Negotiating feminist agitation within a hetrosexual relationship

(60 Posts)
Thistledew Fri 30-Mar-12 19:39:34

My DP is one of the good guys. He is kind and respectful. He treats me (and women in general) as his equal. He does his fair share of the housework and we have discussed the possibilities of him either working part time or being a SAHD when we have children, so that I can focus on my career, which I love.

One way in which we differ is that he is quite self-contained in his world view. Life has been pretty good to him, and he is very comfortable in it, which means that he has little interest in thinking critically about why things are the way they are, and whether anything could be done differently.

He is broadly supportive of the feminist cause, and although he is guilty of placing more emphasis on the legal gains towards equality that have been made, rather than the social ones, this seems to be because he has not been confronted with the effects of social inequality, and has just never had cause to think about it. When I have pointed out things to him, he has been quick to appreciate what I have shown him: for example, he used to watch pornography, but after I pointed out to him how damaging it is to individual women and women as a whole, he completely changed his view of it.

But yet, earlier this week, I re-posted on Facebook this article - 5 ways modern men are trained to hate women after I saw it on one of my friend's feeds. DP was really upset. We had a big discussion about the article. He said that he felt it was unnecessarily aggressive and would in fact have the effect of alienating men from the feminist cause. His view is that the pace of change towards equality is steady and progressing, and that it is counter productive to try to force a big change, as it could create a backlash amongst men who would see it as a gender war, rather than something that benefits both sexes.

My first thoughts were that DP reacted this way as a result of unconscious male privilege. That the 'good guys' still expect women to be explicit in making it clear that we could not possibly mean them when we criticise patriarchal attitudes - amounting to a sense of deference to their position. Also, that even amongst the 'good guys' they are still shocked to hear a strong female voice that uncompromisingly criticises male behaviour, and are made to feel uncomfortable by it even if they agree with what is being said.

However, as we talked it through, DP said that the main thing was that he felt very hurt, and his first thought on reading the article was "I hope that she does not think that I am like that".

I am confident that this was a genuine feeling of hurt on the part of DP, and not any attempt to manipulate. So my question is, how can we as feminists best try to tackle the patriarchy, without hurting the decent men in our lives, but without compromising on our beliefs and what we need to say? Has anyone else had a similar issue in their relationship, and if so, how did you deal with it?

OP’s posts: |
CatitaInaHatita Fri 30-Mar-12 20:44:00

Weeeelll, Thistle, I didn't much like the article either mainly because it appeared to start from the premise that men can't control their biological urges and are therefore somehow vunerable to women. I think this a lot of patriarchal crap quite honestly and I felt it ruined what could have been a good article.

Do you think perhaps it was this angle that upset him? Did he note that the article was written by a man? (It's just the way you describe it, it appears to me that he thinks it was written by a woman. But I am perhaps misunderstanding you). I wouldn't describe it as a feminist text, personally.

As for upsetting him, I think that sometimes this is going to be unavoidable. The patriarchy has created some pretty much upsetting situations for both sexes and tip toeing around it isn't going to help much.
I can only suggest that you make clear that you know that there is a difference between "men as a group" and individual men, just as there is a difference between "patriarchy" and "men". Getting upset at group behaviour or patriarchal setups is not the same as getting at him individually.

blackcurrants Fri 30-Mar-12 21:01:50

I thought the article was crap (and anti-feminist) too, and so did a feminist writer I like, if that's any help.

Perhaps it would help him to get over some of his discomfort if he can understand patriarchy as a system - like the class system, like the capitalist system, in which some (males) benefit at the expense of others (females). He's not some evil perpetrator, he's as much bound up in it as you or I - up to the point where he see it, and starts to react. If he gets defensive, well, that's partly because his worldview (I am a decent bloke and do decent things) is being attacked.
because he benefits from the oppression of women - all men (to varying extents) do. he didn't start it, he's not hitler, no one is saying he is. But now he knows how it works - now he knows. And what HE personally decides to do about that information is where the real measure of his character comes out.

Good luck, OP. I think he'll make it, if he's able to see a system in place.

IAmSherlocked Fri 30-Mar-12 21:36:02

The article is crap, which may be why your DH objected to it!

ecclesvet Fri 30-Mar-12 22:05:09

"even amongst the 'good guys' they are still shocked to hear a strong female voice that uncompromisingly criticises male behaviour"

Are you talking about yourself, or the author of the article? Because I don't think 'David Wong' is a strong female voice.

BasilFoulTea Fri 30-Mar-12 22:22:09

Why is he feeling hurt?

Why does he think the nobbers of the article are anything to do with him?

It's only relevant to him, if a) he's a nobber like those in the article or b) he supports and maintains those nobbers.

