In my previous relationships, more than one partner on more than one occasion spat out the following emotional expletive at me:
“Your feminism has ruined you!”
I have explicitly self-identified as a feminist since my undergraduate days and enacted this feminism in my social and personal relationships. My strong feminist identification led me to to political activism and vocal critiques of women’s place in society.1 This created some tense situations in my twenties when I took pleasure in loud arguments about women’s issues and the importance of being a self-professed feminist. My close college friends and I named ourselves feminists, cursed loudly in public, flirted with insults instead of hair flips, gave one another dead roses for Valentine’s Day, and even penned a poster for our apartment that read “The Hairy-Leg Café” to play with the negative stereotypes of feminists we knew some of our peers held.2 For me, using the F-word as a proud marker of my belief in equality means that I hear subtle and not so subtle put-downs when I’m critical of sexual double standards, traditional heterosexual marriage, differences in pay and prestige, and who cleans the bathroom. I’ve been called a feminazi, dyke, man-hater, and ugly bitch by students, random men at bars, and peers when I’ve voiced my views. Fortunately, it seems that self-ascribing oneself as a feminist is not as argument-provoking or unfashionable as in the past. In fact, popular women’s magazines such as Glamour and websites like Jezebel.com claim that calling oneself a feminist is “The New Do.”3
Though I am loath to be part of a fashion trend, I relish the idea of being “ruined” by feminism — as some past partners argued. I read between the lines that these folks consider feminism incompatible with romantic relationships, but wow are they wrong! I lob my own experiences of satisfying long-term relationships with men and women as a feminist partner and throw in a research punch that supports the idea that feminism and maintaining a feminist identity benefit women and their relationships.4 Women of all ages who identify with feminist values are happier with their lives compared to women with more traditional values.5 Feminist women have healthier relationships because they endorse more egalitarian and assertive roles in their committed and sexual relationships.6 They are able to effectively initiate sexual encounters, negotiate safer sexual practices, and their male partners confess to being more sexually satisfied in the relationship. My question then is, who wouldn’t want a feminist Valentine?
When I met my feminist Valentine, my friends and my mother were not shocked that my courtship and marriage (surprised?) followed a nontraditional trajectory. I told them all ad nauseam that I had no intention of ever getting married from the time I was in Kindergarten. To me, traditional marriage meant inequality and stifling gender roles. No way was I going to do someone’s laundry, turn into a “wife,” and keep their calendar. Meeting the person whom I consider my Valentine changed this intention. My love and I discussed feminism and marriage for months. Could one be married and be feminist? Would being married alter the equal dynamics we developed? Was it ethical to be married when same-sex marriage was not legal in the U.S., where we live? Is it possible to rewrite traditional marriage into something feminist and equitable? Could we both put in the emotional, financial, and task oriented work necessary to keep a healthy and satisfying relationship? Would being married kill our passion or should we just live together? We eventually decided after hours of dialogue that we could be feminist and married; after all, we had the feminist icon Gloria Steinem as an example. She got married at 66 years old after years of feminist activism and kept on being Feminist, with a capital F. We could do marriage our way.
And though my feminist Valentine and I don’t often celebrate February 14th, I offer a love poem. See, even this Feminist wishes to capture the seemingly mundane details of an important relationship and sprinkle some red and pink pixie dust all over. And yes, we each keep our own calendar and do our own laundry.
My Feminist Valentine
And when you have forgotten your birthday party,
the cocktails that churned your stomach like a polluted lake,
and most especially when you have forgotten our tired talk,
how you blurted “let’s just get married,” a curled question in bed-
My queries about marriage always unfolded in bed:
Notice gag straddles the middle of enGAGement?
Can bisexual feminists be married and be feminist?
Or the fun of not telling how we shacked up
after the lure of my Moroccan food, couscous scented
with the triumphant cilantro, turmeric, and cinnamon,
(any food after hours of sex and philosophy, in bed)
for the love of my pet rat who lapped latte foam, mornings
we snuck to work with different routes to confuse
and keep love cool. And if we forget the question
from the bored court clerk who missed our smirks
how we both held our names with strong hands,
the legal wedding Monday at the criminal courthouse
planned over a delicious weekend;
the call to our friends, the cheap silver rings,
grocery store bouquet tied with gold ribbon,
new skirt, shirt and pants, the receipts pinned into our album.
Then recall the real wedding, the love we cemented in Madrid
where only bodies were required to wed, vows written on paper
and read with squinted eyes on the edge
of the park, too dark to wander in further.
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1Duncan, L. E. (2010). Women’s relationship to feminism: Effects of generation and feminist self-labeling. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 498-507.
2Ramsey, L. R., Haines, M. E., Hurt, M. M., Nelson, J. A., Turner, D. L., Liss, M., & Erchull, M. J. (2007). Thinking of others: Feminist identification and the perception of others’ beliefs. Sex Roles, 57, 611-616. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9205-5
4Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationships? Sex Roles, 57, 787-799. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9319-9
5Yoder, J. D., Perry, R. L., & Saal, E. I. (2007). What good is a feminist identity?: Women’s feminist identification and role expectations for intimate and sexual relationships. Sex Roles, 57, 365-372. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9269-2
6Yakushko, O. (2007). Do feminist women feel better about their lives? Examining patterns of feminist identity development and women’s subjective well-being. Sex Roles, 57, 223-234. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9249-6
Dr. Sandra Faulkner – Science of Relationships articles
Sandra’s teaching and research interests include qualitative methodology, communication and identities, and the relationships between culture, identities, and sexual talk in close relationships. She has published work in a variety of academic and literary journals and is most pleased with her work at the intersection of social science/poetry.