America’s Next Bill Clinton!


Feminist relationships.

Over at feministing.com, Jessiva Valenti posted the results of a study that suggested feminists, more often than not, are in more meaningful and satisfying relationships. My first reaction was: no shit – for us, the political is personal, and so our empathy, compassion and love in the political sense can translate into a person sense, thus we often treat our partners with with those traits.

But allow me to bring up another point. Sometimes, in a relationship in which we are both feminists, things can also be extremely frustrating, because we are aware of the political oppressions all around us. As feminists, we thrive to take personal actions that are consistent with our political beliefs, and as such, it can be frustrating sometimes. Because the personal is political and our world is still extremely gendered and patriarchy, and are based on gender roles and sexuality, most of our personal struggles are about relationships and sexuality.

But by no way am I bitching. The personal struggles we face and the questions we ask ourselves are nothing compared to the political struggles many have – especially the women of the Global South.

The following, then, are a list of question I’ve come up with when it comes to relationships and feminism; please feel free to add yours.
1) Is it for me to feel a sexual desire for a woman at the moment of meeting her, without first knowing her as a person? I actually thought of this last night while meeting with a woman at a bar and talking a lot about — nothing. I still felt strangely sexually attracted to her, caught myself and scolded myself.

2) Is it okay for me to buy flowers for a woman-of-interest, knowing the kinds of message flowers might send, and the reinforcement of gender roles and chivalry that it carries? Also – is it really the romantic and genuine gesture, knowing the plights of flower growers in South America (mostly women) where these flowers are shipped? Am I wrong for buying flowers?

3) At a pick-up joint, is it okay to feel like “the man” in having won the attention and affection of a beautiful woman, knowing that she is highly sought after, but is with me? I feel like it’s almost a trophy pick-up – and that is wrong.

4) Is it okay to fall deeply and dangerously in love with someone, knowing the implications of gender roles we might have to give in to, being so in love?

5) Just how adventuous and kinky can we afford to be in our sexual practices? What of roleplaying? Is it wrong to be turned on or to participate in consentual sexual practices, if said practices, in real life, are oppressive to women?

6) Whose names shall we take after the wedding? How do we go about doing this without appearing abnormal to families and friends? How do we remain true to our feminist values, yet remain “real” to the world at the same time?

7) Of diamonds, shall we even consider it for our wedding? Blood diamonds?

8) How do we juggle how much to fall in love, yet remain true to the feminist cause? How do we balance our devotion to each other and feminism at the same time?

9) How do we show our love and affection to each other, yet at the same, show the world that we are equals – and be the shining examples of what healthy relationships should be all about?

A book that doesn’t have all the answers – but rather highlights the struggles between the personal and the political of feminism is called, “To Be Real,” by Rebecca Walker. I highly recommend it to all feminists!

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12 Comments so far
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I’m thinking the answers to these questions might be different for every couple, even a feminist couple. I won’t bother addressing every question but one big one for me:

I’m a feminist and my husband is definitely pro feminist. Upon our marriage, I did take his last name. To another feminist, this might seem preposterous and unthinkable, but to me, it was the only option that made sense for a variety of reasons. I really didn’t want to keep my dad’s last name and I couldn’t afford to make up my own. Changing to my husband’s name was a free way to get rid of my dad’s.

Comment by Sunny

1) Why would that not be ok? You’re a human, a sexual being– so is she. She might be having those same sexual attractions to you (or to any other male she meets). Sexual attraction is not an oppressor, it is a natural instinct we all possess. It is in how you handle and use that sexual attraction that oppression rears its ugly head.

2) I think people sometimes go overboard with the whole chivalry worry. Sure, it may be the “custom” for a man to open doors for women, but I’ll open a door for a man, too, simply b/c it’s a nice thing to do. Buying flowers for a person is a nice thing to d– whether you’re the man sending them to a woman or the other way around. Now, if you want to get into the plight of flowers-flying-across-the-world, that’s another issue. You could simply buy her gifts. But most of those gifts have also been flown around the world. As has most of the food you eat. So I’m not sure that particular battle is worth fighting… though that’s a personal choice of yours (and one that has much less to do with feminism or gender roles, I’d say).

3) If you’re picking her up JUST because of that feeling of “having won” then it’s wrong. If you genuinely like her and want to pursue some sort of relation with her (and are respectful of her and her feelings in doing so, then there’s no problem.

4) I’m not sure I understand this one. What do gender roles have to do with love? Love, and your relationship, is what you make of it.

5) Consenting adults can do as they please in the bedroom. Something as simple as a caressing of body parts can be a welcome gesture, or an assault of privacy. The distinction lies in how the action is given, and received, not in the action itself.

6) Many women don’t take their husband’s name these days. It’s not as unusual as it used to be. Besides, you have to make the decisions that feel right to you, and let the rest of the world think how it thinks. It can be hard going against what your family believes, but they may also be more accepting of these changes than you think. Besides, it’s your life, not theirs.

7) Again, not sure this is a gender-related question specifically, but you seem to not be a fan of blood diamonds and you can easily instead use other kinds of gemstones. I’ve never had a negative comment said to me about my sapphire engagement ring, and have received many compliments on it.

8) You don’t decide how much you fall in love. You sound like you’re trying to keep so much control of your feelings when it comes to relationships, which is kind of unrealistic. You’ll find a balance between love and your work, as every other couple does. It’s up to you and your partner to figure out exactly what that balance is, and you’ll do so by trial and error, and open communication.

