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From Gender Vertigo to
Gender Peace

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"What is an egalitarian marriage? How would I know one if I saw one?", asked Kate, an old school chum. Never calling herself a feminist, she was always the first in our crowd to get the benefits of every activist reform. She made a six-figure salary as a vice-president of a major financial services firm and loved to encourage girls to pursue financial management careers. One of her hobbies was coaching women on "how to grow rich--on your own salary". When people would say that she intimidated men because she was "too smart, too beautiful, too successful, and too redhead", she'd smile and insouciantly retort, "Thank you."

You'd never guess that Kate had read John Gray's books, but as she herself said, "When you're desperate, what else can you do?" As Kate's salary started outpacing her husband's, marital problems erupted and they got a divorce. She dated many men afterwards, but never got the relationship she desired. Not wanting to be alone, she gave up and settled for Mars&Venus. And yet, when she first heard about my web project, she asked with a pleading, almost childlike sincerity, "What is an egalitarian relationship?"

This essay is dedicated to the Kates of the world, the women and men who want to know if there really is that proverbial needle in the relationship haystack. It begins by answering the question Kate asked and continues by challenging pervasive cultural myths about peer-inclined heterosexual unions, namely, those related to divorce, dating, decision-making, "role reversal", sex, careers and money, communication, talking about patriarchy, housework, childcare, family names and the effect of relationships on society. It will conclude by musing on the sociological future of egalitarian-leaning marriages.

Because most sociological work on peer-oriented heterosexual relationships has focused on married couples in the United States, this essay will follow suit, for better or worse. I hope that future research will concentrate more on feminist singles and peer-leaning cohabiters. Nevertheless, even if cohabitation becomes completely legitimate, "the savage sacrament" will continue to affect all women and men in North American society, whether married or not.(1) John Gray talks about "committed relationships" more than marriage and yet, we all know he has the husband and wife in mind rather than life-partnered live-ins.

By no means is this essay an exhaustive exploration of all the issues involved in building fair relationships. No way can this article cover every layer of complexity. However, we have to start somewhere and I believe From Gender Vertigo to Gender Peace is an excellent springboard for discourse and activism. So let's begin the adventure.

What Is an Egalitarian-Leaning Marriage?

When sociologists Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein published the landmark American Couples: Money, Work, Sex in 1983, the future of egalitarian marriage as an institution looked non-existent. As they collected over 12,000 questionnaires and interviewed 600 married, cohabiting, gay, and lesbian couples, Schwartz and Blumstein found that the architecture of heterosexual relationships had remained pretty much the same as in the 50's. The "new father" may have changed a diaper now and then, but for all his talk about equality, he still saw himself as the head of the household. It looked like few couples were going to follow the lead of Betsy and Hal Johnson and Bella and Martin Abzug.

And yet, as Pepper Schwartz reflected on her own marriage and the found a few standouts in her research, she began to study why some couples reconstructed gender roles and others didn't. Since almost all previous social research on marriage had concluded that even near-equality was impossible, Schwartz sought to fill a void by showcasing the exceptions, with the goal of showing the world how not to prove the rule. The results of this research were compiled in the 1994 Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works. While it never made the NYT Bestseller List, it did land her a spot on Oprah in addition to numerous speaking engagements on college campuses throughout the country.(2)

Schwartz was not alone in her examination of these relationship pioneers. While John Gray was constructing his Mars&Venus empire, progressive social psychologists and sociologists were developing a cottage industry of "how equality really works" books. Their titles said it all: He Works, She Works: How Two-Income Families Are Happy, Healthy and Thriving (Caryl Rivers, Rosalind Barnett:1996), Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gender Equity (Scott Coltrane:1996), Gender Vertigo: American Families in Transition (Barbara Risman:1998), Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works (Francine Deutsch:1999) and several others. To round out the picture, psychotherapist Nina Atwood broke ground on peer oriented courtship in her 1996 Be Your Own Dating Service: A Step By Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships.

These studies were remarkably consistent in their findings. They showed that peer-leaning marriage is rooted in "you and me", not just "he". They demonstrated that it is a combination of equity (honoring fairness and respecting diversity) and equality (each person has equal status and is equally responsible for emotional, economic, and household duties).(3) And they made a strong case that to enter "peerdom", a couple has to dump the male provider complex, transcend "missionary sexuality"(4), stop believing that separate spheres are equal spheres, and have a strong basis of friendship as well as sexual attraction. Ultimately, they proved Mars and Venus could never have an egalitarian relationship, nor could they ever be friends. As my stockbroker friend Kate said, "I never liked working with couples because of the power struggles. But there were a few who were lots of fun. It seemed like they were as much friends as lovers. And most of the time, her salary was similar to his. I didn't think about it back then, but I guess I was seeing an egalitarian marriage."

And yet, for all this groundbreaking, I found some lingering sexism among both the researchers and their "subjects". Near-peer rather than egalitarian would have been a more accurate description of these pioneers.(5) None of the researchers inquired about male responsibility for birth control. They were hard on women who clung to their "power" as homemakers and never let men do domestic work "their way".(6) It never occurred to them that men's insistence on doing housework "their way" is frequently rooted in the male supremacist idea that "women's work" takes no skill.

But the most disturbing aspect of much research was the unspoken assumption that couples don't have to talk about how patriarchy affects their relationship in order to have equality. Sociologist Scott Coltrane had a revealing story about Gary and Susan Carter, a progressive couple who disagreed over the value of feminism. Even though Gary "did his share" around the house, he still didn't think women are disadvantaged in our society. Susan, on the other hand, accepted the feminist perspective.(7) Gary reminded me of a male friend, Gerry, who was supportive of his wife, Betty, and was sympathetic to women's stories about sexism. However, he would get placating whenever we'd accuse him of "not getting it" about his own -isms. I could only see major problems ahead if Betty ever admitted how much Gerry denied the invisible web.

This lingering male supremacism made me wonder, "Can any marriage really be egalitarian in this society?" I am so skeptical that I actually cheered when Allan Johnson said in an internet radio interview, "Patriarchy puts every heterosexual relationship at risk." (8) Still, the marriages profiled by Schwartz, Deutsch, Rivers, Barnett, Coltrane, Risman and other progressive researchers are several steps beyond Mars&Venus and I do know a few couples who know how to talk about "how the system affects you&me" without getting into blame games and defensive little gender knots.

This combination of significant progress and lingering blind spots has led me to conclude that no, we probably don't have any egalitarian marriages in America yet--but yes, we do have partnerships which are definitely on their way. Thus, I have refrained from using the term, egalitarian, and have decided to use phrases like egalitarian-leaning and peer-leaning in this essay. A peer-leaning marriage is one which achieves the right combination of equity and equality in most, but not all crucial areas. These relationships tend to move in two stages: Elementary, which is characterized by a liberal feminist approach (i.e., sharing major decisions, economic provisions, sexual leadership, housework and childcare), and Advanced, which is marked by a radical feminist awareness of how patriarchy affects OUR relationship, as well as a commitment to transforming society.

With all the pressure to conform to Mars&Venus, it's tempting to ponder why some couples are challenging the system. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not always because of an overtly feminist worldview. Francine Deutsch was dismayed that several activist friends backslid once they became parents.(9) Still, she would probably agree that the women's movement has made "the difference" for all peer-leaning couples. Many women embraced equality because of career ambitions.(10) Several men said, "I do it because it's fair."(11) A majority went the peer route because of bad experiences in Mars&Venus relationships.(12) For all the diverse reasons these couples gave for delving into peerdom, they all shared a determination to go through gender vertigo. And that was the key to their success. Peer-leaning couples have the same fear of trespassing the biological and spiritual imperative as their Mars&Venus counterparts. Most have grown up in "traditional" families.(13) And yet, because of their strong commitment to fairness, family values and/or feminist integrity, they did the hard work necessary to move from gender vertigo towards gender peace.

Because peer-leaning couples are the needles in the cultural haystack(s), getting a composite snapshot of them is tricky. They're nowhere . . . and they're everywhere.(14) They are Gloria and Hector, a California Hispanic executive secretary and mail carrier.(15) They are Ning and Frank, an Asian scientist and her European-American colleague.(16) They are Sarah and David, southern middle class whites who co-lead an evangelical Christian urban ministry.(17) And they are white middle class New Englanders Moira and Bert, a battered woman's advocate and social psychologist both committed to educating the public about patriarchy.(18) Almost all egalitarian-leaning couples were born after 1945. Most are middle class and "well-educated".(19) However, some are working class.(20) The majority are white, but quite a few are black and mixed race.(21) While most are not theological fundamentalists, a tiny minority actually belong to conservative religions. None of them are stereotypical "power couples" who dump all the child care on an underpaid nanny.

After reading John Gray's books, studying these marriages was like dying and going to heaven. In so many ways, they exemplify the "American values" of fair play, transcending societal barriers, and devotion to family. So why don't we look to them as role models? To begin answering that question, we have no choice but to uncover common myths which keep us locked on Mars&Venus, most especially the one about d-i-v-o-r . . .

Myth Number One:
Peer-Leaning Marriages Always Lead to Divorce

When America's divorce rate skyrocketed in the 70's, most pundits blamed it on "women's lib" and assumed that "equality doesn't work". The truth was that those divorces occurred largely because most men did not honor their spouses' pleas for gender justice. As economist Elaine McCrate noted, the high point of divorce came just when mothers had entered the waged labor force in massive numbers and before any new institutions or guidelines for working parents had developed. When the divorce rate leveled off in the 80's, McCrate suggests that it came because of women's improved bargaining position in many marriages.(22) Psychologists Rosalind Barnett and John Gottman corroborate McCrate's theory and have strongly hinted that adhering to Mars and Venus Forever is no guarantee of a lasting relationship, as "Dr" Gray himself even wrote Mars and Venus Starting Over (read: Mars and Venus in Divorce Court).(23) Barnett makes a strong case that men who want Venus type wives are in for trouble.(24) Gottman's assertion that men's stonewalling in conflict is the most reliable predictor of divorce strongly challenges "Dr" Gray's belief that husbands have a right to escape to their caves when the going gets tough.(25)

Still, do the studies of Barnett and Gottman really prove that peer-leaning marriages are less divorce-prone than any other? Gottman reports in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that "men who let their wives influence them" are far less likely to be single again than "head of household" types. However, there is a huge difference between having an influence and having equal authority. Gottman talks approvingly of a Mormon bishop's statement on decision-making: "I wouldn't think about making a decision she [my wife] disagreed with. That would be very disrespectful. We talk until we both agree and then, I make the decision."(26) He juxtaposes it with a vignette about a "pro-feminist" male who doesn't let his wife "influence" him.(27) Gottman may think he's showing that actions speaking louder than words, but in reality, he's just displaying opposite sides of the same patriarchal coin.(28) Essentially, Gottman's work says nothing about equality and divorce.

