Sexy Feminism Excerpt: Compromise in Marriage Doesn’t Mean Throwing Out Feminism

To celebrate the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, a portion of our chapter, “Feminist Relationships: From Long-Term to Life-Long Partnership.” 

I have some confessions: I make dinner for my husband, I added his name to mine (no hyphen), and I am the primary caregiver for our son. And, yes, I am a feminist in a feminist-leaning marriage. What does that mean? It means real life sometimes doesn’t allow for a perfect combination of empowerment and responsibility. It’s a relationship that requires compromise—sometimes more difficult than you’d ever imagined—to make things work. As is the case for so many heterosexual couples, my husband makes more money than I do, works in an industry that demands more of his time outside of the home, and carries fewer of the domestic responsibilities. But we make it work, feminism intact. Here’s what I learned from some of my own compromises:

Feminists make dinner too—even if we don’t like to. I am a domestic goddess of the most reluctant variety. When I lived alone, I used my refrigerator to store beauty products and never once turned on my oven. Now that I’m married and a mom, grabbing sushi and smoothies are not practical options. There are three of us who need to eat, and I have chosen to take on the responsibility of making sure we eat well.

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Wither Paternity Leave in the Contraception Debate?

With a struggling economy and the explosion of debates about abortion and contraception, family leave for workers has not been at the center of campaign dialogue. Nonetheless, the issue of paid parental leave should be more important than ever to families in an era in which women are often primary breadwinners. Imagine the dilemma of a young couple thinking of starting a family, but whose budget and expenses center around the potential mother’s employment. Do you hold off and hope for the husband to advance to a more secure financial position in which you might be able to leave work? Do you try for the child now, and try to piece together sick days with help from family and friends? Or do you try to negotiate a better option with your employer, who, in most US states, has no legal obligation to provide any paid leave to start a family?

The issue of parental leave has received attention around the world, and US laws lag well behind most countries. In fact, earlier this year, Forbes reported that the US was one of only three countries in the world, along with Papua New Guinea and Swaziland, not to offer paid maternity leave. In addition, the US fails to provide any guaranteed leave (paid or unpaid) to fathers, while more than 50 countries worldwide guarantee new fathers paid leave.  The most important piece of legislation governing parental leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), applies only to women, and has important exceptions for businesses. For example, businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, and employees must work within a specified radius of the workplace. Guaranteed leave is limited to 12 weeks during the year, and it is unpaid. Although the law has since been amended, the substantive components remain largely unchanged, and it continues to be the defining national legislation on the topic. Although states such as California and New Jersey have made inroads to state specific laws, in most places protections beyond those guaranteed by the FMLA are left to employers’ discretion. As a result, most new mothers and fathers struggle to balance the demands of a new family with the needs and financial necessities of the workplace.

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Sexy Feminist Smackdown: Eric Benet

We start this post by reminding you who Eric Benet is, something we were forced to do when engaging our partner in a discussion about his latest round of douchebaggery. He’s the guy who married Halle Berry and cheated on her. A lot. Because of “sex addiction,” something we know Dr. Drew is very serious about but oftentimes sounds to us like the infidelity equivalent of “irreconcilable differences.”

Anyway, this guy we all forgot about wants us to remember him. So how does he do it? By exploiting women’s insecurities. To promote his new R&B album, “The One,” he’s selling t-shirts that divide women along colorlines. Not just black, white, Asian and Hispanic, which could actually be empowering, but specifically degrees of blackness among African-American women. For about $20, women can order “BRAND NEW” tank tops that read “Red Bone Girl” or “Chocolate Legs.” There are a lot of reasons why this is annoying and offensive. Here are our top three:

1. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a woman’s uniqueness, even her skin tone. But when put into terms such as “coffee and cream, thick and lean,” as Benet does in the song, and, “I like ‘em light skinned/lighter than a feather… I’m high and my girl is high yella,” as Lil Wayne does on his cameo, it promotes comparison and competition. Intra-racial racism is a deeply damaging force rooted in rape and slavery. Let’s not pick on that scab.
2. This is not the equivalent of the “I’m a Carrie,” “I’m a Samantha,” t-shirts that were everywhere during the Sex and the City era. Black women aren’t going to buy these, dude.
3. Looking at the whole song/album, rife with adjectives for women such as “honeys” and “devilis,” we’re reminded that so many male artists resort to these lazy, insulting terms in their lyrics. Is it so hard to buy a dictionary and talk to some real women about how they like to be wooed?


Why Marriage Should Never Be a Goal (And Divorce Isn’t Failure)

As someone who just moved in with her boyfriend, I’m particularly sensitive to media reports about cohabitation being “bad” for relationships. In fact, as we were discussing the move in the months leading up to it, we talked about this a lot, often sending each other links to studies and articles claiming, essentially, that living together leads to breaking up; specifically, they seem to conclude that cohabitation before marriage leads more often to eventual divorce. We kept saying, “This just doesn’t make sense.” And we weren’t saying that because we were desperate to live in sin. We were saying it because it really, truly doesn’t make sense. Given that marriage usually means living together, why would people who tried it first break up more often? And if this is true, is it necessarily bad?

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How to Be a Feminist Girlfriend

While we fantasize about finding the perfect feminist boyfriend, the burden of bringing feminism into a hetero relationship often lies with the lady — like so many other burdens of relationships! So here are a few ways to bring an egalitarian spirit to your coupledom:

1. Talk about “women’s” issues as if they are not “women’s” issues but “human” issues. Because, you know, they are. Who wins if we have birth control, healthy reproductive systems, and equal pay? Our guys, who get to have consequence-free sex and more money coming into the household.