9) How does showing affection for one another interfere with appearing as equals?

I think some of these points are good things to think of… and for others, I think you’re trying to think too much. ; )

Comment by Marcy

This is a bit of a related aside (sorry for the long comments). This may not be a popular opinion or one shared by many, but I personally don’t think that, just b/c you happen to follow traditional roles, you’re necessarily going against feminism or supporting a patriarchial society.

I am a feminist. So is my husband. We have fallen into fairly stereotypical roles in our marriage– he’s an engineer, the one who makes the money. In California, I worked as a teacher. Now, I’m not working, and will soon be a stay-at-home mom to our son. I’ve heard people claim that choosing to stay at home (gasp! horrors!) is basically setting me back to the 1950’s and making me a “kept woman.” I wholeheartily disagree.

Feminism is about choices– about being able to have the ability to choose how to live your life. Women who couldn’t work were oppressed by not being allowed to work outside the home if they so chose. If we force all women to work (b/c it’s what Modern Women do) then isn’t that also oppressing the women who’d rather raise their children at home? And even though he works and I depend on him for income, our relationship is extremely equal– we each make contributions to the relationship and to our home, and though they are very different, they are of equal value.

I’ve always known I wanted to stay at home with my kids. It’s not a decision I’m making b/c “The Man” told me I have to do so. It’s b/c it’s what I think is the right way to raise my family, and my husband agrees very much and is luckily able to support us doing so.

My point– you don’t necessarily have to do everything in opposition to the traditional roles in society. I think what matters is WHY you’re doing the things you do, and how you feel about it (and, in the context of a relationship, how your partner feels about it). You make the decisions that feel right to you.

Comment by Marcy

Sunny and Marcy – thank you both for sharing your personal stories. I think they helped with my “growth” as a feminist.

Marcy – I see where you’re going with this; however, I hold that position that feminism isn’t just about doing whatever we want to do – but rather, doing things that are beneficial to women, thus we always have to question our actions.

Perhaps it’s the activist in me speaking. In the end, I’d be happy to sacrifice my comfort for feminism.

Comment by profeministmale

Something not explicitly mentioned was child rearing. I had a professor in college who had a great solution. Both he and his wife were part time professors at colleges, and part time stay at home parents. He worked the first half of the week, she worked the second half of the week, and they were both home on the weekedends.

Comment by nakedthoughts

after I hit the button to post I just noticed I typed “weekedends” it must be time to go home from work.

Comment by nakedthoughts

Hi,

This is my first time posting a comment to your blog. I found you through the Jessica Valenti’s Feministing site (btw, you spelled Jessica’s name wrong in the first sentence of this blog post – fyi!), which I have only just begun to visit daily. All of this is so new to me, but so refreshing! I didn’t think there was anyone else out there who felt as strongly as I did on these kinds of issues – but now I have found a large community of feminist women and men. Because of Feministing and also your site, I am beginning to find my voice regarding these matters, and am becoming less ashamed of my views, which I have been repeatedly ridiculed for. It’s surprising how much contempt some people can have for a person who tries to stand up for what they believe in, particularly if it’s not the popular opinion.

ANYhoo, all of this has raised many questions in my mind, many along the same lines as the ones you are asking here. Specifically on my mind (today, anyways) is question #5. The obvious answer to this is, of course, two consenting adults may do whatever they wish in the privacy of their own homes/bedrooms/whatever, as long as all parties are comfortable with the activities involved. But what about those people who will tell me that, because I occasionally like to be tied up (or down!), I am not a “true” feminist, or that I am submitting to patriarchal oppression? Then I begin to second-guess myself, asking myself whether or not I really “enjoy” those activities, or if I’ve been “brainwashed” into thinking that I enjoy it… This is just scratching the surface, of course, as this train of thought can lead to more questions than answers. Mostly I just trust my gut instinct, and the motto “If it feels good, do it!” Luckily for me, I have a partner who is almost always very sensitive to my feelings in these matters, and almost never makes me do anything I’m not comfortable with.

Ooops – I guess I did some rambling there, and probably a lot of it doesn’t make much sense or pertain to what you were talking about. I’m sorry about that! I just felt the need to comment on at least one of your blog posts; I guess you could say I’m testing my “voice”! 😉

Comment by MzStilletto

Naked – child-rearing is not on my mind yet, it seems, because while those little critters are cute, I can’t see myself having any anytime soon. 🙂 But it IS an important question that we feminists need to address – and, as well, I didn’t notice that you spelled “weekends” incorrectly. Maybe it’s the long work week for me, too.

Comment by profeministmale

MzStiletto – thanks so much for dropping by and for your very complex and thoughtful response. 🙂 I am glad you found feministing.com. I think I am addicted to it, now. :0)

Comment by profeministmale

hey, love the blog. i thought you might want check out this forum…they’re talking about you there.

http://easypersiflage.com/blameforum/index.php?topic=1639.15

Comment by chili

Thanks. I’ll check it out. It’s certainly valuable info, because it allows me to examine myself and my beliefs, as well as change my spheres and perspectives!

Comment by profeministmale

Marcy –

Thanks! I think that in the end, one has to be real. I often get caught up in the real world vs. feminist theory perspectives, and it confuses the shit out of me. It’s my hope that level-headed people like you can steer me in the right directions.

Comment by profeministmale




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