I had a peculiar sort of awakening last week when an associate grumbled to me that, for a feminist, I didn't have very good control of my man.
My immediate response was to sit and blink a lot. Very quickly. The response was unremarkable and less than dynamic, but it characterized the sum of activity going on upstairs. If I tried to represent it in an audio format, it would sound a lot like white noise. I was stymied.
Am I a bad feminist? Would I be cursed and cast out of the Feminist Guild of Canada because my boyfriend wasn't on a leash and muzzled? Should I carry a cattle prod to keep the cock-man-oppressor from spewing Y-chromosomes all over my inalienable rights as a free, liberated and whole woman? Would I be haunted by the Famous Five at one hour intervals and shown the error of my ways?
I'm not 60 years old and I don't have white hair, but every now and then I have an insight that makes me think I might be worthy of a thick German accent. I had one in the aftermath of my impression of a deer-in-the-headlights.
Relationships--or what we term relationships--are a misunderstood phenomenon. In fact, the long term, exclusive emotional commitment of one person to another that we term a relationship doesn't even quite qualify under the concise Oxford dictionary definition.
The word "relationship" means, quite simply, "to relate," and we relate to everyone in daily interactions. But the association we enjoy with "significant others" should not be subjected to the injustice of being labelled and defined like any other relationship in our lives. We treat our partners differently from everyone else, do things with them we do with no one else and make greater considerations for them than for anyone else.
So should we behave with them as we do with anyone else? Carrying my normal feminist sentiments into my "supra-platonic association" would be disaster. My daily roles are not based on the consideration of other people's emotions, conveniences or opinions. They are based on manipulations of power and employed mostly for the purposes of self-advancement. I do my boyfriend an absolute injustice if I treat him as I do everyone else.
It's not enough to think of this particular relationship as one man and one woman--even those rules open the door to gender stereotypes and conflicts based on the law of Cosmopolitan and Maxim magazines. To make the relationship work simply requires a negligence of all political and personal agendas and a denial of gender and any perceived status that comes with it. Otherwise, it becomes like any other relationship--fraught with conflict and misunderstanding.
Through trial and error, I've figured out that when it comes to the "special" kind of relationship, I can't be a feminist, a journalist, a roommate or any of my other roles. I can only be one of two people interested in companionship and contentment. It means never striving for supremacy or dominance and not buying in to Cosmo-isms like "Make Him Treat You Like The Queen You Are!" or Maxim-isms like "Make Her Give You The Remote!" It means interacting for the sheer pleasure of interacting, not to achieve some ulterior motive.
There really is room for no more than two people in the bed. Gender hangups, "isms" and any other relationships must be cast out.
Ruth Davenport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org