On “surrendering” to my femininity

Posted by Sappho on December 8th, 2012 filed in Feminism


Someday soon, I may write a post about the kind of relatively subtle, sophisticated discussion of possibly innate sex differences that you might find referenced by someone like Razib Khan. This isn’t that post. This post is about the more moralistic kind, the kind that tells me to surrender to “my” femininity, so that I can, presumably, attract and maintain relationships with the man I want, and then describes a kind of femininity that never was mine, and that none of the actual men I’ve been attracted to really wanted.

I’m talking about Phyllis Schlafly’s niece Suzanne Venker, whose column at Fox News, “Let’s call a truce in the war on men,” I found through Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker’s response to it, which is, Jezebel-style, titled “Fox News Troll Returns With a Breathtaking Sequel to the ‘War on Men’.”

Why am I replying when others, like Baker, have already done so? Because I have something that Baker probably doesn’t have (and probably wouldn’t have whether she wants it or not, since I’m guessing she’s younger than me). I have a marriage that has lasted nearly twenty-five years (we’ll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this coming April. So, from the perspective of someone who is long married to a man who still counts me as his best friend, let me offer my experience, about how well Venker’s advice fits my own experience, with the men I’ve dated, and the man I married.

It means women shouldn’t let their success in the workplace become the biggest thing in their lives.

I’m the family breadwinner. My job is very important to me. But the biggest thing in my life, this past year, has been not success in the workplace, but surviving cancer. So I’ll give Venker this one. Very few people, male or female, should make success in the workplace the biggest thing in their lives, and even most of those few people will have seasons when success in the workplace just isn’t the biggest thing. Cancer tends to do that to you.

If the ultimate goal is lasting love, women are going to have to become comfortable with sacrifice and capitulation. Because those are the underpinnings of a long-term marriage – for both sexes. If you don’t believe me, ask your grandparents. Or anyone else who’s been married for decades.

To this, Katie Baker replies, “This goes without saying, but heteronormative, much? Not all women marry men. Not all men marry women. Not all people marry, period!” And, since I’m not straight, but bisexual, it wasn’t inevitable that my life partner would be a man. But in fact, I have been married for decades, and to a man. So I’m exactly the sort of person Venker just told you to ask whether what she said is true.

It’s half true. Being married for decades has involved sacrifice for both me and Joel, partly because eventually “in sickness and in health” does involve sickness, and because caregiving does involve sacrifice, once the illness is more serious than a temporary bout with the flu. Joel lives with diabetes, a heart condition, and bipolar disorder (as well as asthma and gout), and I’ve had to take care of him through these illnesses, taking on a bigger share of the breadwinning than I’d have needed to had he stayed as healthy as we expected he’d be when we married. This year, Joel has returned the favor, and has been my rock as I have gone through major surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and then chemotherapy again, to treat my cancer. That’s plenty of sacrifice to go around.

I do not, however, experience my marriage as involving capitulation. Compromise, sure. Capitulation, not really.

Women are struggling more than ever with how to rectify their desire for independence with their desire for love. These two things can be reconciled. But you must first be open to ideas that sound blasphemous.

That word, “blasphemous,” makes it sound as if Venker is going to let us know what the world is really like, if we take our ideological blinders off. She’ll be like Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Monkey Trial, defending the reality of evolution to people who refuse to accept it.

Just because you make your own money doesn’t mean your guy can’t pay the bill. Just because you value independence doesn’t mean you can’t take your husband’s last name. Just because you can do the same job a man can do doesn’t mean you need to let him know it.

Google is my friend. I’ve been able to look up and find every man I ever seriously dated, and even several that I didn’t date, but really, really would have if they’d been willing. So I have some idea what men that I, personally, am attracted to turn out to like.

  1. Nearly all of them have married, and stayed married to the same woman for, approximately, decades. Evidently the kind of guy I’m attracted to does turn out to be the marrying kind.
  2. Some of them are married to women who took their last name, and some of them are married to women who kept their names.
  3. In general, they’re married to women who are capable of holding high paying professional jobs. Sometimes in the same field as them.

