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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

If you're in a heterosexual relationship, how do you assert your feminist principles?

67 replies

kittycat37 · 22/08/2010 19:10

I'm interested in what others say about this because I think about it with my own relationship - I'm not sure how successful I am.

Within the bounds of our own relationship I think it works quite well - the problems arise from outside influences.

For instance, if it's just me, DH and DCs at home we take equal responsility for them.

However if MIL is there, she'll start saying to DCs 'tell Mummy to wipe your nose' etc as though it's SOLELY my responsiblity. She'll react as though anything DH does in that realm is AMAZING (just because he's male).
She doesn't do it maliciously, but it really annoys me and one of these days I know I will snap at her which won't be productive.

Also whilst DH and I take equal finacial responsiblity, I find I'm often subject to the 'how do you manage to work AND have kids?' rubbish which he never is, as far as I can tell.

None of these things are earth shattering, obviously, but I think they do have a subtle effect which potentially can be quite pernicious - do any of you wiser feminists than me have strategies for dealing with the daily shit I'm describing?

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DuchessOfAvon · 22/08/2010 19:34

Nope - its just an ongoing conversation and constant adjustments.

Prior to having kids, I felt DH and I had a modern marriage. We both worked, domestic chores were shared equally unless, by mutual consent, one of us assumed responsibility on behalf of the partnership. A cleaner helped. Grin.

I went back to work 4 days a week and DD! went with DH to his workplace nursery, THis meant he played a pretty full role in her care, gave her dinner and I made it home for bed & bath.

When we fell pg with DD2, we took a long look at our finances, family and what we wanted for our future and decided, together, that I would give up work for the short -term (prob until both kids at school). This was how we wished to structure our partnership - depsite the fact I was the major wage-earner up to this point.

Since I became a SAHM, I feel like I have whiplashed back into the 1950's. I do all cooking, shopping, housework, most of the garden and the bulk of the childcare.

I really struggle with this - and by association, we both really struggle with it. However during a recent argument DH , for the first time ever, used the fact that I don't contribute financially to the household as the clincher in pulling rank on me - his contribution, in his eyes, is intrinsically more valuable. He back peddled madly and is, I think, a little ashamed but - hey - at some level, that's what he believes.

My Mum thinks IABU because DH and my BIL are "better" than my Dad. But in my eyes, that ain't saying much. They are "better" but we still don't have workable, functioning and equally valued roles.

So - we constantly search for fairer divisions of labour or ways to value our time and contriubtions to the partnership _ I think DH is sick of it. But I refuse to stop talking about it.

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EgyptVanGogh · 22/08/2010 21:58

Duchess, when you say you struggle with being a SAHM, what do you mean?

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kittycat37 · 23/08/2010 00:06

Sorry - RL intervened - I hadn't abandonned the thread.

Duchess - I'm glad your DH at least realised his mistake in pulling rank with the financial thing>

i@m glad as well that you refuse to stop talking _ it@s the only way to maintain one@s sanity

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TheFallenMadonna · 23/08/2010 00:11

My MIL did the Hmm thing this weekend when I said that DH and I take it in turns to sew on DS's cub badges. We ignore her, and DH still sews on the badges.

Your question isn't really about asserting yourself in your relationship is it? Rather how to deal with people outside it. Them I ignore, largely (my MIL for example). Or argue with if I'm in the mood (not MIL - too awkward).

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DuchessOfAvon · 23/08/2010 09:29

I love being a SAHM - I struggle with other's preconceptions of what that means - and, as I have discovered, what deep down, DH understands that role to be.

And, perhaps, I am questioning my own preconceptions and prejudices.

My beliefs, as a feminist, are rooted in equality. A belief that gender should not pre-qualify one sex above another for any role.

In many respects, DH & I do very well. He plays a very active role in the parenting of the children, looks after them on his own quite abley and happily, and from time to time, gasp, will clean the cooker or mop the kitchen floor.

