In all the discussions about the state of feminism today sometimes it is easy to lose track of what it means for individual women. I was reminded today during a discussion with my mother.

My mother’s older sister is married to a man who totally controls her life. She is not allowed to do anything outside the house on her own initiative. It irritates my mother to no end. Last week my aunt called my mother to discuss an outing they thought about going to. She said that her husband was outside (so she could make the call). When he came back in she was going to tell him that my mother had called her and invited her to go out with her on the day after my aunt’s birthday. My mother said her first impression was to say no because she hates being a part of these deceptions of my aunt’s and she thinks my aunt should just tell my uncle to ….. (insert your favorite insult here.)

My mother really didn’t want to go and called my aunt yesterday to tell her this. Before she could say that my aunt said that her husband had thought about it for a long time and he decided that even though she hadn’t finished all the tasks he assigned her to complete before she had permission to go out with my mother, she would be allowed to go. That pissed my mother off so thoroughly that she decided that she was definately getting my aunt out of the house and they are going out to dinner too!

So, what wild debauchery do they have planned that requires strict husbandly approval? They are going to a scrapbooking meeting.

I just don’t get it. Why does my aunt put up with it? She’s been married to him since the early 1960s. I would have snapped by now. It isn’t because she saw this behavior in her own mother either. My grandmother often daydreamed about killing her son-in-law. I remember her saying once that someday she was going to take him for a walk in the woods and “only one of us is coming back.” I come from a long line of fiesty women. Being a doormat is not hereditary here.

My dad often (jokingly) says that he is going to go take lessons from my uncle to learn how to control his wife. When I was getting married he offered to take my future husband and see if they could get a two-for-one lesson. The husband often makes pronouncements about how I have to ask permission before I do something. But he would pass out and die if I actually asked. If he recovered he would be horrified that I thought he was serious that I needed to ask his permission.

So what makes her put up with it? She’s strong willed to the point of stubborness once she gets out of the house. I guess she’s making up for lost time. I don’t think he hits her. Honestly, she’s a large lady and he’s small and older and in poor health. She could take him in a fight with no problem.

This just reminded me of what feminism should be about. Allowing women to have the power in their own lives to make decisions about whether they are going to out for a few hours. It should be about teaching girls that they don’t have to put up with this type of behavior. It means teaching boys that this is not appropriate. Until that happens everything else is meaningless.