The truth is that we cannot yet make authoritative statements about the longevity of peer-leaning marriages because social scientists have only recently begun to study them. Nonetheless, the research of Pepper Schwartz, Rosalind Barnett, Caryl Rivers, Scott Coltrane, Francine Deutsch and Barbara Risman give every indication that these relationships have an excellent future. Peer-leaning marriages are a challenge. They test a couple's endurance of gender vertigo to the max and require a unyielding "Here I Stand" position against indifferent or hostile friends, family members, colleagues, and institutions. And yet, the rewards are worth it. These couples have a deeper level of intimacy and partnership than the more male-dominated types. They even like each other! Perhaps the system has unwittingly given these couples an "I'll show you" determination. As sociologist Allan Johnson says about his strong twenty-one year marriage to feminist psychotherapist, Nora Jamieson, "And yet, we are in such different places as woman and man under patriarchy, a fact that both divides us and, in our facing it together, joins us in common purpose."(29)

Fear of divorce shouldn't stop anyone from aiming for peerdom. Indeed, family historian Stephanie Coontz provides intriguing evidence that even if divorce occurs, it may be less acrimonious if the couple was oriented towards equality.(30) She notes that Terry Arendell's study of divorced fathers living in New York showed that patriarchalists tended to see divorce as a war in which the man had to either "win" or "escape", which obviously has devastating effects on children. Only those fathers who developed new values of shared parenting were consistently able to put the children's well-being ahead of their feelings about the marriage itself.(31) But even if a peer orientation does make divorce less painful, I believe that these marriages will prove to be more stable than the "traditional" types.

In a nutshell, the 70's pundits are wrong. Still, it will take more than punching holes in divorce myths to convince people to move towards peerdom. Since we're all swimming in a paranoia-based gender system, we have at least eleven more myths to examine before we can honestly say to ourselves, "Just do it!" It just so happens that one of the most frightening has to do with THE RULES!

Myth Number Two:
Only Rules Girls Have Relationships

When Nina Atwood wrote in 1996 that "the old rules are out; the new ones are up for grabs",(32) Ellen Fein, Sherrie Schneider, and John Gray didn't quite succeed one year later in proving her wrong--or right. For every woman who actually took rules girl classes, there was probably an anti-rules woman who called her girlfriends over for a Rules burning party.(33) And Nina Atwood's books continued to sell very well. Even "Dr" Gray's ex cashed in with The Real Rules. So what's the scoop about American dating in the millenium? The postmodern truth(s) are that the old rules are still in and the new ones are still very much up for grabs. And what does that mean for feminist singles? They will not be pariahs in mainstream social circles, but they will still have to be pioneers.

Although journalist Paula Kamen convincingly shows that women born after 1970 are much more likely than their mothers to ask a man out and share expenses,(34) studies of American dating emphasize how little has really changed within the past thirty years. Generally, the man still asks and the man still pays. Social scientists are aware of non-conformist courtships; however, they haven't yet written any books about them. Thus, we don't know about the connection between peer dating and peer marriage, although common sense and experience will hint that you can't move from Mars and Venus On a Date to Love Between Equals without a long and painful transition. We also don't know if feminist dating scripts are more or less likely to lead to long-term relationships. Nevertheless, sexologist Naomi B. McCormack provides strong evidence that most men, especially those born after 1965, welcome women's initiative(35) and psychotherapist Nina Atwood's Be Your Own Dating Service offers workable new dating scripts based on real experience. So why do so many women, especially those born before 1970, still wait to be asked out and expect the man to foot the bill? Naomi McCormack says it's because women are afraid of breaking the rules. She also admits that women work harder at attracting partners and starting new relationships.(36) As a highly successful liberal feminist entrepreneur friend told me, "You mean I have to keep up my looks and build up his ego and flirt and make witty conversation and take care of birth control? And then, I have to also ask him out and pay for half the date? No way! Men don't work half as hard as women in relationships. I don't ask and I don't pay."

I believe many women cling to patriarchal consolation prizes for the same reason they flock to "Dr" Gray. After witnessing so much anti-feminist backlash, they are not convinced they will ever get a fair deal and so they savor their crumbs. If a man claims that the "male role" in dating is burdensome but never admits it also gives him an edge, why should a woman ask him out? If homely and desperate Sadie Hawkins is our culture's prime example of a woman who initiates, why should a woman break ground in egalitarian courtship? In a patriarchy, it's no mystery why so many women are afraid to become anti-rules girls.

And yet, all of my progressive single female friends know that if a woman wants a fair relationship, she has no choice but to pioneer. They would all agree that egalitarian dating builds up the "emotional muscle" needed to develop long-term peer-leaning relationships.(37) They know that dealing with a sexist server who always gives the man the check is nothing compared to challenging an andocratic education system after they become mothers. This is only the beginning. However, pioneering can also be fun and it feels wonderful to prove the nay-sayers wrong.

In my experience, "Dr" Gray is gaka to claim that "when a woman pursues a man, automatically he will relax more and become more passive about the relationship."(38) Social researchers Charlene Muehlenhard and Naomi McCormack are more on the mark here: If the man likes her, he will agree to go out with her; if he doesn't, he won't.(39) And if he really likes her, he will return the initiative. Sometimes, you won't be able to get him off the phone. Several years ago, when I met a man at a friend's birthday party, I gave him my business card, asked for his and said, "Next time you're in town, let's get together." To my amazement, he called me the next few nights from out of state. Even though he wasn't scheduled for another business trip to my city until the next month, we called each other twice each week. So much for men becoming passive. Smart men know that if a woman shares initiative and pays her way, it's a good sign she likes him and isn't using him for a "free" meal and entertainment.

Indeed, The Dallas Morning News a few years ago had charming stories about women who proposed to their husbands and got enthusiastic "yes" answers. As Sharon Avery said, "The only way you can get what you want is to ask for it."(40) According to John O'Loughlin, who instituted National Proposal Day on March 10, women pop the question 10% of the time.(41) While we don't have all the statistics yet about peer-leaning dating, the experiences of myself and my friends show that a woman doesn't have to be a rules girl to get into promising relationships.

However, fairness in courtship involves much more than sharing initiative and expenses. If a progressive man tolerates his significant other's feminist activism but refuses to examine his "invisible knapsack" of gender privilege, how could a relationship ever be egalitarian?(42) In such circumstances, the woman has two stark choices: sell out or leave. Regardless of what she does, she won't get much support from the culture. Even progressive dating experts like Nina Atwood will unwittingly side with men. Atwood rightly tells men that they should politely ask their dates to share expenses. However, she never urges them to read a book like The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy and engage in feminist activism.(43) Atwood wisely urges couples to keep honing their communication skills and yet, she NEVER tells men how to respond without hostility, defensiveness or placation whenever a woman says, "I was offended by your sexist remark."(44) Atwood exhorts women who want peer-leaning relationships to get into social circles which share their values. However, she never admits that even progressive political and religious groups are notorious for male supremacism.(45) If a forward-thinking therapist like Nina Atwood refuses to get to the roots--the radicals--of relationship problems, it's an infallible sign that the real rules of contemporary American courtship are: It's fine for couples to share expenses and initiative, but women shouldn't expect men to take any responsibility for patriarchy. And if they do, they have no right to complain about ending up alone.

Feminists who rightly expect men to fight the good fight with them face enormous challenges in dating. Paradoxically, this problem has piqued my curiosity about the dilemmas of their single male allies. The ratio of female to male activists may be 100 to 1, but that doesn't mean it's a piece of cake for male feminists to get dates. Stereotypes are vicious, as shown by an anti-feminist campus pamphlet, The Green Man's Guide to Meeting Women, which advises fellows to say, "Sometimes, I'm ashamed to be a man."(46) Every seasoned activist has horror stories about betrayal by a "liberated man", which makes it difficult to trust a progressive member of a dominant group. And yet, most of the committed male feminists I know are in good marriages or long-term relationships. Aside from an obvious numerical and structural edge, what is their secret? In a nutshell, integrity. Sociologist Steven Schacht, who's married to rape crisis counselor Anna Papageorge, writes, "Feminists will look more at what a man does than what he says."(47) Indeed, when entrepreneur Henry Blackwell fell in love with suffragist Lucy Stone in the 1850's, she was determined to avoid marriage. And yet, she consented "to have and to hold" because of his commitment to justice amongst much suspicion and ridicule. In their 1855 marriage contract, Henry Blackwell took the initiative of renouncing all his patriarchal legal privileges and in 1856, Lucy Stone wrote, "You are the best husband in the world . . .I will love you, as I do, with all my heart."(48)

The example of Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell can give feminist singles much energy to keep up the good fight through the millenium. In their time, all they had was Mars&Venus, but in our time, we have alternatives--if we're willing to go after them. The controversy surrounding the success of The Rules and Mars and Venus On a Date shows that several people nowadays are more willing to take a road less traveled. Yes, the rules will stay in for quite some time, but peer-leaning dating could also become more prevalent. Nevertheless, even if time and activism lessen the rules scare, we still have ten more myths to cover before we can feel secure about entering the brave new world of peer relationships. I mean, don't most people have this nagging feeling that when push comes to shove, we'll have chaos if somebody doesn't make make THE FINAL DECISION?

Myth Number Three:
Peer-Leaning Marriages Are
Hotbeds of Conflict

Democracy in relationships has become so theoretically acceptable within the past thirty-five years that only in fundamentalist marriage books do we hear that the husband should make the final decision if the couple can't come to an agreement. John Gray says in Children Are From Heaven that Mom and Dad are the bosses(49) and appears to agree with feminist scholar Riane Eisler about the need for equality.(50) But when put to the test, he comes down on the side of male headship: "He is required to be the leader, but must also include her in the process . . . She doesn't want him to decide without her input, and she doesn't want to do it alone."(51) No wonder so many fundamentalists love his books.