The difference between us is that he can and does shut off from it all. And what angers me is that I believe he does this in the knowledge that I will act as the safety net. IS that about me or is that because he has the implicit belief that I, as wife and mother, will do it. This is what I struggle with on a theoretical basis.

I remember him laughing at me when we were students and he watched me looking at his dirty coffee cup that had been hanging round the living room for days. He could see a very obvious struggle within me - the desire to clear it up and the refusal to pick up after him warred within me.

Its the same conflict now - do I do all that I do because we have defaulted unquestioningly to stereo-typed male/family roles?

I'm not putting this very well - I am too hungover this morning.Grin. I worry about it in my naval-gazing moments and generally life is too busy for many of those. But I do feel the need to keep an eye on him and myself to check that we aren't slipping into gender-biased assumptions within our partnership.

Fwiw, my MIL does believe that a woman is genetically disposed to do the washing-up and a man is genetically disposed to fix a car. So anything I can do to challenge that is fine by me. She is calmly smug that, to her eyes, I have finally confirmed to the destiny of my sex.

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DuchessOfAvon · 23/08/2010 09:31

Aargh - conformed not confirmed.

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sunny2010 · 23/08/2010 20:48

I was brought up not knowing how to do many things. I know how to clean up and organise stuff but I hadnt used an iron until I was 18. When I met my husband he had to come and pick up all my uniform and iron it for me and drop it back round to me before I could come out as I was in the military and was on daily inspections for 6 weeks as I couldnt iron without getting tramlines in stuff. I didnt even know that water had to go in an iron. I have never seen my mum iron or bake etc so I just never ever thought about learning.

I cooked my first meal 2 years ago of chilli with a jar sauce (I had been married 4 years!) and my husband taught me how to fry an egg etc. My husband used to have to do all of that for me!

My husband used to do all of that for me and no one batted an eyelid or said anything. I think there are a lot of young people like this nowadays of both sexes. I dont think its a feminist thing.


I was actually petrified of cooking even a fried egg when I got married in case I died of samonella poisioning! (Looking back how lame was I lol?)

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kittycat37 · 24/08/2010 23:17

Sorry - I've been neglecting this thread, having started it. RL has been getting in the way,

I see though that Mintybadger has started one that sums up a lot of the things I was trying to get at - on there there's discussion about the subtle ways one's independence can be become eroded (something I feel about myself) even within supposedly 'equal' relationships. I can't write more now - DC awake and must be sorted out.

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SkaterGrrrrl · 25/08/2010 07:28

Watching with interest as I'm a feminist who is about to have DC#1 and take a years maternity. Up until now we have had a very equal relationship ? both working FT and a fair division of household chores. Now im going to be on statutory maternity pay and as I'll be at home I expect more of eth chores to fall to me.

My MIL - who raised a very modern man in DH - comes out with unintentionally offensive statements from time to time. Eg SIL just had a baby and MIL emailed the whole family with photos, adding that ?[BIL] is helping [SIL] with the baby.? Why the feck is he ?helping? her ? its both their baby, they were both on mat/pat leave - so helping implies its her job and he merely has to assist. I do bite my tongue though as MIL is lovely and thanks to her I inherited a DH who cooks, cleans and changes the loo roll.

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EgyptVanGogh · 25/08/2010 12:20

I just threatened to get a full-time job at McDonald's, weekdays only.

This means DH would have to

a) quit his job and find a more flexible one, at lower pay or

b) transfer the exploitation to his mother, who may or may not agree, and would have to 1) live with us 2) take the children to live with her far away or 3) make up the guest bed so DH could move and live with her

c) keep his job but move us out of this rather nice place and into vastly cheaper accommodation out of town, also eat lentils daily and forego private club memberships, football tickets, etc

d) show some fucking appreciation for the fact that my hard work is hard and allows him to build his career.

That is all.

I'm starting to think that asserting my feminist principles is pretty futile unless I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm a WAHM whose flexible working and provision of childcare makes his career possible.

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EgyptVanGogh · 25/08/2010 12:20

Very part time WAHM. So part time I really should write SAHM - but the tiny income makes a big difference to our lifestyle.

