Can you believe in true equality between the sexes, but still want to be wooed with candlelit dinners and roses?
Three writers consider the role of traditional romance in modern relationships.
‘Equality and respect? I do!’
BY JANINE JELLARS
As a feminist, getting married has been a true test of my patience and Oprah-taught kindness. The reactions to my engagement spanned the ignorance gauntlet: from the faux-concerned, ‘Oh, sweetie, didn’t we tell you you’d find someone?’ to the truly ignorant, ‘How can you get married when you don’t like men?’ and, the worst, ‘Now that you have a man, you’re going to go easy on this feminism stuff, right?’ Thing is, marriage is not inherently anti-feminist. And getting married does not negate my feminism. I’m a firm believer that your choice in life partner is a feminist concern. While Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t always get it right, there’s one thing I agree with her on: the most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry. ‘When it comes time to settle down,’ Sheryl writes in her book Lean In, ‘find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.’ For me, equality and respect are the ultimate #RelationshipGoals. I was happy to be someone’s glamorous girlfriend, while carrying myself socially, emotionally and financially. But in the absence of a man who saw me as his equal, marriage was off the table. The day I knew I found my Sandberg- and feminist-approved person, we’d attended a very fancy dinner party with just the right amount of pretentiousness and far too many tiny plates. Over light conversation, I said something heavy that outed me as a political person. One of my fellow guests (a man!) leaned over and hissed provocatively, accusingly, ‘Oh, so you’re a feminist.’ Before I could return his derision, my person responded coolly with ‘Isn’t everyone?’ His feminism wasn’t just about having my back; it was something he believed in too. Our shared political and philosophical views have made the negotiations around getting married easy. There are certain traditions I won’t be participating in – I won’t wear a traditional white wedding dress, or a veil, for that matter. I won’t be changing my surname. And my person doesn’t mind at all.
Janine Jellars is a freelance writer and blogs at This Here Hair
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‘My feminism doesn’t mean I don’t want love’
BY GUGU MHLUNGU
I like romance. In fact, I like romance a lot. I like flowers, I like dweeby texts, I like being taken out to dinner sometimes, being surprised with something I like and shown affection. The only thing I like more than being romanced is doing these in return. My love language is giving, mainly because I’m terrible with words (I am working on this). I’ve had snide remarks in the past, when enormous bunches of flowers were delivered to my workplace: ‘Oh, I thought I were you a feminist?’ To which I replied, ‘I absolutely am and, at the same time, I am thrilled to have gotten these flowers!’ The assertion that ‘being feminist means you don’t need romance’ comes from a poor understanding of feminism – that feminists hate men – so we often hear, ‘You’re independent therefore you don’t need a man/love,’ which is nonsense, and often said by people who were never going to treat you well anyway. The idea that to reject patriarchy means having to lose affection is basically justifying abuse. Women wanting rights and independence does not mean they do not want love or affection, which may involve roses, dates or having a door opened. If that’s what women want, because they freely choose it, I don’t see how that contradicts feminism, which seeks to offer women the fullest scope of choices. Is the idea of romance problematic? Absolutely. Often, ‘romance’ means someone must be ‘the man’ and someone must be ‘the woman’; someone must woo and someone must be wooed. More concerning, chivalry is often not the end itself, with men not seen as just being nice – rather, men (and women) are taught that chivalry earns sex. And chivalry as a means to currying favour, as a way of being the ‘nice guy’ so you can get what you want, certainly sits in contradiction to intersectional feminism.
Gugu Mhlungu is lifestyle editor at City Press
‘I love that the same rules don’t apply’
BY REBECCA DAVIS
In the course of my five-year relationship with my girlfriend, I have given her flowers only once. I had a bouquet delivered to her office on her birthday, as I was overseas. According to eyewitness accounts, when the flowers arrived she blushed such a deep shade of crimson that it appeared her head might actually explode. Flowers, as you may have gathered, aren’t really a part of how romance plays out in our relationship. That’s not to say it’s a romance-free zone. It’s just that the traditional rom-com elements of romance tend to be deeply gendered. Men give flowers to women, for instance, and not the other way round. When you’re in a same-sex relationship, the same rules don’t apply – so technically, either of us should be able to buy each other flowers at any time without anyone feeling emasculated or weird. You’d expect our apartment to look like a florist’s shop. The fact that it doesn’t is because on some level I think both of us want to resist the romantic gestures that are bound up so tightly with heterosexual narratives. I need to stress that this is definitely not the case for all same-sex couples: I have gay friends who buy each other flowers like it’s going out of fashion. For us, though, the sense of being liberated from traditional gender roles in relationships is very freeing. Sure, Jeanine does all of the DIY around the house, but she also does most of the cooking. (As I write, I’m starting to wonder what I actually bring to the relationship.) When we do romance, we want to do it our way – with shared experiences and travel, rather than mimicking Valentine’s Day ads about how straight people romance each other. I’ve never tried flowers again.
Rebecca Davis is a freelance writer and writes for The Daily Maverick