Feminist blogging

The thing about blogs is they let people talk about whatever they like. So there are an awful lot of blogs out there about women’s experiences. Sometimes I wonder if this could be used for something more. If the barrier between feminist blogging, which is primarily about other women’s lives, and blogging on ‘women’s topics’ where feminist women (and non-feminist women) write about their lives, could be broken down. What would it look like if feminists who were writing about body image issues and reproduction, linked more to personal stories on weight-loss blogs and mother blogs (and yes it’s scary that those are the two female blogging topics that come to mind) and vice-versa. Because I do think that feminist analysis is stronger the more it links to women’s experience, and I think talking about women’s experience can be something more, it can be consciouness raising.

This is in response to the great ‘false advertising’ debate. I’ve read a lot of posts on this issue. I feel like I understand the issues around the role women’s bodies play in a relationship, particularly in middle-class white America, but I think many of those observations would apply outside that specific context (incidentally I’ve also developed a plan, if I am in a relationship with someone who thinks a change in my appearance is ‘false advertising’ I will simply tell a couple of my female friends about it, and they will take care of him).

But while I know more, I’m still feeling really ambivilant about the debate, because I’m not sure it’s what I’d call feminism. In supposedly feminst blogs and comments women have been attacked for feeling like they owe it to their husbands to keep their weight down. From I Blame the Patriarchy

Regarding said ass: Women of some races naturally have asses like that. Women of some races naturally have hair like that too. But the kid’s white, and both hair and butt look bought to me. Also besides, being as they are both staunch supporters of the patriarchy, I assume she’s read the fine print. As soon as her ass goes south, he’ll have (and probably take) the option to find another, younger butt.

I get it, I really do. I understand the frustration, the desire to get angry at a woman for accepting and perpetuating so much shit. When I read this:

My boyfriend, the man I thought I was going to marry, brok up with me after 4.5 years. Because I gained weight. To be fair, it was a significant gain (about 25 pounds).

I wanted to yell at the woman why the fuck are you being fair to a man who leaves you because you’ve gained 11 kilos? You should be dancing Numfar’s dance of joy that you got out. But I don’t think that that helps build anything, except the idea that I think I’m better than her. And I’m not, I have my own issues, and I don’t write about them on my blog, except with eight layers of feminist analysis. But does that just make me less honest than her?

Despite these ugly personal attacks, there were real benefits from reading so many different perspectives on one issue. One of the things that really disturbed me, and showed how good the patriarchy (still don’t like the term) is at colonising our minds, was that we shouldn’t just want to attain beauty standards to catch a mate, we should want them for ourselves. From a comment on I blame the patriarchy

I’ve met women who have “let themselves go” after marriage out of the idea that they already have their man, so they don’t have to try anymore. To them, the idea of putting any kind of effort into themselves was a tool to get a mate, and once they had the mate, they could stop doing those things. I’m not saying that one has to wear make-up, exercise, whatever to be happy, but it disturbs me greatly to think that I should only care about my appearance to trap a man, and once I’ve got him I can just “let myself go.”

A slightly different version of the same thought on Tertia

It doesn’t matter if you are 10, 15 or 50 pounds heavier than you were when you got married; if you take pride in yourself and dress nicely, do your hair, spray some perfume on, wear pretty earrings etc, you will feel nice and you will look nice. And I am sure that is all that most men want. They want us to like ourselves and to be happy. Because they know, the happier we are within ourselves the sexier we will feel, and that can only mean good things for the long suffering husband. A happy wife makes a happy husband.

Unfortunately, I can’t really have a conversation here about what these women have said, I’d be attacking them, attacking what they said. Informal, unsure conversations, where you learn stuff together – it’s easier to do that in person.

Which is a shame, because the analysis I found most interesting came from blogs that would probably identify more as Mommy blogs than feminist blogs.

Moxie seemed afraid that everyone would hate her when she came to I Blame the Patriarchy, but I thought her analysis was really useful.

I’ve been thinking about this topic all day. The notion that a woman owes it to her husband or her relationship to keep her body thin (or whatever way the culture decides is beautiful–I’m sure there are women in Africa who feel pressure to stay fat) is part of the truth that when a woman gets married her body no longer belongs to her, but instead is the property of and a symbol of the marital unit.

It’s the woman’s responsibility to get and stay pregnant. Even if she gets pregnant easily, she’s the one who takes the entire physical hit of the pregnancy. Heartburn, acne, sciatica, backache, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, PSD, tendonitis, skin tags, stretch marks, insomnia, swelling. And the labor and delivery is a horror, featuring pain and often cutting or tearing, even when it’s relatively easy. Even if a woman loses all the pregnancy weight, her body is never the same. She sacrifices her body for the family unit.

She goes on to explore what happens if a woman can’t conceive and how this changes as the baby gets older. It’s a really good point, and so much more of what so many other writers say makes more sense when it’s put in this context.

I’ve been reading Jody from Raising WEG for a while, I love her analysis and her writing (and freak out at the very thought of triplets).

As Moxie points out far more eloquently than I could, stress and our mental responses to stress affect our eating habits, too. And exercise that comes naturally to single people gets very hard for parents to find. And I’ll also point out that I don’t believe we are our bodies, and that there’s a difference between living well in the body you have, and trying to make your body into something it was, or should be, so that it looks better to other people. It’s been my experience that it’s not any more work to learn to love your body as it becomes.