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walksfarwoman · 27/08/2010 06:19

There is a patriarchal assumption that men can make choices about what they do but women must obey the strictures of the traditional feminine role, that of mother and wife/partner.
The difference is that men have a choice about the domestic chores and women by virtue of their sex have the domestic role ascribed to them, whether they like it or not. ( Its as if we signed a paper some where committing to all this drudgery, but somehow it got lost in time) Women = Domestic world and this is our ascribed default mode. Even out in the working world most jobs undertaken for pay by women are related to some form of domestic caring/servicing role....

It is what Freidan called the disease that has no name..her thesis implied that SAHM experience, over time an increased sense of insecurity about themselves and would feel bitter about the expectations that their men and family would have about their homing and caring skills and the demands that such 'duties 'placed upon them, lead to depression and unresolved inward focussed anger and rage.

How one navigates themselves as a women around this giant ship in ones living room is a matter of personal resolution between couples/partners but it always seems that if one compiles a chores list of who does what women are still doing the bulk of the domestic servicing of British families, according the the Guardian 2009 . Although men are said to be 'doing more', we have to understand where they started doing more from. The baseline was very low to begin with and so incrementally men in general are doing relatively little of the domestic chores or child care , whether or not their partners work or stay at home, even though it appears they are doing more! If you get my drift.

As a feminist I can see the dilemma faced by women here, but it is all about deciding for ones self 'where to draw the line'.....I have always felt that women demand so little and are grateful for just as little... so unless we demand more from those we are in relationships with then they will go on thinking that one is OK with the status quo and stare in amazement when one reaches 'melt down'....and all hell breaks loose....

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sunny2010 · 27/08/2010 06:36

'The difference is that men have a choice about the domestic chores and women by virtue of their sex have the domestic role ascribed to them, whether they like it or not.'

This wasnt ever true of my marriage. You only have to do what you chose to do. I am a woman who never cooked a meal for my husband, ironed etc. I had never done it for years I have learnt to do a bit since I had a baby but I am never going to cook a meal from scratch or be ironing a pile of clothes. I dont like it so I just dont do it. I told my husband I didnt know how to do it and wasnt good at it at marriage and if he didnt like it then dont marry me! I just like doing the hoovering, cleaning and organising the bills so my husband did the bits I chose not to. My mum was the same and it never affected her marriage. You have to find someone to marry who likes doing the things you dont want to do.

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sunny2010 · 27/08/2010 06:48

'As a feminist I can see the dilemma faced by women here, but it is all about deciding for ones self 'where to draw the line'.....I have always felt that women demand so little and are grateful for just as little...'

Also this isnt feminisms fault this is women who think they are not worth more. As I said within 2 weeks off meeting me my husband used to pick up all my work clothes take them to his and iron them and shine my shoes and then bring them back for me. (It does help that my husband is actually obsessed with ironing and I would go as far as classifying it as one of his hobbies! I am more the take something of the washing line and wear it nowadays)

Straight away I told him what I wasnt good at and as he loved me he helped me. I helped him in other ways by helping him with his coursework etc.

Its meant to be a team effort and if you are no good at something then why do it? I knew I was worth marrying whether I was good at typical marriage stuff or not, my husband has never used any tools. I dont care that he hasnt as much as put up a picture in nearly 8 years so what? Doesnt bother me.

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jollyma · 27/08/2010 07:07

I have a dh who is much more willing than me to do household chores but we still find we have our own "jobs" around the house its not really shared equally (usually w him doing more tbh). What has been interesting though is that since we had kids i have become the one who does most the child care bits, eg dressing them, feeding them etc. All this is fine w me as he ends up doing the more menial jobs. The one thing that gets in the way though is the kids social activities. Other peoples values mean this side of things is very much my responsibility and one of our only sources of friction.

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foreverastudent · 27/08/2010 14:26

If anti-feminists come on here they'll flame me for this but here goes...

I assert my feminist principles in my heterosexual relationship by:

-choosing when I had a child and not wasting my best reproductive years waiting for DP to grow up come around to the idea.

