The husband my feminist self chose still has work to do too, of course, but if I’d decided to join my life with someone anti-feminist before awakening to feminism, I just don’t know how I would deal. I can’t judge a woman who stays with someone like that, as much as I would want to tell her she deserves better. I feel for her.

  • emilyg25

    I have no interest in spending time with people “who aren’t really feminists and aren’t concerned by or interested in hearing about systemic sexism,” not as friends and certainly not as a life partner, especially since for me, that means raising children together. In some ways, I think those people are worse than the Harvey Weinsteins of the world because their behavior is more subtle, insidious, hard to call out, easy to deny.

    • Lexipedia

      OMG YES. You don’t get to be a role model of masculinity to my daughter, and you hella don’t get to show my son how he should treat women as a member of the patriarchy.

    • Abs

      YES. Sure, there’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk, and good for anyone who’s actually doing the latter, but this letter isn’t about those guys, it’s about the guys who are just sitting there glancing at the clock and waiting for all of this to be over. Why, exactly, do we have to give them any credit at all?

  • sage

    Honestly, I want the “regular guy” who drunkenly pressured me into sex 5 plus years ago and never attempted to make amends or anything to be chased with pitchforks and face consequences for his actions. It seriously impacted me and my life and I want it to equally impact his and for people to see that that kind of shit isn’t acceptable.

    It also infuriates me that this asshole is very vocal about being ‘feminist’ and posted tons of articles online regarding “me too” and its impact. All that to say, I tend to agree with Meg on this one.

    • anon for this

      Yeah, a lot of those so-called “woke” men actually…aren’t. In college, a guy I know pressured me to take my top off at a party, hounding me mercilessly and getting his friends to partake, to the point where he actually started to grab at my shirt. We were supposedly friends. When I refused, he called me a bitch, threw a bottle at the wall, and refused to speak to me for months. Because I was 18, I felt like *I* did something wrong and tried to win back our “friendship” for a long time, and we eventually had a long conversation where *he* told me that I embarrassed him so badly that he couldn’t ever get over it. We remain friendly-ish, but never again friends. Over the years, I get more and more angry about this experience.

      Flash-forward 10+ years, and he’s Mr. SJW Woke on Facebook. In my #MeToo post, I tell this story and lament my own inability to see that he was really the jerk, but do not call him out by name. I get a PM from him telling me that it was inappropriate for me to “drudge up the past” and that the way I portrayed the situation was “really unfair to [him].” Zero apology, zero admission of wrong-doing, and yet kept posting articles about #MeToo publicly.

      I blocked him.

      Trust no bastard.

      • Lawyerette510

        You should screen shot that DM and post it with the hashtag TrustNoBastard. But in all seriousness, the #MeToo posts I found most compelling were the ones related to explicitly stating that at least one person the poster was facebook friends with, or followed by, had sexually harassed or assaulted them and never acknowledged their actions.

  • Rebekah

    My life currently has 3 of these types of guys in various stages. My father is unknowingly steeped in toxic masculinity, contributes to rape culture, is casually racist, and does not change his mind quickly, so that has resulted in a pulling back from me in our conversations and of bringing up other points of view all the time when we do talk.
    My husband listens when I bring up teaching points, but still doesn’t feel like he needs to make waves among his social circle. A lot of what feminism strives for in terms of equality he sees as common sense and is incredulous others don’t see/have it, so that’s another lesson in and of itself.
    Then there’s my 18-month-old nephew, who will grow up in a conservative area and who adores my (above) father, who I will work every day to teach to be a feminist.
    I don’t have a strong answer to the LW’s question, but I am taking it one day at a time, like this presidency, and fighting when and where I can, taking breaks when I need to.

    • Basketcase

      My husband is like yours. Add in that he has absolutely no connection to his emotions, and it’s making waves in our marriage while trying to raise a kid. It’s turned into hard work, that I’m not convinced I want to keep doing.
      I’m working hard to ensure I raise my son as a feminist, and am working with my husband to improve his knowledge, like pointing out that one of his best friends (who has small man syndrome) constantly talks over women, even when they are having a conversation that he’s not involved in, demanding that everyone listens to him. I’ve asked him to start calling that friend out when he sees it happen. We’ve not socialised with that friend since I raised it, so we’ll see what happens when we do. I think that may be make or break.

    • Cathi

      I think being willing and able to listen (as an adult man maybe actually paying attention to these issues for the first time) is the open door that leads to better, more thoughtful things.

      My husband for years has been essentially feminist in many ways, but also entrenched in what I think is the most important part: not making waves among other dudes. I think things collided for our social circle at just the right moment this past summer that prompted him to ask me over dinner last week: “Hey so… is [Best Friend] an abusive boyfriend? What do I do? Should I not be his friend anymore?”

      And we got to talk about how well, yes, Best Friend is an abuser (XYZ examples) and here are my gentle suggestions for ways he can respond, now armed with this knowledge. Perhaps it’s patronizing, but I was really proud of him for wanting to take action.