[....]

Your body isn’t your self. Your relationship with food isn’t your relationship with your body. There are many ways to be attractive, and they don’t remain static over time. And the thinner women in our neighborhood? I’m pretty sure at least two of them are anorexic. Anything is better than an eating disorder.

I’m going to end with my favourite story. The one that makes me think that maybe this sort of conversation is worthwhile. Maybe it will give women strength, and show them that they are not alone. This is Jen Creer from inkstains

The reason I thought this is because my husband clearly thought differently about me when I was thin and then when I had gained weight in my marriage. One year, when we had two small children, he started running and playing tennis and racquetball and lifting weights. He told me finally that he couldn’t sit around and become a fat slob like me. He said, “No man can respect a man with a fat wife. If you don’t lose the weight, I will leave. If you gain more weight, I will leave.”

I will never forget that conversation. We were sitting in the bathroom at two o’clock in the morning. I was sitting on the lid of the toilet, and he was sitting next to the tub. Our sixteen-month son was sitting in the steamy tub, suffering from the croup. Our four-year-old son was asleep in one bedroom, and our three-week old baby was asleep in another.

Yes, that’s right. I was three-weeks postpartum when my husband said those words to me. And the time that he chose to get back into shape? Was when I was pregnant with his third child. I had a total of three C-sections, and I was not even allowed to pick up our middle child, let alone exercise when he sat and said the coldest words I’ve ever heard from someone who was supposed to love me more than anyone.

Ok that’s not happy, but her next sentance was:

That was the night I stopped loving him

There’s more to the story. Awful horrible stuff that makes me furious, but three years later she did leave him.

I do think bringing together different women’s experiences of the same problem can be helpful. I even think this debate is. But without trust, without sisterhood (with all the problems that brings), I’m not sure this is building anything much. I’m worried that it’s just making ‘feminists’ another group of women with special interests and experiences.

Also posted on my blog.

This entry posted in Families structures, divorce, etc, Fat, fat and more fat, Feminism, sexism, etc, Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

51 Responses to Feminist blogging

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  8. 8
    emma says:

    You should go with the person who loves you rather than your figure or beauty. The ultimate thing that reamins with you is your behavior, your attitude, your feelings, your emotions and your care. Beauty is just your prime time friend. Who says it is going to be with you always. No, never.

    I would like to prefer the person who loves my inner soul not my short-period beauty.

  9. 9
    Jen Creer says:

    Thank you so much! This literally brought me to tears. I am not the same woman who sat in the bathroom that night and endured those words. Sometimes, I actually think of “her” with pity. But I do remember in some ways the crippling feeling of that marriage, the ways I constantly felt that I was clawing for some sense of self the entire time.

    The story of my actual leaving him was simply the most empowering action of my life. I had asked him to leave, and I was punished for it, but I was in graduate school by that time. I was teaching my students liberation pedagogy, so I plunged forward, yelling at him every night for what an asshole he was. Finally, I told him I was taking the kids and moving out. He told me that he thought *we* should *voluntarily* commit me to a mental institution so I could reflect on what I was saying.

    That shook me to my core. But I insisted that I needed to go see a counselor about my anger toward him. He made me an appointment 90 miles away so nobody in town would know what an asshole he was. The counselor told me, after fifteen minutes, to call the women’s shelter. She gave me materials about emotional abuse. My husband was going out of town on a trip the next week. He was taking our oldest son, and that was one of the most paralyzing moments of my life: if he were to find out what I was doing, he might hide my son with his relatives.

    I watched them drive away, then went to the computer and emailed the friend who helped me pack: “I’m ready.”

    Over the next four days, we found an apartment. She and her daughters moved in with me and my three boys and we shared childcare and expenses. I went with my joint credit card, after calling friends to make sure I could, and I bought furniture. I went to Wal-mart and bought six months’ worth of diapers, tylenol, stocked up on other things I knew I would need. Friends from my department came with trucks and vans to move us out. Other friends watched my younger two sons. I didn’t sleep that week, or I don’t remember sleeping very much.

    Two other friends came with me to the house to get my oldest son back, which, at twilight, we were able to do without incident. We first removed my ex-husband’s gun from the house (a .22 rifle, so not terribly scary, but still) and put it in the trunk of their car. I went out and took my sleeping son from the front seat of the truck my husband was driving and walked quickly away from him to the bottom of the driveway, while the presence of my other two friends kept my ex from stopping me. And we drove away.

    That was the beginning of a nearly year long custody battle which culminated on September 11, 2001.

    But I did it. I got out, I got my boys, and I got my life.

    But I tell you all of this because this entire dialogue has been such a source of obsession for me this week because apart from all of the rhetoric that has been pitched about self-esteem and taking care of oneself, underlying that is a very real tendency to reduce women in particular to their cellulite, their ass sizes, their bodies. I have seen the dark underbelly of this argument, which still claims an innocence and pretends to be about empowerment, in the form of women “taking care of themselves” by maintaining a weight. We live in a world that values women only if there is LESS of them. We are encouraged to weigh less, say less, BE LESS.

