Perspectives on egalitarian relationships: Bekah Legg

Monday, 26 March 2012

Some weeks ago, and after lengthy discussions online about it, I asked my fellow bloggers to write guest posts for me on the subject of egalitarian relationships. The reason? Many of us felt that it's hard to find books or other resources about it. Resources that don't even present an egalitarian relationship as an option, or resources that focus heavily on gender stereotypes and set 'roles'. I asked people to write about their own experiences, to explain what relationships look like for them, as a way of unpacking some of the confusion and attempting to answer the questions that always arise.

"But when push comes to shove, who makes the final decision? What if someone needs to have the final say?"
"But what are you teaching your children about gender roles?"
"So are you trying to say that men and women are the same?"

So each week I'm going to be featuring one of these posts. If you'd like to write one, or have already committed to writing one but haven't yet got round to it, feel free to send it to me, because I hope this will be an ongoing project.

This week's post comes from Bekah Legg. Bekah is editor of Liberti magazine and programme director of Liberti Life, a local schools work project that seeks to empower and equip young people through workshops and mentoring. She is kept on her toes at home by six fabulous children and a husband who occasionally dices with death by singing "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" when she's feeling overwhelmed.

"Me and my egalitarian marriage." 

It sounds quite grand when you say it like that, but the truth is I fell into it by accident. I have friends who practically had a manifesto set up before they went on the hunt for the man of their life which detailed exactly what was and wasn’t acceptable, detailed how they would or would not change their name, what their wedding vows would look like and they had an outline schedule prepared for sharing childcare when the time came.

I really didn’t think that much. I probably should have – I’d already been married once, to someone who turned out to be not just determined to be my head but to push submission on me in ways I had never imagined. I had had my spirit broken and my heart torn apart by a, once upon a time charming, man who, when I challenged him that he treated me like the home help, pointed out that I was less than that as at least he didn’t have to pay me.

In the aftermath of that, I didn’t formulate the kind of equality I would desire in the future. I just knew that if I were ever to give myself to anyone again – it would be because they made me feel safe. Not in the big man who can fight someone for me way, I’d learned that wasn’t such a great thing. But that I would feel safe to be me with them, that I knew they would never abuse me or manipulate me or control me, that they would listen to and value my opinion not belittle me and tell me what to do.

It’s only since I’ve been married to someone who does all those things that I have gradually appreciated the sheer gift it is to be valued as an equal on every level. I am still delighted to discover that my husband is proud of my brains – that he isn’t intimidated by them, that he’s happy to put me forward for things when he knows I’m better at them than him or that it would be good for me to have a go. I love that he’ll stay home and look after the kids, cook the tea and clean the bathrooms when I’m given an opportunity to go and speak.

When we disagree over how to do something he doesn’t get angry or insist on his way but we sit and chat it through and sometimes he shifts and agrees with me and sometimes I move and agree with him – not because I have to, not because it’s my place to submit, but because he convinced me with his reasoning.

I am slowly coming to appreciate the sheer freedom there is in a relationship like this where I feel able to utterly respect my husband because I know he totally respects me. I think it’s Ephesians 5:21 in action – mutual submission. This passage goes on to unpack verse 21 and people conveniently forget that the whole section on relationships is rooted in submitting to one another. Paul goes on to explain mutual submission in terms women and then men will understand but he starts by saying submit to each other.

The thing that I think is most notable here is that in his next breath, he talks to kids and parents and slaves and masters and here, kids and slaves are told obey. Wives aren’t – they are told to submit just as their husband has been told to mutually submit. Obeying is about being the weaker part in an uneven power relationship; submission is a voluntary surrendering of your will to another. I frequently do that – I get out of bed when I don’t want to and make coffee for my husband, I make him breakfast and iron his shirts, I cook him dinner when I’m tired sometimes and I help him on the computer when he’s having a technophobe moment. But every other day he pulls himself out of bed bleary eyes to make me tea and porridge, he does the laundry and cooks supper.

We’re a team. We take it in turns: we love, we honour, we respect. We fall out sometimes and enjoy making up. It’s marriage, it’s hard work but it’s equal. In every sense of the word.

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