  • Lexipedia

    “The guys who might have made some less-than-consensual or unaware-sexist choices in the past…”

    I’m sorry, but although I’m willing to do the work to help shepherd someone I love who has the *potential* to learn and grow in feminism, there has to be a certain base of “person who respects women” there to work with. If, even ten years ago, you’ve committed sexual assault, you’re not getting my emotional labor. Also, I think I’d have a hard time having an intimate relationship with someone who had done that to another. I’m not saying that people who have done questionable things in the past should be left in the evil patriarchy wilderness of shame or anything, but you don’t get to be the partner and “special project” I work through these issues with.

    (maybe this was judgy, but this is a question about personal response and I’m feeling a bit scratchy today)

    • Abby

      I keep typing and deleting my comment because I’m a little in shock that “some less-than-consensual” actions made by men are being categorized as something that shouldn’t have demanding consequences. Finding out that a man in my life committed a less than consensual act (or a crime) would be a deal breaker for me.

      • Lexipedia

        Haha, totally got it.

    • Abs

      Honestly, I’m pretty okay with the evil patriarchy wilderness of shame.

      • Lexipedia

        Oh yeah, agreed, though a problem is that out there you get away with not being ashamed or having to make amends for the shit you’ve done.

        • Abs

          Yeah, there’s that. Although if it was seriously a wasteland–like just rocks and howling winds and other rapists–then I would be fine with that. Maybe once a year they get rounded up and asked if they’re ready to do the work necessary to reenter society? And if they don’t pass basic training, then back to the wilderness they go?

          • Lexipedia

            I was having this discussion over Thanksgiving with the future in-laws, after the revelations about Franken (though only the first one, I think) had come out. FFIL asked what he would have to do in order to stay in office/continue to exist in progressive society and FMIL spent some time riffing on it. Like, what is the remedial program? What does doing the work look like? We both agreed that he should step down, but the question discussed is what should come next. Like, step down, deeply apologize, submit to any investigations or legal action, use his connections to raise money for Tina Smith to run in the next election, support progressive women’s causes from the back row without stepping in front of the people who should be leading… it was actually a pretty interesting exercise.

            (not trying to change the subject at all, it was just an interesting thought experiment)

    • Ros

      I mean. My question would be what constitutes ‘less-than-consensual’ for this argument. There’s this pervasive social pattern demonstrated effing everywhere of ‘be persistent, ask again’. And the encounters I’ve had after that particular tactic were what I’d consider not super consensual (like, if I’m boning you because I need to sleep and it’s easier than arguing about why I don’t want to, it’s just NOT) but it also isn’t the same as the dudes who’ve ignored a straight-up no. If that makes sense.

      I guess what I’m saying is that, personally, I don’t want the dude from Example 1 anywhere near me. But I also don’t think he’d recognize that particular event as less-than-consensual. I’d personally be willing to engage with a dude who had that in his past if he realized it was a problem, saw the underlying social pattern that he’d fallen into, actively changed it, called his friends out on it when they started it, and generally showed remorse and work at fixing it. Barring that? How on earth could I sleep next to that dude and trust him? (and honestly even then…)

      • Violet

        I keep seeing sexual encounters boiled down to “consent.” Which, I dunno, maybe it is all about that to some people. My own personal experience is that the concept that best describes how I know a guy is a safe one to be around is not consent. It’s entitlement. I don’t need to provide ongoing explicit verbal consent when the guy doesn’t feel entitled to me. An entitled guy meets you and shows you a picture of his genitals. What does a guy who doesn’t feel entitled do? Well, not to be childish, but it looks like the “bases” from when you’re a kid. You know, first base, second, third. Does he start by getting to know me first as a person? Then tentatively putting his hand on the small of my back? If that went well, does he hold my hand next? Then on to a kiss? This kind of approach is not only sexy as hell (because what’s sexier than tension, anyway?), but it shows me the man doesn’t feel entitled to my body. It also means I don’t have to give explicit consent, just continue to respond as each overture gets more and more intimate. That’s the kind of guy I’d feel safe sleeping next to.

        • Ros

          On further thought, your point about entitlement makes sense – some dudes have shifted that to being entitled a yes, and have no problem badgering for it.

          That said – I personally find the progression you describe exasperating and much prefer ongoing verbal communication, so whatever works for the people involved! (I am also involved in kink, so I find there’s a lot to be said for “I’m in the mood for X tonight” and “harder/softer/omg so good” kind of checkins)

          • Violet

            Personal preferences definitely come into play. I guess I’ve been exasperated by reactions I’ve seen that are missing the point, all: “What!? Can’t anyone flirt anymooooooore?” And I’m thinking, “Who thinks flirting is constituted by starting by groping a woman and shoving your tongue down her throat?” And then I realize, oh right, for someone who feels entitled to any female body he wants.

          • Zoya

            Far as I’m concerned, the “So I can’t flirt/talk to women in public/mention clothing/etc.” is nothing more than a derailing tactic. Folks who say this are looking for you to either back off or to validate and soothe them. It’s not missing the point, it’s redirecting the conversation back onto their turf. Not worth my time.

