Usually, when gender equality is discussed, it’s often in the context of how women can obtain equal rights and opportunities in society and in the workforce as men.
I’m married to a man who wants that, sure, but his objections to gender inequality go further: Jeremy wants a world where men get the same opportunities as women. Where men are not held to a standard of masculinity, where they hold equal sway in the home and in child-rearing.
As a child, I declared myself an ardent feminist and took the whole women-are-equal thing to the next level: I decided women are actually better than men. I enjoyed the holier-than-thou feeling of finding sexism and outing it: Letters should be addressed “Mrs. and Mr.,” not the opposite; women should propose to men instead of giving in to social expectations of the reverse; women should be able to lead various blessings that are so often presumed to be the man’s domain, and so on.
These were all fairly peripheral and unsophisticated concerns, but my righteous indignation matured with my age. I read articles about the pay difference in America, lamented the brief length of maternity leave in America. At a certain point, my focus on feminism faded in passion and simply became something I would be interested in discussing if raised in conversation. But until I was married, I never found real reason to challenge the notion that despite all the advances in modern society, women are still handed the short end of the stick.
Then, of course, along came Jeremy. While he would consider himself a feminist, and believes in gender equality, he began pointing out to me the unfairness that sometimes comes with being a modern man. While women have the right to demand not to be seen in a certain way simply because of their gender, men should be able to do so too. Sometimes we would get into philosophical discussions about gender equality that would make me think from his perspective; other times it was Jeremy’s own desires, so different from what I expected a standard husband to want, that showed me that women aren’t the only ones handed unfair expectations.
It started as early as the wedding. I, of course, despite my avowed feminism, had incredibly princessy ideas of what my wedding should be. I would get a pretty gown, pick out pretty flowers, and my husband would show up under the chuppah. Instead I got stuck with the one man who actually cared about all the decisions that go into making a wedding. Jeremy wanted to be involved in every step of planning the wedding, from flowers to tablecloths; he thought his tuxedo should be just as personalized and unique as my gown was, that, at the beginning of the wedding when bride and groom are separate, the room he’d be in should have an equally extensive selection of food as I did in my room, though that’s usually not the case. Why, he insisted, should a wedding be all about the bride? Why is that fair? I didn’t have a satisfactory answer for that, other than I wanted it to be that way.
Suddenly, the excuse “because I’m a woman” didn’t hold the power it used to. If you want equality, Jeremy’s determined attitude taught me, it has to go both ways. Paternity leave should be just as equally available as maternity. The husband should get a say in decorating the apartment, picking out wedding pictures, all the things I thought I would hold natural dominion over as the wife. Sure, I cook, but he cleans. He does the laundry.
Being married to someone like Jeremy has not only affected how our marriage works, but has also made me more open to the notion of reverse sexism in larger society. When I read an article about how being a stay-at-home dad can be so difficult, I no longer roll my eyes and think, “Whatever, it’s way harder being a woman.” Instead, I give the theory some weight. Feminism is a necessary movement, but paying attention to gender equality — equality that goes both ways — is just as important.
Simi Lichtman is a contributor to the Forward.
A Man's Feminism