Let’s be real. After such a tumultuous election, women’s rights (and recognition of those rights) are more important than ever. Whether or not you are married, about to be married, or in a long-term relationship, maintaining your autonomy is critical; it’s important to feel strong and in control of your life and your body, no matter where you fall on the relationship spectrum.
Finding a balance between your independent identity and that of a wife can sometimes be more confusing than you might expect. On one hand, you’re a fierce, strong woman with her own ideas, opinions, and drive. On the other, you’re entering into arguably the most traditional of traditional institutions. Though you’re blending two worlds, it certainly doesn’t mean giving up yours. What we’re trying to say: Being married and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive.
In the much-lauded TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the lead character, June (a.k.a. Offred) is reassured by her husband, Luke, after learning that women are no longer permitted to have their own money. He says that he will take care of her after her bank account is rescinded, to which June/Offred and her friend immediately respond with the “OK, but…” answer to the classically male urge to protect his woman. In a recent interview with NPR, actress Elisabeth Moss (who plays June/Offred) breaks down this pivotal moment, saying: “The women now don't have access to any of their money, and, of course, my husband loves me and just says what comes naturally, which is, 'I'm going to take care of you.’ And…that brings up the sensitive issue of 'Oh, great, now I have to be taken care of.’”
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Luke isn’t trying to devalue June’s rights or control her—he’s trying to make her feel safe. He thinks taking care of her is his job. Your husband may think this way too, and while that might be a bit backward, it isn’t malicious.
Here’s how to tell your husband that while it’s a nice thought (and you may want his support), you don’t need him to take care of you (other than a little emotional TLC, that is).
The paradox is, no matter what, losing your sense of independence makes you feel unsafe, despite any and all reassurance from your husband. It’s important that you have control of your life and let your husband know what things make you feel uncomfortable; for instance, if you want to have a joint bank account, that’s just fine, but if you don’t, say something. If you’re totally fine with giving up your credit card, that’s your decision. If you’re not, don’t. What you shouldn’t do is just sit back and let something happen.
It’s your job to tell your hubby what will and won't work for you, especially in terms of finances. This doesn’t mean screaming, “How dare you!” in his face if he picks up the check at dinner. As partners, you need to openly communicate about everything, even money. Sit him down and explain why it’s so important to you that he chill out and not worry so much about being a breadwinner. You’ve got bread to win yourself, after all. You want a partner, not a patron.
Obviously, this isn’t Gilead and you haven’t lost access to your money or credit. There is no reason why you shouldn’t have your own bank account and personal resources (if you want them)—even if you do decide to stop working.
As unromantic as it sounds, one of the things that makes marriage so special is the ability to leave if you want to. (Stick with us here.) It’s about two partners who love and respect each other—two people who choose to be together. If you lose your financial independence, suddenly the line between choice and necessity becomes hazy. How can you leave (hypothetically) if you have no money? It’s not that you want to leave your husband, and you probably never will, but having a choice in the matter sounds pretty damn important.
Most important, approach your partner from a place of empathy and understanding. Tell him what does make you feel comfortable, safe, and strong, both in yourself and in your relationship.
The Handmaid’s Tale may be fantasy, but its lessons are important. It reminds us to remember that the power we have should never be taken for granted.
Gigi Engle is a sex educator and writer living in NYC. Her work has appeared in Elle, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Allure, Marie Claire, and Bustle.