Trouble in paradise

I’m brand new to Feministing – I mean, I’ve traipsed the site for links and articles countless times, but I’ve only just set up an account. So I figure instead of uploading an avatar, commenting on some articles and just generally getting to know the Feministing community a bit better, I’m going to submit a badly written, far too long and insufferably self obsessed rant-post I wrote yesterday. So, without further ado…

Hey, I’m Jessica, I’m 17, bisexual, liberal, and I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I’m a pretty angry person, and I’m not always sure why, but while I used to channel that anger into writing, singing, performing, art etc I’ve had a real crisis of confidence over the past year or so. I’ve felt blocked, low-energy, scared, stifled, sort of unable to function, and I’ve been doing pretty much nowt but procrastinating, but at the same time not allowing myself to procrastinate in fun ways due to guilt.. so basically the past year or so of my life has consisted of a lot of watching tv, comfort eating, typical slacker activities.

A few months into said crisis of confidence when I was feeling really truly lost in it, I turned to one of my best friends (who I already knew was hopelessly in love with me) and we ended up getting together. That turned out to be pretty much exactly what I needed, lots of affection and heteronormativity and slacker activity and dumb teenage love. At some point over the course of the relationship I discovered a few feminist websites for young women and my interest in feminism was reignited dramatically – I’d been into feminism since I’d discovered riot grrrl music aged 12 – and suddenly something snapped. I’d forgotten just how important this stuff was to me, like most people I’ve always wanted to make a statement and change something about the world but I’ve often felt a bit lost in my anger and haven’t always known where I personally want to direct it – then suddenly, holy fudge, feminism exists! I can’t believe I forgot my own beliefs! This is where I fit, this is what’s truly important to me, this is just effing perfect! So over the past 3 or 4 months I’ve been brushing up on my feminist theory, remembering what it means to be a feminist and how great it feels to question the patriarchy, and my boyfriend has noticed. He’s always known I identified as a feminist, albeit fairly loosely up til recently, and he’s told me before that he respects me for my strong opinions and honesty (not specifically on the subject of feminism but in general.)

Now my boyfriend himself is…at the expense of sounding a little harsh, basically your average damaged teenage stoner slacker. He’s loving, fairly intelligent and a genuinely good guy, with vaguely leftist beliefs (like most teenagers where I live, me included) and few strong opinions about anything that’s happening outside of his personal life. He knows next to nothing about feminism, like most guys his age he’s pretty much oblivious to sexism from having been so overexposed to it all his life (sexist jokes, ‘lad’ culture, over-sexualisation of women in the media etc), and whilst he certainly hasn’t been oppressive or tried to coerce me into thinking differently there have been a few instances over the course of our relationship which have made me pretty angry, so I’m just gonna go ahead and list them all in no particular order.

About two weeks ago a guy from college who I know and have sometimes hung out with (but find arrogant and obnoxious) grabbed my butt, supposedly in an attempt to be playful seeing as I know he isn’t interested in me in that way and it was in front of my boyfriend. Now I gave the guy hell, I shouted at him about how my body is not public property, my butt is not his to touch, sexually or otherwise, and basically just told him how he was being a harassing jerk. He seemed pretty shocked and intimidated (I was wearing my ‘Free Pussy Riot’ t-shirt with a big radical feminism symbol in place of the letter o in ‘riot’, you’d think he’d have sensed that that bull wouldn’t sit with me), so instead of acknowledging the points I’d made he instead made a few half-arsed comments along the lines of “I didn’t mean it in THAT way” and “Jeez, I was just messing around”, then turned to my boyfriend and asked him why he was just stood there while I defended myself. So I yelled something at him along the lines of “He’s my boyfriend not my protector, I can stand up for myself”, and the argument (all of which lasted no more than a minute) just sort of fizzled out, leaving me feeling very angry, very proud of myself and very full of argument-induced adrenaline. Anyways, getting back to the point, my boyfriend said next to nothing about the exchange afterwards, and while I’ve been completely ignoring the guy who grabbed my butt, I’ve  heard and seen my boyfriend talk to him and joke with him casually, which (although he’s absolutely free to socialise with whomever he wants) has kind of been a slap in the face.

Another example…he’s admitted to finding sexist jokes funny in the same way he finds racist jokes funny, for the complete stupidity and vague shock value. A few months ago he showed me some stupid generic ‘women should be in the kitchen’ joke that he’d read on the internet (I really truly don’t know why), which I responded to by giving him an unamused look and telling him to “know [his] audience.”

Another one…before we were ever together he once slapped my butt (without my consent) whilst I was being given a piggyback ride, which I responded to by slapping his face once, and nothing else really came of it. If that had happened now and we weren’t in a relationship I’d have probably given him the same lecture I gave the butt-grabber and most likely would have never considered a relationship with him thereafter.

And another…today I shared a photo on my facebook profile from a feminist site on the subject of men who catcall and it’s underlying meanings, and he pointed out where it said (rhetorically) ‘Do you like to re-enforce the cultural stereotype that men are so desperate for sex they can’t control themselves?’ and said something along the lines of “It’s funny because it’s so true”, completely missing the point of the question, underestimating his entire gender (PHMT!) and not realizing that it’s that mentality that creates and perpetuates rape culture.

Later in the day we were chatting whilst waiting for a bus, and some point in the conversation had managed to steer me onto some kind of angry social commentary spiel, and he interrupted me to say “You take everything way too seriously”, to which I responded with something along the lines of “Yeah I know, I need to chill out, but it’s also just that I have some really strong principles.” I would have added “And I don’t wish to apologize for them” but I didn’t feel it was good timing.

Basically what I’m struggling with here is a boyfriend who respects me for having strong beliefs, but doesn’t understand them and has made next to no effort to. I mean really if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’m a radical feminist girl in a relationship with a cluelessly sexist (or perhaps more accurately ‘brogressive’) guy.. what the hell am I supposed to do here?! I mean, he’s somewhat sexist, badly dressed, goofy, he sometimes comes across as a bit of an idiot really, but like I said before he’s also loving, fairly intelligent, a genuinely good guy, and he really really really really reeeeally loves me, in that kind of ruthlessly committed way that I personally need in a relationship in order to let go. I could go into a lot more detail about me, him, my beliefs, the relationship etc etc but I particularly wanted this to be about how my being a somewhat obsessive feminist has affected our relationship. I refuse to be complicit or to stay schtum when I have a point to make, but at the same time I don’t want to be evangelical and try to force him into agreeing with me.. I just want him to be the Booga to my Tank Girl, not the Mr Banks (Mary Poppins) to my Mrs Banks!

To (vaguely) sum up, I’m Jessica, I’m 17, bisexual, liberal, angry, lost, confused, a slacker, and a radical feminist in a relationship with a very loving but somewhat sexist (or at least disinterested in feminism and women’s rights) guy, and I don’t know what to do about it.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    A lot of feminists have this same problem. I think it really just depends on you. What do you consider to be deal breakers in your relationship? I, personally, can understand someone not being very informed about sexism or feminism, but if a guy doesn’t respect me as an equal, then that’s a deal breaker. How much does it bother you? Have you tried talking to him about it? At the end of the day, it’s really about what you want in your relationship. Don’t worry about being a bad feminist, just go with what’s the most important thing to you. Who knows, maybe by your influence, he’ll end up a feminist himself.

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