I am honoured to know a lot of incredible women – strong, resilient, highly-intelligent, well-organised, successful in their chosen fields or brilliant stay-at-home carers. But often they share a recurring theme that breaks my heart and causes feelings of profound sadness, frustration and yes, rage, to rise in my chest.
It is the lack of equality in their intimate partnerships and their continued acceptance of that situation as normal.
It is evident in common statements like:
I’ve done two hours of work before my husband has even got out of bed in the morning.
He really wants to have kids as soon as possible and both our Mums really want grandkids. I’m not sure if I’m ready but there is a lot of pressure. [a few months later she falls pregnant]
He really wants more kids…[later in the same conversation]…He didn’t realise he needed to take the nappy bag because he rarely looks after the children by himself.
I finally got a cleaner because I don’t have time to do it all and it doesn’t matter how many times I ask, he never helps out much.
He tries but, you know, he never does it properly.
He’s always happy to do things he enjoys like going to soccer with our son. But he’s not great with the other stuff like cleaning and cooking dinner.
He runs a large company but can’t cope with our three children for two hours without calling me.
Again and again I hear these statements uttered with an accompanying sigh of resignation. I wonder how we reached the point where women accept this behaviour as the standard. Why do we accept this is what love and relationships are supposed to look like?
Honestly, I know exactly how we got here. We arrived through the centuries of conditioning woman (and yes, men) have received, generation after generation. It’s been enforced through cultural norms, families, religious doctrine, film, television, books and our media.
Women accept this is what love looks like because we’ve been taught that it looks like this. We believe it because we see it everywhere. Yet we also wonder why we still don’t have equal rights in the workplace and why men still get off lightly in the courts for rape and other forms of sexual assault. We wonder why women working online receive vicious threats from men threatening to hunt them down, hurt or murder them. We wonder why the scourge of domestic violence continues to threaten women in relationships at every socio-economic level.
We wonder why we don’t have equality in society yet we don’t realise we don’t have it in our homes. If we don’t have it in our intimate lives how can it ever be created or sustained outside our front door?
The truth is, it can’t. But if we continue to accept inequality in our intimate lives, to shrug and say that’s just the way it is and “I love him”, nothing will ever change within our homes or outside them.
Love without equality is love with an unhealthy serve of disrespect. I am so very tired of seeing women disrespected. I can also see they are exhausted from it too. They are exhausted from the accommodating, navigating and negotiating. Yet they believe this is what love looks like so they make trade-offs in their own minds and it all continues.
If we truly want equality in society, we must first achieve it in our homes. And men who support equality in their workplaces need to do the same in their relationships. If they don’t, they are simply mouthing meaningless platitudes in an attempt to publicly look good to their female colleagues and the rest of the world.
Intimate relationships and love can be complicated. There will always be give and take throughout the twists and turns of life, and compromises to be made. But let’s get real about equality.
If you’re in a relationship, sit down and map out how much time you both spend doing paid and unpaid work to sustain life and the home. Include all the hours spent getting up to feed babies in the middle of the night, caregiving, doing the school run, shopping for groceries, cleaning, looking after relatives – although it is unpaid it is still work and if you had to pay someone to do those things (actually, let’s face it, you would need to pay several people), the bill would be huge. Tally it all up and compare notes. See who is spending more time and go from there. Perhaps you are both equally pulling your weight. If so, that is fantastic – keep going! If not, it’s time for an honest conversation.
Every woman deserves to have equality in her intimate partnership. It should be a right rather than something we need to negotiate. A given not an exception to the rule.
Love without equality is not good enough for any woman, or a good enough reason to stay with any man.