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Who wears the trousers?

By Beth Gardner

Through the pretence of living in an ever-progressive, gender-neutral society, there is still much to analyse when it comes to gender roles in relationships.

How many women have ever been told they must “wear the trousers in the relationship” for a lack of complete submission to their significant other?

How many men have been glorified for doing the bare minimum in their relationships, even been praised simply for not causing their partners harm?

There remains a ridiculous double standard when it comes to power dynamics in relationships. Not only this, the power is itself synonymous with masculinity, even in lesbian relationships. This is evident with women in same-sex relationships constantly being asked “Which of you is the man?”

(NB: Seriously, just don’t ask this question. Same goes for wanting to know who the ‘woman’ is between two men. There isn’t one. This is such a classic example of heteronormativity being projected onto gay relationships. Not to mention just a really, really dumb question.)

(Art via @shaneebenjamin)

I was having a conversation with my boyfriend the other night about this exact topic. As a bisexual woman in a relationship with a cis male, it isn’t lost on me the privilege I have being able to even walk through a city centre for people to casually accept we’re together.

Even in today’s world, society has such a big issue accepting relationships that don’t fit into the alpha-male, passive-female archetype. For instance, if a butch/femme lesbian couple were to walk through town, most people would quite easily recognise them as a romantic couple. However, when applied to two femme women, this circumstance becomes more ambiguous to society as there is a distinct lack of ‘male’ presence. Even if the couple are holding hands, they may still be assumed close friends rather than a romantic partnership.

Taking this idea one step further, it seems to be no coincidence that femme/femme dynamics are so heavily sexualised by men. The porn industry and the common conception of threesomes amongst hetero male circles is sufficient proof of this. Even in dynamics where a male presence is wholly removed, men still find a way to ‘make room’ for themselves, if just observationally. This just goes to show the extent to which women in relationships are assumed the lesser-powerful party by default. I certainly know lesbians or other bisexual women who have expressed how intimidating it can be to walk in public hand-in-hand with another girl.

All of this, to me, suggests a social movement of gender-equality which has failed even to acknowledge women at a domestic level.

On top of this, men who don’t align with the masculinity standards – set by, you guessed it, other men – are in some way negatively affected by these same implied romantic gender roles. Amongst their peers, a man who willingly brings emotional intelligence or vulnerability to their relationship is labelled a “simp” or a “pussy” (ie, if you didn’t already work out from the last insult in particular, a woman). In the same way two femme women are often not immediately recognisable as a couple by society’s standards, two typically ‘masculine’ gay men in a relationship will probably not pass as easily as two more ‘camp’, feminine men.

As I pointed out towards the start of this article, any digression from the archetypal heteronormative relationship with a more domineering male and a more timid female is so thoroughly scrutinised by society. In my opinion, this is why someone still has to be “wearing the trousers”; someone must always be more male, and thus more powerful. You never hear anyone asking “who wears the skirt?”, right? We are constantly searching for masculinity in any romantic dynamic and if this isn’t immediately assigned, or subverts expectations, we actually feel the need to verbally question it.

I mean, when you really sit and think about it for longer than a minute…you have to clock the audacity!

Basically, what I’m trying to get across is that you should absolutely care less about whether or not your relationship ‘makes sense’ to the rest of the world. When you feel pressured to act more or less masculine or feminine with your partner, is it because that’s actually natural to you or because you feel you owe something to those around you? Really, why should one person in your relationship “wear the trousers” and take charge whilst the other assumedly stays in their lane?

Your relationship – and the individuals that make it up – is your business, and yours alone.

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