    Regardless of whether or not women find men who are balding with paunches attractive, men’s power does not lie in their physical appearance, and women’s *should not either*– and that, for me, is the real shame of some of this thinking– because it so clearly still is perceived that way. By women. We still have a long road to hoe.

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  12. 10
    L. says:

    It`s really funny that you mentioned the divide between “mommy” blogs and “feminist” blogs. I try to make mine both, since I am both, but I notice that I`m considered more the former than the latter.

    It was a very bizarre experience for me this week to see my own response to MIM`s post ripped to shreds on some of the feminist blogs I`ve read and enjoyed in the past.

    I am now wondering, if I submit something for the next Carnival of Feminists, am I going to be dismissed as that woman whose husband didn`t want her to go to his office party?

    Life is strange, and blogging is stranger.

  13. 11
    B says:

    See this entire discussion confuses me. In this story and in the general opinion isn’t it men who use false advertising? Pretending to be kind, attentive and caring until they have taken the women in their lives hostage via children, weddingring or other means. Surely this personality switch is far more serious than a few kilos more or less.

    I’d also like to add that in almost every couple I know, or know of, the woman is the more attractive person – we are after all trained to be. Who do these men think they are that they should be able to say things like this? Some comments say more about the person speaking than what is commented upon.

  14. 12
    Robert says:

    It seems perfectly simple to me.

    Anyone entering a relationship is doing so at least partly in a transactional way. This is what I’m bringing to the table; this is what I’m expecting in return; these are the terms on which we’re relating to one anotther.

    This can be extremely materialistic. “I am marrying him/her because s/he has a lot of money and so do I and so we are going to make our family very rich,” or “I am marrying him/her because s/he is really good looking and that floats my boat/will give us good-looking kids/will get me noticed at the club.”

    Or, this can be completely non-materialistic. “I am marrying her because she fills my soul with joy” / “I am marrying him because I love the way I feel when I’m with him” / whatever.

    Whatever the promises or premises of your relationship, if you do not take good-faith steps to maintain those premises, then you have failed to live up to your end of the bargain. Whether this is “false advertising” or not depends on whether your failure is intentional or accidental. If you told your partner you would work hard and get/stay rich, and then upon signing the marriage license you start sitting on the couch all day playing video games, you’re a big ole liar. If you gave your husband the impression that looking like a supermodel was your continued intention, and you then pack on 120 lbs eating whole sticks of butter, then you indeed did lie, and indeed did use false advertising.

    I don’t particularly see the point of judging other people’s relational transactions. If people premised their relationships on things of value to them, then we probably should all butt out and leave them to their happiness or misery, as the case may be. The only thing *I* need to worry about is what obligations I incurred in my own relationships, and whether or not I am living up to those promises.

  15. 13
    Ledasmom says:

    Personally I took the route of letting my husband see all my worst sides before I married him. That’s at least a dodecagon’s worth of bad sides. Going by the “implied bargain” reasoning, I am obligated, in this marriage, to keep breathing and not crap on the floor.

  16. 14
    Rock says:

    Ledasmom,
    I read your post, went to lunch and am still laughing, I can’t wait to share it with my wife and newly engaged bros. Thanks.

  17. 15
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Robert, I’ve actually been following the thread on her blog (lurking), and here is one of my favorite responses thus far made by a man calling himself Mr. Memento, which is sort of a rebuttal to your analysis:

    I’m a middle-aged male, and I want to talk about the “false advertising” thing for a minute.

    The really sad thing about this phrase is the sentiment behind it. In our culture, many men are viewing their female partners as *products*, as though they are purchasing a life-size robot guaranteed to cook, clean, shop, fuck (three times a week minimum), keep the kids in line, and always look hot in public.

    When their little patriarchal fantasy meets messy reality, some of these Darling Husbands decide to follow the consumer model to its logical conclusion. They dump last year’s model for a new, younger, bustier, child-free hottie.

    There is a problem here.

    The fact that many men willfully forget (and I can’t believe I have to actually SAY this) is that women are *people*, with goals and dreams of their own, some of which may develop AFTER the marriage. People are always changing. Their bodies age. Their minds mature.

    And at age 40, after raising two kids, they might decide they’d rather spend their limited free time on this earth ENJOYING LIFE instead of sweating on a stairmaster 2 hours a day just so their Darling Husband can look good at the office Christmas Party.

    Sure, gaining 50 pounds might mean that your DH no longer wants to jump your bones. But there’s so much more in store for you that you can’t control, and it will make you just as unattractive in your DH’s eyes. Your skin is going to wrinkle. Your breasts will sag. Your hair will thin and go a sickly grey. You may develop cancer: if so, the treatments will leave you bald and vomiting.

    The question is: what will your Dear Husband do then? Will he stand by you, or will he trade you in?

    It’s senseless to draw a distinction between “what’s reasonable to expect” and “what lazy women can control if they want to keep their man happy”. It’s not reasonable to expect *anything* for very long. Change is inevitable.

    And NOBODY comes with a WARRANTY.