Also maybe he doesn't recognise himself in that stereotyped description as well - that tapping into the "men think with their dicks" nonsense, which is simultaneously unbelievably insulting to men who are fully human and use their brain to think and used to excuse them when they behave with inhuman unkindness and cruelty to the women in their lives they claim to love. To read that this type of nobber is him - well, to a nobber that's a bit of a rueful larf, but to a man with a heart and a brain, I can imagine it's a total insult.

lostmywellies Fri 30-Mar-12 22:28:46

Thanks for the link, blackcurrants; that's an excellent article.


Bumperlicious Fri 30-Mar-12 22:29:15

Haven't read the article, but I think your question is a good one any, as my v good and equalitarian (domestically) DH has at times been baffled by my feminism. We had a few arguments over it too. I ended up making him a power point presentation on why he should be interested in feminism, a really cobbled together one. And bless him, he took in in good spirit grin

But it is still hard for them to understand the bigger picture sometimes. And easy to take it personally too.

FromGirders Fri 30-Mar-12 22:36:28

I'm also married to one of the good ones, what I like to call a Reasonable Human Being.
When I go off on a MN inspired feminist rant, he also gets fairly uncomfortable. He feels (and he says this, not me) that he's being called on to defend or explain his sex as a whole and that there is no defence. Again, his words.
He knows / realises that there is a system (patriarchy) that he benefits from, and that it's shit for most people. But as neither of us has worked out What To Do about it, we just have to try and live our lives as best and as fairly as we can.
Which still feels like a bit of a cop out. But I'm not sure what else to do. I'm not ready for marching and shouting just yet.

FromGirders Fri 30-Mar-12 22:37:34

That's it bumperlicious, he takes it personally.
And it's not meant personally. If he was a twat I wouldn't have done him the honour of marrying him.

Bumperlicious Fri 30-Mar-12 22:54:08

Here's the power point I did.

CatitaInaHatita Fri 30-Mar-12 23:43:43

Wow BumperD. That is very cool. I am impressed.
<Steals it>

BertieBotts Sat 31-Mar-12 00:04:00

I think it is hard, specially if you've kind of increased your feminist awareness since you've got together. It's like, first you learn to pick out the men who are actively misogynist and avoid them, and then you realise there's this whole other category of men who are "good guys" but are totally and utterly unaware of their own privilege, and it's frustrating, and very very rare to find someone who is aware too.

DP basically accepts that some things are shit for some women, but thinks on a general level that things are equal and the main differences are down to either choice, or individual men who are twats, not an oppressive system which we are all influenced by.

So, you can basically take one of a few approaches - go for the drip drip one, keep bringing up discussion points, mentioning things, open his mind, although this shouldn't be your job to do. You could send him a few articles on privilege, examining one's own, male privilege in particular, get him to read some books, etc. Or you could give it up as a lost cause and either ignore (I suspect this would become more difficult if you learn more about feminism) or say, actually, I can't be with someone whose worldview is so fundamentally different from my own.

I'm opting for the first one because I don't really mind this last part - I learn things from DP after all. But it does get incredibly frustrating at times, and sometimes I wonder if there is an end point - when I hit a brick wall of something he doesn't want to accept or get so frustrated with it I have nowhere left to go. But generally, he's an open minded bloke and we have interesting discussions about all kinds of topics so this is no different really.

Didn't read the article but if it's like everyone else is saying I would be offended too grin

messyisthenewtidy Sat 31-Mar-12 00:28:34

I don't think the article was that bad, although obviously it painted men as more sex-obsessed than I hope they are. On the other hand quite a few men have pointed to man's so-called insatiable biological drive as justification for porn, the burqha, objectification of women in lads mags etc.

Anyway, I can understand your position as well as your DP's. I remember reading an article written by an american black feminist on the media's beauty standards. It talked about white women in a way that really put my back up, even though I knew the article's premise was right and that it wasn't talking about me personally. I think it's just a natural reaction that you feel hurt and miffed on behalf of your own social group, and you feel compelled to defend them even if you are not guilty of the crime that they are being accused of, IYSWIM.

I often wonder about feminism being alienating to men by being overly aggressive especially as I have a DS, but at the end of the day you have to call a spade a spade and can't spend your time pussyfooting around and not saying the truth for fear of causing offence.

Maybe if you try to point out the ways in which feminism benefits men and alleviates some of their problems that might help.

BertieBotts Sat 31-Mar-12 00:55:01

I haven't read all of the links on this site, but it has some good links on privilege.

Gay40 Sat 31-Mar-12 01:11:10

Too much like hard work. Be a lesbian, it's way easier.

PlentyOfPubeGardens Sat 31-Mar-12 09:56:56

Well, the article is crap because it reinforces the myths that men are complete slaves to their penises, that women are not really into sex and that because of this we're not very creative.

