Feminism, Relationships, and The Rule of Reciprocity

Photocredit Penelope

Below are my three guiding principles for greater equality in a relationship.

There’s a lot of media going on around me right now. Nick has gotten in the habit of playing Fortnite while watching YouTube and TikTok videos. Outside in the back patio, it’s an instant relief as far as noise, only light rain, and the air conditioner. In Coatepeque, Guatemala, every afternoon, around 5:00 pm, lightning would crack nearby, and buckets of rain would crash onto the roof of the patio restaurant, a barrage of white noise such that you couldn’t hear the person sitting across from you. But it’s not that loud here. Not yet anyway.

I recently read Dear Ijeawelle, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Of the different books and articles I’ve read about feminism, Adichie offers advice which has become something of a guiding principle as I navigate what equality means to me. Adichie offers two Feminist Tools:

1. The basic feminist premise: I matter, equally

2. Can you reverse X situation, and get the same results?

These guiding principles need not only apply to women, of course. Both men and women can find themselves in relationships with an unfair premise based on a twisted interpretation of gender roles, and both genders can find themselves suppressed by these roles. It’s typically the woman who is down and out either because she’s a woman or because she’s taken a back seat, expecting the man to do all the heavy lifting. Neither situation is fair, and applying Adichie’s rules can be helpful for bothe men and women.

As Adichie wisely points out, equality is not about keeping score of who does the dishes or who drops the kids off at school. Or who earns the money. It’s about respect for one another’s effort, time, and attention. It’s about playing by the same rules.

To Adichie’s Feminist Tools, I will add one more thing:

3. Decide on a basic premise for your partner.

If the basic premise is, ‘I think my partner is responsible and acts in good faith,’ then it’s fair to expect the same vote of confidence, reciprocated. Of course, this implies that a negative premise for your partner requires some investigation. If you think your partner is truly irresponsible, for example, that’s a problem. A negative basic premise means there’s a lot more work to do before anything like fairness can exist. Where there is no fairness, there is no peace.