by Derrick Clements
I am a feminist in progress. I come from a traditional Mormon home, and only in recent years have I begun to look at my growing up with a skeptical eye. Even as I question the exclusive “rightness” of my family’s structure, I do not doubt (or take for granted) that mine was a loving, functional home.
I always saw my parents as equals, even though they divided their parental duties along pretty clear, traditional gender lines: Dad went to work outside the home, Mom went to work inside the home. Mom made the food, Dad made the money. I think Henry Ford would have been proud of my assembly-line patriarchal family.
And so was I. I was grateful to my parents for setting up the “ideal” environment in which to raise my siblings and me, and I was skeptical of what I saw as society’s efforts to make men and women the same. I saw firsthand how gender roles could be divided benevolently, not out of dominion but out of maximum effectiveness. Separate roles, but always equal.
When I was on my mission in Brazil, I found myself taking mental notes about couples that I thought were good role models of traditional-but-equal marriages. One day while eating lunch in the home of a young power couple in the ward, I saw that they were reading a book called Casais Inteligentes Enriquecem Juntos (“Smart Couples Get Rich Together”).
The title made me very excited. It conveyed a sense of equality (they get rich together), as well as high function and success (they get rich). And it even had an acknowledgement that not all couples will follow the advice (only “smart” couples would divide their roles). I made a mental note.
Every grand marital revelation I had on my mission would wind me up like a rubber band launcher, getting me ready to propel myself into my own happy marriage after my mission. I knew that separate roles were the way to go, and when the day would come, I was ready to fulfill my role faithfully.
I just needed someone who would fulfill hers.
In 2009, I met MacKenzie, a woman in my ward who I really hoped would fill that role. (She would be slightly disgusted to hear me say that. I can say now that I am too.) I kept that view to myself, and we shared what may go down in history as the best of all first dates that have ever happened in Provo (which, by sheer numbers alone, is no small distinction). We talked for hours, we laughed, we shared our views of the world, and I felt, more than I ever had before on a date, a connection that seemed “grown up.” Our conversation topics were weighty, and yet it was still fun. Soon after that, we started “officially dating.”
We continued our deep conversations and shared a lot of fun times. She and I would wow all our friends with our relationship maturity, like a party trick. I could go on, but since this is a post about my feminist awakening, just imagine a 3-minute montage of romantic vignettes set to the Hall & Oates song, “You Make My Dreams.”
The smoothness had an expiration date, however, and I don’t know if there’s a way to talk about my conflicted feelings about MacKenzie wanting to go to medical school without compromising my claim to believing in gender equality. It sufficeth to say that once the montage was over, I found myself standing on her front porch one night in tears of deep frustration.
We had just come back from TJ Maxx, and I had for the first time seriously pressed her on her desires to be a working professional and how they jived with her plans to be a mom. She, surprisingly to me, seemed offended that I would ask.
My worldview of clearly marked gender roles was beginning to shatter. MacKenzie was actually put off by me, and I was the one in line with Church teachings! We both left each other that night feeling hurt and frustrated.
After tempers cooled, I realized something big about my relationship: I could either see MacKenzie as a role, or a human being, but not both.
I took a hard look at my motivations and realized that more than wanting to “have a wife,” I wanted to be with her. And if that meant imagining my future family without traditional gender roles, or not rushing into marriage, then that’s what I wanted.
And I thought our relationship was great before. Seeing my significant other as a human individual, rather than as someone to fill a particular role, did wonders to what was already a wonderful thing.
Who Makes the Bread?
Last summer, in 2011, I went to visit MacKenzie’s family. I had already met her parents many times before, but this was the first time I actually got to see firsthand her turf, where her worldview had been constructed. Her household ran smoothly, like mine did, but it was built with completely different materials. Gender roles seemed completely irrelevant. Both my girlfriend’s parents have careers outside the home, and they both are equally invested inside the home.
To illustrate, MacKenzie makes great homemade bread. And when I was at her house, her family taught me how to make it myself. Her mom showed me how to make the dough, but later her dad explained the next step, and then her brother took me through the final stages. The person to show me the next step from dough to completion was simply whoever happened to be around, because when it came to bread making everyone was equal.
This applies to breadwinning, too. I do not mean to say situations where one parent has a career and the other parent spends more time raising the kids are always bad. I respect my family and my older, married siblings who have settled into similar frameworks as we had growing up.
But I came back to Provo last summer incredibly grateful for a tangible image of what role equality can look like. And when I make my own family, whomever I do that with, I want to draw from both my upbringing and MacKenzie’s. I’m also grateful to have been in a dating relationship in Provo for as long as we have, but that’s another topic.
Since my feminist awakening, I have begun to see through a feminist lens, but I recognize that I still have a lot to learn. One thing is certain: separate but equal is never truly equal. I claim to be a feminist in progress because I look forward to moving towards a more complete understanding of myself as a man, a Mormon, a boyfriend, a future husband, and a feminist.