Do the men, on average, make more than the women, on average? Yes. In fact, though I’ve been in the work force without interruption ever since I got out of college, am childless, and am in a technical field, the average income of men in the category “guys Lynn slept with at Stanford” appears to be significantly higher than my income, going by what I know of their jobs. (I think this tracks with the fact that the average income of men who graduated from Stanford 30 years ago is, in fact, a lot higher than the average income of women who graduated from Stanford 30 years ago.) But I see no evidence here that finding lasting love requires you to let your guy pay all the bills (every single guy I ever dated was happy to alternate who paid, and I am, as I said, the breadwinner in my marriage of nearly 25 years), to take your husband’s last name (I hyphenate socially and keep my maiden name professionally), or not to let your man know that you can do the same job as he can (how am I supposed to do that? by turning down job offers that might surpass his earnings?).

Surrendering to your femininity means many things. It means letting your man be the man despite the fact that you’ve proved you’re his equal.

My man is 6’4″ (to my 5’5″), hairy, outweighs me by a hundred pounds, and has way more upper body strength than me. He also has entirely different genitals. Trust me, no matter what I do, he is the man, and no one, looking at the two of us, would ever mistake me for the man.

It means recognizing the fact that you may very well want to stay home with your babies – and that that’s normal.

That would require that I have babies. Joel’s illnesses turned out to preclude that. And, well, something about in sickness and in health, and you did say that long-term marriage involved sacrifice, didn’t you?

I do, however, have brothers and sisters with children, who are also in long term marriages. And, though I’m sure there are many things that I can never know about being a parent without being one, there’s one thing I feel confident of, from second hand knowledge.

And that is, you have the baby, and then the two of you make whatever arrangements you need to, depending on your situation and the baby’s needs. One of my sisters had a daughter who was born way premature, at one pound six ounces and just days past the point where the NICU wouldn’t have tried to save her. That sister took a much longer maternity leave than she’d expected to, in order to be with my niece in the NICU, to express milk for months when my niece wasn’t yet able to nurse, to read to her in the NICU, to monitor her oxygen in the NICU (the nurses instructed her in how to adjust the oxygen when the alarm went off, so that my niece got quicker adjustments than if she’d had to wait for a nurse, and, later, to care for a still fragile baby just home from the hospital. Then my sister went back to her job as faculty at a university, and my brother-in-law cut his teaching hours (he teaches high school) to half time, to care for the baby, while his mother came to the house when both my sister and brother-in-law were working, so that my niece wouldn’t need to go into day care, since given her circumstances her parents were more worried about exposure to infection than they would be with a normal baby. That niece will have her thirteenth birthday this Christmas Eve, and has a younger brother. Both parents are at the same jobs (by now long since both back to full time), and they have a balance that works for them.

If you have a baby, you work together to do what the baby needs. That might mean that you don’t go back to work as fast as you’d expected. It might mean that you do go back to work, whether you like your work or not, because the baby needs you to pay the bills. And, sure, you look after your own needs as well. But whether you’re at work, maybe sometimes wishing you were home with the baby, or whether you’re home with the baby, maybe sometimes wishing you could get away from the baby and back to work, it’s all about finding an arrangement that works for your circumstances, not about “surrendering” to some kind of universal femininity.

It means if you do work outside the home, you don’t use your work to play tit-for-tat in your marriage.

Who does this? Seriously, who does this?

It means tapping into that part of yourself that’s genuinely vulnerable and really does need a man – even though the culture says you don’t.

I don’t need a man, though. I’m bisexual. I could have made a life with a woman, instead. I chose Joel, and he chose me, and we choose to depend on each other, and to be, to each other, people who can be depended on.



4 Responses to “On “surrendering” to my femininity”

  1. Kai Jones Says:

    I’m heterosexual, a woman, and still don’t *need* a man. I want a life partner, and because I’m het, I want that life partner to be a man. But I could live without a man and I could live a good life without a life partner if I hadn’t found one.

  2. Sappho Says:

    Yes, that too.

  3. Hector_St_Clare Says:

    Lynn,

    This is all very interesting. I wish you’d posted it at Alexandria so we could comment on it there. I’d like to respond, but I’d prefer to do so at Alexandria.

  4. Sappho Says:

    I was trying to alternate posts between the two blogs to keep sufficiently active on both without duplicating all my posts. But it’s probably OK to duplicate one or two. I’ll set a copy of this up on Alexandria to post on Saturday.