          • Violet

            I think those reactions come from people who are terrified of having to admit to themselves that not all women might find their attentions (aka, flirting) desirable. Quelle horreur! If you feel entitled to a woman’s body or attention, you should be able to do anything you want to get them. The logic holds. It’s only once men realize they are not entitled to it do they realize their advances (physical or otherwise) have to be actually appealing to whoever it is they’d like to get intimate with.

          • NOT defending it, but I actually think there some people who make this argument sincerely… Because they don’t fully understand that women have sexual agency and active sexual desires of their own, so it’s genuinely hard for them to conceive of a flirtation paradigm that isn’t at least a little coercive.

          • emilyg25

            It makes me SO ANGRY. I’m just out here trying not to get raped or murdered. Excuse me while I don’t feel sorry that it’s a little harder for you to flirt with people.

        • Joielle

          Yes yes yes! I’ve never thought about consent and entitlement this way before but it really resonates with me. It’s why I hate when guys open with some variation of “hey baby, want to come back to my place?” Like yeah, that’s asking for consent, but I don’t even know you – so the fact that you’d even ask right off the bat means I probably can’t trust you. This is a weird stream of consciousness that probably doesn’t express my thoughts well, but thank you thank you for this very apt comparison. I will be doing a lot more thinking on this :)

          • Violet

            That example is exactly what I mean! “Consent” can be pretty damn superficial if the guy feels entitled. Whereas if a guy shows me in the way he behaves that he doesn’t feel entitled, I really don’t feel like I need to give explicit consent for it to be a mutually enjoyable encounter.

          • Joielle

            YES, exactly. I’ve always had a hard time expressing why the example still feels gross to me – he’s asking for consent! He’s taking no for an answer! – but this is why. And then the guy gets mad because he “did everything right” by asking for consent, but he still didn’t get the sex he wanted… which is yet another symptom of entitlement.

            Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to teach “asking for consent” than it is to teach “not feeling entitled to women’s bodies or attention”…

          • Em

            Getting mad for not getting sex is not respecting a woman’s right to consent. Sure, good job, you’re not a rapist, but if you get angry at her or make your disappointment her problem, you’re not just showing that you feel entitled, you’re also telling her that consent is an annoyance and a barrier to your desires instead of an integral part of healthy sexual relationships.
            ETA: What I’m saying is teaching about consent and entitlement isn’t an either/or thing, they’re linked. But yes it’s easier – and more useful – to teach consent. Not just in a black and white “no means no” way but also about actually *respecting* everyone’s right to consent.

        • I love me some clearcut explicit consent and verbal check-ins, but I really agree with what you are saying about entitlement. Honestly, men acting particularly entitled to my attention is a huuuuuge red flag for me, much less my body.

        • Em

          Entitlement definitely plays into sexual assault, but I don’t see why that makes consent any less relevant. If you don’t feel entitled to someone’s body, then you check in for consent.
          In your example, the “that went well” involves implicit consent – moving closer, more touching, looking physically relaxed/happy.. (I do think explicit verbal consent is useful in lots of cases, and definitely any time when implicit consent isn’t 100% clear.)

          • Violet

            They’re definitely tied! Thanks for clarifying that. I was saying that focusing on consent doesn’t 100% cover it for me. Because plenty of guys get “consent” that the woman was coerced or felt compelled into giving (for various reasons: fear for her safety, her job, etc). So while I totally agree consent is easier to teach and focus on because it’s more concrete, that very concreteness can be warped into something very superficial. Which is why for me on a gut level, it has way more to do with whether or not I’m sensing the feeling of entitlement. Also, the sense of entitlement is usually apparent very early on, whereas whether or not the guy will ask consent (implicitly or explicitly) can often only be expected after things are underway, and the situation already feels a little out of hand.

          • Em

            That makes a lot of sense. Your last sentence has convinced me that it is more than just a different way to frame consent – and I think is important.

      • Zoya

        I was talking to a female friend about this the other day (same convo I referenced in another comment), and made a word-order hiccup that got me thinking:

        “Men are not taught to respect a woman’s no”

        versus

        “Men are taught not to respect a woman’s no”

        I think there’s some of both of those things in what you’re describing. It’s also an easy, subtle slide from one to the other.

        • SS Express

          This way of phrasing it is spot-on.

      • Cathi

        This is a little bit where I’m pausing and reflecting upon my own surprise at the vehement, negative response to that inclusion in what might constitute “idk regular dude stuff”.

        Certainly I’m not alone in having many interactions as an adolescent and young adult where consent was iffy at best–definitely not enthusiastic by any means! Because yeah, it was problematic behavior that we TOTALLY SHOULD BE WORKING AGAINST that Boy kept pushing my limits and I felt deeply uncomfortable and really didn’t want to, but just assumed the extreme discomfort and unease were normal growing pains of entering sexual maturity. By black and white definitions some of the stuff that happened with boys and young men in my past would be sexual assault. For sure I was pressured into doing things I really didn’t want to do, because I didn’t know that it was actually okay to not be ready for Whatever and because those boys didn’t know it wasn’t okay to keep pressing the issue. But with one exception I think those boys from my past were clueless, not malicious.

