I consider myself a feminist, but this post is about the goal of equality within feminism. I want to discuss some disturbing trends I’ve noticed regarding women’s treatment of men and other women. Sexism isn’t confined to men’s behavior toward women. Yes, I acknowledge there are several important sexist issues there, and I’m sure I’ll blog about the many instances I’ve personally experienced soon enough. But what about the guys? In what ways do we as women hold them to double standards, different expectations, and unfair treatment?
My first long-term relationship was from age seventeen to twenty-three. A high school junior at the romance’s first blossoming, I was smitten with literature, poetry, and Shakespearean plays. I was still in that teenage phase where I considered Romeo and Juliet to be terribly romantic, not creepily co-dependent or extreme. When my boyfriend opened car doors for me or paid for dinner, I thought it was romantic and chivalrous. I didn’t stop to wonder if he could afford it.
I moved in with my boyfriend when I was nineteen, convinced I was one of the lucky few to find “the one” in high school. Daydreams of marriage and family in my mind, I settled into our new apartment and figured I was on my way to “happily ever after.” But after a few years, I started noticing that I wasn’t happy. I felt bored, confined, and even trapped. Sometimes at night I would take long drives and pretend I wasn’t coming back.
In retrospect, I think a large part of my problem came from my false belief in the modern myth that once you’re in a relationship, you’ll be happy and feel complete. I had an expectation, as I think many women do, that settling into a relationship with a man would bring me financial security, physical protection, and emotional intimacy. I think these beliefs caused me to underestimate my own role in my happiness and discounted my own abilities to take care of myself.
But it also overestimated the man’s role, his responsibility even, to provide happiness and safety for me. Why should I figure out how to make myself feel happy and fulfilled if a man was around to do it for me? This way of thinking was not only harmful to my own feelings of self-worth, it was harmful to my boyfriend’s too.
Since that time, I’ve noticed a number of sexist standards that I’ve applied to men and that the women around me accept as a standard. I’ve lived in a small town in the Midwest and a large major U.S. city on the West Coast, and I’ve found the attitudes and patterns in both areas. I’ve worked hard to become aware of my own attitudes and consider if they’re really fair to myself and my loved ones. When I fight to stand up for my own rights, I also try to stop and consider the rights of the other person involved. This has been a long and difficult process, as I’ve had to admit to myself several times how my thoughts and behaviors are unfair.
Along the way, I’ve become more sensitive and more aware of other women’s expectations and beliefs about gender roles. I started wondering where my own beliefs came from and started looking around at the people around me and the roles they assumed. I quickly discovered I was not alone. Many women who want fair and equal treatment in some areas, don’t seem to want it in other areas such as finance or emotional intimacy.
First off, I’d like to acknowledge that my current boyfriend makes more money than I do and I have borrowed smalls sums of money from him in times of financial difficulty. During my time with him, I’ve received serious remarks from women indicating that I was lucky to have found a “sugar daddy” or someone “who can take care of you.” As a recovering codependent, I bristle with pride when I encounter these assumptions. I’ve worked really hard to remain independent and make sure I’ve earned my own way in the world (as do many people of all relationship statuses).
I notice when female servers flirt and laugh with my boyfriend and then register a small expression of surprise when I reach for the bill. I notice the thinly veiled animosity after I announce my boyfriend’s occupation or expensive hobbies. I notice that women assume my male partner foots the bill or make jokes about withholding sexual favors if and when he denies me money. Is my body up for auction to the highest-bidding male? Is a man’s earnings something for me to manipulate into my possession? What year is it again?
I’ve had women ask me why I’m not married or assume I want to get married and have children. Now, I’m not saying these things are not right for some people or not the path for many to find happiness and fulfillment. But I do question why it’s assumed that I am in any way with my partner for financial reasons, or that I “of course” accept financial support from him, and want to get married, and squirt out babies.
Yes, that’s the right path for many women, but is it the only path? I think the assumption that I accept money from my boyfriend exposes the widespread expectation that men shoulder the majority of the financial burdens. Perhaps some men want to do so, and perhaps in some relationships, that is what’s best and that’s great. But when anyone suggests that financial support is something owed to me and that my sex life has anything to do with it, I get really creeped out. First of all, that’s nobody’s business, and secondly, that’s nobody’s business!
Some women have those dreams and goals to marry, have kids, and focus on family. More power to you! Some men want to provide for a family and take pride in being the supporter. Awesome! But why is it assumed that those are my main goals and dreams too? Or my boyfriends? Why am I looked at with curiosity or pity when I declare: “No, I’m not married.” “No, I don’t have kids.” “No, I don’t have plans to get married.” Why are my single friends continually set up on dates or warned about their aging ovaries? When did men become walking wallets and women just a uterus? Why do women tell me I need to “step up my game” when I state that I’ve been with my boyfriend for six years and we’re not married. Are relationships just games?
Many women in my family tend to be emotional creatures, myself included. Although I think it can be a harmful stereotype to assume all women are emotional, I do believe there is some truth to the notion that women tend to be more emotionally expressive than men. In my experience, women show no remorse or shame about their feelings because they know they have the right to their emotions and their free expression. But men don’t always receive the same consideration. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women say they like “tough” guys or mention how they’re put off by “sissies” or “weak” men who openly cry or discuss their feelings. Why is it considered normal for a woman to be emotional and cry during difficult situations, but men are supposed to be stoic, quiet, and tough? Are men not human beings with the same emotions as women?
My first boyfriend was emotional, sensitive, and comfortable showing what he was feeling. I’ve since learned how rare that is for men and why. I can’t imagine being shamed for mourning at a loved one’s funeral or crying at a moving film, but I’ve witnessed men subjected to shame in those situations (both shaming speeches were by women). I can’t imagine being met with anything other than support and hugs from my female friends when I start crying. But again, in my experience, men don’t have this luxury of release or honest expression. They’re taught to keep it all in, support the family, and if they have to express an emotion, the only acceptable one is anger or annoyance. Does this sound like a recipe for violent outbursts to anyone else? or homophobic hate crimes?
Yet men are expected to be romantic and show gushy expressions of love to their significant others after years of cultural conditioning to suppress their feelings. I can’t help thinking they’ve been screwed over a bit when Valentine’s Day rolls around each year. I know I’ve hyped up the holidays and placed unrealistic expectations on arbitrary events. If there isn’t a giant teddy bear and a sincere display of emotion, he must not love me. Because Hollywood says so. And when has Hollywood been wrong?
I know that I’m making some generalizations and I know m
any men and women share my observations and frustrations. I’m just tired of hearing about women’s trials in expecting fair and equal treatment while also hearing women complain about men not doling out enough money, or showing too much emotion, or not enough emotion, or being just as human as we are. Yes, women have a long history of oppression, sexism, and unfair treatment. But how are we as women holding ourselves accountable for our expectations and treatment of men or our treatment of each other?