Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
As someone who has been dating for the past few years, I can tell you now that inequality in relationships is normal if not par of the course. As a feminist, I have always expected and even wanted my relationships to be equal. But society and gender norms tend to dictate otherwise. Because no matter how “woke” or feminist my partners have been. Society, culture and habit sometimes caused huge inequalities. One of the first notable inequalities I remember from my 20’s is the wage gap my then boyfriend and I had. Despite the fact that I ran a very successful company and brand. My boyfriend, a white male made almost the same as me (I still made about 10% more than him).
But what annoyed me was not the money itself, but rather the amount of work I had to put in to get a similar pay to him. Whilst my life was flooded by work engagements, late nights and a copious amounts of stress. My boyfriend got paid well for a mid management job. Sure he had his stresses. But he also had time to see friends, go on holidays and do things that I just could not as a working person. Despite the fact that as a consultant I was already earning more than the average person.
The second time inequality reared its ugly head in my relationships was when I gave birth last year. As a young open minded family. My husband and I had decided pretty early on that we wanted to share responsibility. This seemed like the fair and just thing to do until reality kicked in. As a breastfeeding mother, this meant that despite our best efforts to share the load. I was often the one our daughter cried for and needed comfort from. In part because she wanted my breast.
But also because in the early weeks of her development, I was the one who would wake up with her to breastfeed her. And so she became used to me being around. This was in no real way any fault of my husband who did his best to show up. But it did mean a lot less sleep for me and more work. To this day, when our daughter who is almost one cries, she reaches for me.
One of the other ways inequality has shown up in my relationships is when going out. When ever I would go out with a male companion, boyfriend or not. Often the bill is brought to him and not me. And before I go further, I must explain that this is not as big an issue for me as it is for the males I am with. In part because they are often expected to pay. By everyone including wait staff. At one point an ex boyfriend would always make it a point to let our waiter or waitress know that I would be paying the bill (even if I was sometimes using his card to do so).
This was to hopefully help change the idea that only men should pay for bills etc. And to this day my husband and I share responsibility of paying the bills. Although, to be fair we share bank accounts so thats kind of not an issue than a gesture of sorts.
Lastly, and probably more stressfully for me, was how I was treated and addressed as a woman whilst traveling with boyfriends in the past. I remember one particular trip to Morocco was exceedingly uncomfortable for me because I was often ignored by men who chose to speak only to my partner. When I asked a lady at the airbnb we were staying at, she noted that the culture in Morocco was to ignore woman. And the idea was that women should be seen and not heard. She herself was a single woman living alone. And share her fears and issues and people often didn’t want to speak to her. And her neighbors thought she was a sex worker as she had guests (airbnb guests) in and out of her home.
If all these inequalities have taught me one thing is that 1, we have a long way to go to achieving true equality among the sexes. And 2, that communication is key. Whilst in some instances there was not much I could do about the issue. In others, it took both parties working hard to rectify what ever inequality we faced. This means having open and honest lines of communication. And not being afraid to share your side. Often I have found that when I voice my issue and the inequality. My partners have been willing to adjust accordingly. Whilst this may not always be the case. If you are in a healthy, conscious and comfortable relationship. These discussions won’t be as difficult as they may seem.