        I would hope that with reflection those now-men look back on those and go “…yiiiiiiikes, she probably doesn’t think too fondly of how that went down. What a shitbag Young Me was.” But I don’t think that they necessarily need to be self-flagellating every morning for it, or making yearly donations to RAINN in order to atone for acting in a way our society expected them to. If they’re capable of knowing that what happened actually wasn’t okay then I’m okay with that, I guess.

        If they’re still acting that way, or show no signs of recognizing they behaved in less-than-consensual ways, or don’t see anything wrong with the way they’d acted in the past then *of course* the banishment to the patriarchy wilderness of shame should commence. But I don’t think it’s far-fetched to consider that currently mostly-good dudes did not-good things in the past.

        • Sarah

          I have a problem with this way of thinking. Because, I too, was sexually assaulted by a shit-bag adolescent, and I don’t think his cluelessness excuses him. And maybe he did grow up and stop boning girls after they’ve asked him to stop, but I still have nightmares about it, so there’s that.

          But there’s also the fact that the systems and societies that produced that human garbage of a teenage boy hasn’t changed, and that means how many more years of teenage girls just like I was once crying into pillows because their boyfriend won’t stop. And that is fucking unacceptable.

          I’m personally in favor of severe consequences, even for “kids” who “didn’t know better” as a deterrent for rape & sexual assault.

  • Abs

    There are two levels here. If you are a woman dating a man, the way he thinks about women will have an impact on how he relates to you. And if there are conflicts there, then you have to figure out what the line is for you and your life.

    But if you’re fine with how this person relates to you, then there’s the broader question of how he is in the world generally. And this is really a question about whether your partner
    should be a good person. If you are a feminist, then you not only believe in feminism for yourself, like you would believe in an exercise program, you believe that equality/rights/respect for women is good, and does good in the world, and its opposite does harm.

    Sometimes it’s very easy to camoflage this with statements like “we have different values.” But if you believe your values, then this is too neutral. If you know that your partner has caused or is causing harm in the world, then you need to face that and figure out what do about it. This is where specifics matter. Is this harm in the past or ongoing? Does your partner express regret, confusion, or hostility when asked about it? Are they open to change?

    If your partner isn’t a good person by your moral code, then that conflict, once acknowledged, will have to be resolved one way or another. Either you break up with them, or you change your moral code. Whichever you decide, you should be clear about what you’re doing and why.

  • AOK

    I am the daughter of and married to guys who are in-between the two types (though thankfully my husband leans toward Type 1). That said, both of these men in my life are very #NotAllMen and “any man could be accused of sexual harassment at any time” whenever the topic comes up, which is very frustrating for me. What I’ve done is to 1) recognize that they’re scared, 2) they’re more likely to be defensive while they’re scared, and 2) find the lowest common denominator that we can agree on and am slowly working on them towards a more enlightened view. What does this look like in practice? I’ve been scared most of my life, so I try to treat these men with love. The lowest common denominator has been “Men shouldn’t whip their penises out in work settings.” We can all agree on that. Then, I agree that yes, sometimes women do wrongfully accuse men (because that always comes up), but that we aren’t talking about that yet and that happens so rarely, that we’re focusing on sexual harrassment in the workplace and between people are two different power levels, that men are almost always in positions of power over women. I get them to acknowledge this (sometimes this takes longer than I’d like). Unfortunately, I’ve had to had this conversation a few times over because men are dense. But, it’s more livable for me than to yell at them and try to beat it into their heads.
    Still working on how to get them to realize that there are so many women who are scared all the time, that their feelings are how women have felt for…forever.
    It’s definitely not perfect and there are no major waves being created here, but it definitely helps to find some common ground that everyone can agree on and work from there.

    • H

      I am so, so sorry that your husband speaks like this, it sound exhausting and rude and incredibly hurtful.

      “Unfortunately, I’ve had to had this conversation a few times over because men are dense.”
      – they’re not dense, they just don’t want to hear you. Their own comfort is worth more to them than your pain, not to mention the pain of women they don’t even know.

      • Jane

        But if you don’t keep talking to them, they’re never going to change. If you don’t keep bringing up your pain, they will never have to acknowledge it. These things are exhausting, but necessary. If you let these men just talk with and agree with similar men, if you don’t challenge their assumptions, then you’re allowing all the systemic sexism continue.

  • Anon

    I keep coming back to MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail wherein he says that the greatest impediment to the progress of Black people is not the KKK, but is the white moderate. The white person who is okay with the status quo, who doesn’t really have time for the upset that true racial reconciliation will take.

    This is, to me, the same mindset in the cis-man who is desirous of a relationship with a woman, but just doesn’t have time for all the issues that affect her day to day life.

    For me, I absolutely could not be in any kind of serious relationship (marriage, deep friendship, dinner parties on the reg) with someone who just doesn’t care to involve himself in the issues that affect me.

