On our road trip last summer, Greg started posing for some photos in a body builder stance which he and I came to call his “I’m the Man” pose.
In a way, it’s like a funny inside joke for us because he and I both consider ourselves feminists and strive for a relationship that acknowledges the patriarchal, sexist world we live in while creating a partnership based on equality.
He and I haven’t read any how-to blogs or books on how to do this and while it has certainly been intentional that we work for an equal partnership, it’s not exactly an orderly process. Lastly, as in most things of life, I don’t believe in a one-size fit all, so what has worked for us, won’t necessarily be true for another.
First, I think the act of acknowledging that our relationship exists in a society that is sexist and patriarchal has been essential. It’s difficult to counter a dominant narrative if we were to pretend it didn’t exist.
The primary building block to our partnership is communication. I know; it’s pretty cliché. But I think Greg and I utilize a certain set of communication skills that work well in building our partnership including: empathy, active listening, ability to reflect and change, and self-awareness. Our communication is more than being able to share our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Sharing about the -isms of the world, including sexism, makes one vulnerable and knowing your partner is empathetic creates a safer space to share in. In our discussions about sexism, we actively listen to each other, trying to understand each other’s perspective. Greg and I also try to be reflective and consider that we may need to change. I have brought to Greg’s attention times when he has expressed sexist perspectives and he has been able to hear that and reflect on that. (And don’t worry, he’s called me out about -isms too). It isn’t comfortable, and it’s easy for us to get defensive, argumentative, and to want to be right. And it would be hard to have this kind of communication if we didn’t possess some level of self-awareness and commitment to self-growth.
Another factor we have considered is the division of labor in the home. Historically speaking, household chores (cooking, cleaning, raising children) were the woman’s domain. Greg and I have made the active choice to divide chores at home. Some tasks are decided based on passions (I enjoy cooking more and Greg loves baking). And other tasks decided by fairness (whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes, major household cleaning is done when we are both able to do it together, I do my laundry and he does his own). As a number of our fights have been about household chores, division of labor has been harder to figure out than I am making it seem and is an ongoing process.
For me, the most difficult aspect to navigate in our relationship has been promoting and fostering both careers. Having meaningful and fulfilling work is important for both Greg and I. Before dating Greg, I had frequently stated that I would not move for a man or put his career first. Words which I ate as I made decisions to move from my home and career in DC to Princeton NJ where Greg was in school and then again as we moved from NJ to Greensboro NC for his job. I’ve heard of partnerships where couples alternate over the years whose career they focus on which is an approach that Greg and I have discussed. Right now, it’s worked out well for both of us. I have found work in Greensboro that is in a field I want, that advances my career, and that is meaningful and fulfilling. And Greg is doing work he loves. Win-Win for now.
Of course, we exist in a world that has multiple systems of oppression in addition to sexism that have to be addressed in a relationship working to be equal. Greg, as a male, belongs to the privileged group when it comes to sexism but there are other systems that impact our relationship. Greg has a speech impediment and has faced discrimination and oppression as a person with a disability and I am the privileged partner as the person (currently) with an able body. As a partner, I have to be conscious that I do not speak for Greg when someone cannot understand him unless he asks me to and that I do not finish his statements for him. Greg lets me know when he feels like I am speaking for him or ‘babying’ him because of his disability.
And beyond the power dynamics within our relationship, our relationship is privileged above others which we cannot ignore in our efforts for justice and equality. As an opposite sex couple, Greg and I can get married in any state and if we want, we can adopt children without question, unlike same-sex couples. Further, Greg and I are in the privileged group for a number of -isms, including race, education and class, and part of our work to build an equal partnership is to support each other in getting involved in anti-oppressive efforts.