Dating men: yet another challenge to my feminist identity

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?

23 thoughts on “Dating men: yet another challenge to my feminist identity

  1. 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 never actually dated, but my wife and I have had our own struggles, even though we are both feminists. When I wanted to take her surname upon marriage, both sets of our parents gave us all hell to get me not to do it. In fact, my (now) parents-in-law just didn’t even understand the concept of a man taking his wife’s last name, so they were pressuring her to take my name, even though that possibility wasn’t even on the table for us. Eventually my wife said it wasn’t worth it, because she didn’t want to have bad blood at the wedding, so I didn’t change my name.

    But there are still people who get very surprised when she does the more traditionally male things (playing video games, fixing broken door knobs or clogged shower heads) and when I do the more traditionally female things (laundry, dishes, dusting, watching cheesy soap operas).

    Recently a friend said we had it “backward” that she had to twist my arm to see Hot Tub Time Machine and I was trying to convince her to see Sex and the City 2.

    Not that we’re a total flip-flop. I like Linux (that kind of geekery is predominantly male, for now) and she likes shopping for clothes. That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? Despite the bad rap feminism gets about trying to make women into men, it’s really more about having the freedom to be who you are not be constrained by expectations, sexism, stereotypes, and rigid gender roles. After you strip out all the slogans and rhetoric, that’s all feminism really is.

  2. “Is it wrong to engage in few anti-feminist thoughts and behaviors when dating men?” . i consider myself a feminist, and i like when a man offer to pay for the drinks in a first date. i don’t think at all that is anti feminist. maybe is a cultural thing, (i’m from latin america) but in my own dating experience men who didn’t offer to pay where the more selfish and (believe it or not) more machistas. of course i’m talking about a drink or a beer, not an expensive meal in a fancy restaurant.
    i think the best way to avoid the guilt you mention when you don’t know you will like the guy is to choose a nice but not expensive bar close to your house and have a beer or a coffe, and if he wants to pay, well, let him pay.
    in my experience when i said “well, i’m a feminist” the first thing that change was what kind of men i want to date, i mean, “no more MACHISTA IDIOTS who make me suffer. i’m single, i really want a relationship but i have the right to choose and my priorites are this… (i try to be open minded but many times this priorities fell in the categories you mention and i have to ask myself if i’m prejudice, too picky or just exercising my right to choose: most of the times is the last one)
    to be honest the dating circle become smaller (too many idiots in argentina), but i feel better.

    • >. i consider myself a feminist, and i like when a man offer to pay for the drinks in a first date. i don’t think at all that is anti feminist. maybe is a cultural thing

      Cultural things can be sexist.

      >men who didn’t offer to pay where the more selfish and (believe it or not) more machistas.

      So what are you, when you’re not offering to pay?

  3. I really enjoyed this post. I too have many of the same thoughts. I’m very mercenary when I’m with a guy I’m not interested in; I tend to use him advantageously (for free drinks, etc), though I do worry about “owing” him something and feel guilty.

    I like the idea that we are reverting away from the “hookup culture” (which I won’t miss) through internet dating. Interesting.

    • Thank you for your candor about how you’re “mercenary” with a man you aren’t interested in. It sounds a lot like exploitation to me. You should indeed feel guilty about taking advantage of someone’s generosity, especially when he may well think that all that time with you is getting him somewhere. This is generally how “Nice Guys” think before they realize they’ve been duped. If you’re out with a man and you aren’t sexually interested in him, let him know. Being friends is fine, but be prepared to start paying your way.

  4. ok, time for me to put my meanie hat on.

    I’d argue that being prejudiced against your matches on online dating sites (by things like university, profession or level of exoticism) doesn’t make you a bad feminist as much as it makes you straight-up judgmental or prejudicial. That sort of behavior is small-minded across biological sexes. Some of those choices DO speak to compatibility issues, though, such as the ability to construct grammatically correct sentences or a similar taste in movies/television/music/etc. In other words, you should have a good reason for each of the criteria you use to eliminate a potential match by, and you should stick to those criteria. Perhaps you won’t be so keen to put something like “must have gone to an elite university” or “must make over $45,000 per year” on the list if you have to own up to it in writing.

    As far as “classic chivalry” goes, let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s a woman’s market on these online dating sites, and you have the leverage to get guys to pay for your dating expenses. That’s a pretty sweet deal to voluntarily forego, and I don’t blame you for hanging on to it (especially in this economy!) I would argue that the first date probably should be paid for by the guy, since it’s really an audition on his part to see if he’ll make the cut. That said, you don’t owe a guy anything, even if he bought you lobster at a classy restaurant. Don’t perpetuate the belief that “if I buy her a really nice dinner, she’ll HAVE to make it up to me, if for no other reason than a sense of obligation.” That’s a little too close to prostitution, and frankly you’re worth more than the cost of a fancy dinner.
    One way to settle it, of course, is to decide who’s paying before you finalize the plans, that way there are no surprises and everyone goes into it with eyes open. Not the most romantic way, perhaps, but then again romance isn’t always congruent with feminist ideals.

    • ” I would argue that the first date probably should be paid for by the guy, since it’s really an audition on his part to see if he’ll make the cut.”

      What an anti-feminist, anti-equalist statement.

      In an online dating scenario, whether or not to agree to date is a mutual decision, so it’s entirely anti-feminist to argue that the man should pay, or that he’s some kind of circus animal or stage performer for the woman.

