Amanda Hess’ recent interview with Jaclyn Friedman “Fucking While Feminist” has opened the floodgates for honest discussion about the challenges of dating while feminist. It’s important to note that most of this discussion has focused on heterosexual dating from the woman’s point of view. I would love to hear someone talk about how feminism works in other dating contexts, but as a straight woman who is actively dating, I so relate to the challenges of balancing one’s feminist ideology with traditional hetero dating codes, traditions, and expectations.
I was chatting with a boy I met on the internet the other day and happened to mention that I was a feminist blogger. (Surprise!) I don’t always reveal that tidbit up front, but sometimes it just comes up in conversation, you know how it is … Anyway, he made a joke about how I should write a post called “How to date a feminist.”
The thing is, a lot of the discussion that came out of “Fucking While Feminist” is just that – discussion of how to find men who can “handle” discussions about rape culture over dinner, how to find men who wont be offended if you don’t let them pay, etc. While those are valid concerns, they aren’t what I have found to be most difficult about dating while feminist. For me, the difficulty is not so much about the guy and whether he can “handle” feminism/me, but how my sexuality and dating proclivities challenge my own identity as a feminist.
As online dating becomes more and more commonplace, we are leaving “hook up” culture behind and oddly enough reverting back to a more traditional blind date model. And since most of us are bumbling idiots when it comes to the art of the blind date, we must rely on our traditional frame of reference in order to know how to conduct ourselves and interpret signals. (He holds the door, pays for dinner, she orders a salad, strokes his ego.) Unfortunately, these traditional codes of conduct come from a much more sexist time, and participating in the old-fashioned ritual can feel pretty uncomfortable for a feminist like me, and especially confusing when I find myself wanting to participate. Not only that, I am acutely aware of all the cardinal sins of feminism I, myself, commit. Here are some examples of what I mean.
Engaging in “isms”
When I look through profiles of potential dates, I am shocked by my own criteria. I rule out one guy because he has a blue collar job, another because he went to community college. I am judging and rejecting men based on their background, school, job, income level, bad grammar or reprehensible taste in television. I can’t help but feel like my selectivity makes me elitist, classist, and maybe even a little bit racist. And as a feminist, I’m super against those things.
Fetishizing the other
Getting back to the “little bit racist” concept, dating people outside my own ethnic group leads to another feminist dilemma. Fetishizing based on one’s race or ethnicity is dehumanizing, and I get angry when this happens to Asian, black, Jewish, and other women. So, when I find myself enjoying a date’s “exotic” facial features or skin tone I catch myself, feel guilty, and think: “Note to self: stop fetishizing the other.”
Chivalry? Or sexism?
Dates tell me “your money is no good here” and offer to buy drinks, dinner, coffee, movie tickets. They offer to pick me up, bring me home. What’s a girl to do? It’s romantic, and more and more often I find myself obliging. Except when I’m not interested in the guy. If that’s the case, I feel completely guilty accepting the freebie because I know I’m never going to call him again, aka, he wont be getting any return on his investment … aka, I feel like I owe the guy something if I let him pay. It’s disgusting, I know. And even if I don’t let him pay, I expect him to at least offer.
I want to avoid using the phrase “bad feminist,” but this acute awareness of my own feminist pitfalls makes dating a little confusing. If I wrote an article called “How to date a feminist” and another called “How to date me” they would probably be very different. Does this mean that I, myself, don’t fit the idea of “a feminist” I have in my own head? Do I need to work on reconciling my beliefs with my actions, or could it be that there is more than one way to be “a feminist?”
I am inclined to believe that all of us feminist women are different, especially in regards to our dating styles and sexual proclivities. The simple conclusion is that there is no right way to date a feminist. The more confusing question is: Is it wrong to engage in few anti-feminist thoughts and behaviors when dating men?