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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Newsflash: the sexual revolution is not complete

posted by bitchphd
So here is the biggest, most annoying problem with having a feminist marriage:

No matter what you and your partner have agreed on, other people will cling to their antiquated notions.

It's the biggest evidence to me that marriage is not just a contract between two people; it's also a kind of social contact (for better or for worse). Like, if you and your partner decide to reverse conventional gender roles--you work the day job, he stays home with kids and kitchen--and you are perfectly happy with this arrangement (ok, reasonably happy). Lovely! You win! You and your partner have done all the hard work necessary in arriving at this decision, you have had principled discussions about division of labor, you have made sure that neither one of you is feeling coerced, that this is how you both want it to be, blah blah blah and now you can sit back and enjoy your domestic life. WRONG. Because now you have to deal with constantly explaining to everyone around you that, "no, this really is what we both want, no, I am not an emasculating bitch, actually this was his idea, no really you can ask him, no, he isn't doing it "for" me, no, we're not doing this to "prove" something, really, we are doing this because it works for both of us, individually and as a couple."

Of course, you could refuse to explain all this, and then you have the fun of hearing the whispered comments, the second-hand hints from, oh, say, your sisters-in-law: "well, of course it's none of our business, but we do wonder. . ."or "oh, I think it's fine," (gee, how big of you) "but you know, mother-in-law thinks you're emasculating Mr. B." And I like my mother in law, but jesus. Or things like snide comments about how little housework you do which make you want to scream about how you did the lion's share of the housework for TEN YEARS, goddamnit, including while you were writing your dissertation and all that time you were teaching but of course that was always invisible.

It starts when you decide not to change your name, of course. You explain it to everyone, and then they get it wrong on the letters anyway. Which, you know, fine; I realize that people kind of default to the "normal" pattern without thinking. But my own father?!? Dude. It's the same name I always had. It's YOUR name. Get it right. And stop acting hurt when I get irritated by it. And then there are the casual acquaintances or new friends who, at some point, you have to tell--"well, actually Mr. B.'s last name is not B.," and instead of just saying, "oh, okay" (I mean really. It's unusual but not unheard of.) they say "really? Why did you do that? Did he mind? What did your parents think? What did his parents think? What about the kid? Don't you think he'll be confused? Why did you give him the last name you gave him? Isn't that weird? Isn't this kind of a weak feminist statement since you just have your dad's name anyway?" and so on. Most of the time I really don't mind this stuff. There's a reason why I teach, and it's because I love to explain shit. But occasionally I'll step back and think, lord. Do I really have to explain all of this to every single person who asks? Do they really have the right to ask? Do they have the right to be irked if I'm feeling tired of it that day and just say something snotty like, "why the hell should I change my name?" and try to leave it at that?

And you know, the sex thing too. You decide hey, it's really stupid to promise never to fuck anyone else for the rest of your life, which you hope will be long, and you agree okay, neither of us is the jealous type and possessiveness is stupid, so whatever, if something comes up or you get interested in someone else, go for it because we both know neither one of us is going anywhere. And this works for you, and it's really not anyone else's business, so you don't make a big deal over it (plus, let's not scare the horses), and really 95% of the time you act just like any other monogamous married couple. But guess what? Let's say you get interested in someone else, and you make a move on them. Surprise! Three out of four decent men (which is to say, any guy who you would be interested in sleeping with, because you're really not interested in creepy assholes) will freak out because you are married and they just can't quite bring themselves to sleep with "another man's wife." Which you know, you have to respect, b/c first of all you can't make someone sleep with you and second even if you could it would be illegal and wrong, and third of all, you don't believe in lying or manipulating people so great. You're just fucked. Or rather, you're not.

Interestingly, Mr. B. has not run into the same reluctance from women, which means either he picks sluttier people than I do, or else (since I prefer to think he has good taste, for obvious reasons) women just have a li'l more progressive attitude towards this shit than men do, stereotypes notwithstanding. Which is actually what I think, given the responses of most of my women friends when (if) I tell them how things are. They mostly say, "wow, I envy you, but my guy would never go for that."

Anyway, this is all apropos of nothing, because the guy I have a date with on Friday knows I'm married and finds it neither offputting nor creepily enticing, so that's not what I'm on about. It's just something I was thinking about on the drive home, the way that you think, when you're young, that you and your partner will invent your marriage on your own terms, and by god, you do that! And it's hard work! And yay you, both of you, for doing the work and picking someone who was smart enough to get it and do it too! But then you find out that it isn't, in fact, entirely up to you. Which is just very annoying.

It makes you really feel for Lucy Stone.
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