-not giving out DD my DP's surname

-not putting DP's name on DD's birth certificate (I made the sacrifices in having her therefore I think I have the right to full parental responsibility)

-not getting a joint account but getting DP to pay (most of) his wages into my account (I'm better with money)

-by only agreeing to let DP move into and live in my house on the understanding that I would never do any of the following for him: washing, dishwashing, ironing, putting away clothes, picking clothes off the floor, cleaning bath/toilet after he has used it, etc etc (you see where I'm going with this)

-sharing childcare 50/50 when we are both at home

-expecting him to ask first if he wants me to 'babysit' if he wants to go out-this works both ways

I know this sounds quite harsh but it has actually benefitted all of us. DP has a much closer bond with DD than I think he would have if he didnt do so much of the work of looking after her.

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JeanHunt · 27/08/2010 14:38

Haven't read all this, so sorry if I'm repeating.

I think that a lot of the post-DC collapse in equal roles just sort of happens by default.

So I take the admittedly risky stategy of just not doing stuff and expecting dh to pick up the slack. Somethimes he does, sometimes he doesn't and we live in chaos. But we still both know how to run a house, we still both know what it's like to do a full day's work and come home to a dirty sink and tired children, so we still both appreciate each other.

I assert my principles by challenging assumptions when they come up.

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elportodelgato · 27/08/2010 14:56

DH and I both work fulltime and we try very hard to also take equal responsibility for household jobs and childcare when we're not at work. He does pull his weight but I have to 'remind' him sometimes.

The big thing for me is that a filthy house, unkempt DC, lack of healthy meals, forgetting to send birthday cards and thank you letters etc reflect badly on me as a mother. DH feels no such pressure - these things do not reflect on him as a father even though they are equally his responsibility. I therefore put utterly unrealistic expectations on myself about what I should be achieving at work and at home to be a 'good' mother. This is due to outside pressure to some extent and sadly I do compare myself to uber-mummies like Nigella, Jules Oliver, Mariella Frostrup, all those annoying people, and then get depressed about my many enormous shortcomings Sad. I am absolutely a feminist but I am also a perfectionist and damn it I want to be professionally successful AND have a nice home, happy DC, be able to whip up lovely meals at the drop of a hat and also still somehow look gorgeous and be able to make witty dinner party conversation Grin. I really do want all these things, I don't know why. I feel extra pressure when the PIL are coming over as DH's mum is an absolute uber-mummy and I don't want to be found wanting.

Men of course know that all they have to do is hold down a job and take the DC to the swimming pool on a Saturday morning to be practically knighted for their services to fatherhood.

On a tangetial point, in terms of external pressure, it's just a small example but DD's nursery will always call me if they need to talk to one of us - the mother is the default position for things to do with child and home. One day DH was working from home and had dropped DD at nursery without any nappies. They called me up at work and I had to say 'this is DH's responsibility today, he is at home, I suggest you call him'. Frustrating.

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slug · 27/08/2010 15:07

When DD was just under a year old, DH quit his job and became a SAHD. As part of the deal he took over the shopping and learnt to cook for a family.

Now, 7 years later, we are both back in work, he still does the vast majority of the grocery shopping at least half, if not more of the cooking and picks DD up from afterschool care almost all of the time. The school and childcarer routinely call DH rather than me because he is the one they deal with on a day to day basis. She also has his surname, not mine.

This role switch has, I feel, been of great benefit to DD. She know, instinctively, that men can be nurturing and that the sight of a man cooking or changing a nappy is not something that requires commenting on. She also is well aware that choosing to work or stay at home can be a function of what makes you happy rather than of your gender.

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kittycat37 · 27/08/2010 21:34

'The big thing for me is that a filthy house, unkempt DC, lack of healthy meals, forgetting to send birthday cards and thank you letters etc reflect badly on me as a mother. DH feels no such pressure - these things do not reflect on him as a father even though they are equally his responsibility. I therefore put utterly unrealistic expectations on myself about what I should be achieving at work and at home to be a 'good' mother.'