Those who believe the man must make THE FINAL DECISION usually say it's because chaos will result without a clear sense of order. I believe they also endorse unilateral decision making because they hate arguments. Social scientists can proclaim the virtues of "creative conflict" until the end of the world, but John Gray knows that nobody likes disagreements and has built an empire on that simple fact. His chapters aren't titled, "How to Grow Up Through Conflict". They're titled, "How to Avoid Arguments."(52)

Needless to say, those who have successful peer-leaning relationships know there are no easy ways out. So how do they fare? Do their marriages end up in chaos? Pepper Schwartz says a few couples admitted that sometimes, sharing authority was more trouble than it was worth. Peer-leaning couples are more likely to clash if spouses are divided on an issue and unwilling to yield to one another.(53) Still, Schwartz saw no evidence of any "chaos" and psychologist John Gottman, hardly a feminist, reported that conflict will not inevitably lead to abuse, love loss, or even divorce.(54) Egalitarian-leaning couples who want to grow old together know that they need to learn to fight fair, and so, Schwartz and other researchers note that successful couples are always honing their skills at negotiating directly, fairly, and without abuse. As Pat, who co-owns a grocery store with her husband said, "We hassle everything. But our solemn oath is to never give up, never walk out until we are both satisfied. Did I say both? That's important. We don't quit until we get it right. That does us good--we always come to some kind of working it out."(55)

A relationship with more argument potential can seem frightening, but it is preferable to the gender knot of bitterness, defensiveness, dehumanization and violence that social scientists have found in so many male-dominated marriages. Win-win conflict resolution skills are so essential that even couples who endorse male headship will bend on final decision ideology if they want to preserve marital happiness. One famous example is the Christian evangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. In his autobiography, Billy gave several examples where he respectfully deferred to Ruth on matters of household management and child rearing.(56) Ruth even commented with her usual wit: "If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary."(57) Quite a paradigm shift for someone who endorsed the Christian arch-patriarchalist Larry Christiansen twenty years ago!

But are the Grahams really "closet egalitarians", as evangelical feminist Linda Raney Wright implied in A Cord of Three Strands?(58) When Ruth married Billy, she gave up her calling to be a missionary to Tibet and completely adapted herself to the ministry/career of a man who would soon become a world famous evangelist. Billy has felt guilty about placing Ruth in the quasi single parent position during much of his ministry.(59) Their daughter, Anne Graham Lott, admitted that "In many ways, he [my father] lived his life as a single person, while being enriched by the life of a family. My mother set him free to do that. She never complained."(60) As a staunch evangelical "traditionalist" told me, "Billy delegated many decisions to Ruth so that he could follow his calling."

Many people, self-identified feminists included, think equal marriage just means that a couple shares authority based on interest, time, and talent. What they don't see is that these items take place in a patriarchal context. One case in point is homemaker/writer Lynne Hybels and her husband Bill, pastor of the famous Willowcreek Community Church and a spiritual advisor to former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Unlike Billy Graham, Bill Hybels ordains women elders and has signed the groundbreaking Men, Women, and Biblical Equality Statement, which says that "spouses must share responsibilities of leadership based on gifts, expertise, and availability."(61) Unlike Ruth Bell Graham, Lynn Barry Hybels has repeatedly complained to Bill about his familial negligence. In the Hybels' autobiographical self-help book, Fit to Be Tied: Making Marriage Last a Lifetime, Lynne wrote poignantly that after sixteen years of marriage, "My life seems to have gotten lost in yours."(62)

Not surprisingly, Lynne and Bill attributed their problems to "codependency"(63) and socialization,(64) not patriarchy. When writing about their conflicts, Bill got defensive ("most men don't intend to hurt their wives")(65) while Lynne swung into needless good girl guilt ("I should have modified my approach so that I wouldn't have 'sinned in my anger'").(66) Bill used the false parallel technique of perpetuating patriarchy ("husbands aren't the only ones who fall into this pattern")(67) while Lynne gave a tiresome list of things she should have done differently ("First, I should have expressed my hurt more assertively").(68)

Lynne's complaints eventually resulted in Bill scheduling more couple and family time and doing some housework; however, their marriage still revolves largely around his career. Lynne and Bill seem clueless about how both the male provider role and ignorance about patriarchy impede true mutuality. Indeed, when Lynn wrote that "When a wife experiences maximum [sexual] pleasure herself, that multiplies her husband's pleasure"(69), it reminded me of "Dr" Gray's andocentric remark that women should have great sex because it'll make better marriages for men.(70) Maybe I've read too much Mars&Venus. And yet . . .

The Hybels' relationship exemplifies the radical feminist position that a couple needs more than a progressive attitude in order to build equality. For all their disagreements on male headship, the Grahams and the Hybels have somewhat similar marriages. Both are planted in the modern patriarchal assumption that the "public" career sphere is the man's domain and the "private" family sphere is the woman's department. And they're grounded in the myth that these spheres are socially equal. Lynne and Ruth would undoubtedly claim that they freely chose to be pastors' wives. However, choices are never made in a vacuum. If Lynne and Ruth had been the ones with pastoral and evangelistic gifts, their husbands probably would have been the "managers" of their careers, a pattern quite common among both secular female performing artists and women evangelists like Evelyn Christiansen and Kay Arthur.

The acceptance of shared decision making, largely a legacy of second-wave feminism, has shown us that abandoning the "man in charge" mentality will not provoke a hotbed of chaos. It has also painfully demonstrated that fair marriage is more complex than just making decisions together. Going beyond "the final decision" mentality poses frightening questions about careers, sex, housework, childcare, family names, money, communication, you-name-it. I do not have the answers on how couples like the Grahams and the Hybels could restructure their marriages. But if we really want gender justice, we have no choice but to confront the most sacred myths of our culture. Before we begin, we'd better examine one issue which "Dr" Gray manipulated with consummate virtuosity: the frightening gender vertigo which can accompany the smallest illusions of role reversal.

Myth Number Four:
Role-Reversal Couples Lack Passion

In the Introduction to his flagship Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, the good "doctor" says:
"If you discover you are experiencing role reversal, I want to assure you that everything is all right. I suggest that when you do not relate to something in this book, either ignore it . . . or look deeper inside yourself. Many men have denied some of their masculine attributes in order to become more loving and nurturing. Likewise, many women have denied some of their feminine attributes to earn a living in a work force that rewards masculine attributes. If this is the case, then by applying the suggestions, strategies, and techniques in this book, you not only will create more passion in your relationships but also will increasingly balance your masculine and feminine characteristics."(71)

After insinuating that "role reversal" couples suffer from bed death, does anyone really believe "Dr" Gray when he says, "I want to assure you that everything is all right"? Paranoia about "women becoming more masculine and men becoming more feminine" runs so deep that only in advanced feminist circles do we ever have mature discussions about "role reversal" and the gender dizziness that often accompanies it. Since we cannot examine how this challenge affects a couple's sex life until we discuss this gender confusion, I will save the "sex talk" for the next section and will concentrate on the myth of role reversal in this one.

"Dr" Gray defines role reversal as "the man relating to my descriptions of women and the woman relating to my descriptions of men."(72) However, his concrete examples of "emotional role reversal" hardly put the woman in the dominant position. Gray believes that men who talk openly about all their problems, get angry and share their gut reactions to a woman's feelings, complain more about the relationship and/or cry more than their spouses or girlfriends are being too "feminine", which in turn makes women escape to their caves.(73) The good "doctor" says, "To protect herself from her partner's emotionally charged attacks and demands, she has to become like a man." (74) Gray admits that "although he [the male] is acting like a woman in needing to share, he is still a man. . .He will continue to feel a strong need to be heard and obeyed."(75) The good "doctor's" solution to this problem is--you guessed it--for the woman to make her mate feel "accepted and appreciated" because "when a woman is happy, a man tends to take the credit and feel good about himself."(76)

Need I detail the obvious? In a patriarchy, the slightest deviations from the norms are considered "role reversal". The system will diminish the man if he doesn't appear to be in charge. But generally, it will still give him the upper hand. Role reversal paranoia is so prevalent that even peer-leaning couples aren't immune to using that sexist term. Francine Deutsch was surprised to hear progressives talk about their "role reversal" marriages because they were so obviously overstating the case.(77) Women did not dominate in any of the families she studied. Deutsch maintains that "equality sometimes feels like role reversal because they [the couples] are so different from their same-gender peers."(78)

It is perplexing to hear both male supremacists and feminist-leaning couples talk about role reversal until we realize that our culture has no phrases which describe the dislocation that accompanies even a slight deviation from affirmed ways of doing gender. However, the right phrase may be on its way. When Australian sociologist Bob Connell wrote, "To resist the integration of personality around the subordination of women or the dichotomy of masculinity/femininity is to court disintegration, gender vertigo,"(79) his American colleague, Barbara Risman, was so impressed that she named one of her books after his striking phrase. Fundamentally, both John Gray and the couples in Deutsch's research are dealing with gender vertigo, although in dramatically different ways. Gray helps couples dodge it while women and men in peer-leaning relationships make a habit of confronting it. Risman pulls no punches about the need for couples to deal head-on with their fears:

"I suggest that we start by going beyond gender whenever we can, ignoring gendered rules, pushing the envelope until we get dizzy. Gender vertigo can only help us to destabilize deeply held but incorrect beliefs about the natural differences between women and men. I believe that we will have to be dizzy for a time if we are to help to deconstruct gender and construct a society based on equality."(80)

Risman's radical challenge provokes the questions, "But will we ever get gender peace? Will it be worth it? And will sex still survive?" All the answers are unequivocally Yes! When Rebecca and David met through a personals ad in New York Magazine, it was lust at first sight. But during their initial experiences with intercourse, David, whose first marriage was very conventional, got gender vertigo from dealing with Rebecca's experienced sexual leadership. Rebecca realized that he was either intimidated or confused. So they had several good talks and eventually, sex got much more harmonious. David admitted that at first, their sex life was "both wonderful and horrible". He was dismayed that his body wouldn't cooperate and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. But when David learned to just let things happen and realized that a couple can have great sex without male dominance, he relaxed enormously.(81)

Among so much paranoia about "role reversal", why are people like Rebecca and David so willing to work through gender vertigo? Barbara Risman would probably say it's because in our society, only highly educated, income-producing professional women like Rebecca have enough clout and/or self-assurance to insist on an egalitarian relationship.(82) And David for his part had either become secure enough to negotiate a peer-leaning courtship or had fallen so deeply in love with Rebecca that he was willing to examine some of his assumptions. Not surprisingly, social scientists have found that the following factors strongly influence an individual or couple's chances of making it through gender vertigo: the woman's income and professional level relative to her mate's, the couple's acceptance of feminist ideology at some level (which doesn't necessarily mean they will call themselves feminists), survival pressures (i.e., a widower is forced to become the sole caretaker of his children) the woman's self-assurance and the man's commitment to the relationship ("if he loves you . . .").(83) Gender vertigo can seem endless even when it lasts only a few seconds, but it is the only way to a true gender peace.