  18. 16
    B says:

    Robert

    I think your little model miss the most important thing of all. The thing with a relationship is that it is something you build together. Day by day it is possible to add to the structure, maybe even do some renovating or change the colours on its walls. The thing is that this is something you do together – an investment if you like that consumerist description better. People who believe that they can, or should be able to, turn in their partners for a better upgrade so to speak don’t seem to know what a relationship is. Or perhaps they are just not capable of having one.

  19. 17
    sophonisba says:

    Whatever the promises or premises of your relationship, if you do not take good-faith steps to maintain those premises, then you have failed to live up to your end of the bargain.

    People who don’t draw up batty relationship contracts generally set out the promises of their relationship in their wedding vows. Usually these promises say something about loving and cherishing through sickness and health, wealth and poverty, and so on. It is true that there is nothing in there about loving through hotness and non-hotness, but there’s nothing in their about feeling entitled to insult your beloved’s appearance, either, so it evens out. The laws of the land constrain the marriage premises further: it’s illegal to beat your wife, for example, even if you don’t promise her you won’t.

    Beyond that, nobody gets to declare that their spouse has made an implicit promise if said promise/premise has not been discussed and consented to. Otherwise, a “relationship premise” means no more than “something I want”. It is generally agreed-upon in civilized society that we do not do hurtful things to people we love in the interests of getting something we want, such as, say, insulting our beloved’s body because we want her to be a more pleasing fuck or a more attractive decoration. If we want to appeal to “relationship premises” to justify such behavior, we had better have documentation of such pre-existing premises (“I promise to be a good fuck, and stay skinny, as long as you tell me to”) in writing somewhere. But most people don’t document or even make verbal contracts about such matters, because most people would be ashamed of themselves for considering such a thing.

    I suppose someone might counter that gaining weight after pregnancy is “doing a hurtful thing” to a husband, but such a person does not live in an acceptable moral universe, and therefore we do not have to take them seriously.

  20. 18
    Lanoire says:

    I agree, Maia. We should be careful not to judge other women harshly.

    One of the things that really disturbed me, and showed how good the patriarchy (still don’t like the term) is at colonising our minds, was that we shouldn’t just want to attain beauty standards to catch a mate, we should want them for ourselves.

    I think it’s more of an observation that many of us do want them for ourselves, and that wanting them is not necessarily a sign of mind-colonisation by the patriarchy. Vanity’s pretty much a part of human nature, after all. It’s drawing the line between “loving your body” and “torturing your body to make it fit into some beauty standard and then pretending that you’re just loving it” that’s the problem.

  21. 19
    Maia says:

    Wow Jen, thanks so much for your story. Your strength and analysis are really inspiring.

    L I was going to talk about your situation in particular, how people were so quick to paint you as something that I didn’t think you were (Twisty describing you as MiM’s acolyte is a one example), but I had to go to sleep. I thought your analysis, and your follow-up was really interesting, and was really sorry that it hadn’t been treated with the respect that I thought it deserved.

  22. 20
    Cala says:

    Robert,

    One could agree that marriage is essentially a contract and still think that physical appearance should not be included in that contract.

    For example, suppose we’ve got a roughly contractual idea of marriage: someone provides, someone takes care of the kids, someone cleans, someone earns, etc. I find this idea of a contract odious, but suppose we don’t. We think it’s okay for someone to leave her marriage because her husband looked like he’d be a bright up-and-comer and now he’s stuck at VP of marketing.

    Even accepting that, though, there are good reasons for physical appearance to be bad contract candidates. First, it’s largely uncontrollable even in non-serious illness cases; pregnancy weight is hard to take off. Second, people age. Third, people get diseases that alter their appearance. And fourth, a lot of this is inevitable.

    If I tried to sell good looks through a marriage of forty years on eBay, they’d pull it as ‘item is unlikely to be delivered.’ And finally, contracts have to be explicit. And if the sort of ‘good looks’ demanded require hours of work at the gym, reconstructive surgery, and hormone injections, we’d want that spelled out in a pre-nup.

  23. 21
    Robert says:

    There’s a distinction being elided here.

    You may disapprove of the terms under which two (other) people negotiated a relationship. But that doesn’t make the terms invalid; it means that you wouldn’t relate to another person in that way. Well, hopefully you haven’t, then. But that doesn’t change what other people may have done. If Frank told Irene that being fit was his lodestar and then let himself go to hell, then he lied to her. You may think that Irene is a shallow shrew for expecting 6-pack abs from the guy who promised her 6-pack abs; she strikes me as being someone who expects transactional partners to live up to their bargains. Nobody held a gun to Frank’s head and made him lie.

    Secondly, I whiff the faint taste of reverse sexism here. I wonder what the reaction would be if the issue was husbands who became unemployed layabouts.

  24. 22
    Jen Creer says:

    I had an additional thought yesterday: Maybe we need to explode this argument and ask why marriage is the *goal* and why maintaining one seems to be the goal too? Because we keep talking in circles about what people can do in the confines of their own marriages, but we are then accepting the assumption that the marriage is THE THING.

    I am married, but having left my first husband, I no longer view marriage the same way. It is a partnership to be sure, but I don’t have any sense of *obligation.* We are both here every day because we want to be– and if I decide to do something that makes him feel that he doesn’t want to be here anymore, then he is free to go. Is that a “real” marriage? Yes, because we had it before a real judge and there are real legalities behind it. Apart from that, we can define it how we choose.

