Feminist Relationship Dilemmas

To continue with our “Loving While Feminist” series of posts — we’ve already talked dating, boyfriends, and girlfriends — we’re tackling feminist relationship dilemmas today.

Dilemma #1: It turns out it’s time to get married after all. You’ve spent a ton of time dissecting and critiquing the institution of marriage. You know it has historically treated women as chattel. You know almost every part of a traditional wedding ceremony is deeply sexist, hopelessly materialistic, or both. Then, as time goes by, you fall in love with a wonderful man. You move in together. You are a freelance writer, so you really wish you could share his corporate insurance. You would like to be able to visit him in the hospital if he gets sick or have an automatic say in his health decisions if the worst should happen. Maybe you even daydream about a nice, small wedding — what’s wrong with declaring your couplehood to the world? We say, go for it! You don’t have to do your wedding or marriage the way others do. Have a small or totally private ceremony. Become domestic partners instead of spouses. Hammer out your own custom relationship contract. There are plenty of ways to customize committed relationships these days.

Dilemma #2: You’re sure you don’t want kids, but you don’t want to be on the pill forever. Consider an IUD, which is all the rage now that better options are available. Or discuss a vasectomy with him — ladies don’t have to carry the entire contraception burden.

Dilemma #3: Money — ugh. We wish we had a cure-all for the ills that can be caused by sharing finances. (If you have one, please let us know.) Mostly, what has worked for us is: staying calm; voicing all of your fears, financial secrets, and concerns as soon as they come up; and checking in with each other frequently to make sure everyone is feeling that things are as equitable as possible. Not equal, but equitable — one partner’s bound to make more than the other, but as long as the contributions to the household feel balanced, that’s all that matters.

Dilemma #4: Chores — also ugh. This is loaded with particularly feminist implications, what with the whole history of women doing all the housework. We’d never advocate dropping your feminism, but just beware that your feminism can push you into irrational territory here. We can sometimes tend to load doing the dishes or cooking dinner with the resentment of our female ancestors when, well, someone has to do dishes and cook dinner, and sometimes it might have to be you. Again, as long as things feel balanced between the two of you, that’s what’s important.

Dilemma # 5: Putting motherhood before your career. Let’s be clear once and for all: “having it all” is a nonsense term that exists solely to guilt women into feeling like failures if they don’t master the impossible task of a soaring career, a hot-and-steamy romantic life and supermomdom. If you decide to have children, you get to decide what balance is best for your family. And if that means taking a break from your hard-earned career, yes, you’ll miss it (and you should), but it doesn’t have to be forever. And the job of taking care of a child and raising him or her to be a conscious, valuable member of the world population is the hardest and most important job in the world. It’s something to be proud of.


Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong


  1. emily says:

    i love this. i’ve been trying to reconcile my feminism with being in what is a hetero-normative relationship that can follow very “cleaver”esque lines. the wedding thing is still rubbing me the wrong way, but i still do want to have a party. i think for us the solution is skipping a ceremony, just signing some legal documents, and then throwing a shindig.

  2. javacia says:

    Great post! I’ve faced all of these. I’ve been married for 6 years and the first year was very tough because it was hard for me to talk to someone about money and I did feel resentment cooking and doing housework. But things are much better now. We’re a team. We share household chores and cooking and I’m slowly starting to be more comfortable discussing money (this will take time because I have childhood issues that are at the root of this problem). Now I’m struggling with the kid issue. I don’t want children but when I say this to people they look at me like I’ve said I’m a terrorist.

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