    • Violet

      I’m with you. My mind honestly reels at all the straight men who get to have sex with straight women because those women are paying for birth control out of pocket. Not that this is practical, but if all women decided not to have sex with men until BC was covered by all insurances, I’m pretty sure the issue would be resolved within a matter of weeks. But they get the reward without the work, so why would they do anything differently?

      • Zoya

        This is tangential, but I’ve noticed myself getting a lot more loudmouthed about my birth control use these days. (I’m on BC for PCOS in addition to contraception.) I don’t bother to hide the pack anymore if I’m taking a pill in public, and I’ve started talking a lot more about how BC affects my menstrual cycle, health, reproductive choices, etc. It’s interesting to watch people’s reactions–women tend to jump in and share and ask questions, men tend to get silent and awkward.

        • Violet

          Ah, thank you! I don’t take birth control, but I feel the same way about not being secretive about tampons. Sure I’m not bandying them about at the brunch table, but I’m not gonna be all surreptitious about it, either. If you get to sleep with me, you also have to be aware of the physical mechanics that make it possible. Not sorry.

          • Another Meg

            OMG this is awesome. I just bought tampons at a store (for the first time in a while) and they put them in a brown paper bag. Like porn. It was so weird. And more than a little infuriating.

          • Violet

            Argh! Noooo! I actually bought a cute pencilcase from Anthro that I use to keep my tampons in, so it’s like a little treat when I go to the bathroom in a public place. Here I am with my adorable floral tampon holder, thankyouverymuch.

          • PAJane

            Somewhere I have a delightfully obnoxious cloth pouch with a print all over it about how it contains tampons, with instructions to put it in your back pocket and then go bowling. Unfortunately I obtained it around the same time I switched to a cup, which it won’t hold.

        • Mary Jo TC

          If Lysistrata were an actual viable option, so many of the world’s problems could be solved so quickly.

    • Joielle

      +1. There are so many men who seem to be doing their best to ignore the entire concept of feminism, and rape culture, and patriarchy, and just hoping we’ll all stop talking about it, I guess. I don’t get it. That’s the society we’re all steeped in, the air we all breathe, and how can you be a good partner to a woman if you can’t see that, or don’t care?

      • I think it’s not so much that we’ll stop talking about it, but as long as they frame it as a woman’s problem they’re hoping that we’ll do all the labour to make the world change so they don’t have to. Like, one day we’ll tell them we solved sexism, and they’ll be “that’s nice!” and nothing whatsoever will change about their lives but they’ll be pleased the world is a better place for us. I think for your “regular guy”, as above, it’s as much a matter of laziness as it is about guilt – some are wary of accepting they’re part of the problem, sure, but a lot just don’t see why they need to be part of the solution.

  • I feel like the fact that “less than consensual behavior” is getting casually rolled into “men who are non-feminists” is such a solid snapshot on why these conversations are so hard to have a culture – Namely in that women’s sexual autonomy is still so easily trivialized (see also: every single “what is the state of sex!?!1! in a post me-too world?!) article).

    But to take this question totally at face value… I kind of think that if you are in this situation and aren’t interested in divorce, what that leaves is doing the emotional labor of engaging on these issues? Which short-run is in fact exhausting (tbh I wouldn’t have it in me) but long-run lessens the chance that your life partner remains casually oblivious to your struggles?

    • Abs

      Agreed. I think what is missing from the original question is how this person is reacting to this moment. I have known men in the past who have done things that were in fact inexcusable (to me and to others), but at the time I was not aware enough of my own right to be a person to even register that I had been hurt, so of course those men didn’t realize they had done something wrong.

      For example–the guy who assaulted me while I was asleep ten years ago. I didn’t actually think of that as sexual assault at the time, and was perfectly happy to go out with him again, so of course he wouldn’t have felt guilty at the time. If I had any interest in still being in touch with him, I think an important test would be how he has (or has not) learned, changed, made amends as times have changed. And I would say privately worrying about it while still behaving the same way is not even near enough, but some amount of soul-searching/behavior change probably would be?

      • Yeah like, people learn and feel regret and work to change… But they actually have to DO those things. And “did it along time ago and maybe feels a little guilty now” isn’t the same thing.

    • Zoya

      I’ve decided that I will pick the fight every time with folks in my life who equate harassment with consensual sex. That’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

    • Meg Keene

      I also felt very alarmed at the conflation of those two things, FWIW.

  • Joielle

    I’m definitely on board with Meg’s answer, because I too could not be married to someone who wasn’t a feminist. It sounds exhausting. If I had to have a whole debate about feminism 101 whenever I wanted to vent about a dude harassing me on the train or the latest sexual harassment news… hard pass.

    • SS Express

      Same. Like, I wouldn’t marry someone who was racist or homophobic, why would I marry someone who is sexist? (Because if you aren’t a feminist, that’s literally what you are.)