    Now, what is particularly destructive about the attitudes that are being espoused by men and women alike who choose to adopt these attitudes about appearance and attractiveness in a marriage is that these are precisely the attitudes that lead abusive men to oppress women within relationships, and the attitudes that lead abused women to think they deserve to be abused. That is the real danger here. Oh, all of these women who are discussing this as if these are valid opinions, worth having, they are not abused? Well, great. So, let’s just ignore the cruelties and abuses that *are* occurring because of the prevailing cultural hegemony.

    It is the fact that these cruelties are being perpetuated by these ideas that makes these ideas less than simply innocent or the private perameters of individual relationships.

  25. 23
    Cala says:

    Robert, I take issue with the fact that any of these terms are explicit. If Frank and Irene clearly tell each other that their love is premised on a), b) and c), and they’re both cool with it, there’s little we can do except place bets on when they’ll divorce.

    I doubt that this is normally how it goes, though. Don’t most people get married out of starry-eyed love and hopeful plans for the future? I expect there’s a lot more failed marriages that ended because someone got fat or lost their prime job than marriages that set out with those terms even acknowledged, let alone made explicit.

    You’re correct that disapproval doesn’t make the terms invalid. But I wasn’t arguing that my disapproval should make the terms invalid, but that contracts are generally governable by the deliverability and reasonability of the promises. I can’t sell myself into slavery. I can’t promise to sell something I don’t own. And I think promising essentially, never to get cancer, gain weight, or age is something unreasonable and undeliverable and shouldn’t be encouraged as ‘just their free choice’.

    I’m not sure what ‘reverse’ sexism means. Sexism’s sexism. I think that promising to reach X amount of income by a certain age would be as uncontractable as promising never to gain weight. That’s not the same as being an unemployed layabout, of course, of course, so this is a bit strawmannish.

    But why compare apples to oranges when we can compare apples to apples? Should a women expect that her husband will always have a six-pack, never go bald, and never gain weight? He doesn’t even have the risk of pregnancy, with its mandatory nine-month weight gain. It seems just as shallow to me, and just as uncontractable.

  26. 24
    Josh Jasper says:

    Some days I think a giant asteroid wouldn’t be too bad a thing. Does a race as fucked up as this have *any* claim to a right to exist?

  27. 25
    Brandon Berg says:

    The issue, to me, is not that women should never get fat—it’s that people should make a reasonable effort to accommodate the preferences of their spouses. If a woman hates facial hair, her husband should shave. If a man likes long hair, his wife shouldn’t cut hers short. And it should go without saying that everyone who can should exercise regularly and eat a healthful diet, but this is doubly true for those whose spouses are unhappy with their physical conditions.

    Note my use of the word “reasonable.” Exercising when your abdomen has just been cut open and your doctor has specifically told you not to is not reasonable, and if under such circumstances your husband calls you a fat slob and threatens to leave you, he’s a jerk. He’s a jerk if he deliberately hurts you under any circumstances. But at the same time, it’s not fair to ask someone to commit to you for life and then use that as an excuse to cut back on self-maintenance efforts. You can’t generalize from outliers.

    Similarly, eating only lettuce and spending two hours a day on the StairMaster is clearly not reasonable. Which is why I’m tired of hearing that silly argument. How many people who beat up on that strawman are engaging in reasonable dietary control and spending even a few hours a week on vigorous exercise?

  28. 26
    La Lubu says:

    How many people who beat up on that strawman are engaging in reasonable dietary control and spending even a few hours a week on vigorous exercise?

    When it comes to the women, I’d guess “all of ‘em”. See, Brandon, there’s a few factors going on you’re not reckoning into your equation. First one, age. About half the women in my martial arts class are heavy, even though they exercise as often and as vigorously as us thinner women. So what sets the heavy women apart? All are over forty years of age, all have given birth at least twice, and all have either had major surgery, or have an ongoing health condition or injury that requires either (a) medication that tends to make folks gain/retain weight, or (b) limits their exercise to moderate amounts (no four-hour stints at the gym). Workouts will keep your heart healthy and reduce your stress level, but they are still no guarantees that moderate workouts will keep one thin as time marches on—especially with mitigating factors like chronic pain from an injury (that’s true of the heavier guys in class too—all have injured either their back or one of their knees, prior to their weight gain). All of us will deal with a lowered metabolism as we age, how soon or how much this will affect us is largely genetic. And how much a moderate weight gain will change one’s appearance is related to height and build (small people don’t have as much leeway as taller/larger people).

    Also, keep in mind that some of these guys are probably protesting too much—sure, they want their wives to “look good”; they just don’t want their wives to (a) take the time out to exercise (“whatta ya mean, order takeout, you’re going to the gym? who’s going to take jr. to baseball practice?”) or (b) look good in the presence of other men if they aren’t around. (translation: “let’s get a home exercise machine, hon.” Home exercise equipment is great for the single and childless; for everyone else it tends to mean constantly-interrupted workouts.)