As I write this good news, I know in my gut that just about everyone is wondering (or trying to avoid wondering), "But can't it lead to female domination?" This query provokes an even deeper question, "Why are people so afraid of matriarchy?" An eye for an eye does make the whole world blind; however, there's no evidence that female dominance would be worse than male dominance. Misogyny is rearing its ugly head here. When a man controls a woman, the culture doesn't accuse him of roosterpecking his wife, penis-whipping his girlfriend, or being a castrating ???.(84) And it certainly doesn't say, "After 6000 plus years of patriarchy, it's time for retribution." But when a woman controls a man, the culture punishes her. People accuse her of henpecking her husband, pussy-whipping her boyfriend, or being a castrating bitch.

Fear of matriarchy is groundless, for our society subtly gives the man "the power" in heterosexual relationships. It can be mitigated by the woman's relative income and career success, the man's feelings, the woman's self-confidence, life circumstances (i.e., the husband becomes disabled) and/or the couple's gender ideology. True, men can still get hurt. But when the mix is right, women and men can love as equals in spite of patriarchy, which means that every heterosexual relationship is at risk. Francine Deutsch warns us that an egalitarian relationship today could fall into "traditional" norms tomorrow.(85) But she and Barbara Risman assure us that couples can pick themselves up and start over, provided that they're willing to go through gender vertigo. Sometimes, it will just last a few seconds. Other times, a few years. Risman found that it took one couple three to four years to transform a decade-long male breadwinner/female homemaker pattern into a fair relationship.(86) But no way will they ever go back to Mars&Venus.

It's rather ironic that John Gray is completely on the mark when he tells "role reversal" couples, "I want to assure you that everything is all right." It's even more ironic that if a couple wants a fair relationship, they have to follow his admonition to look deeper inside themselves. If "Dr" Gray had actually taken his own advice, would he have dared a moment of gender vertigo? I wouldn't dare speculate. However, I have no problem telling why a culture which celebrates pioneers will give more money to a John Gray than to a Barbara Risman. If you endure the vertigo necessary to go to the moon, you are a man, my son! Not so if you courageously endure the dizziness needed to have a fair relationship. Why the dissonance in American "democracy"? Could it have something to do with sex?

Myth Number Five:
Egalitarian Marriage Means Bed Death

"Sex needs sexism", the pundits tell us. From "Dr" Gray to Dr Ruth, the subliminal message is clear: heterosexual intercourse can't exist without male dominance, which shows how little has changed since the days our grandparents kept Dr. VanDeVelde's Ideal Marriage tucked under their bed.(87) But are the pundits right? Pepper Schwartz, former president of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, would give an unequivocal NO. Her research corroborates Andrea Dwokin's surprising prediction that "both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality."(88)

In a culture where movie directors almost always shoot sex scenes from the man's objectifying angle with the couple in the missionary position and the woman having vaginal orgasms, how can a couple ever transcend patriarchal sex? Essentially by having fun with gender vertigo and knowing that gender peace is just around the corner. Schwartz says:

"Reducing difference can be sexy. Equitable treatment and role innovation can be exciting. . . Hierarchy and domination are not essential for arousal. The natural ebb and flow of power in a relationship and the gulf between any two human beings that continually needs bridging gives enough natural tension and interest for peer sexuality to include passion--at least some of the time."(89)

But who wants passion some of the time when "Dr" Gray promises it all of the time? Isn't Dr Schwartz admitting that he is right about "role reversal" couples? True, peer-leaning couples will go through more hurdles and will probably suffer a temporary libido letdown as they shed the missionary position mentality. However, a Mars&Venus sex life is no guarantee of constant passion. Schwartz found that most patriarchal couples suffered from a failure of timing, a failure of intimacy, a failure of sexual empathy and a failure of reciprocity.(90) She also noted that mature peer-leaning couples were justificably proud of their sex lives and that the happiest couples traded the leader and follower roles with equivalent frequency.(91)

Schwartz found that as couples move into peerdom, they tend to suffer from an "incest taboo", as shown by David and Rebecca:

"David said, "I feel tender towards Rebecca, love her, enjoy making love to her, but I have to make myself think of her as a sex object. I mean she's sexy, but she's not my sex object. She's my friend . . .And sometimes it's a bit strange to get down and dirty with your friend, you know?" . . .[In turn, Rebecca said], "I was really horny. I hadn't seen David for a weekend because I was out of town. . . We started off holding hands, but then we started talking about the things that were going on in his job and amazing things in mine and before I knew it, all those sexual feelings had gone out the window."(92)

If Rebecca and David were going to you-know-who for counseling, we all know what he would say. However, what advice would mature peer-leaning couples give? According to Schwartz, they would insist that Rebecca and David stop talking about mundane things in their bedroom and make it a private, sensuous place. They would encourage them to take their physical appearances seriously (yes, it's OK for to dress seductively for each other). They would admonish David to see a good feminist therapist if he needs help in overcoming his virgin/whore or good friend/sexy babe complex. And they would urge them to keep sexual expression within each person's emotional and political comfort zone while realizing that stretching these boundaries can be very sexy.(93) One doesn't have to endorse S&M to enjoy roller coaster sex from time to time.

After David and Rebecca get through their hurdles, their sex life could be like Darla and Mick's, a busy two-career couple who share the care of three children:

Darla says, "My heart beats a little faster when I sees [Mick] getting undressed and he gives he that kind of wicked look like he's going to suggest something sexy . . .We play scenes, and we switch roles . . .sometimes it's just that I'm all over him right away or he acts possessed. We give each other complete freedom." . . . [Mick says] "I have a horror vision in my head of this pot-bellied guy distractedly humping his wife who still has curlers in her hair. Not for me in this lifetime. We create a mood. We think of each other as sexy people."(94)

Among these couples, the missionary position is just one of many and attraction is based on mutual pride, not man's "conquest" of woman. Schwartz found that peer-leaning couples are excellent at romance and that husbands rarely need to be reminded of anniversaries.(95) These couples tend to be equally attracted to their partners' similarities and differences. As Ning, a 5'1" Asian scientist says about Frank, her 6'6" European-American husband and colleague:

"My size has nothing to do with my personality, and we are equal in bed just as we are in the lab. This doesn't mean that we don't sometimes have fun with our difference in size. I just mean it doesn't dictate anything about how we relate emotionally and sexually. We were not attracted to each other because we are so different . . .We were attracted to each other because we are so similar. The size is just kind of fun."(96)

Peer-leaning couples can do passion just as well as anyone else; however, they are still vulnerable to pitfalls. Couples may get upset when patriarchal illusions about male hypersexuality fall apart. But they can overcome it by following their own erotic timetable. Like their male-dominated counterparts, peer couples can have high, low, or medium sexual frequencies. There is nothing sacred about how often a couple has sex.(97) And it's OK for the woman to have a larger sexual appetite. However, these encounters must avoid too much routine so that partners won't be tempted to stray. While we have no statistical comparisons of infidelity rates between "traditional" and peer-leaning couples, Schwartz did find one happily married pro-feminist husband who had a sudden, guilt-ridden affair.(98)

Because of their deep bond, Bernice and Jay felt invulnerable until a student named Mai came into his life. Since he was so committed to Bernice, he eventually told her the truth. Heartbroken as she was, she did understand how it could happen and they slowly rebuilt their relationship. Their peer marriage skills helped immensely in the recovery and they realized that all couples are vulnerable to infidelity if they let their sex life continue on auto-pilot. As Schwartz wisely notes, "Having something to hope for, whether during vacation time . . . or random heightened erotic occasions, may make the difference between being satisfied with a long-term sexual life together and being vulnerable to other passions with other people."(99)

But does that mean they must do S&M? For the past decade, liberal feminists like Susie Bright and Annie Sprinkle have locked horns with their radical "sisters" over "thrilling" S&M vs. "boring" vanilla sex. While Schwartz took no clear position on this contentious issue, she did mention that while it may be strange for a male CEO to enjoy staged sexual "slavery" for the night (presumably with a "dominatrix" prostitute), the fact is that S&M will not affect how he runs his company. That may be true; however, she neglected to mention that it also won't affect how he runs his "traditional" marriage either.(100) Feminist sexologists can't afford to deny that even S&M with a "dominatrix" occurs in a patriarchal context.

And they can't afford to avoid questions about male responsibility for contraception and conception. Schwartz never delved into these issues, which disappointed my friend, Marissa. Because they wanted more spontaneity, Marissa and her husband Carl abandoned condoms and switched to Depo-Provera shots. Marissa experienced several side effects but continued because "rubbers are so icky". Marissa and Carl do not exactly have a sexist sex life. But while Carl feels bad about Marissa's problems, he has never publicly campaigned for a birth control pill for men. Even if a couple has great egalitarian sex, they haven't quite escaped patriarchy if the woman is taking all the responsibility for contraception and conception.

So are we there yet on pro-feminist sex? Lingering birth control problems and S&M controversies do cast rain on our parade. Nevertheless, peer-leaning couples are once again proving the pundits wrong. Sex does NOT need sexism, a fact which could radically change gender relations once the world decides to "get it". However, it'll take more than revising our sexual scripts for society to institutionalize egalitarian marriage. For starters, we will have to risk social ostracism by admitting that the "traditional" homemaker Mom and breadwinner Dad family will probably never be fair to women.

Myth Number Six:
At-Home Moms Have Egalitarian Marriages

"Whenever you want something, you just go out and get it . . .We always do what you want to do and you always get our way," cried Bonnie Gray when her husband John bought a new computer without her consent.(101) In a culture where "he who has the gold makes the rules", would anyone be surprised by Bonnie's lack of bargaining power? As Pepper Schwartz says:
"The provider role shapes a marriage. Traditional wives who do not work or who act as minor financial contributors and do not have equal economic control in the marriage may think they are full partners in the relationship, yet in conversation, their husbands dismiss them more or do not even refer to them. These wives are more likely to be permission seeking, more likely not to try to extend a strong voice beyond the agreed-upon parameters of their territory in the relationship. They may be given complete control over the children, or household expenses, or even culture and social life, but the man retains veto power."(102)

In a culture where any criticism of the "traditional" family is considered a put-down of stay-at-home Moms, Pepper Schwartz probably would have jeopardized her career if she hadn't backed up her bold statements with solid evidence. The "family values" crowd will deny it until humans start living on Mars, but the fact is that "traditional" marriage is patriarchal marriage. Not surprisingly, Schwartz, Risman, Coltrane, and Deutsch found that couples who believe in equality are most likely to walk their talk if the man's job has some flexibility and controllable hours and if both partners make similar amounts of money.(103) Of course, they found a few exceptions. Sometimes, the woman earned considerably less than her husband. Pepper Schwartz even found three male breadwinner/female homemaker couples who strongly tilted towards peerdom.(104) However, either the woman had a prestigious job (i.e., an acclaimed artist or an elected politician) or the husband valued her work (i.e., she's a social justice activist or an outstanding elementary school teacher) or he felt uncomfortable with the power of money. When Garrett, who thought that money has "a dirty feel to it", lost his job with a prestigious research institute, he and his homemaker wife, Angie, turned down chances to relocate and lived in reduced circumstances because they put their needs as a family ahead of his career. In a remarkable feat which challenged both the gender and class order, Angie and Garrett were the exceptions that prove the rule.(105)

As much as our culture wants to think that most provider husbands are "good" to their wives, the truth is that economically dependent women usually end up in the same position as Bonnie Gray. The husband gets what he wants and the wife get seconds. If they divorce, his standard of living often rises and yes, she sometimes goes on welfare. However, if the woman is the breadwinner and the man stays home, don't expect a "role reversal" matriarchy. In spite of Mr. Mom jokes and cruel insinuations about their sexuality, the culture often treats at-home Dads better than their female counterparts. Even though these men generally do less housework and childcare than at-home moms, several women and a few men will think they're "wonderful fathers" when they do mediocre work, the media will focus on their pioneering while ignoring their wives' role innovations, and their breadwinner spouses will often take equivalent or even greater homemaking and childcare responsibilities after a long day at the office.(106) When Pepper Schwartz talked about Garrett's considerable housework and childcare responsibilities, I wondered, "But does he do as much as a breadwinner mother?"