I totally agree with this and feel this pressure too although I resent the double standard society seems to impose.

For me the difficult thing has been that I feel I have stepped off the career ladder (though I still work part time). I wouldn't have it any other way as want to be with DCs whilst they're tiny.....but......

my confidence feels like it's taken a huge knock. DH and I used to work in the same profession, often together and we were competitive with each other to some extent. I feel that he's secretly pleased that he can now monopolise that territory although he'd deny that vehemently if I suggested it.

The industry we were in was fairly sexist in certain ways and it used to rankle with me how male colleagues seemed to rank him more highly whereas I had to be 10 times better to get the same respect. Now I feel as though they regard my stepping back into motherhood as vindication of their entrenched sexist values. I never thought I would be living out this cliche. As a young woman I thought it would be easier to buck the trend.

Anyway it's made me determined to re-train and have another career when DCs are a bit older. Sometimes the studying I'm doing towards that feels like a life saver (I adore the DCs but could never happily be a full time SAHM).

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DuchessOfAvon · 27/08/2010 21:56

< it is all about deciding for ones self 'where to draw the line'.....I have always felt that women demand so little and are grateful for just as little... so unless we demand more from those we are in relationships with then they will go on thinking that one is OK with the status quo and stare in amazement when one reaches 'melt down'....and all hell breaks loose....>

Exactly - you have summed it up perfectly.

And that's what I meant about talking about it - that and the constant vigilence.

Its like an onion - for the first few layers we do pretty well. The girls see DH cahnge nappies and me fixing things with tools but I fear that our deeper layers aren't so reconstructed. We have to challenge ourselves.

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booyhoo · 27/08/2010 21:59

i felt unable to do it in my relationship so i ended it. tehre were other issues aswell that weren't just related to my feminist opinions or equality but they were a factor. i honestly don't know if i will be able to have the sort of relationship i need. i have never met anyone that has made me feel like a true equal.

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kittycat37 · 27/08/2010 22:28

it is all about deciding for ones self 'where to draw the line'.....I have always felt that women demand so little and are grateful for just as little... so unless we demand more from those we are in relationships with then they will go on thinking that one is OK with the status quo and stare in amazement when one reaches 'melt down'....and all hell breaks loose....>

I agree with that.

But I also think that putting all the onus on individual women within relationships to challenge the status quo is a tall order.

Some of the problems operate subconsciouly I think, like women's greater sense of responsiblity and guilt towards domestic issues. I think this double standard is reinforced at a societal level and runs very deep through social conditioning and is difficult to tackle thoroughly on a day to day basis.

I think consciousness raising is still important as it was in the 1970s to raise women's expectations and to challenge deeply ingrained learnt behaviours.

I'm rambling a bit but I hope that sort of makes some sense.

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booyhoo · 28/08/2010 10:56

kitty i agree with you. i think that is the reason i know i will struggle to find a relationship in which i am truly happy. the womans 'role' as caregiver to children and the idea that housework is women's work is so deeply ingrained and is still being reinforced that i think any relationships i have will mean i am either forced to re-educate my partner on how things should be or would just be constantly fighting against what they think should be happening rather than both of us approaching our relationship from the same page.

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walksfarwoman · 29/08/2010 01:23

'But I also think that putting all the onus on individual women within relationships to challenge the status quo is a tall order'

I agree with that kittycat and omitted to add that point to my original rant....
Of course many individual womon experience different approaches and it always depends on how we as womon navigate our way through relationships,what we negotiate and how we enforce agreements with male partners.
I was making generalisations and using info that has recently been published about the fact that even in 21st C men in hetero relationships are still doing the minimal domestic chores and childcare....that is still the norm in general in the UK. Womon are still doing the bulk of the domestic work at home and in public.....

On a personal level my DH pulls his weight effectively always has done but he still appears able to make a choice about it.....even though I make choices about what I do.....the assumption seems to be that in the final analysis I will pick up the major tab...even though this happens less and less.....

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