    The thing is, not everyone has the same definition of “reasonable.” Brandon here thinks it’s reasonable to require a shorn face or long hair on a spouse, if that’s what their SO prefers. I think that’s draconian (being a person who likes to vary her hair length and style). And for every person who gets upset at the “changes” their spouse makes, there’s another who marries with the intent of changing his/her spouse! The idea of marriage requiring compromise gets too easily twisted by controlling folks into “that means you’ll do what I say, or…..(“I’ll pester the shit out of you constantly, I’ll give you the silent treatment, I’ll spend ridiculous amounts of money and blame it on you not capitulating to me, I’ll get drunk about it, I’ll attempt to guilt trip you at every turn, I’ll complain to anyone else who will listen about how selfish you are, I’ll refuse to sleep with you, I’ll start arugments, I’ll call you names, I’ll……”) gahh.

    I think Ledasmom and Mr. Memento are on the right track.

  29. 27
    Sharon says:

    Brandon wrote:

    The issue, to me, is not that women should never get fat…it’s that people should make a reasonable effort to accommodate the preferences of their spouses. If a woman hates facial hair, her husband should shave. If a man likes long hair, his wife shouldn’t cut hers short.

    Note my use of the word “reasonable.”

    Why should they make a reasonable effort to accomodate spousal preferences? I could understand it if you were saying that a reasonable effort should be made to reach a compromise, but you seem to be saying that if one has a strong preference on a matter, and one’s spouse has a strong opposite preference, then the spouse gets to have his/her way.

    Take the case where the woman wants her hair short, and her husband wants it long. Why should the husband be accommodated? They can’t both have their preference, so surely the casting vote gets given to the owner of the hair, who after all is the one who has to live with the hairstyle.
    Likewise the beard example. Husband gets to have his beard.

    Certainly you’d want to try and see whether there’s a compromise you can reach, such as whether there’s a particular short hairstyle that the husband would hate less than others his wife might have, or maybe the husband might be prepared to keep his beard trimmed to avoid tickling when kissing.

    And it should go without saying that everyone who can should exercise regularly and eat a healthful diet

    I disagree strongly with this. Just because something is potentially beneficial doesn’t mean that there should be an obligation to do it!

    How many things can you think of that you don’t do, but would be beneficial if you did do them?

  30. 28
    Mendy says:

    The issue, to me, is not that women should never get fat…it’s that people should make a reasonable effort to accommodate the preferences of their spouses. If a woman hates facial hair, her husband should shave. If a man likes long hair, his wife shouldn’t cut hers short.

    Having left a relationship in which I was the one that had to wear my hair long and accomodate my ex in other areas, I don’t buy this argument. Should a married couple compromise? Yes? Should a woman’s or man’s hairstyle be one of these areas? Maybe, depending on the couple.

    My current spouse takes that attitude that it is my hair, and I am the one that has to wear it. He has stated that he prefers longer hair, but he didn’t marry my hair – he married me.

    It seems very shallow to leave a committed relationship based on appearance, but there are those that enter them for the same reasons.

  31. 29
    Q Grrl says:

    Robert: I think your posting on this thread is a form of false advertisement.

  32. 30
    Robert says:

    How so, Q Grrl?

  33. 31
    Kathleen says:

    I find this whole concept bizarre. How difficult is it to seperate committment and acceptance from superficiality and selfishness?
    There have been plenty of people I have loved. It would NEVER enter my mind that I would have the right to make choices for them. If I see that someone I love is unhealthy or unhappy I support and encourage them to take the steps to improve their lives, not give them an ultimatum to change.
    If my son came home with a green mohawk, I would likely tell him he looked like an asshole, but I wouldn’t love him any less.
    Basically, the fact that women have so much competitive pressure to be visually ‘acceptable’ is more than you can imagine , Robert. What we would like is to be cherished for the content of our character, our spirit, our intellect.
    There are plenty of hot guys to look at out there…..I am a gawker. However, I am not stupid enough to MARRY someone for their looks. I wasn’t a biology major, but when I look around, I see that LOOKS DON”T LAST….even in Hollywood and among the filthy rich. Marriage is supposed to last…so what odds would a logical person calculate?
    Good god, it’s not rocket science.
    kathleen

  34. 32
    Robert says:

    Basically, the fact that women have so much competitive pressure to be visually ‘acceptable’ is more than you can imagine , Robert. What we would like is to be cherished for the content of our character, our spirit, our intellect.

    I would advise you to seek out people and partners who hold those values, then. The fact that you’re under pressure to be visually acceptable changes nothing; if you make part of your promised value in a relationship your visual acceptability, and then intentionally punt that acceptability, you’re a bad actor. Period. Everyone is under “pressure” to do something.

    That doesn’t change the general question. If you “formed a relationship on the basis of character, spirit, and intellect”, and then deliberately didn’t deliver on the promises in those areas you had made, you would be acting dishonestly – false advertising, as it were.

    Guy/gal says they’re going to get/stay rich, and turns into a bum – false advertising.

    Guy/gal says they’re fit and active and intends to stay that way, and starts couch camping – false advertising.

    Guy/gal says they’re a spiritual person who loves kittens, and turns out to be a “Jerry Springer” addict who uses homeless cats for garnish – false advertising.

    The nature of the promise is immaterial.

