Grrr, I just had this whole post written out and wordpress ate it. Grr. ANYWAY. Today’s Marriage Monday post comes from the fabulous Smithereens! We’ve been reading each other’s blogs for years now, and when mentioned guest-blogging, I leapt at the opportunity for her to share her graciousness and insight here. I love what she came up with – a post that explores the struggles of feminism and marriage. Without further ado, here is her post – I will be commenting in the comment section.
During the early years of our relationship, learning from my husband, or recognizing him as the most influential person in my life seemed so far from my feminist aspirations and my education that the whole idea sounded foreign to my own ears.
It might sound naive but in the early days of my marriage it never occurred to me that my husband might teach me something. Our (my?) idea of marriage was of a partnership between equal, responsible, consenting adults. We would share chores on an equal basis, not strictly 50-50 but based on skills and affinity, and we would resolutely avoid slipping into traditional gender bias. And to this day we mostly stick to this covenant: he does the laundry, I do the electrical maintenance. In my ideal conception of marriage, we would evolve together, build up a family and a life together and rely on each other, but nowhere in the traditional wedding speech at the City hall did we hear the word “teaching” or “learning”. Call me self-centered if you want, but I remember how worried I was about losing myself in becoming someone else’s wife: I only thought of this possible transformation in terms of becoming less of me, and never saw how I could gain from this transformation.
If you ever type “learn from my husband” in a search engine, the nearly 5 millions references you get are mostly testimonies from traditional, conservative Christian (or Jewish) home-makers who profess submission and acceptance of the God given role of help-meet to their husbands. I don’t have anything against each of these women, but as a French liberal woman raised in an intellectual atheist culture influenced by the 1968 revolts and feminism, this has simply never been my world. I was taught in the 1980s by my mother and by a generation of like-minded female teachers, that as a girl I could become anything I wanted provided I worked hard. It was an ideal of independence, of self-reliance, and the subtext was that men couldn’t be trusted.
I didn’t feel comfortable with “teaching” and “learning” because it implied an imbalance between someone who knew and someone who depended on the other to get this knowledge. It had nothing to do with love. But I progressively learnt (yes, learnt) to think differently. I started to see that influence was not the same thing as power, that teaching may also be an expression of caring and loving and that learning is often about putting yourself in your spouse’s shoes, something that has saved me from many rotten arguments time after time.
Now if I have to pinpoint what I’ve learnt from my husband, I don’t think of practical skills. Trying to learn a skill from him (say, how he does professional presentations for work) resembles too closely to a school context and is a recipe for disaster: I end up bickering and nagging and none of us is taking anything out of these painful moments. But he had taught me a lot in a more subtle way. Let me try a list:
He has taught me:
- that I can actually wear red (and bright colors in general)
- that I can turn into a morning person and really, truly enjoy it
- that people can be trusted for many things (not to be confused with blind naivety) and that it’s a principle a lot more positive to live by than the opposite
- as a consequence, that I should trust myself a lot more and stop being hurtful to myself (when I’m on a self-loathing binge he says: “stop talking ill of my wife!”)
- that reading the small print of the mortgage papers is worth it and that paying off the whole mortgage is not “just a dream” if we get organized and stick to the plan
- that some people prefer ironing to cooking
- that all men aren’t really from Mars (that gender clichés aren’t necessarily true)
Of course, I could have learnt these lessons sooner or later from other sources, from “life”. But I prefer to acknowledge how lucky I am to have someone next to me to open my eyes. And who knows what he learnt from me?
Now here’s the question: how can we combine our feminism with the acknowledgment of our husbands’ true influence over us?