How to be a feminist boyfriend, pt I

Bourgie read something interesting and she thinks other people should read it too. Courtesy of Bitch, Ph.D.

Housework

Not being a jerk about housework involves much more than just doing what you’re asked to. This is not the time to say “but sometimes I cook!” Obviously, if you’re not doing your fair share, you need to work on that, and do so immediately. But since this is directed more at men who already have some awareness of gender issues, I’m going to dig a little deeper. If you truly want to understand how to make your housework a conflict-free zone, you need to start paying attention to mental work. Who’s the person to say “we need more toilet paper,” “I think the trash is getting smelly,” or “we’re having guests tomorrow so we better get this place in shape”? If your relationship is anywhere close to the average, chances are, it’s your girlfriend. Luckily, doing more mental work is easy: 1) Pay Attention. 2) Speak out when you notice something that needs to be done. 3) Even better, offer to do it. A sentence like “I think we’re running out of clean clothes, and there’s no detergent left, want me to pick some up on the way home?” will be music to your lady’s ears. If you claim that you somehow just can’t notice what’s going on with the house (and I don’t really believe you; chances are you just don’t give a shit), then look at it as a game. It’s like those “how many coca-cola bottles are there in this picture?” kid’s games.

If you and your girlfriend don’t live together, you should direct your attention to the way she keeps her house, and imitate her when you’re there. Does she take the dish to the sink right after eating? You do so too. Make the bed in the morning? If you’re there in the morning and she’s not, do it yourself. If she throws her towel on the floor after she takes a shower, feel free to go ahead and do it, but if she hangs it up, you better do it too. Just as you don’t want people in your house being messier than you, don’t be a slob in someone else’s house. Since I know men are supposed to be good at math, here’s a mathematical statement: For location = her house, your slovenliness ≤ her slovenliness. For location = your house, her slovenliness ≤ your slovenliness. Got it?

Arguments

When people get angry, they have a tendency to act like dicks. Try to break the mold by not being a dick. If your girlfriend acts like a dick, direct her to this advice. There are, of course, a lot of dick moves that people make, but I’m going to restrict my list to those that have feminist implications.

Dick Move #1: Being dismissive. Manifestations include “you’re so emotional,” “this, again?”, eye-rolling, “are you on your period?”, “you’re overreacting,” and more. You know, sometimes your partner may actually be overreacting, and in those cases, you should ask her to explain why she’s upset, then say “I don’t want to be dismissive, but I think your reaction is out of proportion to what you’re reacting to. Or am I missing something?” Then maybe she can explain so her reaction makes more sense, or admit that it’s disproportionate. If the latter, you can ask her why she thinks she might be having a disproportionate reaction. Maybe you guys can get to know each other a little better. But before you go down this line of argument, I suggest you listen patiently, rather than immediately going for the “you’re so emotional” line of defense.

Dick Move #2: Being patronizing about her anger. Manifestations include “ooh, someone’s angry,” “getting a little testy, are we?” and “whoa, there, tiger!” Given that women are socially conditioned not to display, nay, not even to feel anger, you better believe that when your partner is angry, she means it. If her anger surprises you, say so: “I’m surprised you’re so angry. What’s going on?” If you expected it, then you can just proceed from there.

Dick Move #3: Get all hung up on intent. You know, what people mean to do is only a small part of evaluating what they actually do. You can say that you didn’t mean to be sexist, or mean, or dismissive, but at some point you’ve got to break free from what you meant to do and evaluate how it looks from the other person’s perspective. This also includes learning how to give a genuine apology: “I realize that I did something that hurt you, and I’m sorry.” You may need some time before you can really be genuine, so don’t fake an apology. Once you get some distance, make sure you own up.

Presenting Yourself to the World

Identify as a feminist. If you want to be a feminist boyfriend, first you have to be a feminist. Saying “I’m for women’s equality” and ” of course a woman can be president” is all well and good, but an important part of advocating for women’s rights is being willing to say that you’re in it with the people who are fighting in name.

Don’t advocate for patriarchal naming conventions. Even if your girlfriend thinks she wants to take your name, tell her that you would rather she keep hers. She can, of course, do what she wants, but make it clear to her that you would be not only be open to her keeping her name, but you favor it. Same with kids: don’t insist that your kids, future or imminent, take your name. Think about hyphenating, or better yet, actually consider giving the kids her last name. Imagine that!

Don’t identify your partner only in relation to you. With your friends or coworkers, introduce her as “[first name, last name], my girlfriend/wife” (if they already know you’re dating, skip that last part). When you talk about her when she’s not there, the first few times you can explain your relationship, and after that refer to her by name.

Don’t tolerate sexism. Being a feminist boyfriend is not just about how you treat your girlfriend. When you are around others, whether your girlfriend is there or not, don’t tolerate sexist or misogynist remarks from your friends, family, or coworkers. Retorts that aren’t overly earnest include “dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” “sometimes I really wish you were funny” and “I’m sorry, is this a time machine? Are we in 1950?” “You know, women have the vote now and everything!” Most importantly, don’t laugh. Cultivate a good sneer.

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