    It isn’t shallow or evil to expect people to live up to the promises they’ve made. The counterarguments to date have been underwhelming.

  35. [I]f you make part of your promised value in a relationship your visual acceptability, and then intentionally punt that acceptability, you’re a bad actor.

    The notion of bringing “promised value” into a relationship is all wrong. A lifelong partnership such as marriage should never be treated as a business transaction in which the parties bargain for specific duties and compensation. Such a transaction would be not only impractical but inhumane. Marriage (or any other type of committed partnership) should be about having someone you can count on to be there for you regardless of the changes you may undergo in your appearance, your lifestyle, or your role in the relationship. It obviously needs to be a two-way street involving mutual respect and efforts to please each other, but I think it’s utterly cold and wrong headed to yell false advertising when your partner’s personal evolution does not match your expectations. Part of your job is to go with the flow as your partner grows and changes.

  36. 34
    Robert says:

    HF, you are assuming that your values are (a) correct and (b) the ones that everyone should share. Not everyone does.

    If you believe that marriage “should be about having someone you can count on to be there for you regardless of the changes you may undergo in your appearance, your lifestyle, or your role in the relationship”, then I by and large agree with you, and suggest that we each find partners with similar values.

    But that isn’t the dominant paradigm, and it does not describe the realistic beliefs of many people going into marriage today.

    Does it describe some people? Certainly – and mazel tov for them. If the spouse they thought was there to be a partner-in-growth starts bitching about take-home pay or hair length, they’ve got a beef.

    But there are a lot of people for whom this is not true, and it’s invalid to dismiss a legitimate claim under one system of transactional relations on the grounds that it doesn’t hold water under a system of TR to which the complainants are not a party. It amounts to “my values are the right ones and you should use them, instead of yours.”

  37. 35
    The Happy Feminist says:

    Oh, far be it from me to impose my values on others.
    I don’t have strong feelings about what agreements others have with their partners– although I would certainly advise anyone I care about against a lifetime commitment based on “promised value.”

    Also, if one partner has specific expectations of “promised value,” he’s got to make those pretty darned explicit before the fact. Most wedding vows don’t include riders about hair length or pay check, but rather speak only in terms of lifetime commitment through the good and the bad. If I took a regular old wedding vow, I would certainly claim “false advertising” if my spouse were to take a powder as soon as I changed my appearance or my career ambitions.

  38. 36
    Tapetum says:

    Ledasmom – you forgot one. You have to refrain from murdering the children in front of him. And possibly the cats.

    I went much the same route, full disclosure or nothing! If he were going to leave me for slovenliness, depression, laziness, or any of a dozen other things, he’d have taken off years before we ever got married.

  39. 37
    Sharon says:

    Guy/gal says they’re fit and active and intends to stay that way, and starts couch camping – false advertising.

    How can that possibly be false advertising? Anyone who promises something like that is promising stuff they can’t guarantee keeping. Suppose the fit-active fan develops a chronic disease which has a side-effect of lethargy, thus turning them into a “couch camper”, as you put it?

    The point is that people have no business ASSUMING that implicit promises were made at the time of marriage concerning always going to stay like they were at the time of marriage. Those assumptions shouldn’t be made because it is almost certain that people will change. People who think their spouse is always going to be the same as when they married aren’t mature enough to get married in the first place.

    The nature of the promise is immaterial.

    It isn’t shallow or evil to expect people to live up to the promises they’ve made.

    Yes, shall we look at the promises that they made? If they married and used one of those fairly standard vows that include the phrase “in sickness and in health” then that means they DO have an obligation. Not a right to complain when a fit-active spouse gets a lethargic disease, note, but an OBLIGATION to stick by the ailing spouse. THAT was the promise they made.

    The point is that certain promises were NOT made at the altar. Nobody promised to keep a full head of hair. Nobody promised to not gain weight with pregnancy. It is not false advertising to fail to keep to non-existent promises!!!

  40. 38
    Robert says:

    How can that possibly be false advertising? Anyone who promises something like that is promising stuff they can’t guarantee keeping. Suppose the fit-active fan develops a chronic disease which has a side-effect of lethargy…

    Then that would fall under the “unintentional” part.

    It is not false advertising to fail to keep to non-existent promises!!!

    For the love of sodomized squirrels.

    I quite agree.

    I’m really not sure where the discomfort and incomprehension is flowing from. Is personal accountability so threatening that it must be attacked even when it’s being applied to or by complete strangers?

    If you didn’t make a promise, then the promise wasn’t made.

    Arguing “but it’s not reasonable to expect people to keep promises they never made!” is true, and irrelevant. If the promise wasn’t made, then there’s no violation of the promise.

    I am only talking about people who did promise things, and who only promised things which they could reasonably promise to do, and who then intentionally didn’t do those things, OK?

    Christ on a crutch.

  41. 39
    nobody.really says:

    For the love of sodomized squirrels.

    I have nothing to add. What more is there to say, really?

  42. 40
    StarWatcher says:

    Brandon wrote – it’s that people should make a reasonable effort to accommodate the preferences of their spouses. If a woman hates facial hair, her husband should shave. If a man likes long hair, his wife shouldn’t cut hers short.

