Identifying as a feminist once equated to taking back your power as a woman. But success fostered backlash (Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi) and a belief that equality was well on the way to being achieved. In reality, we still live in a society that favors men and white men in particular. Under President Trump and his “fake news” and “alternate facts,” we have a responsibility to nurture and protect the ideals that got us this far, to own them, and to support the people fighting those fights.
I consider myself egalitarian and I’ve never shunned identification as a feminist, but it wasn’t in my usual self-descriptors either. I married a man who also married his military career. He was never a conservative misogynist, but he assumed the world worked in certain ways unless I challenged that. I did it daily be refusing to accept tasks as gendered. In essence though, I confronted his social bias four times.
- We’d been married about six months and were living in a trailer in Louisiana. Neither of us had ever lived with anyone else (except family) and I had recently started a full-time job. While unemployed, I did the majority of the household chores without complaint. That went on for a bit after I began working, but one evening I changed the rules: “I’m tired of you coming home to sit on the couch while I run around like a chicken with my head cut off. From now on, we’ll both run around until everything that needs doing gets done. Then, we will BOTH sit down to relax.”
- We’d been married about six years and living in Alaska. I had gotten a promotion that made me an executive assistant. My husband arranged post housing and scheduled the movers and informed me when to take time off work. (We were renting.) I told him that he’d have to handle it on his own. We had VIPs coming then and I couldn’t be out of the office. I said: “From now on, you have to assume that my job is just as important as yours. In fact, it will probably be easier now for you to get time off. You’ll have to coordinate with me if you want me involved.”
- We’d been married about nine years and just about to leave Alaska. My husband had been planning to leave the Army but changed his mind at the last moment. I loved Alaska and had moved into computer programming. First, we agreed that he either had to get out now or stay until retirement. He kept telling me how great things would be after the move. One evening, I looked him in the eye and said: “If you can’t tell me you know I’m making a sacrifice by giving up the job I love in a place I love for a location that doesn’t work for either of those, you will be moving on your own. I’ve already been pricing apartments and figuring expenses.”
- We’d been married about ten years and had recently moved to Arizona. My husband insisted on buying a house rather than living on post or renting. My Alaskan unemployment benefits couldn’t be counted as income. I had to take whatever job I could in order for us to qualify for a mortgage. I wound up commuting 150 miles round-trip. After a 12-hour day, he made me feel like I was an intruder when I got home because he was “doing all the work” and I was “messing everything up.” I suggested that divorce was possible and things settled down.
What all these incidents have in common is that I stopped putting him first and claimed my independence. After that “admit it’s a sacrifice” moment, we began pulling apart due to the cultural belief that women should make the sacrifices and that they should do it willingly and without complaint. In the end, we lasted twenty years. My independence was a tool he used in Arizona and Georgia because he began being deployed and away from home. It was a thorn in his side once retirement loomed, we moved back home and I kept insisting that he take care of himself, share household responsibilities and support my choices. He re-married someone who is independent in her own way (divorced, older kids, large extended family, property owner), but who takes care of him and whose career doesn’t interfere with his.
I hate injustice, but lately I’ve focused that energy on protecting the larger “us” against the depredations of President Trump and other far right ideologues. However, a friend loaned me Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford. The idea that women judged one another because they wanted acceptance and to keep the “rewards” they’d “earned” was an “ah-ha” moment for me. She believes women who are against feminism all come back to the same thing – “women capitulating to the system in order to be given some notion of power within it.” She also identifies “three key things that encourage women to set themselves against a movement invested in their liberation and equality,” i.e. fear of retribution, self-preservation via negotiation, and simple selfishness because they’re enjoying the benefits rather than the penalties.
My goal is being more self-aware and more supportive of my own gender – whether or not I gain something for myself.