October 17, 2012

Being A Feminist In A Relationship

The other day on Pinterest (because I'm a woman in my late twenties) I saw a quote that said "You're the type of guy I'd make a sandwich for." As a born feminist, it spoke to me. The boyfriend and I were discussing a very religious wedding he'd recently worked, where the priest told the bride that she needed to submit to her husband, and joked to the groom that a happy wife means a happy life. We both thought that was a ridiculous thing to say to two people about to commit their lives together: why not just politely advise the couple to do what they can to make each other happy?

I've been a feminist since before I knew what that word meant, but there are some stereotypically feminine things I really enjoy doing. I love cooking, cooking for others, I care about animals more than most people and love taking care of animals (and plants, though I have greater successes with animals), I enjoy being in an educational position, I'm a neat freak and am constantly cleaning or tidying up. And recently, I've developed an interest in home decorating (rather, discovered that I have a style). While there was a time in my life I thought my future held children and motherhood, I still never wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom, never wanted to be wholly financially dependent on my husband, never desired the traditional housewife role. As I grew up and realized it was never my dream to have children, just me mentally fulfilling the expectation that came along with my gender and dating guys who also made those assumptions, I inched closer towards being a modern feminist.

But I still want to get married, weird as that may sound. I still want to give up my name, have a wedding, be ridiculously in love, and adopt all the pets. I want to make one man feel like the luckiest man alive, and I'll want to make him a sandwich, if only because it would make him happy in that moment*. I would do that because making my spouse happy would be incredibly important to me, just as making me happy would be incredibly important to him. 

This idea - of mutual happiness - at first seemed out of line with traditional feminism; some women refuse to cook, or never bother learning how to be good at it, because it's "anti-feminist." These women might have children but only because they physically have to be the ones to do so  if they want them (we still haven't advanced that far in modern medicine) but will refuse to do anything but the most basic of childcare duties, throwing themselves into their jobs instead. But doing something for the sake of doing it is as bad as not doing something for the sake of not doing it.

In addition to being a feminist, I've also been a cynic pretty much since puberty and my adult years have only solidified those views. After watching marriages fall apart, see couples stay together for the wrong reasons, and see people be so sure they'll end up happily ever after only to see their relationships crumble (always painfully), my cynicism grew. I consoled women who saw their relationships completely fail when they were so sure they wouldn't. I thought maybe I'd marry my high school boyfriend only because he was so sure we were soul mates. I thought I'd probably end up marrying The Ex only because we'd been together so long. It was only after those relationships ended that I realized how wrong I'd been. But I was never so sure. I was never even sure. The very idea of being sure, much less so sure, is terrifying.

I started to realize I didn't really want kids when I was in college. I grew up the oldest of three in a home daycare house. There were always kids around. Always. And I helped. When I came home from school I popped a bag of popcorn and sat at the kitchen table to start my homework, and our regular daycare kid would come and sit with me and share my popcorn. Because I grew up with kids literally always around I knew what to do with them at a very young age. By the time I got old enough to start thinking about my own future I knew what work kids were, and knew that I wasn't very eager to get on that. The people I admired were childless: my uncle, who married in his 50s, never had kids and was able to spoil my sisters and I. The Director of HR at my first post-college job married in her late 30s, got herself snipped, and was able to buy lovely clothes, a sporty car and spend the night in a hotel with her husband, just because. Once I realized I could easily not worry about money, have leisure time, experience a marriage and spoil my nieces and nephews I was hooked.

This idea of modern feminism is sort of a blend of traditional female roles and the super feminist ideals. While we may not want children, we still want to experience the love and acceptance that comes with being married. We watched our parents do all the wrong things with us and each other, make the wrong kind of sacrifices, and we've learned. We'll get married for the right reasons, and if we have kids we'll remember why, and we'll teach them how to be good people. I think we'll see stronger families and relationships because of this.

*Should that man not eat sandwiches very often I would happily make him something else. Preferably something I also want to eat, so we can eat it together.

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