In observing many Jewish male and (previously or on the way to converting) non-Jewish female couples, I notice that there is often a lot of patriarchal ugliness going on.
The Jewish spouse (or spouse-to-be) finds it so important that their spouse or spouse-to-be Jewish after having established the relationship. The case seems worse when the man gets religious after the two are together. Why is it worse then? Because they are new to the religious thing and the first thing they worry about is “Me.” “Ooopsies, I am (going to be) married to a non-Jew. Gotta change that!!”
I think the “patriarchal ugliness” tends to happen because Judaism at first glance seems to allow for a guy to boss around “his” woman. Systematically, it actually does. Judaism is a patriarchal religion and there is no doubting that. On the hand, it is my opinion that if you were to eliminate all the “patriarchal elements” from it, it would be so drastically different from its traditional form that it would be difficult to recognize it as Judaism (which has happened in some communities).
What the newly religious selfish guy does not realize is that, if you listened to many rabbis and what the folk Jewish tradition says, you will quickly notice that the consistent message is that “The one who has the legal authority (=the man) must to be benevolent.” That is, you can’t be a jerk to your wife because you are the guy. Quite to the contrary; because you have the authority, you have to make sure you don’t abuse the power that you have.
This is what I take away from the sermon that was given to us on our wedding day.
This is the gist of what Misha was told under the chuppa: “If your wife wants ice cream at 2a.m., even if you don’t feel like it, you have to go and get it. The love that you should show your wife should be as unconditional as Jacob showed to God (that had something to do with that weeks Torah portion).” This was the sermon given to us at the moment I was “being purchased” by Misha as a wife.
Religious law is meant to make you a better person. Not a big jerk who bosses around his wife (whether she is Jewish or not). The men who don’t force their wives/fiancées/girlfriends to convert win my respect. I have seen couples where the women converted, but when it was not by coercion, it took a long time. Sometimes the option included a baby-conversion.
With those couples where the woman was not forced into conversion, the woman had an opinion and a sense of self-hood and the man had the strength to respect that. The couple seemed to remain mutually respectful and loving towards each other. It is a two-way street after all.