Do You Know What I Mean When I Say Equal Partnership?

Misogyny has been mocked, and now I must weigh in.

Will someone please explain to me why so many people think every relationship needs a hierarchy? Sure, it’s a common system present in everything from Eastern philosophy to Western religion (from Confucianism to Christianity and beyond!). That doesn’t mean it’s the only possibility, especially for a unit as small as a couple or a “typical”* family.

The author of the Yahoo! Answers question quoted in the blogpost I linked to seems seriously confused. Apparently, having multiple relationship models is impossible for him. If you have an equal partnership between spouses or lovers or whatever, it by no means follows that our society needs to become hierarchy-less. A heterosexual couple having equal say in a relationship does not mean that the concept of a hierarchy at a company is going to disappear.

Putting aside the clearly ignorant person who asked the Yahoo! questions, there are many people who consistently spread the idea that a hierarchical relationship between men and women and in families is not only a good system, but a necessary one. The justifications for this range from the claim that dominance is a part of male nature to the claim that women being physically weaker means they need to be “protected”** by men.

This theme is persistent throughout US society, and it seriously bothers me. I have no idea how I managed to escape so much of the socialization that makes many girls and women okay with being placed lower on the totem pole***. I look around and I see men who think they’re entitled to the lead position in a family unit and women who are okay with ceding control over final decisions to men. I do not see enough women and men who want equal partnerships. It drives me a little crazy.

Decisions can be made together. Yes, many of our systems and non-romantic relationships have a sort of final arbiter (like the Vice President of the US in the Senate). In a couple, though, and in a family, there isn’t much of a need for an arbiter.**** Just like in a friendship, a couple can be equal. Two people can nearly always work through a decision together and decide on a mutually agreeable outcome, especially when they are in a committed relationship. I simply do not understand how difficult it is for people to understand this.

On a slightly different note: I sometimes wonder how these societal expectations (of an unequal relationship) affect non-hetero relationships. If you have two women in a relationship, do they feel pressure for one to be dominant over the other? If you have two men is there an expectation that one will be the “leader”? Do they feel less pressure to follow this norm? More?

All that being said, I realize that some people are comfortable giving a sort of “lead” roll to their significant other. It’s not this that drives me crazy. I imagine there are great relationships in which one person is a sort of leader to the other. My issue is that it is expected that 1. there has to be a dominant leader, 2. that leader should always (or nearly always) be male, and 3. that male leader is not just the person with more direction in the relationship, they are a man with control over the relationship.

*In quotes because I’m talking about what is instilled in our minds as a typical family – two parents of opposite sexes and their children. Statistically speaking, I’m not sure this is so typical.

**Protected usually seems to mean controlled. Like over-protective parents “protect” their kids by controlling them.

*** First-world problems – in the United States I definitely see that women have a glass ceiling and there is not equality of the sexes, but I realize it is far worse in developing countries.

****There are exceptions to this, but they generally involve extenuating circumstances or children over the age of 18.

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