2. Have honest conversations about your sex life. Sure, yeah, talk about diseases and all that, of course. But talk about the fun stuff, too, which can oddly be more uncomfortable than the setting boundaries/STD chat. The longer you’re together, the more this is necessary. If you love or hate something he’s doing all the time, he needs to know; and that works the other way, too. Try both filling out a Yes/No/Maybe list (you can find these by searching online), which is exactly what it sounds like — a long list of sexual possibilities, for which you each circle yes, no, or maybe. (There are also lists that allow a more subtle 1-5 ranking system.) Then compare lists. Any yeses or maybes that match mean you have new stuff to try. Easy and fun!

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Valentine’s Day Gifts for Men

Hey, you know what’s gross? Those ads all over TV right now where a guy buys a girl some overpriced rocks on a string or a ring, and she lives happily ever after and cries and stuff because oh my god this is all she ever wanted in life. (And don’t even get us started on the Victoria’s Secret ads implying women are all dying to receive the gift of ludicrous underwear.) Valentine’s Day, at its core, isn’t evil: Great love is hard to find, so we see nothing wrong with celebrating it. We’d rather celebrate it every day without crass commercialism lurking, but whatever … Love is about compromise, so we’re willing to give Valentine’s Day a chance, but only by celebrating love with our partners as equals. Corporations want men to believe women are demanding bitches, and they want women to believe they deserve to be demanding bitches. We say fight the patriarchy by focusing on couplehood — and by giving the good men we love thoughtful tokens of our affection.

A few ideas, which apply equally to heterosexual women wrestling with sexist holiday traditions and queer women who need some inspiration, too:

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Sexy Feminists Read: ‘The Guy’s Guide to Feminism’

We’ve long advocated for including men in feminism, so it’s no surprise that we’re in love with Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel’s The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. (In fact, we think it’s the perfect stocking-stuffer for all the men in your life!) The authors — both among the most prominent pro-feminist men — offer their fellow men an A to Z guide for not only understanding the movement, but for appreciating how it benefits dudes as much as it does women. (See entries on: Birth Control, Dads, Friendship, Good Relationships, and, of course, Sex.) We chatted with Kimmel, a sociology professor at SUNY at Stony Brook and the author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, about why men should sign up for feminism, how to inject more equality into heterosexual relationships, and why so many men still feel threatened by powerful women.

Why do we need a book about feminism for men?

The thing with men is the question they ask is: What does this have to do with me? They think all feminists are unattractive lesbians who don’t like shaving. But I always thought: Sure, feminism is about protecting women, but it’s also about women claiming their own agency and being unapologetically sexy. Not to be scared of it, to own it. So Michael Kaufman, who is the founder of the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada, and I decided to write a book for guys that holds their hands and says, Don’t be scared. Not only don’t be scared, but there’s a lot here for you.

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Sexy Feminists Read: Pamela Haag’s ‘Marriage Confidential’

Pamela Haag‘s book Marriage Confidential shows — once again — how political the personal really is. She explores the history of marriage, an institution naturally wrought with feminist implications, and in the process reveals why so many are disillusioned with “’til death do us part” these days. We talked with the author about how to build a feminist marriage, avoid the dream-wedding trap, and stop worrying about “having it all.”

What should women, in particular, do to make their relationships the egalitarian partnerships they’ve dreamed of?

The first thing women need to do is to ask for it. We need to be willing—and brave enough—to be clear about what we expect. Sometimes, this might mean putting ourselves at odds with the men in our lives, or acting like an uppity feminist—at a time when “feminism” is a socially reviled term.

And, although this isn’t such a popular thing to say, I think we women need to hold ourselves accountable for our own dreams. It’s easy to fall for premature realism. It’s so easy just to burrow into parenthood, or standards of perfect mothering, and “give up” on the travails and the exhaustion that come with having other dreams and ambitions.

For example, in my book I describe a woman in her 40s who had debated with herself, and her husband, about having children for many years. When we went through the pros and cons, she commented that if she did have children, she felt like she could finally “just relax.” The comment puzzled me at first. But what she meant was that she could just focus entirely on being a mom, and finally give up on worrying about her career and other ambitions.

I think she was articulating a feeling that lots of us have had.  We have to fight against our own urges just to give up in the face of cultural or institutional barriers or judgment.

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Attention NY Sexy Feminists: ‘Guy’s Guide to Feminism’ Launching at a Bookstore Near You

Please join us in celebrating that all-too-rare breed, male feminists, at the Nov. 22 launch of The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by the Michaels Kaufman and Kimmel. It’s at 7 p.m. at Bluestockings Books, 172 Allen St., on the Lower East Side. We’ll have more on the book and its authors later this week, but mark your calendars now …

Feminist Dating Dilemmas

After our “How to Be a Feminist Boyfriend” post sparked its share of debate, we realized how ripe for discussion this intersection of politics and personal life is. Just goes to show that heterosexual dating is an endless minefield in a world that’s otherwise pretty clear-cut when it comes to implementing feminism. (In areas like the workplace and the law, strict equality is the standard; in relationships, where power dynamics constantly switch, some of us like to be tied up in bed, and, in any case, we need men, by definition, it’s a little bit more fraught.) To that end, we offer up some thoughts on more specific situations a feminist can find herself in — and our thoughts about how to approach them, many culled from previous posts on related topics. As always, these are just suggestions — feel free to offer up your own. (We know you will!)

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