In this culture, the woman has to buy her way to "equality" while the man gets "the lead" by default. If the woman makes more money than her husband, either the marriage will become even more male dominated or it will remain peer-leaning.(107) This bittersweet news about women, men and money didn't exactly motivate feminists to uncork the champagne and yell, "We told you so!" Nevertheless, it reinforces the anthropological truism that cultures which practice the most sex segregation are the most patriarchal. And it confirms our gut feeling that sharing the provider role is the most reliable way to insure that couples who believe in equality will start practicing what they preach.

In peer-leaning marriages, women are full partners in financial planning, spending, and making tough economic compromises. They know that attitudes which seem logical often give women the short end of the stick. Conventional wisdom says that couples should pool all of their money to demonstrate their commitment. But in a society where the man is still pretty much "the one", that practice could render the woman's contributions invisible. So most peer-leaning wives have their own bank accounts along with the usual joint accounts.(108) As unsettling as this practice may be, it is nothing compared to the behavior of Burke, a stockbroker, and his spouse, Nina. When Burke got engaged, he naturally assumed he would control the finances. But although Nina respected his expertise, her devastating experiences with "the golden rule" in a previous marriage made her insist on equal decision-making power. Burke initially thought her ideas were idiotic and almost broke the engagement; however, he later admitted that Nina's way is better.(109)

Considering Burke's eventual "coming around" to the wisdom of Nina's views, it is intriguing to speculate what would have happened if he, like John Gray, had bought a computer without her consent and if Nina, like Bonnie Gray, had called him to accountability. I doubt that he would have acted like Mr. Mars&Venus. While I can imagine him silently denigrating his wife for "not appreciating electrical gadgets,"(110) I can't see him dodging her intelligent questions ("Have you done market research?", "We need things for the house"),(111) drawing out her feelings ("I want to understand why you are upset"),(112) giving her a hug and promising that after he gets his computer, she will get the household items she wants.(113) Instead, I can see Burke struggling with defensiveness but eventually apologizing to her and working for a true win-win resolution. I can even imagine Burke admitting that Nina has excellent reasons for not getting a charge out of electrical gadgets. Stockbrokers like Burke may over-react, but because their feminist spouses have real financial leverage and they want to "do right" by them, they will eventually play fair in monetary negotiations.

I don't know how much longer our culture will deny it, but there is no getting around the fact that if a woman is economically dependent on her husband, she will probably not have a fair marriage. If Bonnie Gray had been a provider in her own right, John probably would have pulled fewer stunts on her. However, I doubt if he would have treated her as an equal authority. In typical modern patriarchal fashion, he would have used the appearance of sensitivity ever more subtly to manipulate Bonnie so that she would let him do exactly what he wanted to do.(114) A woman's professional and financial success is essential to marital fairness, but we all know it will take more than money to transform heterosexual relationships. As the discourse between John and Bonnie shows, we will also have to puncture deeply rooted myths about what really constitutes good communication between women and men.

Myth Number Seven:
Peer-Leaning Couples Struggle With Communication Problems

"Society's obsessive androgyny makes relationships impossible. If only everyone would read John Gray and Deborah Tannen and respect gender differences, men and women would have no problem communicating," proclaimed Don, an acquaintance and colleague. Need I tell you how he responded when I showed evidence from real experts? He couldn't believe that peer-leaning couples have fewer communication problems than their more male-dominated counterparts. He was also stunned by the news that "I hear you" statements have no effect on resolving conflicts.(115)

Regardless of what men like Don think, feminists can still say "I told you so" about the latest therapeutic euphemism, for the research results from a wide variety of sources are virtually the same: communication problems are not about sex differences, they are about power differences.(116) If a couple really wants to "communicate", the woman must not only assert her rights, but the man must graciously surrender his gender privileges. When people realize that this issue has as much to do with structural power as technique, the discourse about what constitutes "good communication" radically changes.

Unlike their more male-dominated "sisters", women in peer-leaning marriages rarely complain of a lack of intimacy.(117) However, these women don't feel "validated" just because their husbands are good listeners. They feel affirmed because their mates have similar worldviews, live similar lives and put their marriage ahead of their career. Unlike you-know-who, peer-leaning husbands don't act like therapists during a conflict with their wives about buying computers vs. purchasing household items.(118) Since progressive men know the drudgery of housework and the value of good furniture, they're far more likely to encourage their spouses to get "the best tools for the job" and do the same for themselves.(119) Likewise, since the women are co-providers, they understand all-too-well the nonsense of office politics and can laugh with their husbands about the games they have to play with their bosses. Because these couples share the provider and homemaker roles, they exemplify the fact that "men are from Earth, women are from Earth; deal with it." Ultimately, they make us wonder if Mars&Venus could ever have an intelligent conversation.

Not surprisingly, this "men and women are from Earth" philosophy extends to the ways these couples "work" at the relationship, which in turn improves communication. Both parties competently perform "male" and "female" styles of expressing love, from "doing things" like having the car fixed and picking up the dry cleaning to verbally and physically sharing affection to thinking aloud and acting silly with each other.(120) Above all, they value collegiality and togetherness. As Jerry said of his twenty-five year relationship with Donna, "I don't really like doing things with other people. We just like being together. We do Siskel and Ebert when we're at the movies. We do the Frugal Gourmet when we cook. We are just our own show."(121)

For all the warm fuzzies that Donna and Jerry inspire, their exclusivity has made some pundits wonder if peer-leaning couples are so fused and "androgynous" that their relationship couldn't deal with competition. True, some couples have been ostracized so much that they have escaped and "fused" to their own planet. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. Peer-leaning couples are complementary and community oriented, but not in a Mars&Venus way. For example, Susan and Gary work part-time, share housework and childcare, and are active in the parent-teacher association. Both have excellent "communication skills". However, nobody would say that Susan, the introverted marriage counselor, and Gary, the extroverted construction worker, and are too fused or "androgynous". "I'm still the Mom", Susan proudly proclaimed.(122) Pepper Schwartz notes that most peer-leaning couples look pretty "normal" and have "some little cache of traditionalism they couldn't bear to disturb. Few women tinkered with their car; few men did mending."(123) These "normal" couples also know that their relationships have potential for destructive competition. So they deliberately invoke non-hierarchical forms of complementarity. When realtors Margy and Paul got married, they took on different markets. As Paul said, "A little change can go a long way. We have a hell of a lot in common to share and just enough difference to keep our egos off the firing range."(124)

But how would Paul keep his ego off the firing range if Margy protested after he accidentally made a sexist remark? How would he avoid the temptation to get belligerent, defensive or placating? While feminism has influenced all peer-leaning couples, that doesn't mean they're dying to talk about patriarchy. Peer-leaning couples are far ahead of their more conventional cohorts in "communication skills", but when it gets down to discussing "you and me in the system", the majority don't make it to the finish line. In Scott Coltrane's studies, most egalitarian-leaning couples agreed that society doesn't treat women as equals; however, women were much more likely to use terms like discrimination or disadvantage. Few couples admitted any connections between feminism and their relationships. Some even made derogatory comments about "those women's libbers".(125) Francine Deutsch noted that while women talked openly about their struggles, their mates sometimes gave their spouses and the feminist movement no credit for influencing their beliefs.(126) These couples seem similar to William David Spencer, who urges women to confront men's sexism but doesn't tell men how to respond without getting defensive or placating. Instead, he puts all the responsibility on women through his warning that "if you take more radical steps, you can't recall an initial over-reaction and you risk driving him back to traditionalism."(127) Sorry, but if a woman has to tiptoe around a man when calling him to account for his sexist remarks, he is oppressing her.

So in the final analysis, has the progress of peer-leaning couples on communication issues been for naught? On one level, they are so far beyond Mars&Venus that I have no problem using them as role models for men like Don. But because they are so tongue-tied about patriarchy and feminism, they still haven't escaped male-dominated norms. Most could elegantly reach the finish line of couples communication, but only if we kill the myth that talking about "how patriarchy affects you and me" will put our egos right smack in the middle of the firing range.

Myth Number Eight:
Couples Will Destroy Their Relationship
If They Discuss How Patriarchy
Affects Their Relationship

The 'p' word is so taboo that even many strong feminist sociologists avoid the term. Pepper Schwartz never asked peer-leaning women how their husbands react when they hold them accountable for sexist remarks and Barbara Risman never asked peer-leaning men how they stay aware of their invisible knapsack of privilege. Scott Coltrane did flirt around the issue, but by no stretch of the imagination did he ever challenge his "subjects" to get to the roots--the radicals--of gender and power problems. If a visitor from Venus had read these social scientists' works, she'd probably wonder if uttering the 'p' word would propel the divorce rate to the 100% mark, force heterosexual intercourse to become a relic of the past, and make the human race die out like dinosaurs.

But what would really happen if women and men on Earth did the unthinkable? Well, lets look at a feminist couple who broke the rule several years ago and see what really occurred in their relationship:(128)

Two days after Allan and Nora tied bales of hay for the goats they raise, Nora calmly said to Allan as they were sitting at the dining room table, "I need to talk about when we bought hay the other day. I have a problem with what you did." He looked confused but said, "Tell me about it." She continued, "You took over. I've been tying bales of hay for years and never had a problem doing it my way. I've never lost a bale. You have never tied down a load of hay in your life. Still, you took over and I let you. Do you know that Barbara, the elderly woman at the stable, came over to me while you were tying down the load and do you know what she said to me? She said, 'Husbands . . . Just 'Husbands'."