  • Hellno

    Yeah I’m not here for the “regular guy” fallacy that treats consent as something that’s oh so complicated and confusing. Nope. Consent is not that complicated. I can see how rape culture played a big factor in my own rape, but it doesn’t absolve my rapist of responsibility. Can we stop pretending guys don’t know they’re doing something bad when they sexually assault someone? They know. Amen to what Meg said, this “regular guy” better be donating part of his paycheck every month and doing his own work on hisself, not leaving the women in his life to drag his ass to the baseline of human decency.

  • topscallop

    The question of consequences is one I find really interesting, especially in light of the debates in liberal circles about Al Franken being pushed to resign (for the record, I think he was right to step down and we need to keep a clean house in order to not be hypocrites). But for the “regular guy” the LW is talking about, I’m not sure what consequences they’re so afraid of facing. It’s unlikely they’ll be held accountable in any significant way for a past “mistake” if that’s what we’re calling it. I agree with all the APW editors above, if the guy in question actually committed assault or harassment, he’d better be atoning for it now if he wants to stay in a relationship with you.

    But I think the consequence these guys are really worried about is having to change their behavior such that they aren’t always going to get what they want from whomever they want, they might have to share the power or the spotlight or the benefits in the workplace, or the household burdens. It’s being forced to understand their privilege and acknowledge that they didn’t actually earn everything they’ve gotten, which is a pretty scary thought for many as it makes them consider their competence and merits. So what do we do with those guys? My approach when someone seems entrenched is to ask a lot of questions to try to get them to question their underlying assumptions. But getting pissed off can work sometimes, too. Like when a friend’s Republican boyfriend insisted before the last election that he was only “fiscally conservative” but socially liberal. When I pointed out that he was basically telling me that his wallet was more important than my rights, his jaw dropped and I could see the wheels turning. I don’t know that I changed his mind, but at least he stopped holding forth on what a good person he was for having gay friends.

    • The whole consequences debate honestly blows my mind a little. Like, I deal with plenty of consequences from choices I made in my late teens and early twenties. I know someone who lost a job over a fairly innocuous subtweet. Actions having consequences is like, adulthood 101… In what universe sexual harassment exempt from that?

      • topscallop

        Ours, unfortunately. Well, for white dudes at least, especially of a certain level of family wealth. Brock Turner comes to mind. Have you heard about that neo-nazi teenager (17 years old) who killed his girlfriend’s parents because they tried to stop them from dating? Apparently he will be tried as a minor if he survives his self-inflicted injuries, while a girl of color who killed her sex trafficker in self defense was tried and sentenced as an adult, though she was 16 at the time.
        I wish actions had more reliable consequences and justice were applied equitably across the board. This is one reason I’m so concerned about the nominees the administration is trying to send to the judiciary.

    • Jess

      “the consequence these guys are really worried about is having to change their behavior such that they aren’t always going to get what they want from whomever they want”

      THIS. So much this.

  • Abs

    This conversation reminds me of a conversation I had in October 2016 with a friend who realized her boyfriend was going to vote for Trump. It was easy for me to immediately say “Of course you should break up with someone whose political views are repellent!” And my friend got upset because she could see the hypocrisy of it: it’s so easy for me, with my feminist husband, to say I would break up with a Trump voter immediately, because this isn’t actually a real thing to me. And so my friend started talking about how this guy wasn’t that political, and how it would be insane to break up with someone she loves over an abstract principle. And I got where she was coming from–it’s hard to say you would sacrifice love for principle, and I think most people who say they would are full of shit.

    BUT. The reason my friend was so upset about it was that it wasn’t really an abstract principle for her. It was about how safe she felt in the world, and whether this country was even for her. If she had broken up with him, it wouldn’t have been because she was choosing a principle over a person, it would have been because she realized that this person was not up for being the person she needed.

    If your husband or boyfriend “isn’t a feminist,” that can feel a lot like choosing a principle over a person, and I get why no one wants to do that. But if it feels that way, then I think you need to re-examine what feminism means to you and why. If it’s just a principle–just a dry set of beliefs that don’t relate to how you actually move through the world, I think maybe you need to look around at the world a bit more.

    • Abs

      P.S. Turns out the dude was joking about voting for Trump–he voted for Hillary and they’re fine. Not my kind of joke, but whatever.

      • Joielle

        Did he ever find out how upset she was about the joke? I’m with you – not my kind of joke either – but I wonder if those guys would change their tune if they realized how deadly serious this stuff is.

        • Abs

          Honestly I don’t remember if she ever did. I would have, but I pretty much stream-of-consciousness to my husband about most things, so that’s not saying a lot.

      • Ashlah

        Oh my god, my cousin did this! He posted some #MAGA shit on Facebook, lost a bunch of friends, got into a big fight with me…and then months later said he was just trolling. It made me so angry. Fortunately, he seems to have learned a lot and has made a complete 180 from the person he was then.

    • emilyg25

      But principles are how I guide my life and determine what’s right and wrong. I can’t say if I’d break up with a Trump voter instantly, but I have a hard time believing we could have a healthy relationship over the long haul.

