Roles in marriages are constantly evolving, especially in contemporary western society where many couples aren't opting to get married anymore. My wife and I, like many young couples, are still trying to figure it all out. When we were dating and talking about marriage, she explained to me certain goals she's had for herself as a spouse. She told me that one of them was that she wanted to "serve" her husband. I was stunned.
The word raised a definite red flag that made me uncomfortable. "Serve" carries such a negative connotation that it made me fear that my wife and I might have an unhealthy – and unequal – relationship. The idea of my wife serving me made me think of the 1950s or a time not so long ago when women were confined to kitchens. It took me a while to understand my relationship with the word and why it was so off-putting.
Part of the issue with the word "serve" isn't just that it's sexist, it's also linked to all the invisible work we take for granted and often don't appreciate – from slavery to the waiters we don't like to tip. I felt like my wife was offering to perpetuate the very sexist ways that women have and continue to supply invisible and undervalued labor. And I wanted no part in that. She tried to explain to me that it wasn't about gender roles or being subservient. It was about doing something to make her husband smile. And she'd only do these things for someone who would try just as hard to make her smile. Still, that didn't stop me from following her around family gatherings with an empty plate saying, "You sure? I can get it if you don't want to make the plate." She'd (at first) patiently say, "I've got it. Just take a seat." After a few more "you sure's?" she'd shoot me a look that would warn "go away right now," which of course, I'd have to obey. We played this back-and-forth game for months until I truly started becoming comfortable with her doing something like making a plate for me.
Once we got married and ran a house together, I began to understand what she really meant – that service is a two-way street built on love and a desire to make your spouse happy. (Or simply, let's be honest, to survive in a sometimes chaotic house, especially when kids come into the picture). The problem seems to arise when other people outside our marriage project their criticisms and expectations of gender onto our actions. Typically, they might only observe one action – like making the Thanksgiving plate – and make assumptions, much as I initially had. Usually, the assumption was that my wife and I were living some sort of twisted Stepford Wife life.
Feminism has two diametrically opposed mantras:
1) Women should be free to make choices for themselves. ("Freedom")
2) Sexism should be eradicated everywhere ("Liberation")
You can't be an advocate for women's freedom and women's liberation.
If you think women need to behave a certain way, you will have to criticize them for their choices, and try to stop them from making those choices with your criticism.
The truth is: women want to be women. Those gender roles that women are supposedly "socialized" to perform are what women instinctively want to be.
What feminists call "patriarchy" is what women are. Feminists want to do away with what women really are.
In slogan form, you could say that women are the patriarchy.