“But how are you, personally, oppressed?”

16 July, 2009 at 11:37 am (hetrosexual relationships)

I confess to “not my Nigel” behaviour (though I’m not proud of it). It’s true that my partner does not engage in m/any of the stereotypical sexist male behaviours that are so prevalent in our society. What I have noticed is something very tangly, so tangly that I’m really struggling right now to write about it.

Essentially it’s that he still doesn’t “get” that women are oppressed by culture and individuals in a way that men (even men who don’t think of themselves as ‘men’ because it associates them with all the complete assholes in his male-dominated workplace, and who are often chastised by these and other assholes for not being ‘manly’) are not. Recently he asked me the question that is the title of this post, probably in a genuine attempt to try to understand, but to me it just sounded like he was saying “oh, so you think you’re oppressed? Prove it!”

Which is, of course, part of the problem right there. I expect to be doubted and challenged and not taken seriously, I feel like I have to be ready for battle all the time, even in my own home with the man I trust most. I tried to explain that women are told by the media, society, everything, that they are sex objects and shouldn’t mind being treated as such, that their attractiveness is all-important and that men should be the ones to judge it and have a right to judge it whenever they like; that it is widely implied that women are only important in terms of the roles they play in men’s lives etc etc and that all of this affects me. It means I ‘instinctively’ feel guilty if I want to take a bit of time for myself when he’s in the house, or if I don’t feel like having sex very often, even though he may not actually have expectations on these matters.

He listened, but he so obviously didn’t get it. In his mind, it’s as simple as ‘but you know that all this stuff isn’t true, so except for a few comments from idiots which are annoying but can be ignored, it shouldn’t really have an effect on your life.’ [Not that he actually said this, it’s just what I picked up from his general attitude.]

This is, for me, a constant source of tension because the patriarchy is in my head and even if it wasn’t in my head it would still be in the world and I’d still have to move through it every damn day. Women don’t ‘allow the patriarchy to get to them’, we are victims of it and you can’t just shake it off when you realise it’s all a bunch of bullshit. You’ve got years of trained emotional and mental responses (guilt, fear and shame being the ones that affect me the most) that don’t just go away because you discover they’re based on falsehood.

I think it’s an interesting combination of views, though. My Nigel is pretty unsexist for one raised male in this misogynistic culture, he genuinely believes that women are just as important and just as much ‘people’ as men are (believes it so inherently and thinks it’s so obvious that he wouldn’t vocalise it unless asked specifically), but he simply *will not* check his privilege. He looks at everything in concrete terms, sees that every relationship he’s been in (which have all been with women), his partner was earning more than he was. [I work fewer hours than he does but get paid more every month.] He doesn’t assume he should be entitled to more than women or anything, he just doesn’t see how he can be privileged. He has been in a violent relationship with a woman, and he wasn’t the abuser.  He doesn’t seem to feel ‘unmanned’ by it (because I don’t think he ever wanted to be ‘manned’ in the first place) but he never told the police, he is not counted in statistics anywhere, and therefore thinks that maybe there are lots of others in a similar position, that maybe this is a society issue and not a gender one.

Anyway, jumbly as this is, I just wanted to vent it. I think that it’s probably fairly common among men who aren’t misogynists. They will acknowledge the concrete things (like, if I was to get raped, society would start looking for reasons why it was my fault, and that’s sexist and wrong and it sucks) but when it comes to the more subtle examples of women’s oppression they just don’t ‘get’ it, and think that because they don’t immediately ‘get’ it, it can’t be that big of a deal.

When people with male privilege genuinely don’t think that men and women are inherently different, they assume that patriarchy is something out in the world that can be avoided, that it doesn’t enter into male-female relationships if neither party is actively sexist. This leads to a kind of denial that patriarchy is that big of a deal, and a denial that their female partners have to spend additional energy struggling with these feelings of pressure, guilt, fear and shame that float around affecting the relationship for the worse, and that may not ever fully go away.

I have to tell you, it’s pretty fucking infuriating sometimes.

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