A few years back I read fight like a girl. It filled me with rage and determination. I suppose that was the point. The same feeling simmers when I read stories of blatant discrimination. When the men in my newsfeed question whether the wage gap truly exists or the validity of “me too”. When I realise the magnitude of micro-aggression aimed at women on a daily basis. And then there is the absolute abhorrent abuse of women.
I seethe with injustice and look for a place to direct my anger. Too often I lay it at the feet of my partner.
The patriarchy is a construct. It’s difficult to hurl emotion against it in any satisfying kind of way. But a real, breathing person, who has benefited from that construct all his life, is a different thing altogether.
But it’s not entirely fair.
My husband was brought up by a formidably strong woman and surrounded by equally strong older sisters. He “gets” it. There have never been assumptions in our relationship based on gender. He cooks and cleans and will do those things without being asked. When the kids are sick, we discuss who is best placed to take the day off work. We decided to have children together to and we care for them in the same way. This shouldn’t set him apart from other men I know, but it does.
So he’s a good guy. But he’s still a guy. He finds it hard to grasp the invisible structures that have made parts of his life easier and parts of mine harder. Particularly when he’s working in a world actively seeking to redress the balance with quotas and programs he has no access to.
To me it feels like women have grudgingly been allowed a seat at the corporate table. Under certain conditions. Welcome only if there was room and at no cost to the men already in position. We have had to play by the rules that favour the men. It’s slowly improving but cultural change is glacial. It takes a while to figure it out.
My husband occasionally bags the women’s AFL. Complaining that the skill level isn’t high enough for the games to be entertaining. This is a brand new competition with athletes that have come from different disciplines. They have not yet had a chance to build. Yet somehow they are expected to be competing at the same level as people who have dedicated their life to the game. The men’s game, at the same point in its history, had similar scores to the current women’s game. I think this is demonstrative of women trying to work within the patriarchy. Play by our rules. Learn them quickly and if you don’t succeed immediately within our terms then you are clearly not cut out to be here.
Of course we’ve made progress but it feels slow. A dance where two steps are forward and one is back. It’s so frustrating.
But being frustrated at my husband for this is pointless. He is not the enemy here. In fact, as we are bringing up two young men, we are allies.
So how do we change things together?
Firstly, feminist raging and occasionally ranting at him isn’t helpful. I’ll keep it for the close girlfriends over glasses of wine. I’ll direct my rage elsewhere.
We can be practical in the way we conduct our lives and the example of we set for our boys. We can watch our language and model a relationship that it a true partnership. Our boys are part of a generation that will move things forward. A generation that has a new cultural norm to work from.
Together we can show our children that women are an integral part of the workplace and that they need to be supported.
So next time I feel the righteous feminist rage bubble over, rather than taking it out on my partner, I’ll think about the ways we can make a positive difference. As a team.