20 Ways to Be a Feminist Boyfriend
“I have not always been informed and aware and actively fighting for change here. It took two things: friends of mine pulling me aside and really educating me on systemic inequality for women many, many years ago. And it took me asking myself, what role have I perhaps played in sustaining inequality, and what role can I play in dismantling it?” — Shaun King, Activist
The oppression that women endure in our society is pervasive. From educational institutions to the workplace, from the government to religion, women face a constant supply of hurdles and assaults on their rights. However, there is one facet of a woman’s life that may remain more unexamined than these more publicly discussed issues because it is so deeply personal — her romantic life.
Pushing back against oppressive norms within romantic relationships can be particularly difficult, whether it’s because we want to keep the peace in our relationships and avoid uncomfortable confrontations, or because we unintentionally model aspects of our relationships off of patriarchal societal ideals.
Ensuring that you are not perpetuating harmful norms is one of the most powerful ways to love your partner. This requires consistent and critical assessment of your actions and intentions because we have all inherited and internalized these damaging beliefs to some degree.
To help you in your reflection, here are 20 ways to be a feminist boyfriend:
- If you are reading this article there is a good chance you are already succeeding with this one (good job, allies!) First of all, don’t make fun of people that identify as feminists. This includes using “angry feminist,” “crazy feminist” or “she’s such a feminist” in any other way than to legitimize being a feminist.
- You should identify as a feminist too! Being a feminist means that you support equal rights for both sexes — and frankly, you shouldn’t be in a relationship with a woman if you don’t think that women should be treated equally with men.
- Be proud of her if she has a higher-paying job than you. Many men want to take the traditional role of the “provider” in the relationship and feel threatened by a woman making more money than them. Some will even go as far as to break off a relationship if a woman starts making a higher salary.
- If she experiences sexual harassment at work or out in the world, don’t blame the victim. This includes implying that she could have prevented it through what she was wearing, where she decided to be, or what kind people she has built relationships with.
- Don’t expect her to groom her body hair any different than how she expects you to groom yours. Armpit hair, leg hair, pubic hair — vigorously comb through any double standards you may have. (pun intended)
- Don’t expect her to do things that you wouldn’t expect of yourself. Do you wear dresses? Do you wear heels? Do you wear makeup? No? It’s fine if she wants to, but don’t expect her to do anything that you won’t.
- Don’t expect her to take your name when you get married. The tradition of a woman taking her husband’s surname exists because until pretty recently women were literally considered the property of a man. (Gross)
- Don’t expect that if you have kids together that they will carry your name instead of hers. They are her children as much as yours, and if she gave birth to those kids, she has invested a lot more of herself into them than you have. (At least she has until the point in time at which you are naming your child)
- Make sure that equality extends to the bedroom. For example, do you expect your partner to go down on you, but you won’t go down on her? Do you make her orgasm a priority or does sex finish when you do?
- Split the cost of contraceptives. Don’t pressure your partner to use methods of birth control that are invasive to her body: pills, IUD’s, implants, etc. It’s cool if she truly wants to, but respect her autonomy and choices about her body.
- Acknowledge that your partner might not want to give birth to a baby. Realize that this is perfectly reasonable (see #12 and #13) and respect her feelings and concerns. If this is a deal breaker for you in the relationship, you should probably think about why it is that you feel so entitled to a woman’s body.
- Do your research on obstetric violence. If you don’t understand why a woman may not want to have a baby, this may enlighten you. Midwife Marea Goodman wrote an informative article about it here
- Before you expect women to have a baby do research on the hell that it causes a woman’s body to be pregnant and give birth. Relentless nausea, excruciating pain, ripping of the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus), are all the norm. 9% of women experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. Each year in the US, 50,000 women are severely harmed, and 700 die due to complications related to childbirth. (And chances of complications or death are worse for people of colour — for example, black women in the US are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women) Birth is not a sacrifice to be taken lightly.
- If your partner does give birth to a baby, get involved in the process. Be ready to go as far as catching that baby yourself as she pushes it out of her birth canal.
- Take paternity leave if it is available to you. One of the main reasons that women are disadvantaged in the workforce is that they are given an unequal burden of childcare responsibilities. You can read more about that in another article I wrote here.
- Make sure that you and your partner share an equal burden of the child care beyond the paternity/maternity leave period too. There is a reason why the saying “it’s not babysitting if it’s your own kids” exists.
- Pay attention to whether she’s doing more of the household tasks than you. In Canada, on average a woman performs 54 more minutes of housework than her partner. Every. Single. Day.
- Think about what kind of messages you are telling her about her value. For example, do you compliment her beauty more often or in more significant ways than her intelligence or courage?
- Don’t assume that someone only wants to befriend your partner because they want to sleep with her instead of because she’s smart or she has something important to contribute.
- Don’t slut-shame her. This includes criticizing the pictures that she posts online, the way she dresses, and her sexual history.
So there you have it: twenty positive changes that you can make in your relationship today. What other ways of being a more feminist boyfriend/husband/partner/girlfriend can you think of?