Feminism is not just about lifting the oppressive veil of gender expectations off of women — it's also about loosening the necktie of expectation from men. Sometimes, it's women who need to be schooled in this matter, and who better to drop the glisteningly hard slab of Real than Heather Havrilesky at Ask Polly.
An advice seeker calling herself a "Frustrated Housewife" laments that she's always been attracted to the tall, dark and handsome types, but now finds herself married to a guy "about the same size as me and completely nonthreatening."
They have, by all accounts, a "nice life," she insists. Home ownership, stability, and dude helps raise her kid. But unforch, the union doesn't live up to the gendered idea of Men and Women the advice-seeker has in her head, making this very nice husband seem "girly" and "nonconfident."
Here is my problem. I'm so bored and frustrated with this man. He is so beta, he won't make any decisions or plans or take responsibility for anything. I find myself longing for an alpha man. We live in a pretty traditional area and are surrounded by traditional relationships but at our home I am the one who wears the pants and I hate it. I don't want to be the one who makes all the decisions, it's exhausting! I want a man to lead me. I have tried to gently ask him to be more of a leader in our household and he's made a few references to having trouble leading because I don't follow, but when I try to submit I feel like we are a captainless ship. My husband just doesn't lead the household.
She goes on to note that she does the cooking and cleaning and works part time, and is looking for someone strong and dominant in bed she can rely on, so she can "be the lady" in the relationship and feel safe.
I could happily eye-roll this housewife as a new part-time hobby, but in fairness, it's both totally understandable for her have these expectations while at the same time still important that she scrutinize them. Hell, I have to scrutinize similar assumptions still.
In a recent break-in, I found myself relieved to just have a man around, and had to spend some time after thinking about why I wasn't more confident in my own ability to handle an intruder or defend myself (See: no training/self-defense/cultural onslaught of fear).
We've all been sold this idea of perfectly complementary gender roles that just make sense, are natural, God-given, and the best of all possible worlds. A lot of smart people think men are men and women are women and those are clear-cut distinctions with no blurred lines between them.
Certainly plenty of people may enjoy traditional gender roles and be truly made happy by them. Great. If so, Frustrated Housewife really only has two good options. Either go find the sexy decision-making alpha male of her dreams and hope he gives a shit, or think differently about her own expectations of this man right here, committed to her and her child and their life who is not perfect but who is real and cares.
A is certainly easier on the ol' self-awareness front, but, as Polly demonstrates in her answer, B leads to a lot more potential awesomeness. We are well-versed in the ways women are restricted by the notion that nothing should please them more than deference and domestic life. We are less versed in the ways men suffer from the notion that they are either born leaders or pussies. Neither is a nuanced portrait of an actual person, but rather they are both incredibly damaging gendered types that don't allow us to be our best selves.
Since Havrilesky as Polly is a soothsayer among us, her answers predictably sail forth like a golden-tongued goddess of the messy middle. A few standouts:
If you don't want to wear the pants, then take the fucking pants off.
…your husband works full-time, he's good to your kid, he always wants to please you, and instead of just making him a list of repairs that need to be done, or telling him he's in charge of the vacuuming from now on, or that you want him to dominate you in the sack, you're characterizing him as "girly" and "beta" and "non-confident"?
FUCK THAT NOISE.
You have a fantasy of some kind of cowboy leader-provider. And hey, who doesn't? What woman alive isn't partially poisoned by that nugget of heteronormative fool's gold? But you need to wake the fuck up and listen to me: A cowboy leader-provider-protector is a fantasy.
HETERONORMATIVE FOOL'S GOLD!!! (swoon)
Do you want your husband to be a bossy cartoon of fuck-daddy machismo, or do you want him to be a human being who can show up and be himself and give you his absolute best?
Do you want to be happy? Or do you want your life to adhere to a shared cultural delusion regarding gender roles, one that DOESN'T EVEN MAKE MOST PEOPLE HAPPY?
I don't believe for a second that what you really want is an alpha male. Most alpha males are just giant bags of endless insecurity with a lot of defensiveness and anger covering it all up.
And maybe my personal favorite for all time ever, which is the best summation of gendered bullshit:
In the meantime, please stop characterizing him as "girly." PLEASE. As a heroic toddler once said on The Simpsons, "This leash demeans us both."
There is more, go GO and read it all. Then take off that leash. Unless you're using it for like, some kind of role-playing sex game. Leashes are probably real good for that.
Image via Getty.