I'm A Feminist In A Traditional Marriage, & I'm Totally Happy About It
In most respects, my husband and I have a super-traditional relationship. I'm a stay-at-home mom who home schools my kids, while he goes off to work every day. I clean most of the house, and I'm expected to oversee the kids' daily tasks, from clothes to brushing their teeth to washing their hair. But I'm also an intersectional feminist who believes that women deserve equal pay and equal rights in the workplace. Some people might think that this is an oxymoron. But I believe above all else that people should be free to chart the courses of their own lives, even if that means adhering to seemingly conventional relationship roles.
I never seriously imagined that I’d be an intersectional feminist in a traditional marriage where Daddy wakes Mama up with coffee, then trots off to work in a suit and tie, leaving her to parent the rugrats. I always thought I'd live in a cool redone old bungalow with two bedrooms and large dogs. I'd fill it with Art Deco artifacts and a skinny, hipster husband, who would let me write and likely enter into an open relationship with another man at some point. I wasn't even sure I wanted kids.
Then I met Bear. I was in a weird place in my life. My BFF had died a few years before, and my mental illness had gotten out of control. I was on the verge of breaking up with my boyfriend, a dark, brooding poet man who looked uncannily like a grownup Harry Potter. Bear offered stability. He offered comfort. He had good taste in antiques and books, and he had a wicked sense of humor. He liked taking care of me, and I liked being taken care of. So we got married. I got knocked up. And I ended up quitting school, which I was thinking of doing anyway; I already had a terminal degree in my field, and this baby offered a convenient excuse.
Feminism is all about being free to make the choices you want to make.
At the time, many people thought that I was making a huge mistake and betraying my feminist principles. But I never once saw it that way, and I still don't. Feminism is all about being free to make the choices you want to make, as long as you make them with the full knowledge of what they are. It's not the version of feminism I imagined. It's not where I saw myself. But I'm happy in it. And I think I'm still feminist as f*ck.
Before I became a mom, I'd always thought homeschooling was a bastion of conservative idiocy, a way for people to shelter their kids from the big bad world.But the more I did my research, the more I realized that there were other, more complex reasons why parents chose to homeschool their kids. Many parents homeschool because they want to say, "f*ck the system and its heteronormative values." So I no longer think homeschooling is inherently conservative at all.
I spend all day at home with my kids, and then when my husband comes home, they scream, “DADDY!” and shout and gather at his feet, which he puts up on the couch while the kids crawl all over him. It's like an episode of Father Knows Best. And God help me, I always try to make sure I look good when he gets here. Like, makeup done, hair straightened. I might be in yoga pants covered in acrylic paint, but I have my damn face on. This is mostly because I’m vain, but also because I think he deserves a wife who makes the effort to look hot.
I still have my own autonomy. I’ve just ceded more than I ever thought I would. And I don’t mind that.
Bear also has the final say in what money gets spent and when — not because he thinks he should because he's the man, but because money terrifies me and the idea of a checking account balance makes me hyperventilate. This includes the money I make as a freelancer, which gets dumped into our communal account. I make sure to tell him when the big checks come in so he knows we’re clear to pay a big bill or make a big purchase. In return, I am absolutely showered with jewelry at every occasion for which jewelry could be called for.
For the most part, however, we split our household duties fairly equitably. He does all the cooking, and when I say, “Bear, I’m hungry,” he makes me dinner. He also puts up with the mess in my car and does the dishes. It's also not like my husband controls my life or tells me what to do. Recently, I announced that I was going to a retreat in Portland for a few days recently. He blinked a few times, then said, “You’ll have a good time." We then started discussing childcare logistics, and that was that. I still have my own autonomy. I’ve just ceded more than I ever thought I would. And I don’t mind that.
Our marriage isn’t for everyone. But it works well for us: it's rock-solid, loving, and perfect in its imperfections. I still consider myself a feminist, because being a feminist means making your own choices, and I'm happy with mine. It’s not what I expected, but life rarely is. Instead of being about some abstract philosophy, our marriage is built on love and what works. And it works well, even if I’m not living the textbook intersectional feminist life. I feel taken care of, wanted, and needed. I don't need to work full-time, and I can instead pursue my own goals: writing, dressing my kids adorably, training my German Shepherd. Most importantly, we have fun with each other. We enjoy each other's company. And that, more than the gender roles, more than the non-traditional feminism, is what keeps us going.