I’ve had hundreds of conversations with women who are partnered with men this year, who are fucking struggling.
What I’m seeing is that right now is an extremely difficult time to be partnered with straight men, (especially straight white men) and that the more conscious and empowered their partners feel about the cultural movement happening toward racial and gender equity, the more frustrated, isolated, and lost they feel in their individual partnerships.
Culturally, things are changing. But individually, in a lot of ways, they’re lagging behind.
While men do more domestic chores and childcare than they did decades ago, women still do significantly more of both, even when both partners report it feeling equally split. (Isn’t that interesting?) Without even realizing it’s happening, when a man and woman get married, the amount of housework done by the man significantly decreases on average, while the amount done by the woman significantly increases, even when both partners are working full time.
For that (and dozens of other reasons I don’t have time to get into it here), when a man and a woman have a child, the man’s overall happiness and marriage satisfaction levels increase on average, while the woman’s happiness and satisfaction decrease.
Basically the leftover residue of “traditional gender roles” make getting married and having kids a great deal for straight men, and a shit deal for their female partners.
Did you know that mothers on average still spend twice as much time with the children as fathers do? Did you know that men on average spend significantly more hours per week doing leisure activities than their female partners?
Men often don’t see these inequities though, even viewing their female partners as “nagging” or being unreasonable for asking. But even more often, she simply doesn’t ask, because women are conditioned to see this extra work as their responsibility, while men see free time as an opportunity to do something fun.
As the wonderful Molly Galbraith recently pointed out to me: when’s the last time you heard a man say he felt ok about hitting the gym because doing so made him a better father or husband? When’s the last time you heard a man justify a round of golf by saying it’ll give him more energy to run errands later?
The way the genders are conditioned to see themselves, their responsibilities, and what they’re entitled to, is still very different. And this shows up in heterosexual relationships in a million invisible ways that burden women emotionally, mentally, physically, and sexually.
Our culture is changing, thanks to the #metoo and #timesup movements.
Men are being called out for their behavior, and being asked to do better on a broad scale that we’ve never seen before. Men are now expected to help raise the kids, help with domestic chores, ask for consent before sex (and even care if his partner has an orgasm!), and be able to identify and talk about their emotions.
But women are still often in charge of remembering birthdays, keeping track of what groceries and household products need to be bought, setting up and paying the babysitter, maintaining the closeness of the connections between everyone in a family, and bringing up issues of intimacy to work on. Women are still too often in charge of “providing” sex rather than desiring or enjoying it on her own terms. Women are too often expected to “teach” her partner how to feel and discuss his own feelings, and tolerate the fact that he is “just not good at that stuff.”
Individual straight men can be great, but the conditioning around traditional gender roles in a partnership means that partnering with men often leaves their female partners feeling stressed, burdened, isolated, and emotionally unfulfilled.
And the more the cultural shift moves forward, the more obvious it is that we are tolerating partners who burden us and hold us back, without having any idea.
At least that’s how I felt.
I’ve loved many great men. The cream of the crop, if you will. The best of the best– men who are actively engaged in their own inner development, working to dismantle internalized homophobia and sexism, working to become aware of their own privilege, and examining their relationship to manhood, masculinity, femininity, and self-worth.
But even so.
In every relationship with a man, these bits of “traditional gender role” based inequities have made me feel angry, hurt, lonely, and unsatisfied. Not because they’re bad people, but because we all take our gender conditioning into our relationships with us.
A partner who takes his self-worth from being able to fix everything, or from being able to “protect” me, will not be able to hear me when I try to explain his unintentional role in the oppression of women.
A partner who has been conditioned to value stoicism, strength, and dominance will feel attacked when I suggest that these things are problems.
A partner taught to fear weakness and femininity will struggle to make the changes we so desperately need to thrive in partnership.
As such, I honestly can’t imagine partnering with a man again. Getting them to see this entire invisible world of inequity is too often like talking to a brick wall, and even the smartest and most respectful men balk, struggle, dismiss, gaslight, and defend themselves against a perceived attack.
But please don’t misunderstand. While sometimes I get very angry about the way women are treated still, I’m not angry at men. I’m just deeply disappointed.
As a bisexual woman, I always saw myself ending up with a man, thanks to some internalized homophobia, and an unconscious desire to have a “normal” and “easier” life. But if partnering with a man means a life of inequality, frustration, and isolation, then I can’t do it. And this makes me sad.
Personally I feel as though I’m grieving the loss of men as potential partners, as well as feeling the global loss of time and energy from so many kick-ass women partnered with men who are becoming aware that this iniquity feels cramped and exhausting.
That said, I like to think this cultural moment is kind of like middle school, when the girls developed first and the boys just needed some time to catch up. All this awareness about oppression, privilege, consent, and equality that we’re gaining culturally t… I hope men get on board and eventually blow us away.
PS If you’re a man, I hope you read this carefully, and process thoughtfully before hitting reply and sharing your thoughts. This is not an individual attack, and I don’t want to have to field responses in which you defend yourself.
Yours, always, in processing the world, in the moment, as I see it. 🙂