First-World Feminist Problems

Kaye Herranen

Where are all the examples of feminist women living in happy, healthy relationships with men?

This is a question I’ve found myself mulling over for quite some time. I know women like this probably exist — I just don’t hear from them all that often, or really at all.

I’d like to benefit from their experience, to get their advice on how to maintain independence and autonomy within the unavoidable collective concerns of a relationship or even a family.
Most of the feminist literature and community that I’ve encountered focus primarily on developing and nurturing the individuality of women, and offer little on how to maintain that individuality within a relationship with a supportive man.

The only real support I’ve found has been from fictional characters. This summer I read The Marriage Plot and almost had a panic attack because I empathized so much with one of the main characters, Madeline. However, The Marriage Plot seems to suggest that the only way to be happy and feminist is to be alone — that the love story has to end for the female character to find fulfillment.

It seems that overwhelmingly, stereotypically, to be a “good” feminist woman you have to be lesbian, eternally single, or recently divorced.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against the LGBT community, and I’m not saying their paths as feminists are by any means easy, just that they seem to be more prominent within the feminist community than happily married women.

I guess what I’m saying is that I personally have experienced a frustrating lack of guidance and examples for someone like myself, a young feminist in a long-term heterosexual relationship and who someday wants a family.

I would love to see someone like myself — but older — publically discuss the difficulties and successes that can come with trying to balance a relationship with a man, a career and all sorts of other personal matters.

It’s not like I intend to get married or have children anytime soon, but they are things I definitely see in my future, and think about from time to time.

I know I don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy, but I am in a relationship . . . and I am happy.

There are a lot of issues I can see myself, and other women in similar situations, working through in the future. Should I keep my last name when I get married? Would I encounter legal troubles if I had a different last name as my children? Should I hyphenate when I already have a long and difficult-to-pronounce last name?

Is it fair for me to hope that my partner will move with me if I get a job in a different state? Should I be just as flexible about moving if my partner had a career opportunity elsewhere — when I don’t want to passively “follow” a man anywhere? How should I navigate in-laws that are much more traditional than me?

How do I balance my own need for independence and freedom with my desire to be close and connected to my boyfriend?

These are the types of questions I wish I saw addressed by feminists and questions that I just don’t have anyone older than myself to ask.

I know that there are pitfalls to marriage and children — I know they can tie women down and limit their autonomy — but there have to be ways to navigate those pitfalls and to live a married life that’s in accordance with my feminist values.

I’m not afraid of going down this road, of trying to create a life for myself that is fulfilling and thoughtful, that includes partnership and family — I’d just appreciate some company along the way.
 

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