When we started dating as teens, I had barely scratched the surface of feminism. It wasn’t until I was in college and beyond (right around the time we got married) that I formed opinions on issues like married names, beauty standards, slut-shaming, etc. And it seems that on these issues – the cultural issues that aren’t about women’s legal rights so much as their gender performance – we just don’t see eye to eye.
For instance, he balked and protested big time when I recently suggested that I want to stop shaving my legs. My desire to do so is mostly because I hate keeping up with it and don’t see the point, but there are feminist-related reasons, too – I resent that I only continue to shave to meet societal beauty standards that I think are arbitrary and sexist, and I think it should be any woman’s choice to shave or not. He gets my personal reasons for disliking it, but rolls his eyes when I bring up any reasons related to feminism. That’s where I lose him, and that’s where the conversation turns to petty bickering.
God forbid I actually put my beliefs into practice in my own personal life in a way that would affect him. It’s OK to be against leg-shaving as a feminine beauty standard, but not OK to stop shaving my own legs. It’s OK for women to have a choice about taking a married name or not, but he was not OK when we were engaged and I mentioned the possibility (without any strong feelings) of keeping my name.
I find it really hard for me to discuss these things with him rationally. I have a history of generally being a doormat and bending to what other people want from me just to keep the peace, a habit I’ve been making big steps towards breaking in recent years. I often feel I don’t know why I’m fighting a fight – because I’m fighting for the right thing, or because I want to WIN, or because I’m trying not to be a doormat? Clearly, we have communication issues, which he acknowledges but doesn’t feel is such a huge problem that we need to pay a counselor to help us fix it right now.
If this were a guy I’d been dating a little while, having my feminist beliefs and practices dismissed would probably be a red flag that would lead me to MOA sooner than later. I don’t consider it a marriage deal-breaker, but it certainly sucks, and I’m feeling at a loss to navigate it constructively. I’m all for compromise, but I’m just not seeing my options here. Not just on the leg-shaving itself, but on the larger issue of compromising my feminism to please him. It just doesn’t sit right with me, but I’d love some outside perspectives and examples of how others have handled this. — Embracing My Feminism
If you don’t want to shave your legs because you just really hate shaving, that’s one thing, I guess, but your husband certainly has a right to not like it and not be labeled anti-feminist. It would be like if he decided to stop shaving his face and you didn’t like it because it made kissing him uncomfortable or you simply prefer him clean-shaven. He, just like you, is entitled to a personal preference without having his political beliefs questioned simply because said personal preference happens to be a societal norm. You say part of your reason for wanting to stop shaving your legs is feminist-related — you hate shaving “to meet societal beauty standards that you think are ‘arbitrary’ and ‘sexist.'” But are the standards really arbitrary and sexist if they are what your husband prefers? Are his preferences automatically anti-feminist if a majority of society shares them? That seems unfair. And, ironically, a little sexist.
From the outside looking in through an, albeit, small window into your relationship, what really seems the larger issue here is your history of being a doormat and the difficulty you have with asserting yourself. You’re working on it and, naturally, your husband would be a good partner to practice different techniques with. But this technique you’re practicing — choosing a change you want to make in your personal life as a way to challenge your husband’s support of your political beliefs — isn’t a great one. A better one would be to sit down and talk with your husband about how your evolving feminism informs some personal decisions and how you’d like his support but are open to finding compromises that work for you as a couple.
Without other examples of what other sort of issues you’re having besides the leg-shaving thing, it’s hard to give specific advice. But an open dialogue grounded in mutual respect is usually a good place to start ironing things out with your husband. Explain why you don’t want to shave your legs and then ask why he has a problem with it. If he just really, REALLY hates hairy legs, would you be willing to shave to please him because he’s your husband and you love him and want to make him happy, or would doing so really, REALLY compromise your feminist beliefs so much that you would resent him every time you held a razor in your hand? If that’s the case, you have to express that to him. And it may just be that this is an issue you disagree on, but, ultimately, it’s your body and of course your choice to shave or not to shave.
But maybe there are larger issues that are worth standing your ground on a little more than not shaving, in which base, I’d advise to choose your battles and to use leg-shaving as a compromise point. Like, “Okay, I’ll shave my legs to keep you happy even though I think it’s anti-feminist, but I absolutely will not budge on [whatever your other issue/s are].” If you start with what YOU are willing to compromise on, it will be easier to get your husband on board with making his own compromises. That’s what compromise is all about. You can’t just say, “These are my beliefs and if you love me you will support me 100% in everything I do if I say it’s related to my beliefs!” You have to explain WHY and HOW it’s related to your beliefs, why it’s important to you personally, and what you’d be willing to do as a show of appreciation to your partner for supporting you even if what you’re doing isn’t something he necessarily likes.
Readers, do you have any other tips? How do you discuss feminism with your partners in relationship to your relationships? Are there issues you’ve compromised on, and if so, how did that work for you?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.