For several tense moments after Nora issued her challenge, Allan hung between being part of the solution and part of the problem. He was tempted by all the duck and dodge techniques his culture dangled before him, from the placating, "Tell me why you're upset" to the dishonest, "No, I didn't" to the arrogant, "You're too sensitive" to the defensive, "I didn't mean to do that" all the way to the biggest cop-out of them all: a contemptuous stonewall followed by a quick escape to the primordial cave. However, he rejected them and said with a sigh of frustration, "Yes, I did do that. Here it is again."

But what did he mean by 'it'? Was it a euphemism for his "Martian need for mastery"? Or was it a code word for his "Martian" character? It was none of these things. It was the patriarchal legacy, with its cultural assumption of male superiority, its encouragement for men to assert control and women to allow it, and its ridicule of women and men who dare to challenge it. When Allan said, "I'd go over the top" as Nora was running the rope around the sides of the hay, something in his tone prompted her to let him take over. And it took her two days to summon the courage to speak out because of past experiences with his defensiveness.

So why did Allan face the music on this occasion? Fundamentally, it was because of numerous conversations with Nora about how patriarchy affects their relationship, along with a commitment to face the challenge together. Allan says, "I can take her words as an attack on my character, but after years of her daring to bring it up and my daring to listen, I know better. Nora and I do have an enemy, but it isn't each other."(129) Because of this awareness, he didn't wallow in anger or shame, she didn't seethe in resentment, they didn't start sleeping in separate beds and they didn't file for divorce. They simply resolved to keep their "patriarchal crap detectors" better calibrated in the future, which was hardly an empty promise since they had numerous past successes to fall back on.

The discourse between Nora and Allan is so rare in relationship literature that you'd think it had happened on another planet. But it actually happened on Earth because both had done their intellectual and emotional homework on the system in us in the system. They had learned how to distinguish a personality problem from a social problem, with the payoff being no denial, no bitterness, no games and a satisfying life together filled with "play and passion and silent meditation" .(130) And she didn't have to resort to contrived "I" statements to get him to listen. Their peaceful resolution to what could have become an acrimonious conflict is so commonsensical that we need to start challenging therapists and social researchers, especially if they're "apolitical" like John Gottman or liberal feminist like Francine Deutsch, to teach couples how to have productive conversations about patriarchy. Most would balk at the idea because "the subject turns people off". However, by pandering to people's prejudices, they are perpetuating male privilege.

Judging from past experiences, I'm sure someone will tell me, "Why are you picking on John Gottman and Francine Deutsch when they're so much better than John Gray? Give them a break." Well, when you've tasted champagne, you can't go back to wine cooler. It is embarassing to hear John Gottman, the acclaimed psychologist, assert that men with "feminist beliefs" don't do more housework than men with "macho" attitudes.(131) Gottman never gives a definition of "feminist beliefs" (or "macho" attitudes), never sites any statistical comparisons between "feminist" and "traditional" men and quietly trashes the groundbreaking work of couples like Nora Jamieson and Allan Johnson. Likewise, it is dangerous for social psychologist Francine Deutsch to understate the amount of feminist internalization it takes for couples to start really sharing childcare. Deutsch tells a devastating story about Shelly, an internship coordinator for a Women's Studies program, and her husband, Dick, a daycare teacher who's committed to abolishing gender stereotypes in a Head Start program. While it'd seem natural for Shelly and Dick to share the childcare at home, they both admit that Shelly does 75-80% of it.(132) Since feminists are human, it's hardly a revelation that the women's movement, like all other social movements, has its share of both hypocrites and sincere people who struggle with "cognitive dissonance". However, it also has more than its share of people who walk their talk. It's about time that Gottman and Deutsch gave them credit and used them as role models.

I'm sure that after a visitor from Venus had seen feminist couples in action, she wouldn't tolerate euphemisms and duck-and-dodge techniques anymore, for anything less than straightforward analysis, discourse and action perpetuates male supremacism. Good communication about "how patriarchy affects you and me" is essential for couples who really want a peer-leaning relationship. It's hardly going to destroy the planet, as any visitor from Venus could easily see. If two "normal" earthlings can do it, so can we. Indeed, as we uncover myths about housework and childcare in peer-leaning marriages, we'll see that unless we confront "the system in us in the system", shared parenting and domesticity, while being prerequisites for fair relationships, could mysteriously perpetuate male privilege.

Myth Number Nine:
Peer-Leaning Couples Are
Hung Up on Housework

Is the United States schitzophrenic or what? Most Americans will admit that when both spouses are wage-earners, they should equitably share housework. However, virtually all social research concludes that most couples don't practice what they preach.(133) Nevertheless, the populace is in such deep denial that if someone challenges couples to clean up their act, a "family values" champion will often accuse her (or him) of being hung up on housework. When I told a "liberated" friend that John Gray exploited women because he urged them to always thank men for doing housework but NEVER insisted that men return the favor,(134) she proclaimed, "Egalitarian couples are hung up on housework. They're so fixated on 50-50 that they can't enjoy their marriage. So the woman gets a divorce." When I challenged her to show me one of these "hung up" couples, she turned red and tried to change the subject. When I asked if she knew any couples who really shared housework, she said, "No, but we still have equality."

In such a culture, is it any wonder Barbara Risman faced similar problems when she conducted her research on justice in marriage? Risman actually found 75 couples in the Research Triangle Park area who claimed to have egalitarian marriages. However, only 15 met her reasonable criteria for inclusion:

"Only one of five families who identified themselves as equitable on the telephone actually shared the household labor in a 40/60 or better split, agreed that they shared equally the responsibility for breadwinning and childrearing, and felt that their relationship was fair. . . as a social analyst, I found it remarkable that the taken-for-granted nature of female responsibility for family work hides a gendered division of labor even from many fair-minded couples themselves."(135)

Indeed, women's domestic work is so taken-for-granted that even the feminist social researchers I studied had internalized a few andocratic attitudes. Pepper Schwartz admitted that few of her "egalitarian" couples went beyond a 60/40 "traditional" split in household labor; nevertheless, she used them as role models.(136) Francine Deutsch, whose standard for fairness was 50/50 rather than 60/40, did notice that most men use the "her standards are too high" excuse to escape homemaking responsibilities. She also splendidly demonstrated why John Gray's "praise your husband" advice keeps women in the one-down position; however, she unfairly chastised women who wouldn't let their inexperienced husbands do housework "their way".(137) In contrast, Scott Coltrane respected women's standards and noted their struggles to teach their husbands to be household managers. Still, he fell back into patriarchy's grip when he talked about women needing to cede "control" of domesticity.(138) Only Barbara Risman had insights comparable to feminist therapists Marianne Walters, Peggy Papp, Olva Silverstein and Betty Carter, who perceptively noted the patriarchal assumptions behind so much lambasting of women who insist on teaching men to be competent homemakers:

"What needs to be questioned here is the concept that a man cannot take instructions from a woman in an area that she knows more about than he does. Most wives, during the course of a marriage, take instructions from their husbands on many different subjects, from changing a flat tire to the complexities of a fluctuating financial market. The husband's knowledge in these areas is seldom challenged on the grounds that he has to let her do it "her" way. Since women are generally the experts in running a home, it should be permissible for them to teach men what they know so that men can share equal responsibility in the domestic arena."(139)

Of all the peer-leaning marriage books I had studied, Risman's understood most fully the sexual politics of housework. Risman did not criticize women who insisted on teaching domestic skills to their husbands, she inquired about couples' uses of housecleaning services, and she was always on the lookout for an "economy of gratitude", whereby women would defer to their husbands because they did more housework than other men. Many people would think Risman's standards were too high, but she actually found fifteen couples who went beyond a 60-40 "traditional" split. While they were certainly exceptional, they were hardly freaks in a circus. None of them conformed to the stereotype about "politically correct" couples negotiating so many little housework decisions that they never had time for sex ("I wash the dishes on Saturday and he washes them on Sunday"). On the contrary, they made sharing look easy and even fun.

Not surprisingly, some women in Risman's study came to their marriages with higher standards of cleanliness. However, these couples did not use this difference to justify women's extra burden. Rather, they saw differing standards as a problem that needed to be worked out equitably:

"Ms. Green told us: 'In the beginning it was really hard and we argued about it all the time. I had to lower my standards and Stan had to raise his. He had to learn to recognize that certain things had to be done in the house and that he could take that responsibility. He was willing, he was just ignorant.' Mr. Green told the same story: 'It was definitely a process of Roberta having to complain and me having to shape up.'"(140)

Since Risman's couples embraced feminist values, women did not thank their husbands for doing housework and the men did not expect extra credit. However, like many middle and upper-middle class two-income families today, they did use housecleaning services. Usually, a cleaning company would come in twice a month to do the vacuuming, dusting, and bathrooms. Still, Risman's couples didn't use homemaking services because the husband was slacking off. Rather, they used them because they wanted to spend more family time doing recreational activities.(141)

When couples decide to overcome man's domestic exploitation of woman, they have to jump over one more hurdle and ask themselves: How do we decide what's fair? Contrary to popular opinion, peer-leaning couples do not turn housework into an arcane mathematical formula. Rather, they are like two competent musicians committed to staying in tune. They organize their work around preferences and availability. Every peer-leaning couple has a different way of organizing domestic labor and yet, the woman doesn't get stuck with most of the load. In Risman's study, a public policy analyst was in charge of cooking while his mathematician spouse was responsible for cleanup. However, in another household, the mother cooked and the father cleaned up afterwards.(142) One African-American couple I know organizes housework on a much broader basis than those in Risman, Coltrane, Schwartz, and Deutsch's studies. My friend Leroy loves to say, "The kitchen is mine and the laundry room is Monica's". In other words, Leroy cooks, buys groceries, and keeps the kitchen clean while Monica is in charge of laundry, ironing and dry cleaning.

Unlike their male-dominated cohorts, peer-leaning couples make joint household management look easy. And for them, it is relatively easy because they have worked hard to possess all the conditions necessary for overcoming gender vertigo. The women exude self-confidence and are financially and professionally successful relative to their mates, the men are totally committed to their marriages, and both have internalized liberal feminist values. Peer-leaning couples are not hung up on housework. Our patriarchal society is hung up on housework. If our schitzophrenic culture really believed in fair family values, it would hold these couples up as role models and pay them to teach others how to co-manage a household. However, what happens if they become parents? Do they have to forgo children to remain peer-leaning? Or can they really take a road less traveled and come out ahead?

