How to love a feminist in 2017: lessons from my father

Feminists live with stereotypes every day; ''they are not lovable, they are rude, they don't need love, they are hot-headed, they are, well, everything wrong''.

It's mostly men who are afraid of strong women who say these things. And we women have been socialized to think likewise as well. There is this notion that love cannot blossom between a feminist and a man - this assumption that because we are strong, we don't need a cuddle, or pink flowers, or mutual support. And therefore if a woman falls in love with a man she has to optimize her strength to fit into the box of socially defined acceptability.

The pressure on men to be strong is a cause and a symptom of the insatiable desire by men to strip women with strong personalities of their strength. In other words, a fertile breeding ground for abuse of all forms against women. But, strength, in this case intellectually, can be bestowed upon anyone by nature and that should not affect how people love each other.

I was lucky to be raised in a happy family and was able to witness the love between a feminist and a man called my father. My mother has a strong personality, she likes to lead. My father never feels threatened by her. He compliments her strength, follows her leadership and concentrates on the things that he is strong in. There is a clear understanding between the two of them - my dad is a ponderer, he can ponder on things for days on end while my mom can make a decision there and then and stick to it.

But, without my father, my mother's strong personality would likely crumble. She gets easily emotional especially on certain days in a month (something which can be attributed to biology, just like men's physical strength. Women's emotional wellbeing can get affected by a natural phenomenon called menstruation which society does not want anyone to talk about but is really something biological and crucially makes reproduction possible). But, between my mother and my father, when she goes through it all my father stays beside her and comforts her through and through. 

The two make each other possible. My mom is creative and decisive while my dad is mostly emotionally balanced and is the firm pillar of support that she needs to thrive. They take care of each other. There is mutual support.

However, the society we live in always seems to misconstrue emotional vulnerabilities as intellectual incapabilities. Showing emotion is considered weakness which is why men are deprived of the benefits of crying out pain or sorrow while women are forced to cry for everything in order to appear sweet and womanly. I don't cry easily but that's just me because, emotional vulnerability, which varies individually, is not a sign of intellectual inadequacy. Or a shortcoming in personality strength.

The point I am trying to make is, while men demand to have a strong personality and are socially expected to be the strong one in a relationship, that is not always the case. In a relationship, any one of the two people involved can be strong and that is okay. 

An expectation of men to always dominate their women is, devastatingly, the reason women suffer violations of their human rights and get called names for making choices in their lives. So a woman is indecent if she chooses not to marry (simply because she feels up to it to depend on herself), is rude if she claims her rights, is not homely if she does not cook. All which is untrue.

But, I was lucky to witness my parents happily tilling the fields together and coming back home and sharing household duties - therefore I have experiential knowledge that the roles perceived to belong to men and women exclusively are in fact not cast in stone. Anyone with two hands can do anything, it doesn't make them weak, it just makes them a human being doing what needs to be done for their life to be comfortable.

There is no formula for how a man should be or how a woman should be, the only formula which makes sense when people are in love is the formula of love, mutual support, respect for each other's rights, and of course ditching social expectations of what a so-called good woman should be (which is always negative and restrictive).

Feminists are often discouraged from pursuing or seeking love. I don't agree, I think feminists should enjoy the happiness that can be derived from being with a partner who; understands you, views you as an equal party in the relationship/marriage, catches you when you fall and allows you to be your full potential self.

However, the role of a feminist is also to resist the pressure of marriage which is placed on us as women. We get married when we want the aforementioned benefits of having a partner, not because being single is viewed as being inadequate. 

I think that the bottom line is, therefore, choice. The freedom to be who we are or can be and make the choices that matter to us because they simply do just matter to us, not because we want to please or conform to socially constructed norms.

So my father always lets my mother decide on things simply because she is the one who is more decisive and not because my father is weak; an assumption which is normally made when a man is in a relationship/marriage with a strong woman and lets her lead - which assumption is, of course, a breeding ground for fragile masculinities.

I come from an inherently patriarchal society so there was, as expected, talk of how my mother had given my father a love potion and rendered him weak in her presence. But luckily, I was daddy's girl and had many honest conversations with my father. I did ask him one day why people said he was weak. He told me, ''I am not weak but your mother is smarter, stronger and makes decisions which are sensibly better than mine''.

I am lucky that my father showed me that it can be done, falling in love with a feminist and living together for over 50 years.

This post was submitted in response to New Year, New Beginning.