When you’re a woman that loves men, you learn quickly that there are many things you’ll do in your relationships with them that will be taken for granted. Keeping track of chores, following through on those chores, making to-do lists up the ass.
But as a straight (or bi/pansexual) woman, you also realize over time how little is expected of your man in your relationship, be it from yourself or from other people. Whether consciously or unconsciously, our socialization from a young age teaches us that there are certain expectations of women and men in heteronormative relationships. These expectations hit me in crashing waves. I’ll get a twinge of hesitation right before I ask my fiance to scoop the litter for our cat, or run an errand I can’t do myself.
I’ll second guess whether or not I should ask him to wash the dishes “for me.” I’ll feel subtle guilt when I ask him to pleasure me a different way during sex.
And it finally hit me today, when I was texting him about our wedding planning. I told him he needed to do something (exactly what is irrelevant) and he responded to my request with “I’ll be an adult about it and do it.” And instinctively, I almost said “Thanks” in return before I stopped myself. I was perplexed. Why was I about to thank him? After all, it is our wedding, as in something we’re both committing time and energy to. Therefore, anything I ask or demand of him during the wedding planning process shouldn’t be something I have to thank him for. His equal participation should be something, as I described of myself, that is expected of him.
I have questioned myself on countless occasions over why I feel the range of emotions I do when I make simple requests of him. Will he hate me for asking too much of him? Am I making him do too much work? Am I just lazy for not wanting to do whatever I’m asking him to do? And so on and so on. It’s a cycle of hesitation, frustration, and disgust toward these intrusive thoughts that tumbles like clothes in a dryer around my head before I ask him what I want him to do. And I can’t be the only woman that feels this way.
It is mutually reassuring and disheartening to remember that we live in a society where women’s equality to men is perceived as excess, and men’s minimal efforts are perceived as equal to women’s. Consider that studies have shown that in social or professional settings, men perceive a 50-50 representation of men and women when women make up less than 20 percent of a group. Think about the fact that in order for men and women to talk an equal amount in a group conversation, the group must be overwhelmingly female. It’s the cherry on top to discover that among Millennials, while both men and women have increased their respective domestic roles compared to the generation prior, women still do notably more housework than men. The timidity of expectation that so many women have toward their male spouses could explain why, on average, women are less happy in their marriages than men. It’s not enough to suffer in silence; we have to deal with the stigma of speaking up, of becoming the nagging wife (or for black women, the “Sapphire”) representation that so many men bemoan. Or worse, we’re labeled as bad wives if we don’t do “our share” of the work in a relationship. We’re asked to bear the emotional labor of entire families without expecting a base level of burden-sharing from our boyfriends or husbands, all while smiling and being thankful for whatever help is given to us.
These reservations about asking my fiance to do things around the house or for our wedding are a consequence of being raised in a patriarchal society. I occasionally hear my mother’s voice in my head, echoing the words she told me as a 20-year-old, “You have to let a man be a man.” As I grew more confident in myself and my relationship, I vocally challenged that notion. I don’t “allow” my fiance to be anything. I definitely am not keeping him from being a man by having expectations of him beyond washing a dish or going to a venue showing. Expecting him to do more than the minimum is not making him more “feminine” or less of a man, it’s expecting him to be an adult. I shouldn’t have to thank him for being a grown-up. It’s the least he can do for committing to a relationship with another adult.
Perhaps women should start saving their gratitude for men that brave oceans, not puddles.