Speaking more generally though, I recognise the problem Thisledew talks about. Feminism is challenging stuff - it makes me feel uncomfortable at times - it's far easier to bimble through life feeling all empowerfulised by your crap choices than to actually face what's going on. Of course it's uncomfortable for a nice man, who probably thinks he's got where he is in life entirely because of his own efforts and inherent talents, to have to face his unexamined priviledge and the ways he has quite inadvertently got where he is at women's expense.

messyisthenewtidy touches on the analogy with racism and I agree. It's uncomfortable for me as a white person to think about white priviledge and to examine my own unconscious racist attitudes, but that's not a reason to not do so - change is frequently uncomfortable even when it's positive, necessary change.

sunshineandbooks Sat 31-Mar-12 10:45:13

Bumper - that's a great PP. I think we should make it compulsory for all PSHE lessons in school.

Thistle I hope you've got some clarity from this thread. It's difficult for men who don't actively oppress to get their head round. I think the way to try to explain it is to say you're talking about men in terms of group behaviour rather than individual men. Once he's got his head around that, you can move forward on to the discussion of benefitting from male privilege without being aware of it at a later date. Good luck. smile

blackcurrants Sun 01-Apr-12 00:59:46

Something else I have found handy for the 'but that hurts my feelings!' crowd is this:

Consider ye a Victorian coalminer. Working class, life is hard, labouring white man. In Country Durham, in, say, 1850.
Is that man personally enslaving and/or oppressing the black man in the west indies who toils all day in the sugar plantations?

Is that man nonetheless benefiting from a system which oppresses black people, valuing them less than white people, thinking it's okay to exploit and oppress them.

How? Well, the simplest answer is the price of sugar. In 1700 it was so precious it was kept locked up. In 1850 this coal miner can put it in his tea, on his porridge, buy boiled sweets for a farthing, etc. Sugar has gone from being a luxury commodity to an everyday one. And because he is white, he never needs to even think about whether or not that's a good thing. The system is SO good, he never even needs to see the systematic oppression of one people to the benefit of another, he can benefit from being white without knowing it's happening.

It doesn't make him a bad person, unless he finds out that he has white privilege and starts rationalizing that 'that's just the way things are' or 'I didn't do it' or 'some black people actually prefer to be oppressed/bring it on themselves.'

Sometimes the Decent Ones can grasp an analogy to racism quicker than they can grasp actual sexism. It's a shame, but it's true. And it shows how far we have to go.
(tangent: A teacher friend of mine was shock at one of his colleages telling a snivelling eight year old to "stop being such a girl." He said "aside from the hideous implication that (1) feelings are bad and (2) only girls have them, the pupil WAS a girl: it's not like she'd tell another kid to stop being so fucking black, is it?")

inde Sun 01-Apr-12 08:53:58

How would you like to be married to somebody though who was continually lecturing you with regard to their political views? For instance telling you not to use their iphone because the price is subsidised by people working in awful working conditions. Or telling you the clothes you are wearing were manufactured by virtually slave labour. I don't buy fruit if it says produced in Israel in case it was grown on stolen land but my wife is free to make her own choice.

PlentyOfPubeGardens Sun 01-Apr-12 09:47:09

Who's talking about 'continually lecturing'? Things get talked about as they come up.

How would you like to be married to someone who dismissed your lived experience or who saw your sort of people as not quite human? If your DW was black, would you be so dismissive if she wanted to talk about racism?

inde Sun 01-Apr-12 10:00:26

I would hope that I would support my wife if she were guilty of racism. I would hope that she wouldn't make me feel guilty for what white slave owners did or hold me accountable for what the edl get up to. My wife and I sometimes discuss the Palestinian situation but if she were Jewish and not personally responsible for the problem I would be more sensitive and be careful not to make out that her being Jewish made her culpable.

inde Sun 01-Apr-12 10:06:23

I guess what I am saying is that it is a matter of degree. Of course you are going to discuss opinions that you hold dear with your partner. In the case I gave of being married to someone of the Jewish race if they became offended I might think I have gone to far and reign it in a bit. I know I am going to get slaughtered for this and that is understandable as forum members feel very strongly about the issues under discussion but I'm glad my wife doesn't lecture me all the time about things I'm not guilty of. Life is too short.

BasilFoulTea Sun 01-Apr-12 10:16:21

I think people in normal relationships are probably more capable of communicating with each other than you seem to be able to apprehend inde. I wouldn't worry too much about other couple's communication skills

inde Sun 01-Apr-12 10:17:23

But I'm not saying life is too short to fight sexism. Or to fight against for instance the shockingly low amount of men convicted of rape or dv. It would never cross my mind to be violent to a women though.

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