The Surprising Question You Might Not Think to Ask Your Partner (But Should)by Lauren Passell on August 28, 2012
Are you a feminist?
I am a feminist.
I feel dumb starting that way. To me, being a feminist is obvious. I am a woman who wants to be on equal footing with men. I assume that when someone says they are not a feminist they are insane.
After finishing Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, I started talking about feminism with my boyfriend. “Are you a feminist?” I asked. “I don’t know. I don’t really think about it,” was his answer. My heart stopped.
My boyfriend is what I would consider feminist. (In fact, he designed this.) It is up to him to define that word for himself. But I know that he thinks women deserve what men deserve. But he hadn’t thought about it. Which, I am starting to realize, is true of many people.
I wondered how I could be dating someone for so long and not know their stance on feminism. How is that possible that we’ve talked about everything save for one of the most important things about me — that (I’ll say it again, because I think people need to say it more) I am a feminist. So this taught me a few things. First, that you should never assume your partner believes something. You should talk about everything, even the most vague, basic things. You could be in for a surprise. And second, that lots and lots of people are afraid to say the sentence, “I am a feminist.” For many reasons the word has a bad reputation and scary connotations. And if you’re a guy and you don’t think it directly affects you, and you can get away without having to define it, you probably won’t define it. But you should! Especially if you are sleeping with a woman!
My mom is a feminist (according to my simple definition) and she is one of the smartest people I know. But when I talked to her about it she said, “I have never met a man who said he was a feminist.” That’s when I realized that we just don’t know what one really is. And we don’t think about it. And we don’t have a word to describe it.
I went to Facebook and asked my friends if they were feminists, expecting them all to say duh. But I was once again flummoxed to see that people weren’t sure. Or that they (women included) said NO. Or said that it was complicated. Or basically had a total different idea of feminism than I did. I had meant to prove my mom wrong, and even though a few guys said I AM A FEMINIST, I had proved her right, too. Lots of people wouldn’t say it. And that is fine! But unexpected.
If you ask me, my mom married a feminist — my dad. So she does know someone. I just called my parents to get to the bottom of this. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Dad, do you consider yourself a feminist?
Dad: I do. As a kid I was just around so many women who didn’t take shit from anyone and ran everything. My mother and grandmother amazed me.
Me: That’s a nice answer, thanks. Gotta go!
Dad: The other reason is I want them to all burn their bras.
Me: Very funny, Dad. I have to get back to work.
Mom (heard in the background): You’re a feminist because you’re a big p*ssy!
I hung up.
So wow. Lots to think about. My dad is a feminist and my mom probably is, too, even though she has a dirty mouth. Since it’s such a tricky word, I think we all need to define it for ourselves and be really confident with that definition. And think about it a lot. And compare it with other people’s definitions.
I think that women and men deserve the same things. I’m not ready to make things more complicated than that.
But what does that even mean? I am not into chivalry. I have a difficult time letting my boyfriend do nice things for me and I get would get so creeped out if a man went out of his way to open my car door. (That has not happened to me personally, but I have seen it several times on Millionaire Matchmaker.) But! I would let a man pay for my meal. Women make less money than men. And having someone pay for my meal doesn’t make me feel less capable of making it on my own. So I’m a feminist who wants total equality and guys to not to open car doors for her but pay for her meal sometimes.
So I guess it is complicated. (Sorry, guys-in-my-life-trying-to-keep-up-with-this.) But my definition makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you?
Conversation topic for you and your friends/parents/S.O. tonight! Ask them if they consider themselves feminists. And start talking.
I just said “feminist” so many times my face hurts. And it makes me realize that it really is just a word. An incredibly rich word that’s a springboard for so many interesting, important things to think about and discuss.
And oh, by the way, the other night I came home from work and my boyfriend was reading on the couch. “What are you reading?” I asked him.
“How To Be A Woman,” he replied.
I said, “I know. I just wanted to hear you say that.”
What’s your definition? Will you say the words, “I am a feminist”?