How To Be A Practicing Feminist With Your Partner

I date women, but I’m a reliably sympathetic ear for my straight women friends when they complain about the men in their lives. And it’s hard out there, from what I hear. I’ve watched a lot of powerful, badass women get into relationships with dudes who treat them badly, and it’s wearing them out. To find no-strings-attached sex, you might have to sift through a lot of garbage and risk a flood of dick pics. Even if you find a dude who says he’s a feminist, he might be lying to get laid. It’s enough to make you want to give up on men entirely.

But maybe you’ve found someone you really like. Maybe he raises chickens or charms your mother or laughs at your puns. Maybe he even does the work to support feminism publicly and with his friends. He still might have a hard time practicing feminism in your relationship, day-to-day, because he likely grew up in a patriarchal culture that told him he could do no wrong.

So what does feminism look like in a relationship? How can you foster a healthy, supportive partnership with someone of any gender?

The following guidelines, though of course not intended to be comprehensive, are a good starting point.

Continually Ask For Consent

I’ve lived in a tragic bind for the last decade, which is that I’m a lesbian who loves tits, but I’m attracted to masculine folks who frequently don’t enjoy their breasts being touched. If I assumed that because we were official, I could do whatever I wanted with my date’s body, I’d be sent packing pretty fast. This keeps me remembering that I don’t own my partner, I don’t have possession over their body, and if I want to do something sexual with them, I have to ask first. Does that mean sometimes I don’t get to do the physical thing I want to with them? Yes. Have I died as a result? No. Have I still had fulfilling sexual relationships? Of course — especially because my dates know I respect their limits.

Actually Listen

I recently overheard a bro tell another bro, “At home, I just agree with my wife and then do the opposite.” This is straight-up misogyny as a form of dude-bonding: his wife’s opinion is never worth listening to. Don’t be that guy around your friends, and make sure your person knows you value her opinion. If you’re tired and you really need quiet, just say so, gently — “Hey, can I get five minutes to myself? I had a long day and I need to decompress.” But then come back in five minutes and show up to listen to her if she’s expressed a need to vent.

Give Your Partner Autonomy Over Their Body

My partner and I decided early on that we wouldn’t clean each other — you know, pick lint off each other’s shoulders, brush away an eyelash from each other’s cheeks, fix that stray hair that keeps poking out. Instead, if we see something that needs cleaning, we tell each other, just like you’d tell someone there was broccoli between their front teeth. You wouldn’t clean the broccoli out of their teeth yourself — that would be a violation, and also gross. We’re in a long-term, trusting relationship, but our bodies are still our own, and they’re our individual responsibilities. Instead of taking it upon myself to clean her, as if her body is just an extension of my own, I let her take care of herself. That helps us maintain boundaries, but it also helps us respect each other as separate, grown adults.

Split Housework — But In A Way That Works

If you say you’ll do the dishes every night, but then you’re too tired after dinner and nine out of ten times, she does them, figure something else out. Keep asking yourself: Am I treating her like my girlfriend or like my mother? And how, exactly, do I treat my mother? This might mean you have to step up your skills in areas where you’re weak. If you can’t cook, learn — for your own health, so you don’t rely on processed shit when your partner’s out of town, and for your partner’s sake, so she doesn’t carry the responsibility for your daily feeding. Because she’s not your mother.

Talk About Children — A Lot — Before You Have Them

My friend’s husband presented her with prenatal vitamins this February as a Valentine’s Day present. He thought he was being funny — and he really wants her to have his baby — but she felt pressured into making a life choice that she’s unsure about. And after his grand gesture, which conflated his love for her (his Valentine’s Day present) with a loaded request (to go off birth control and throw years of reproductive caution to the wind), she felt less than comfortable expressing her doubts to him. Having an alien invade your body for nine months is a big deal, and can make a lot of people miserable, especially women whose husbands saddle them with most of the childrearing. So dig into the big questions before you decide to go for it: Will you have a primary caregiver, and if not, exactly how will you split things up? What are you nervous about? How will you pay for everything?

Don’t Cheat

If you want an open relationship or pursue polyamory, tell your partner. She might have a hard time with it, but if sleeping with or dating someone else is that important to you, spare her the agony of finding out you cheated. If you make agreements about fidelity, keep them. Otherwise, you’re violating her consent. If you sleep with someone and catch crabs, and then sleep with your partner, she’ll get crabs, too — a thing happening to her body because of you that she had no control over. You want to build trust with the person you’re dating, not erode it — for the sake of your long-term sex life and your partnership.

Speak Respectfully About Other Women

Once, when a girl on my softball team made a bad play, my dad called her a cow. That told me a lot: that it wasn’t okay to be fat, that when a girl screws up it means she’s ugly, and that it was okay to judge her for all of the above. Notice what you say about women in front of your partner, and change it if necessary. I stopped calling people “bitches” a few years ago, because it insults someone’s womanhood in addition to whatever you were trying to insult them for. “Asshole” works just fine, and everyone has one.

Put Your Privilege On The Line For Her

Maybe she makes more than you, or she’s deep into her career when she gets pregnant. Can you be a stay-at-home dad? If your instinct is “no way,” notice that, and ask yourself why. Do you value your professional life more than your partner’s? Would you move across the country for her job if it meant leaving yours? Would she do the same for you? What was the model your parents laid out for you, and do you want to repeat that? Maybe you do, but make sure your partner is down for that from the beginning. If you choose to have a kid, are you going to wake up in the middle of the night when the kid cries, or will you let her do it? That means she’ll be more tired at work the next day, less willing to take on an extra project, or less enthusiastic in a meeting with her boss — are you okay with that sacrifice to her professional life? Can you share the burdens equally?

Apologize

If she keeps saying you’re being an asshole, maybe it’s time to admit that you were. No one is perfect, and this culture is awash in misogyny that’s hard to escape. So when you screw up, instead of beating yourself up or pretending it didn’t happen, own it and move on. That’s how we love each other better — over and over.

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Lead image: flickr/*nina*z

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