    Why must the accomodation be for the other spouse to go against his/her desires? The woman can learn to accept facial hair, the man can learn to accept short hair. It becomes a battle between “If you loved me, you’d do xxx” versus “If you loved me, you wouldn’t ask me to do xxx when you know I don’t want to.” How about we accept the other as he/she chooses to be? Mind-blowing concept, isn’t it?

  43. 41
    Robert says:

    How about we accept the other as he/she chooses to be?

    OK. What if the other chooses to be persnickety about things like hair, weight, or money?

  44. 42
    StarWatcher says:

    Robert writes – OK. What if the other chooses to be persnickety about things like hair, weight, or money?

    Relationships are a two-way street, as I’m sure you know. If one chooses to be “persnickety” about anything, that one is certainly not acting in good faith about his/her relationship. But it can’t be fixed in a blog, and I’m not Ann Landers; they’ll have to deal with it themselves.

  45. 43
    nobody.really says:

    …false advertising….

    If you don’t lose the weight, I will leave.

    This is what I’m bringing to the table; this is what I’m expecting in return; these are the terms on which we’re relating to one another.

    Marriage is a two-way street….

    This entire discussion circles around ideas of autonomy within marriage.

    I share Robert’s view that people should generally be able to define their relationships for themselves, and other people’s preferences should not enter into it. So if a couple wants to base their marriage on the premise that the husband won’t lose hair, let them. Seems crazy to me, but hey – it’s not my marriage.

    But this seems like a strawman argument. I sense people’s discomfort stems not from the idea that people might enter into a marriage based on such narrow contractual terms, but rather that people might try to impute such terms into an existing marriage.

    My own marriage is a very ill-defined affair based on mutual admiration and lust. (And, for what it’s worth, neither of us weigh in under 200 lbs.) The extent of our claims on each other is vague but far-reaching. Outside of work hours, I make no appointments without consulting my wife. My time is not my own; it is a community asset. (Ok, and she serves as the family social coordinator, but that’s not the point.)

    Notwithstanding my unbounded commitment to her, I still maintain a high degree of freedom of conscience – for better or worse. When my wife comes home bitching about her boss, I still encourage her to consider other perspectives. I know she is not receptive to that message at that moment. I know she just wants to blow off steam in a supportive environment after a stressful day. And I do what I can to accommodate. But when she asks my opinion, I don’t lie to her. I retain that part of my soul. She has learned to avoid asking my opinion on such occasions and now calls other friends for that kind of support.

    The neighbor is aghast that I would stumble on so fundamental an aspect of married life. He freely acknowledges that he tells his wife what she wants to hear when she’s stressed. But while providing that kind of support does not offend his sense of autonomy, a joint checking account does. My neighbors keep their finances separate and have ridged rules for how much contribution each one makes to joint expenses. They jealously guard their discretion over their money. Perhaps coincidentally, they generally take separate vacations with their kids. Each to his own, I guess.

    (For what it’s worth, the neighbors are skinny. Just as well; we regularly exchange dinner invitations, but I suspect my family is getting the better end of the bargain!)

    Given patriarchal tradition, it may be conventional for feminists to defend autonomy within marriage. And as a legal, push-comes-to-shove matter, I share this view. But as a practical matter, neither my wife nor I exercise sole discretion over much. While I recognize and support the idea that people might agree to reduce their marriage commitments to a finite set of strict obligations, this idea bears very little relationship to my marriage.

  46. 44
    Elizabeth says:

    Like L, I’m uncomfortable with the distinction between “mommy blogs” and “feminist blogs.” Certainly there are non-feminist mothers who blog, and there are feminist bloggers who aren’t mothers, but there are an awful lot of us who are both feminists and mothers, or feminists who are trying to have babies. I’m certainly in that category, as are Bitch PhD and Cecily from … and I wasted all that birth control. I’m afraid that calling someone a mommy blogger is often a way of dismissing her topics as trivial.

    I’m a firm believer that we change more people’s minds by telling our stories than by yelling at them. Jen, your story is incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing it.

    I wrote about the political power of personal blogs last year at:
    http://www.halfchangedworld.com/2005/03/all_choir_no_co.html

  47. 45
    Raven's Star says:

    L,

    I’ve read a lot of the feminist blogs you’ve mentioned where you say you felt ripped apart. Perhaps I see this differently from you, and you are entitled to your own feelings, of course, but it seems to me people are not ripping you apart so much as your husband, whom I personally think is a first class asshole who doesn’t deserve ANY woman. He’s ashamed of you because you aren’t anorexic anymore? He’s a jerk, end of story.
    I wish you well.

  48. 46
    B says:

    Are there Daddy blogs?

  49. 48
    Maia says:

    I agree with you entirely Elizabeth – that was one of the points that I was trying to make. I think the false distinction between feminist blogs and mommy blogs, about blogs where women talk about ‘political’ issues and where women talk about their lives, gets in the way of actual feminist discussion. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  50. 49
    L. says:

    Hey Raven Star, thanks for “wishing me well,” but what are you saying by implication about ME, when you tell me I`m hitched to “a first class asshole who doesn`t deserve ANY woman….He’s a jerk, end of story.” No, actually — just a tiny little peice of the real story, which obviously doesn`t interest you.

    I “wish you well,” too.