  5. “freedom to be who you are”

    But there is no freedom if feminism makes a woman feel that if she does anything that is the least bit “traditional” she is a “bad feminist.” So she is not free to be who she is because who she is, and who she wants to be, conflicts with feminist ideology. If a woman says she wants to take her husband’s name, would you and other feminists accept her the same way you so enthusiastically applaud men who want to take their wives’ names? Of course not.

    If feminists are correct that women don’t need men, then there is no need for dating is there? I mean why does a woman want to spend time with a man or to have a relationship with a man? According to feminists there is no reason at all other than sexist indoctrination. So by seeking men, whether on line, or otherwise, women are contradicting feminisim, and saying we do need men. And yes that is certainly being a “bad feminist.”

    • Your comment is cringeworthy, and at the risk of engaging a troll, I can’t just not say anything.

      Why women want relationships are the same reasons men do. Humans are a social species and need relationships to survive; physically, mentally and emotionally.

      Just because I don’t want my boyfriend to treat me like his property doesn’t mean I’m contradicting myself by dating or being in relationships. Feminist doctrine isn’t about not wanting men around. It’s about having the same opportunities that men do in society. Men don’t have to choose between having a family and their careers the way women do; men don’t make less money for the same work the way women do; and men don’t have a history of being treated like their brains can’t handle voting and working the way women have. Feminist theory highlights these issues and finds ways to solve them through policy and social change, and no serious feminist scholar would suggest that women should just forgo relationships and be alone because having a man in your life is anti feminist. Please do a bit of reading before you spout some kind of universal understanding about women and feminist theory.

      • “Why women want relationships are the same reasons men do. Humans are a social species and need relationships to survive; physically, mentally and emotionally.”

        Uhh, no. This article is about women dating men. feminist doctrine is that women do not need men, do not need relationships with men. If you are saying that humans need relationships, that is totally different from saying women need relationships with men. Are you saying women need relationships with men?

        That is why women dating men conflicts and contradicts feminist doctrine, which is that there are no essential differences between the sexes beyond those society creates artificially, and we’d all be better off if we got rid of those.

        All the problems of gender that you say you dislike in dating men, can easily be rid of by not dating men. The fact that you find that impossible or unappealing is where you contradict feminist doctrine. The fact that relationships with the male gender is so important or essential to you, highlights the differences between the sexes and belies the feminist insistence that gender doesn’t matter. The fact that you want to date men, rather than women, reinforces the gender binary that feminists insist is destructive. If feminists were correct that men and women are essentially alike, there is no reason men should be preferred as dating partners. The fact that they are preferred contradicts feminist doctrine.

  6. I grew up in a family with very liberal and assertive women so I know all feminists aren’t bad, but from college I do know that there are a number of them who are too serious, killjoys and no fun to be around.

    I see a woman mention that she is a “feminist” in her online profile I translate that as “I’m a PITA” and I steer clear of her.

    Your post has convinced me of the wisdom of this “profiling”. Talking about rape over dinner?

    I ask women out on dates to go out, relax and have a bit of fun.

  7. I solved this problem. Ladies typically enjoy chivalry, so that’s what I do. However, feminists require equality, so I treat them with the same courtesy and deference I give to men. That way, feminists get the equality they desire and ladies get the chivalry they desire. It works for everyone.

  8. In response to:

    “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? ”

    Correct. You are not an actual feminist if you only want part time equality.

    “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?””

    Yes, if you want to be an actual feminist you must believe in and practice equality, not just when it is to your advantage.

    • >You are not an actual feminist if you only want part time equality

      I don’t agree. That would make someone ‘not an egalitarian’ not ‘not a feminist’. Feminism doesn’t require egalitarianism. It requires favouring females.

  9. I have been online dating for more than a year. (I’m 51 years old and that brings its own issues, mainly the unspoken truth that I am competing with cultural ideas of beauty and desirability.) Age issues aside, the core issues in dating men as a feminist for me always comes down to the question you sometimes see in men’s magazines: “what do women want”? Women (at least this woman) want what men get from their women partners: respect (e.e.g, showing active interest in her job or how her day went), sincere compliments about appearance (not ego stroking but genuine appreciation), not to head-swivel when an attractive woman enters the room (I wouldn’t do that to my partner), and interest in mutual sexual satisfactiom. My god…..is this unreasonable? It’s so simple. Give what you get 🙂

    • >not to head-swivel when an attractive woman enters the room (I wouldn’t do that to my partner)

      Oh please, miss perfect. Head-swivelling is an unconscious reaction. The only difference between that an eye-followers is the latter is more attentive to their habits.

  10. I prefer women to mention that they are feminists very early on, sometimes they seem to withhold that fact for a while, but candour is good from all sides and that way we can both move on swiftly and nobody is wasting time.

  11. I think sometimes a feminist can lose their way if they see “tradition” as inherently sexist.
    Yes, some traditions can be outmoded in our modern context, particularly when they become rigid rules where the man MUST… and the woman MUST…
    But traditions are not without basis. They often fit our core natures as men and women; natures which are often distinct from one another.

    Believing women and men are equal (the core tenet of feminism) doesn’t mean one believes that women and men are the same.

    This article perfectly articulates the dilemma when ones ideology is in conflict with one’s core nature. It is the same as a devoutly religious person feeling guilty about masturbation or premarital sex.
    Life is too short.

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