Have you ever felt forced to choose between being a good feminist and being happy? I have. It was a huge source of grumpiness and negativity for me in my relationship for many years. I was constantly being fed rules to live by, things never to accept, and demands I have to make of my partner… and I really tried. But at the end of the day, it felt like the only outcome was anger, negativity, frustration, resentment, and unnecessary conflict…
I’ll spare you the long version of the backstory and just say this: for years and years and years women have been disempowered, lacking rights, doing unpaid and unappreciated work, and being unequal to their male partners. We all know this and it’s crap. And whenever a major change is going to happen, as a society, we often have a leading group of people (activists) who go far in the opposite direction to ruffle feathers, prove points, and make it okay for the rest of us to follow.
This is all extremely important and valuable. We would not be anywhere near where we are today without the “radical” feminists that came before us.
But when it comes to girlfriends in good relationships, there are a few things we need to take into consideration in order for this not to backfire. So today, I’ll share my cents on what to look out for when trying to be a good, empowered feminist in your good relationship.
Structures vs. Individuals
What I started noticing in my own relationship was that I myself carried the weight of all women in the world on my shoulders. I had to “take no shit”, “never do more than my half”, and “never accept anything sub-par from my partner” on behalf of all the women. I had to lead by example. It was an extremely heavy burden to bear and lead to me getting upset and causing conflict in situations where the private me didn’t really care, but the good feminist me had to “stand up for myself.”
The other side of this coin was that I made my partner responsible for all the men in the world. The entire patriarchy. He had to be perfect and it was somehow my job to whip him into submission like some damn circus animal. If he fails, I have failed as an empowered feminist.
Can you relate to this dynamic?
If you can, you know what that leads to in a relationship. Constantly monitoring your partner’s behavior, words, and opinions. Constantly keeping score on who does what and when. Fighting over principles more than actual problems. And overall, just being in a constant state of grumpiness, frustration, and anger.
This constant hunt for empowerment… or perhaps desire to exercise my empowerment ironically made me feel weak, disempowered, and miserable. Is this what empowerment feels like..?
What I realized that eventually helped me break out of this pattern was that I’m allowed to differentiate between systematic problems in the world and my private life. It’s not my job to represent all women in the world. It’s not my partner’s job to represent all men. It’s not our job to crush the patriarchy in our relationship. I’m allowed to love my partner, appreciate him, and not make things into a problem if they’re not a problem for me. And this, my friend, was true empowerment.
I got my own opinions back. I was once again allowed to make up my own mind about things. I got to decide what was a problem and what wasn’t for me. And I finally got to see my partner for the wonderful man he actually is.
We can fight and problematize systems and the patriarchy and structures that are shit in the world… and be happy in our good relationships with our good partners. We don’t have to sacrifice our own happiness in our personal lives in order to be good, intelligent feminists.
What is empowerment, really?
A recurring obstacle among my clients when it comes to letting go of their manuals for their partners is that they think it means letting go of their power. If they stop telling their partners what to do, then they fall into this “disempowered woman trap” that they definitely don’t want to be in.
I was there too and I believe it stems from this idea that an empowered, strong woman “asks for what she wants” (ie. tells others what to do). A strong woman doesn’t do other people’s stuff, she makes them do it. An empowered woman does not accept certain behaviors or habits from their partners (ie. informs their partners how they must change).
To a certain extent, I understand and agree with all of this. I think it’s amazing to ask for what you want. I 100% believe an empowered woman should only do what she wants to do, not anything else. And I definitely believe strong women have boundaries and don’t accept being treated poorly.
What I don’t agree with is the solution to these “problems.”
That’s where I wholeheartedly disagree with the mainstream empowerment advice on social media. Because that advice tries to empower women by helping them control their partners.
“Communicate like this to get him to do what you want.”
“If you don’t want to be treated that way, tell him he’s not allowed to.”
“If you’re done doing xyz in your home, this is how you get him to do it instead.”
It’s not empowerment to tell someone else what they need to do and who they need to be. Why? Because you have literally zero power over them. It’s not up to you who they are or what they do. Your partner is an adult human being who has free will and the right to exercise that free will any way they please. And when we think that we are empowered when we try to infringe on our partner’s free will, we completely, 100% disempower ourselves.
When I google the definition of “empowered” it says “make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life.”
Yes. We want to feel strong and confident in our ability to control our life. BUT WE DON’T CONTROL OUR LIFE BY TRYING TO CONTROL ANOTHER HUMAN.
Controlling your life and being empowered means being able to manage your mind. Manage your thoughts. Handle your emotions. Choose how to act. Decide what to do and what not to do. Pick your partner and who you want to live with. Choose when to stay and when to leave.
That is where your power lies.
You never have to control another person in order to control yourself. You have the power to change how you think, change how you feel, or change what you do when a situation isn’t what you want it to be.
Setting a boundary is “IF you do ___, I will do ___.” Not “You’re not allowed to do ___.” If you don’t want to do something at home, it’s your right not to do it. But that doesn’t automatically mean your partner is obligated to do it instead. And you can always ask for what you want, but your partner doesn’t owe it to you to comply 100% of the time. Ask (not demand) all you want, but you’re responsible for what you think, feel, and do if the other person says no.
A Reality Check
Whenever we talk about these kinds of things, our brains go to worst-case scenarios.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this imagine living with a disrespectful, asshole of a slob who expects you to do everything and doesn’t help… ever. That’s how our brains often like to test theories and new concepts.
“If it makes sense in the worst-case scenario then maybe it’s true.”
And it might be challenging to see, but all of this holds up no matter who your partner is or what they do. However, I do want to offer you a reality check here. For most girlfriends and especially those I work with, it’s not the worst-case scenario.
Most girlfriends have kind, respectful, helpful partners who just might not do everything perfectly or up to your subjective standard 100% of the time. In most relationships, it’s the small things that cause big problems because of these ways of thinking.
Your inability to manage yourself and exercise your true empowerment (controlling your own thoughts, feelings, and actions) leads to you trying to control your partner instead. This leads to a relationship where your partner walks on eggshells around you, it suffocates love completely, and it doesn’t allow to any kind of intimacy, connection, or vulnerability.
I always speak to you as a girlfriend in a good relationship for a reason. Because if you’re not in a good relationship with a good partner who treats you well then we have other problems that require other solutions and areas of coaching. When you are with a good partner whom you love, then you managing yourself and changing your own patterns is going to allow you to finally enjoy that good relationship that you are in.
Empowerment never means “having the power to tell others what to do and controlling them and their behavior.” It just means that you are fully aware and take full responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. You give your partner responsibility for theirs and you get to make your own decisions based on what you observe in your relationship.
Ending the relationship is always available to you if you don’t like the kind of person your partner is. You are fully empowered to make that decision. But I want you to see once and for all that trying to change your partner or get them to dance to your flute is not what empowerment means. That is manipulation and is extremely unhealthy in relationships.
If you want help navigating these topics and changing your thought patterns in order to finally enjoy the good relationship that you do have, click the button below to read more about my coaching program. I’m ready to help you make these changes so you can finally be happy!