Helen’s right eye twitched when Amaka rushed ahead of her to open the restaurant door. It twitched some more when her date pulled out the chair for her when they arrived at their table. Amaka style, which today consisted of a pair of skinny jeans with a black leather jacket, did not bother Helen. In fact, she found Amaka’s boyish swagger charming; however, her chivalrous gestures sent of an alarm in her head.
By the time they were done with dinner, the waiter came around to their table and gently placed their bill on the table. A flustered Amaka looked up at the young man and said, “I’m obviously the one paying. You could just have given it to me, and not drop it there.” At this point, Helen wanted to melt into her seat, as embarrassment scorched through her.
This was definitely a red flag.
‘How is this different from dating a guy who feels it is his duty to pick the bills? Would this not make her think I am obliged to do things for her too?’ She juggled these questions in her mind. She knew of different women in relationships like this, where one of the parties believed she was “the guy in the relationship.” One said her girlfriend demanded that she cooked and served her meals the same way she would serve her if she were a man. Another woman told her that wearing the pants in her relationship made her accountable to do things for her woman.
Gender roles, especially in romantic relationships, are cringe-worthy, as they tilt power balance to benefit whoever embodies society’s idea of what masculinity should be. It is not mysterious that any party who exercises financial strength in (most) same-sex relationships tends to be “elevated to maleness.”* Granted having financial power does not necessarily equate to exercising it. There are cases where one of the parties has money but does not spend it because her girlfriend has refused. In this case, her partner has an ego larger than Jupiter. If the said partner were to jump off from her ego down to her IQ, the fall would be deathly. How do you choose to bear most of the financial burden when you know you do not have much? Is your ego that fragile? Society is largely capitalistic, consumer-driven, and materialistic. Whoever exercises more financial power in a relationship automatically has more power.
Love does not flow vertically. Nawal El Saadawi wrote in The Hidden Face of Eve, “One of the conditions of true love is an exchange, and a necessary condition for exchange is balance [sic], an [sic] equality between two partners. Exchange cannot take place between a master and a slave, between something that is higher and something that is lower, just as water cannot flow without special interference. Real love cannot be based on a relationship characterised by the exploitation of any kind.” Romance, as a dear friend of mine puts it, is a friendship that caught fire. If there are no gender roles in friendships, they should not exist in romantic relationships.
Operating heteronormative models in a same-sex romantic relationship is pointless. Heteronormativity is problematic, as it works with the idea of gender, which reinforces The Patriarchy, spawns misogyny, and encourages toxic masculinity and femininity (femininity becomes toxic when it hinders you from achieving the highest expression of yourself). Gender roles are unjust and violent, to be honest. It is violence to cut out important aspects of yourself in a bid to fit into an idea of what you should be. Gender tells us who we should be based on sex organs. Because a person has a penis, we expect certain attributes/behaviours from that person. Our minds are more than our bodies. It makes no sense limiting ourselves to the mortal shells we did not choose.
Parties in a romantic relationship should express themselves and contribute, based on their capabilities, to the growth and stability of their relationship. When gender roles are present, an emphasis on masculinity and femininity (heteronormativity) ensues. This inadvertently creates power dynamics that favour one party at the expense of the other.
For any relationship to work, the parties need to submit to each other. You do not have to win all the time. Wisdom is knowing when to say “yes” for the sake of peace. If your partner is not as wise as you are – if they never say “yes” to you for the sake of peace, you just might be in a toxic relationship. That one party chooses to be laid back does not mean she has conceded power to her partner. If that person is always laid back, we can assume it is a toxic relationship. I like to imagine relationship dynamics like the sun and moon. The sun does not shine every time. It gives way for the moon, the same way the moon gives way for it. (This is a whole post on its own.)
* “Elevated to maleness,” because we place so much importance on men. Remember society is mostly patriarchal?