“What does it mean to be a feminist and a wife?” This question was on my mind a week before my wedding last year. For any woman who is a proud feminist, as I grew up, the decision to get married may not be an easy one. Although I dreamed of a fairy tale happy ending as a little girl, these days I was much more comfortable spending my days doing whatever I wanted — from traveling to Copenhagen on my own to working on my memoir to making strides in my career. For a long time, I was focused on bettering my life and pretty much only worrying about what I wanted to accomplish with it. Until I fell in love.
Falling in love, getting engaged, and planning my elopement changed things for me. For the first time in my life, I was in a relationship that I felt was a true partnership with a person who supported me no matter what, who truly loved me, and who believed in feminism and equality as much as I do. But despite our strong partnership, I still had a lot of conflicting feelings about walking down the aisle. What wedding traditions did I want to partake in as a feminist? Should I change my last name even though it feels like such a crucial part of my identity as a Latina? And, most of all, how do I continue to be a feminist even though I’m now also someone’s wife?
One of the things I struggled with in the beginning was the very idea of being someone’s “wife.” Although it means different things to different people, the image that first pops into my head is that of a doting woman who cleans, cooks, and raises the children. Obviously, it’s not the 1950s and my husband did not decide to marry me because I promised to do all of these things for him (though, I admit, I absolutely LOVE cooking — but that was long before I met him). In fact, we got engaged in a feminist way: By talking about out future and deciding that we both wanted to get married to each other. There was no surprise proposal or diamond ring, but instead we made a practical, yet romantic decision to spend the rest of our lives together. So why was I still afraid of losing my feminist identity after we tied the knot?
I think that, no matter how much of a feminist I am, I still have a very strong pull to take care of other people. In fact, as my husband has recently been pointing out, I am much more comfortable taking care of the needs of others than my own. My Latina upbringing taught me that cleaning up after others, making dinner, and never putting myself first was the way to go. And although, as a feminist, I know this isn’t right, it is still my instinct to make sure that my husband is eating lunch before I even think of feeding myself. I have to actively stop myself from thinking about someone else and remind myself that self-care is just as important as caring for others.
Being a feminist, to me, means caring about the equality of the sexes and actively doing what I can to advance women’s rights and advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. But it also means making sure that I live by those principles in my own life, such as asking my husband to take care of the laundry (usually my chore) if I need some extra R&R on the weekend or bringing home dinner on days I have to work late. Of course, it also means sometimes picking up the slack and doing the dishes (typically his chore) when I see that he has to catch up some things at the end of the day and I don’t. After all, equality should be about being equals, and being equal means that sometimes he helps out more, and sometimes I help out more.
As I continued to struggle with the question of being a married feminist, I posed it to a few friends and one of them summed things up perfectly:
I think it means whatever you want it to mean. You are in an equal partnership. You split the work and both support and build up each other. If you take on more of the traditionally feminine roles, like cooking, do so because you want to and enjoy it, and enjoy supporting him in this role, and not because someone is telling you that is what you should do. And if he wants to take on those roles too, great! Like I said, equal partnership.
If you are in a feminist marriage, and I would describe mine as such, then you know that being equal partners is what it is all about. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things are completely 50/50 all of the time. For example, my husband makes more money than I do and will likely continue to do so just based on the nature of our jobs. I will likely take care of more of the child rearing when we decide to have kids because I work from home (therefore it’s convenient) and I also want to. As with anything in a relationship, sometimes you have to compromise.
As I learned in reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B: A marriage is an equal partnership but it does not mean that things are 100% equal 100% of the time. Sometimes the emotional, mental, and physical labor of keeping a marriage and household working fall more on me because my husband has an important project to finish for work. Sometimes it all falls on him because I have a particularly tough chapter to write for my memoir, so he kicks me out of the house on the weekend so that I can go focus in my local coffee shop and tells me not to worry about anything other than getting my writing done.
At the end of the day, what makes one a feminist is their belief in the equality of the sexes and what reinforces that belief is that women now have the ability to choose their own paths in life. You can choose to get married, or not get married. You can choose to change your last name, or keep your birth name. But all in all, you can choose to have a relationship that is full of love, support, and a (fairly) equal division of labor. Oh, and one that encourages your feminist ideals of course.