Q: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 when you bring up feminism at all it 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
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.
This post originally Ran on APW in October 2013.