Myth Number Ten:
Peer-Leaning Couples Are
Selfish, Childless Yuppies

A few months ago, my friend Marissa told me that she and her husband Carl were wondering if they should have children:
"So many egalitarian couples we know fell by the wayside when they had kids and I'm afraid it'll happen to us. The culture forced us to compromise on birth control. If we have kids, how many other compromises will we have to make? And if do share child care but--God forbid--end up getting a divorce, I'm terrified that the judge would give custody to Carl because he did so much more childcare than other men. There's such a double standard. I feel so trapped."

Do Marissa and Carl have a shot at keeping a peer-leaning marriage if they become parents or are they doomed to playing Jack and Jill?(143) It's hardly a revelation that after a couple has children, their relationship often becomes more patriarchal. Therapist Betty Carter claims that couples are far more likely to see a marriage counselor when they become parents because of the upsurge in male dominance.(144) And yet, a few couples are bucking the system. What are their secrets?

Before we throw up our hands and say, "They just got lucky", we'd better remember the cliché, "Chance favors the prepared". True, peer-leaning parents did get a few lucky breaks. However, if they had succumbed to Mars&Venus, they could have never taken fair advantage of a progressive employer or a feminist significant other. Peer-leaning parents are "lucky" in part because they are determined. As Pepper Schwartz said, "Their determination comes both from what they want and from what they wish to avoid."(145)

Since peer-leaning parents want to do right by their children and wish to avoid exploiting the mother, they are willing to temporarily forgo upward mobility. Contrary to popular opinion, peer-leaning parents are not materialistic. Most peer-leaning parents are in the middle of the professional pecking order, not the top. In these families, it is not unusual for men to take career breaks so that their spouses can get a jump-start on their professional goals. Pepper Schwartz mentions a husband who took an extended leave of absence to be the primary parent when his spouse accepted her first call as a clergywoman.(146)

Since peer-leaning couples want close relationships with their children and are often ambivalent about day care, they use non-parental care only as the last resort. To break another stereotype, peer-leaning parents are just as nervous as any other parent about putting their kids in childcare centers.(147) In Francine Deutsch's study, equal sharers generally relied on non-parental caregivers approximately 25 hours per week."(148) But some didn't rely on it at all. Susan and Gary Carter, respectively a marriage counselor and a construction worker, both took the risk of working part-time.(149) Likewise, Theresa and David, a inhalation therapist and telecom equipment installer, decided to work split shifts.(150)

Since peer-leaning parents want to preserve their relationship and wish to avoid "motherhood eating me alive" and "making the mistakes my father made", they accept the challenges of both gender and professional vertigo, sometimes on a daily basis. For six years, Tina and Victor as parents of two children had carried "a weight so heavy that they had not dared to notice how crushing it had become."(151) Determined to use as little non-parental care as possible, they took turns taking their seven-month-old son to work with them. Both suffered professionally. As Victor says, "The absolute low point came when someone . . . pasted a Gary Trudeau cartoon on my office door that shows this father telling his boss that he is going to set up a computer at home so he can see more of his kid, and the boss starts laughing and calling the guy the house wimp."(152)

If there was ever a more tempting time for Tina and Victor to sell out to Mars&Venus, it was then. And yet, because they were disgusted with the "smother love", marital conflict, and paternal disengagement so prevalent in conventional marriages, they persisted and devised a creative solution to their predicament. They renovated the basement of their tiny house to create an additional bedroom and bathroom where a student could live in exchange for child care.(153) Tina spares no words on the precariousness of their situation: "Our sex life went to hell, [and yet] I can't tell you how good it was to have each other and hold these kids together and bring them up as a pair." They were hard years but also "some of our closest moments."(154)

And those close moments had a happy ending. Victor actually got tenure at the university where he taught and started proselytizing about the joys of fatherhood. Victor exclaims, "I'd say things like, 'What if you dropped dead tomorrow? Would your kids even know you?' I had lots of fun--especially since you could see they knew I was right and they really didn't want to deal with it."(155)

For all the warm fuzzies that parents like Tina and Victor inspire, they also provoke questions about patriarchal remnants in their situations. In particular, how do peer-leaning fathers avoid the temptation to slack off or just help out? Peer-leaning mothers do remind men of their responsibilities. However, so do most women, as "Dr" Gray even admits that Venusians do "keep score".(156) Clearly, it takes more than an assertive mother to get fathers to take care of their children. Pepper Schwartz maintains that these men walk their talk because they really want to be competent fathers,(157) Scott Coltrane implies it's because they discover a depth of human existence that strengthens their inner emotional lives and relationships,(158) but arguably, Francine Deutsch hits the nail on the head with these brave words:

"The women make it clear that they wouldn't get married, stay married, or have children if their husbands failed to live up to their equal ideals. Although equally sharing mothers don't use the word, "divorce," the implication is clear. Arlie Hochschild argues in The Second Shift that the implicit threat of divorce leads many women to give up the fight for equality. My findings suggest that the reverse is also true. Men succumb to the threat of divorce by agreeing to carry the load at home."(159)

Deutsch tells a story about Bernice, a strong feminist who dared her husband Kyle to leave her if he didn't take equal responsibility and stop demanding "appreciation" à la John Gray. But Kyle didn't leave; he changed.(160) Again, peer-leaning women win these negotiations in part because they are competent--and confident--providers in their own right. They feel the same siren call of Momism as their "sisters" and are just as tempted to surrender. However, they share the care because they fear the consequences of selling out and realize that they won't lose their special bonds to their children. "I'm still the Mom!", Susan Carter proudly proclaimed.

After couples decide to co-parent, the next big hurdle is, "How are we going to do it?" As in housework, child-care arrangements are as diverse as the couples themselves. Francine Deutsch says:

"Equal parents don't negotiate every little decision. Sharing a profound commitment to their children, equal parents trust each other to do what is best for them. Of course, they negotiate about who's going to do what, but so do all dual-earner couples today . . .In one sense, couples who agree on the principle of equality have less to negotiate than other couples. They simply have to figure out how to put the 50-50 principle into practice."(161)

Indeed, I am happy to report that after studying the issue, my friends Marissa and Carl are expecting a baby and figuring out how to make 50-50 a reality. Marissa became convinced that Carl would do his share when they babysat their nieces and nephews. He had no problem asking female caregivers for advice and even said, "Don't give me extra credit because I'm a man" when his sister said he'd be a great father. But the final straw came when Marissa said, "Carl, either we have kids or you get a vasectomy. Depo-Provera is turning sex into a chore." He agreed to have kids and promised to get a vasectomy after they had their second child. Marissa is excited about becoming a feminist mother because "what better way to celebrate a happy equal marriage than to have kids!" However, challenges are coming sooner than expected. Marissa's sister, Elena, rebuked her when she heard that their child's last name would be hyphenated: "Suck it up. It's just a tradition. You don't want to lose a great guy like Carl."

Myth Number Eleven:
Women Who Take
Their Husbands' Names Are Not
Selling Out to Patriarchy

Is Elena right? Should Marissa compromise? Elena may think names are just a tradition, especially since her Mexican grandmother kept her name and was still under her grandfather's thumb. But as Marissa says, "If women and children still take their father's name, at some level, America still thinks they're his property. My grandmother called herself Dolores Marín de Sanchez, but the 'de' showed that she belonged to my grandfather. Anglos and Latinos just expressed the 'women is property' part differently."

As much as we want to believe that language is meaningless, the vehement "My wife will take my name" assertions I still hear from so many men show once again that it's a political issue. When my second cousin, Pauline Brady, married Bob Szabo in the 60's, she wanted to call herself Pauline Brady Szabo. Bob hit the roof: "That's stupid. Have you become a women's libber?" However, in the 90's, when their daughter, Corrie, announced she would remain Corrine Szabo after her wedding to Bruce Myers, her father responded with a nonchalant, "Hey, it's the 90's. Times are changing." Determined to get her licks in, Pauline exclaimed, "Bob, you never said, 'Times are changing' when I started calling myself Pauline Brady Szabo ten years ago. You still get nervous about it. You're supporting Corrie because she's keeping YOUR name, not because she's a feminist who refuses to take Bruce's name."

Male supremacism is so wide and deep that even when a woman doesn't take her husband's name, she still hasn't released herself from its grip. And yet, when Corrine Szabo refused to call herself Corrine Myers (or its variations, as in Corrine Szabo-Myers), she issued a powerful challenge to our family's patriarchal legacy. Nomen est omen, the Germans say: One's name is one's destiny. Even in the act of keeping her father's name while refusing her beloved life partner's identity, she told the world, "I refuse to be a wife."

Like it or not, language influences our perceptions of reality, which in turn impacts relationships. When an acquaintance got married ten years ago, she called herself "Laura Johanneson Murphy" while her husband just went by "Brian Murphy". After five years of marriage, she dropped her husband's name. Laura says, "From that point on, I felt like I could really stand up to Brian and the world. It was magic. I can't explain it. My God, we almost got a divorce but somehow, we made it and our marriage is stronger than ever."

It is impossible to avoid the name issue when promoting marital justice. As Barbara Risman says of the peer-leaning couples she studied:

"In only half of the families (eight of fifteen) had the wife assumed her husband's name, and in these families the children bore his name also. In two of the families, each parent retained her or his name, and the children's surnames were hyphenated. In three families, the mother and father retained their birth names, but the children carried only the father's name. In one family, the mother hyphenated her name, but the child used only the father's surname. And finally, in one family, each parent retained her or his own birth name, and the children carried the mother's name."(162)

Obviously, a name change alone will not make a relationship less patriarchal. As Elane told Marissa, "A housewife who doesn't take her husband's name has less clout than one who follows tradition but is the major family provider." Still, when comparing Risman's couples to those featured at Christians for Biblical Equality marriage conference in September 2000, we can't deny that probability that language and behavior reinforce each other. At the conference, only one female speaker, Aida Bescançon, didn't take her husband's name.(163) Program notes usually addressed the husband first, as in "Jack and Judith Balswick". While the speakers were a few steps beyond Mars&Venus in both its evangelical Christian and secular forms, they lacked the incisiveness of feminist social researchers. For example, Allan Johnson challenges men to take equal responsibility for patriarchy while Jack Balswick just encourages them to keep a "gender journal".(164) Pepper Schwartz criticizes Deborah Tannen's failure to note the connections between male dominance and "communication problems"(165) while Ruth Haley Barton recommends her books and even endorses Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, although with some reservations.(166) This coyness about male supremacism exists because of CBE's animosity towards feminism.(167) Balswick's Men At the Crossroads actually viewed Robert Bly's "wildman" as a good model for Christian men.(168) Haley Barton trashes feminists while benefiting from their achievements and stealing their insights.(169) As a disappointed evangelical feminist conference attendee told me, "If the women had refused their husbands' names, they would have seen how male-dominated their marriages still are. And if the men were really committed, they would have finally started to get it on patriarchy." When you unravel one thread of the gender knot, it forces you to examine all the others.

