For me, feminism functions as a guiding force in much of my daily life. I can't really turn my feminist brain "off" in a given situation, so feminist values typically influence the choices I make and the way I perceive the world around me. It's probably not surprising, then, that I also see myself as a feminist partner in my relationship — and ultimately I believe feminism helps me be a better partner, for reasons both large and small. Everyone has a different perception of feminism, but for me, it's rooted in equality, respect, and empowerment.
As a woman myself, being a feminist partner means not relying on traditional gender norms or expectations and instead pushing myself to evaluate what I, as an individual, specifically want and need. Being a feminist partner also pushes me to accept aspects of my partner which challenge traditional boundaries in terms of things like gender expression. This all varies from relationship to relationship, of course; the dynamic always depends on the people involved and your own understanding of feminism. But odds are that if you and/or your partner are feminists, those beliefs will at least in part inform your relationship.
I think there's a lot of value in installing feminist values in your relationship, and holding yourself accountable to feminist notions with the person you're committed to. Here are a few of the little ways I push myself to be a feminist partner, and how I think it improves my relationship overall:
1. We Share The Chores Equally
Before I'd ever been in a serious relationship, I thought couples complaining about chores were making excuses. I thought there was no way otherwise happy people fought about who did the dishes. Little did I know that these arguments about chores are generally rooted in deeper topics about respecting each other, your shared property, your free time, and so much more. As a feminist, I make an effort to share chores equally with my partner, and not just in terms of what is the "least gross" or "girliest" things to do; we both suffer through cleaning the litter boxes and taking out the trash. We tend to rotate chores and clean together, but it's also totally cool to stick to the same chores week to week, or to clean when the other person is at work or out of the house. Whatever works best for the two of you is key, so long as the work is roughly equal and feels fair.
2. Fluid Gender Expression Is OK
Now, gender expression is different for everyone, so for many couples, this might not feel like it applies. While some people identify as genderqueer, or identify with a gender that doesn't fall on the gender binary, fluid gender expression can also refer to more low key drifts from traditional gender norms. For example, I make an effort to openly support whatever my partner chooses to wear, regardless to what she's chosen in the past, or what I prefer personally. Some days she dresses very femininely, others more androgynously, and others involve a suit and tie. Ultimately, I encourage my partner to dress in whichever way makes her feel most comfortable in her own skin, regardless of what norms and expectations society has in place.
3. We Talk About What Feels Right For Us
My partner and I are a same-sex couple, so in a sense, talking about what felt right for our relationship has differed from societal norms from the beginning. (Despite the fact that we're working towards change, we still live in a heteronormative society right now, after all.) Decisions like when we should move in together, who would propose to whom, and more were all things we needed to explicitly talk through because we didn't have societal or cultural scripts to guide us. In my opinion, opposite sex couples who practice feminist values in their relationships can use the same approach: Talking through each big step and decision in a relationship will feel empowering to both of you, because it gives you both equal voice and equal weight in what's happening in your lives. Maybe some traditions feel really good to both of you, and that's OK! Maybe the thought of certain cultural norms making their way into your relationship makes you feel sick, and that's also OK! The key is to both communicate openly and honestly about what you actually want, and not what you think society wants you to want.
4. We Both Manage Money
My partner and I live together and are in a long-term, very committed relationship, so we share money in the same bank account and do so pretty comfortably. Earlier in our relationship, before we combined bank accounts or shared a lease, we kept track of our own finances, but made a point of rotating who covered things like dinners, movie dates, etc. In my opinion, though, feminism in a relationship means doing whatever works best for one of you: If one person doesn't have the same spending budget, that's something you two need to talk about when discussing plans or commitments. If someone is comfortable sharing a lease, but paying rent separately, that's another conversation to have.
Basically, to me, there is no exact wrong or right when it comes to money in a relationship except for the one you're both comfortable with. If you feel like someone is trying to pressure you into spending money and you're not comfortable it, or someone is trying to get access to your money and you're not ready to do that, definitely step back and examine the situation — that can be a huge red flag.
5. We Openly Support One Another
For me, a big part of feminism comes down to respect for yourself, and respect for others. Society often instructs women to tear one another down or judge one another, but as a feminist, I think it's important to push yourself to step out of that mindset and openly praise and appreciate those around you, including your partner. Even if your partner is not female identified, I think it's still important to remind yourself to express your happiness with them to them. So long as you're being sincere, few things make someone feel as good as hearing positive feedback about things they've done or how much you appreciate having them in your life.
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