      • MC

        Yeah – like, my principles are not abstract, nor are my husband’s. And I also side-eye people who say they’re “not political” because it usually means they prefer to be ignorant about the ways that politics affect peoples’ lives…

  • mjh

    My husband is a feminist of the talk the talk and walk the walk variety, and I wouldn’t have been up for marrying anyone who wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t said or done sexist things in the past and it doesn’t mean he never makes any mistakes with this stuff now. What it *does* mean, is that if he finds himself thinking in a way that is incompatible with his feminist beliefs, he calls it out, dissects it, and works to remove that type of thought from his mental vocabulary, And if something shitty from his [pre feminist/head in the sand] past comes up that doesn’t line up with his current beliefs, he’ll own up to it, call it for what it is, and be willing to discuss it. Most feminist guys still have at least some unaware sexist choices in their pasts, but how they deal with it matters.

    I think our expectations of our partners’ relationship with feminism is like that of any other belief system or ideology. We all have the right to need what we need from them, and there’s nothing wrong with picking our relationships in accordance with that. And if we’re with someone who doesn’t share feminist values with us, and we realize later into our relationship that sharing that value is very important to us, I don’t think that’s something we need to deal with on our own. I think people may be inclined to see a woman wanting her household/family to be a feminist family to be seen as less of a valid need or desire than wanting to be a Hindu (or Jewish or Muslim or Catholic or whatever religion) family. If we understand wanting religion, language, or culture to be shared, why should we view foundational values like egalitarianism any differently?

    Long story short, if “regular guy” means “guy who carries sexist attitudes I’m not comfortable with”, I think it needs to be dealt with like any other problem. Figure out you needs and then talk to your partner. If they think you’re making a big deal out of nothing, explain to them that it’s an essential value that’s important to you. If they love and respect you, they should hear you out.

  • Eh

    My husband grew up in a family where racism, homophobia and sexism is normal. As an adult, he has had many things to unlearn. If my husband was not willing to have his views challenged then our relationship would have ended a long time ago. He is working on it, however his knee jerk reaction to some things is still what his parents taught him, but he is starting to catch himself and we talk it out afterwards.

    We have a 2.5 year old daughter who loves everything under the sun. She plays with tools and cars while wearing her twirly pink skirts. Her favourite books are about aliens and trucks, and she sings and rocks her teddy bear and dolls to sleep.

    Last week I saw that Sarah Michelle Gellar was criticized after posting a picture of her son getting a manicure (which someone described it at “feminist child abuse”). My husband’s reaction was that he is not interested in having his nails painted, but that her son probably wanted a manicure. (Note: I think it would be hard to force a five year old to have his nails done against his will, without using restraints – which would be actual child abuse.)

    We tell girls that they can do anything they want, but boys doing things deemed “girly” is still taboo. I find that women are empowered now to expect an equal partnership but that many men were not taught the skills required. It still seems pretty normal that boys are not expected to clean or cook or communicate or do emotional labour (all things my MIL is proud that she did not teach her sons). Obviously, some parents did teach these skills to their sons (who are now adults), and parents today seem to be more conscious of the issue, but the larger societal views seem slower to catch up.

  • I think this is talking about the kind of husband like my husband. He is a pot stirrer. A moderate conservative (mostly on gun issues and state’s rights, not religious or lifestyle issues). A hypocrisy pointer outer. He infuriates me sometimes because I am a moderate liberal (mostly on lifestyle issues but conservative on national security and fiscal issues, we actually agree more than we disagree). He loves to argue and play devil’s advocate.
    He and I talked about the #metoo campaign when it started and I detailed to him some of my experiences. He thinks that people tend to whine and that allegations are often overblown (true, but not really the best lens to view this discussion I think). He argues that *potentially unfounded* allegations are destroying people’s careers and that people are all caught up in the drama of who did what and looking down on people (actually, I totally agree with that and think it distracts from the root issue to get caught up in drama). He can see the lines between harassment and rape and unwanted attention but thinks that people, are overreacting by having a potential partner sign documents agreeing to terms of sex beforehand (yup, super romantic). He feels that we as a society have decided to freak out rather than address issues. He has also taken a phone call from me a few years ago when a drunk man at a gas station accosted me and I called him shaking in the car. He wanted to know if he needed to come down there right away and if he should bring his gun. He is protective and loving. He doesn’t catcall women and knows that is wrong and disrespectful. He will always be there for our little girl and remind her that she can be anything when she grows up, the President, an astronaut, a lawyer, or a stay at home mom. But he will always roll his eyes when someone says “HERstory” instead of history.
    He has never described himself as a feminist but he is comfortable calling me his sugar mama and has not worked full time since we got married almost 8 years ago (he’s a student and has had health problems and is about to graduate!). He doesn’t care that I make more than him and may always be the breadwinner. He is NOT a person who has engaged in sketchy pressured experiences. He DOES respect women as equals but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t laugh at misogynist jokes (ok, I will laugh at them too, who doesn’t like Family Guy anyway?). He understands that men and women are equal but very different and have different strengths and weaknesses (biologically and emotionally). He coached me through childbirth and cut our daughter’s umbilical cord. He changes diapers like a pro and is an engaged and loving father. Sure, he doesn’t really cook dinner or clean much without major prodding or company coming over (honestly, neither do I).
    But does that mean he isn’t a feminist? Does that mean he is to be sidelined as “against us” because he doesn’t regularly “talk the talk”? Why can’t his actions speak louder than his words? This third grouping of men that are not out rallying and scoff at the vagina hats worn at the women’s march (honestly I did too, silly looking hats. and I didn’t attend the march either because I felt there was too much complaining and blaming others, etc but that’s for another comment section), but that still support women’s equality and reproductive rights.
    How do I deal with a husband of this third variety? (he’s not a predator nor is he a protester, he’s just a guy)
    I speak up when he makes a comment I disagree with, we hash it out and learn something from eachother. I treat him with respect and he does the same for me (and when one of us doesn’t we call eachother out on it). We keep an open dialogue and I don’t write him off because we disagree on some things. I cannot expect him to understand what it is like to be followed by a man who angrily demands that you smile at him. But I also know he would never do that and would intervene if he saw it happening. I cut the grass, take out the trash, change light bulbs, and kill spiders because…#feminism….we are both responsible for that stuff. He will pick up the baby from daycare, go to the grocery store, clean the toilet, and do the dishes (well, sometimes). He is free to have his feelings about things just as I am. He is free to complain about SJW’s out to cleanse the world and trying to correct everyone. I also know he’s got my back