Given the power of language, fair-minded couples like Marissa Sanchez and Carl Schlecht can't afford to compromise on the thorny issue of names. One problem is awkwardness. Marissa and Carl know that naming a child, say, Marilyn Sanchez-Schlecht is quite a mouthful. So they started fusing their surnames. However, some people called them Mr and Mrs Carl Chezlecht, which would certainly provoke another insouciant quip about masculine-coded discourse from French feminist Luce Irigaray, not to mention a "What's the use" shrug from Elena. So they've now calling themselves the Chez-Lecht family, a multicultural hyphenation which respects their family histories, ethnic roots, and feminist values. Not surprisingly, their friends accept the name change only if they don't talk about the feminist motivations behind it. Again, this begs the question, "Will these feminist innovations transform marriage or will the system once again co-opt them?"

Myth Number Twelve:
Good Marriages Will Transform Society

During "Dr" Gray's "dialogue" with feminist Riane Eisler, he implied, pure and simple, that good relationships will transform society.(170) Likewise, Harville Hendrix, a John Gray admirer, rhapsodized about social salvation through happy marriage in the final chapter of Keeping the Love You Find. If only everyone had a good marriage, we'd have little crime, poverty, injustice, and delinquency and everyone would be happy. Since the heterosexual nuclear family is one of Western society's foundations, it seems intuitively obvious that Gray and Hendrix are right. Peer-leaning couples are happier than most, their children are well-adjusted and people do notice they are different. However, will they transform our society? Will they eventually make it impossible for men like John Gray to exist?

Judging by reactions of peers, colleagues, and relatives, the answer may be no. Far from allowing social salvation, attitudes towards these exceptional relationships range from skepticism to resentment to envy to misplaced admiration. Not surprisingly, parents are usually skeptical. But even friends can get nasty. As David, a medical researcher said, "It's not subtle. I get complaints from my golfing group because I've cut back time . . . But there's only so much time. And I want more time with Marlene, pure and simple."(171) In Francine Deutsch's study, roughly half of the peer-leaning husbands who got complaints said that someone had made fun of them or had criticized them because they were doing "too much" childcare or housework. Almost all of these gibes came from other men.(172)

However, these same husbands said that many women praise them for being "wonderful fathers". In contrast, peer-leaning women get very little praise from anyone. Nobody congratulates them on being great providers, wonderful mothers or pioneering role models. Moreover, they usually have to deal with assertions that they're so "lucky" to be married to such a "great guy", which implies that women don't deserve equality and that men should get all the credit for it.(173) Far from transforming society, this combination of hostility and misplaced awe forces fair-minded couples to create their own support systems. Some refuse to live in neighborhoods with a preponderance of male breadwinner and "mommy track" families.(174) A few live in groups bonded by a progressive political or spiritual cause, such as the Catholic Worker movement. However, most seek support in tiny, cherished "packages": a forward-thinking grandmother, an informal working mothers' network, a pro-feminist men's discussion group.

Since peer-leaning marriages are strong, it's tempting to think that their children will perpetuate their legacy and that the culture will eventually support them. Indeed, Scott Coltrane sites psychological research which predicts that because America's family structure is changing so quickly, the children of Mars&Venus couples are going to have major adjustment problems.(175) However, in interviews with children of egalitarian-leaning couples, Barbara Risman found that "when family experiences collided with experiences with peers, the family influences were dwarfed. .A four-year-old boy told us that if a magician were to turn him into a girl, he'd have to do housework--this from the son of a father whose flexible work schedule has allowed him to spend more time in domestic pursuits than his wife does."(176) Concurring with Risman, Susan Carter worries that she's setting her daughter up for disappointment in romance and that men will ridicule her son. These fears are fueled by her insecurity about the future of feminism, which in turn is fed by her husband's denial that our society disadvantages women.(177)

While peer-leaning couples and the social researchers who write about them richly deserve accolades, their blind spots on patriarchy make me realize that in some crucial ways, they are still part of the problem. Unfortunately, most peer-leaning husbands are like Gary Carter. They want to be fair to their wives but are not really challenging male supremacism. In none of the research did I hear of a husband challenging double standards when people praised him for being a "wonderful father". Nor did I hear any men openly insist that their "brothers" take equal responsibility for housework and childcare. This silence occurs partly because most feminist researchers and activists, who would never attribute poverty, white privilege and anti-Semitism to tradition, still use euphemisms like "traditional roles" when talking about gender. Activists don't have to be perfect, but if they want to transform society, they have to take the risk of stating what people need to know but don't want to hear. Until mainstream feminists get more forthright about patriarchy, it may never occur to these well-meaning couples that if they want real change, they'll have to get political.

And yet, their struggles are not for naught. Feminist and egalitarian-leaning couples are such standouts that sometimes, it only takes one example to convince a person to abandon Mars&Venus. When I met a progressive couple during my college days, I decided that no way was I going to settle for less than an peer-leaning marriage. Susan and Gary Carter reported that relatives, colleagues and friends finally accepted their marriage when Gary convinced them that he really wanted to be an egalitarian father and that Susan didn't "henpeck" him into it.(178) Journalist Paula Kamen provides convincing evidence that feminist GenX women and men are overcoming the missionary position mentality and are better equipped than their parents to build peer-leaning marriages.(179) The next generation will not have to reinvent the wheel.

Still, will they transform the institution of heterosexuality? The discourse of John Gottman, who has criticized the Mars&Venus mentality, provides telling clues.(180) When Gottman reported that a marriage has an 81% chance of self-destructing if a husband doesn't "allow his wife to influence him", Los Angeles Times journalist Thomas Maugh wrote in a February 21, 1998 article, "Men, here are magic words to long marriages: Yes, dear!" However, Maugh never reported that Gottman's list of "successful" married couples included those who believe in male headship as well as those with feminist worldviews.(181) Gottman never told men to renounce their patriarchal privileges; he just urged them to share a little of their power in the same way that a benevolent priest urges rich children to share a few of their toys with poor children. Gottman is aware of the destructive effects of men's domestic and sexual exploitation. However, he uses masculine-coded discourse to make his points. When Gottman says "women find a man's willingness to do housework extremely erotic",(182) "Penny needs to back off and let Roger approach baby care his way",(183) and "we shifted the focus from sex to sensuality",(184) he is modernizing an andocentric social system. Not surprisingly, Gottman urged men to make minor adjustments simply because the culture is changing.(185) He never credited feminism and generally belittled it.(186) Gottman's approach to "gender equity" reminds me of Francine Deutsch's commentary about male-dominated working class couples who were forced to work split shifts and share child care:

"Old notions of gender identity die hard . . .It is permissible for each to expand his or her role to allow for nontraditional behavior, as long as that behavior is seen as constrained by circumstance and thus not relevant to the core of gender identity. Making money doesn't make a person a breadwinner any more than doing maternal things makes a person a mother."(187)

Indeed, men doing housework to get more intercourse doesn't take the patriarchy out of marriage any more than CEOs cooking at a party to improve "morale" removes power differences in a corporation. I can just hear a future John Gray encouraging men to do housework because "she needs your protection when she comes home from work and will be more sexually responsive when she sees your big biceps control that vacuum cleaner." Until our culture owns up to patriarchy and respects radical feminists, peer-leaning couples are not going to transform society.

So with all this hostility and co-optation, is peer-leaning marriage still worth it? Should these couples have sold out to Mars&Venus? Virtually all of them would give an emphatic No, especially when they see the problems in "traditional" marriages. Still, they want their relationships to make a difference. Marissa and Carl were furious at John Gottman for putting peer-leaning couples in the same league with benevolent male-dominated couples like Billy and Ruth Graham. "He trivialized the risks we took and will continue to take," exclaimed Carl. "He trashed our accomplishments," sighed Marissa. As I look over the achievements of peer-leaning and feminist couples, I wonder, "These couples are a beacon of hope for real gender peace. Is there any way we can make sure they make a REAL difference in society? Is it worth it to even try?"

Where Do We Go From Here?

A few days ago, when I was struggling with despair, I got a phone call from my friend, Kate, who asked me a few months ago if egalitarian marriages really existed. "Kathleen, I was so furious about the John Gray and John Gottman books they're telling my nephew to read at premarital counseling that I called the counselor and had an argument with him. We feminists have got to do something. It's not good enough to write books, especially when you only hear about them if you have feminist friends. No way can we stand silent when these pastors and counselors try to manipulate people into male-dominated marriages with a wafer-thin veneer of "equality". Dammit, we've got to do something!"

Stunned by Kate's change of heart, I replied, "Well, Kate, that's why I'm going to write Transforming Our Mars&Venus Society as soon as I finish with my essay on peer-leaning marriages. I'm going to give ideas on how we can challenge the relationships industry, especially when churches and conservative think tanks are throwing so much money into it. But Kate, I was shocked when you said we feminists. You always hated that word. What's going on here? I'm suspicious."

Kate replied, "I can't explain it, except that something in me just snapped after I read all those books on equal marriages. When I saw that feminists are the only people who care if I get a fair deal in my relationships with men, something just clicked. And when I saw the books my nephew had to read at pre-marital counseling, I just couldn't take it anymore. Kathleen, I'm tired of being a daddy's girl. I'm sick of denying what I know is true."

Torn between joy and scepticism over my friend's conversation experience, I asked, "Kate, what would make you feel like we feminists are really doing something about men like John Gray and John Gottman?"

Kate thought for a minute and then replied, "I've had a lot of struggles in my career, but the funny thing is I never felt alone. The men I worked for didn't intimidate me that much because I always knew I had NOW, BPW and professional women's networks to fall back on. Even the coy, conservative American Business Women's Association was better than nothing. But in my personal life, I felt like nobody was standing with me. I was frightened and lonely and felt like I had no choice but to follow John Gray. You can't fight a battle without an army and if there was a group like NOW for relationship issues, no way would I have sold out to those male chauvinists. Kathleen, we feminists need to make these relationship "experts" squirm in the same way the gay community scared the hell out of Dr. Laura. We need an organized feminist movement for equal relationships NOW. This is not a personality issue. This is sexual politics."

"Kate", I replied, "you broke the code. As long as . . ."

"The personal is political."


Kathleen Trigiani
July 2001

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