Long-distance relationships and gendered expectations

Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee

Yesterday I saw Going the Distance, the new rom-com about a dilemma faced by a lot of young professional couples: What happens when job opportunities put you in different cities? The movie — which I thought was better than a lot of films in this genre — is a pretty good depiction of how, in heterosexual couples, there is more of an expectation that the woman will be the one to suffer a professional setback or divert her career path in order to preserve the relationship. Drew Barrymore’s character is a 31-year-old intern who makes many references to the fact that she delayed her career because she moved for a previous boyfriend.

Today, DCist has an interview with DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who recently got engaged to Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, CA:

One of the things that I’ve been hearing from people in my neighborhood and in the larger community that has surprised me, is the assumption that even if Mayor Fenty is reelected you might leave.

That’s absolutely incorrect.

I’ve found it a little sexist, actually.

It’s totally sexist! Let me just tell you this — not a single person in Sacramento has implied that because Kevin and I are getting married that he’s going to be moving to D.C. Not a single person. And it pisses me off to no end that people assume that I’m going to be the one to move, or that of course I would have to move. People say, well, her husband is there, so of course she would have to move. And I say “really?” What century are you living in?

So I am committed to the Mayor, that when he is reelected I will absolutely be here for a second term, and I’m really excited about the prospect of it.

This hits close to home. I have moved across the country three times — and two of those moves were for (at least in part) men I was dating. At the time, I don’t think I would have told you I felt a lot of pressure to be the one to move. If other people assumed I would be the one to change jobs and move cross-country, they certainly didn’t say so to my face. But looking back, I am not so sure I could honestly say that there were no gendered expectations at play. Even if your long-distance lover is a feminist man, deeply engrained sexist cues — that women’s work is worth less, that women bear more of a responsibility for keeping a relationship together — have a way of affecting your choices. It’s good to see Rhee pushing back.

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