Am I a bad feminist for wanting more surprise dinners, gifts and flowers?
This week, Help Me Hera is being guest-written by me, Madeleine Holden. Please humour me by calling it Help Me Holden during this time. Hera will be back next week, so send her your questions at email@example.com.
My boyfriend and I are in our early 20s and have been dating for a few years. He is my best friend, and we’ve been living together since February. I’m really happy with how our relationship is, but – there’s a but.
I keep catching myself wishing that he would treat me like a princess. I want him to be romantic with me, to plan our dates, to cook me surprise dinners, to give me gifts and flowers. However, he isn’t that type of guy. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m his first girlfriend (and he doesn’t know the expectation) or because he just doesn’t care to. I’ve expressed to him that I love when he does do these things on occasion, but I wonder if I’m a bad feminist for desiring this treatment.
Is wanting to be treated like a princess an unrealistic expectation brought about by Hollywood? Is it some weird Freudian error to want to be taken care of in this way? Am I just spending too much time on Tik Tok? Let me know.
I’ll pine for your response from my tower,
What do you desire, Princess, and what do you expect? You blend the two concepts throughout your letter, which makes it hard to tell what you’re even asking of your boyfriend, let alone me.
If all you want is for your unromantic, best-friend boyfriend to whip up a pasta puttanesca every once in a while and present you with the odd bunch of tulips, I don’t see any real problem here. That’s a perfectly reasonable, even gender neutral, vision of romance – who doesn’t like to occasionally be on the receiving end of a thoughtful gift or home-cooked meal? You can just ask him for this.
But I don’t think you’d be talking about bad feminism, guilt, weird Freudian desires, ancient royal family structures, being taken care of by a man, or being locked in a tower if all you want is for your boyfriend to make the dinner booking once in a while. Reading ever so slightly between the lines, it sounds like you’re pining for a little chivalry in your relationship; a touch of traditional gender roles. Maybe even, dare I say it, a pinch of patriarchy.
Of course this is bad feminism! That’s probably what’s so desirable about it.
You and your boyfriend are both Gen Z, so liberal feminism has been part of the dominant moral framework your whole lives. I think we can rule out your Hollywood theory, because you weren’t really brought up on movies telling you to pine for Prince Charming. You were brought up on Tumblr politics, Beyonce performing in front of an enormous “FEMINIST” sign, girlbosses, SheEOs, two female prime ministers and Disney princesses who are empowered and happily single. If, deep in your guilty princess soul, you find this all a bit dull and unromantic – if you’re pining for a simpler time, when men swept women off their feet and knew their way around a horse – that’s not a hanging offence. In fact, it makes you a fairly typical member of your cohort (see: the trad fascination, cottagecore, the “puriteen” wave).
I’m intrigued by your idea of “Freudian errors”, like you could get an F on the test of your desires. As it happens, I’ve been lugging around a battered copy of Sigmund’s major works for the past few weeks, and man, that guy knew a lot about our wants. He knew that our psyches are divided, full of wishes, impulses and drives in conflict with one other, and that the darkest, most embarrassing ones won’t stay shut up for long. The best way to deal with them is to let some sunlight in.
So explore your princess desire. What is it you really want? How much is pure fantasy, and how much is an actual expectation you want your boyfriend to meet? Do you want to be treated like a literal princess 24/7, with all the tedious embroidery and pressure to produce an heir? Do you just want to say your guiltiest, most antifeminist wishes out loud? Or do you really just want the damn tulips?
Once you’ve figured that part out, you need to bring your boyfriend into the fold – all the way in. However erroneously you want to be taken care of, however bad your feminism is, however addled your brain is by TikTok, and however guilty, clammy, embarrassing and dark your desires might be, talk to your boyfriend about all of it. That’s the best way I know to get rid of that “but—” feeling.
Good luck, Princess.