Sometimes I get messages I struggle with and this is one such note. In fact, I’ve had several messages with very similar questions that I’ve found difficult to answer without advising the reader to end their relationship. I’ve tried to pump out a nuanced answer to this one for the better part of a week. It would appear GM has advice constipation because I can’t seem to get anything other than “Dump the loser” out. How do you deal with someone you love who is convinced that by wanting to be openly who you are, you are essentially “pushing” your ideas on people? The message I received was (edited for anonymity):
I bought an atheist beanie online last winter and when my husband saw, he tore a strip off me. He, also an atheist, says wearing atheist clothing is pushing my ideas on other people and it makes me the godless equivalent of evangelical religious people. How do I respond to this?
First, I have to say, there are wonderful men out there. There are so many wonderful men out there. I’ve met so many of them. I have some of them as friends and I’m lucky enough to have wonderful men as a partner, a father, a brother. I can tell you that this behaviour, this authoritarian approach to what you wear, is not a behaviour we find in wonderful men, save for when said apparel might get you hurt in some significant way (Think, “Your shoelaces are undone, honey!”).
When you are in a relationship with someone you feel you have to clear your self-expression choices with, you’re not really in a relationship. You’re more of a pet. They are more of an owner.
You see, your husband might be surprised to find out that indeed, he has no unsolicited say in how any grown woman dresses. Ever. At all. Likewise, no woman has any unsolicited say in how a grown man dresses. Ever. At all.
Now, fellow heatheness, what I am about to say might be upsetting, but hun, if my husband ever attempted to tell me not to wear something (outside of a life and death situation), my swift and final response would be:
There would be no chat, no discussion, no explanation. I’d leave because that shit never gets better and it often gets worse.
But, understanding that you have a marriage you want to protect, I get it. You’d rather have him understand where you’re coming from and support you. I just… call me jaded… I don’t think that’s something that happens all that often, whether a fella is the offender or a lady is.
However, if you were to try, the best way to go about it is to just be honest. I would start by explaining to him the difference between expressing who you are and pushing it on people. Here are some examples to bring to his attention:
Knocking on strangers’ doors to “spread the good word”: pushing your beliefs on other people.
Saying “I am a Jehovah’s Witness” when someone asks: not pushing your beliefs on other people.
Wearing a shirt that says John 3:16 on it: not pushing your beliefs on other people.
Buying a shirt with John 3:16 on it for someone else: pushing your beliefs on other people.
Saying “I am an atheist”: not pushing your beliefs on other people.
Saying “You must be an atheist, too”: pushing your beliefs on other people.It’s really very simple. If you’re describing yourself, either through speech, what you wear, a blog, a YouTube video or anything else, you are not pushing anything on anyone. Rather, you’re being honest about who you are. If you decide to wear my House Targaryen hoodie, you are not forcing other people to watch Game of Thrones or even root for the Mother of Dragons. If my husband proudly sports his Slayer shirt, he’s not forcing anyone to like Slayer. What you are saying when you wear something like this is,
“This is part of who I am and I’m proud of it.”
It’s got nothing, at all, to do with other people. It’s certainly got nothing to do with your husband. It seems to be your husband’s position that your clothing choices are about everyone but you. This is a very good indication that someone has forgotten you are your own sentient being. They’ve dismissed your agency, your personhood, your basic freedom of choice.
It’s okay for your significant other to dislike an item of clothing you choose to wear, but to suggest you should not wear it because they don’t like it? That’s just not cool.
You are expressing who you are and your husband is telling you that you shouldn’t do that. He is telling you to hide that part of yourself for his benefit. This begs the question, who is really pushing their beliefs on other people here? Because from my vantage point, it sure as heck looks like he is.
Now go get yourself an atheist t-shirt and sport it with pride: Atheist shirts.
How would you deal with this problem? Let me know in the comments!
This is part of my Ask Mommy series where readers ask for my advice on issues affecting them and I try my best to answer them helpfully. Click here to read other posts in the series.
Image: Creative Commons/Livememe