  • Anon for this

    Oof, Katie, do I ever feel you. Not with my SO, but with so many other men in my life. I’m part of a social dance community and probably 25% of the men have been non-consent-y with me in the past few years, more further back. This isn’t about kisses and sex, this is about putting their hand on the back of my neck when it should be between my shoulder blades, positioning their bodies so my boobs are pressed into their arm, ‘leading’ moves a bit too forcefully. Some don’t realize they’re doing it and at least attempt to adjust when called out. Others don’t understand what’s wrong about it at all. I don’t think we should kick all of them out – at some point, we need to retrain the majority of men, not banish them. I figure I’m the right person to do it, so I say something. Over and over again. Until I’ve reached my capacity for the day or week or month and I stop. And I feel bad about that, because then those men go on to dance with people ten years younger than me and half as confident and I should have said something and I didn’t.
    On the marriage side, I keep thinking of one of my grandpas. He was sexist, in a thousand medium ways. He would constantly comment on women’s attractiveness – but my grandma convinced him not to to their faces. Again, I don’t think cutting him out of my life would have been the right choice, and I’m glad my feminist grandma didn’t either. He made a lot of progress thanks to her, though he never quite ‘got it’ as well as she would have liked.

  • Elizabeth

    I feel like where I fall down is the bridge.

    I wasn’t raised by a feminist. I contributed to rape culture and sexism. I was raised in a conservative, extremely religious home. And I agreed with it for many years until I walked away after college. I was part of the problem.

    I didn’t become a feminist overnight. I wasn’t born knowing the jargon and the buzzwords and the terminology. I researched it on my own over time. I feel like I’m really far deep into it and I get it now, but if I were to go back to me five years ago and talk to her the way I talk to people in my feminist circles, I’d be totally bewildered.

    I need the tools to translate what we already know to someone who’s never heard it. To say it the way they understand and build that bridge to what we all know to be true. I feel like sometimes we can get caught up in fully understanding each other and forgetting what it’s like to not be Woke. It doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a learning curve. And I don’t know how to get someone over that curve, because it didn’t happen quickly for me either.

  • Jane

    Katie, whoever you are, THANK YOU. I have been trying to ask about/articulate this “gap” of “regular guys” as well. I also find these interactions to be the most tiring. It is a massive relief just finding this article.

    What’s so frustrating is just how “regular” all this behavior is. It’s so regular, in fact, that it pops up more and more in all the “regular” men I know… my fiance included.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I completely disagree with Meg: I do not think it makes sense to divorce these men. I respect that as her personal decision, and I even envy that level of conviction and clarity. But I am not willing to cut these men out of my life. Many of these “regular” guys are great, loving, supportive partners and friends. These are men I deeply love. Which is why it’s so confusing and hurtful when they “just aren’t concerned by or interested in systemic sexism.” When I bring it up, I’m often deflected by eye-rolls, loud sighs, or attempts at humor. It is. so. tiring.

    What I keep coming back to is the fact that I only recently (like, within the last 5 years) identified as feminist myself. I, too, was raised in this society that produces these guys and this complicity. And when I was younger, my main concern was male attention. So it’s taken some time to get past being the “chill girl” who was complicit herself because complicity got me more positive male attention.

    Feminism has helped me live for myself instead of for men. But men will not experience the same personal salvation from this movement. So I think it will take longer. I think the best thing we can do as women is not cut these men out of out lives, but remind them (or flat-out TEACH them) that feminism is important to us because it is freeing, empowering, and essential to our happiness. If they love us back, they will be willing to listen. If not at immediately, then eventually. Because I’m not willing to divorce them, but I’m sure as hell not willing to shut up about it either.

    I think the reason it’s so tiring is because it’s some of the most important legwork.