Ms. Opinionated: All the Advice You Asked For, and Some You Didn't

image of Megan Carpentier

 

Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.

Dear Ms. Opinionated, As a woman in her early 20's and an adamant feminist, I am having the hardest time balancing my feminist beliefs with dating. When is the right time to "come out" as a feminist without dragging certain negative societal connotations into the mix? I want a potential romantic interest to share my passion for the feminist plight, but how can you tell if they share that commonality without first putting oneself on the line?

  The first thing that struck me reading your letter was the Freudian slip in it -- "the feminist plight." You didn't term it "women's plight" or "feminism" or "feminist issues" but framed it as, effectively, the unfortunate situation of feminists. I had to ask: What unfortunate situation are feminists in with which other women contending with the kyriarchy do not have to deal? (Obviously, some women face more overlapping disprivileges under the kyriarchy than others, but it's not really as a result of self-identifying as "feminist," I'd wager.)

And then I had to answer: I don't think about feminism -- even my own -- as a plight or an unfortunate situation. My belief that I am equal to men has shaped my life in a lot of positive ways, as has my beliefs that I should get fair pay and equal treatment in my professional life; not have my life or my future or my worth (self or otherwise) determined by my biology or physiology; and that my beliefs about my own equality need to apply to my personal life and how I conduct it. I also don't think of my feminism -- or, really, anything about me -- as something to "hide" while dating. I was, undoubtedly, "imperfectly" socialized to understand that one is supposed to reel in a potential partner by portraying a (patriarchal/kyriarchal) idea of perfection and have a long history of dating friends and acquaintances (which makes hiding fundamental things about my personality rather difficult). But my attitude about dating in general is this: I am myself, and I will not settle for someone who likes only a version of me or for whom the totality of me is off-putting or scary or what have you. (I did this once in my early twenties and not only was I vaguely unsuccessful at not being me, he cheated on me anyway because I wasn't not-me enough -- so lesson learned.)

I did a very unscientific and non-exhaustive survey of people I dated to whom I still speak and asked them if the fact that I self-identified as feminist came at a surprise to them at any point, and found that the answer was, unequivocally, "No" -- even if I didn't wear a "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt on the first date. Some reasons cited: I asked them out; I flirted first; I paid without a feint and/or clearly expected to go Dutch and wasn't hesitant about it; I was clearly confident in our interactions; I talked about politics from a liberal perspective (given the understanding that most liberal women at least lean feminist); and that one time that I loudly heckled a comedian for telling rape jokes when we were on a first date. So, to a certain degree, even if I didn't wear a NOW sticker on my shirt, something about how I approach the world and potential dating partners doesn't and didn't exactly leave people guessing.

You've indicated that it's important to you that, at a minimum, the person you end up in a relationship shares an understanding or passion for the issues that you associate with the feminist movement. That's great -- but it can mean a lot of things from a basic understanding that, no, we do not live in an utterly sexism-free society in which women are just whining about being unequal, to a real, long-standing and grounded understanding national feminist politics or movements, to work with any one of a number women's rights groups (here or abroad), or even all of the above. What does "passion" and "commonality" mean to you (because, frankly, those are pretty different points on the spectrum)? And if you need someone who is actively engaged on a day-to-day basis in deconstructing the kyriarchy in a significant and quantifiable way... why are you dating anyone who you don't already know is doing so from jump? And if you are, why would it matter when you "reveal" you're a feminist? It sounds, however, like what you're saying is that you need, at a minimum, a feminist sympathizer, if not a feminist ally (or an ardent feminist) -- or at least somebody who could become one. And, again, if that's what you need, why are you dating people who you think might not be, or worried about telling them that you are? I get that we all want people to like us, but dating isn't about finding someone who might like some version of you, it's about finding someone you like in toto and who likes you back and with whom you can relax and have a good time.

At a minimum, you need to shake up in your own mind that dating is about you being accepted into a relationship and start to see yourself as someone with agency who is doing the accepting. There are a lot of dating conventions, starting with who asks who out, who pays and the idea that control stems from not putting oneself out there emotionally first, that come straight from the patriarchy but which many (even self-identified feminist) people don't question. These things, among others, are so accepted and so ingrained that, once you poke at one of them in the course of the date, even a date who isn't really listening to you is going to notice you did so and (rightly) assume you are a feminist. Again, when dating is framed around you maybe being liked and you maybe getting "picked" to be a part of someone else's life, you are ceding agency and letting relationships happen to you (or not) rather than choosing to get into one or not based on your own evaluation of the other person.

So poke at the conventions. Wear your "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt, open doors, pick the place, pay the tab, ask out someone you like, get rejected, learn that it's really not that bad, ask out someone better. Argue about politics, heckle rape-apologist comedians, holla back at someone on the street, talk about what jerks clinic protestors are and generally act as though you are not on A Date as you have been socialized to believe dates are supposed to be. Believe me, if you do this stuff, no one whom you date is going to be remotely surprised when you drop the f-bomb. But, to answer the question more specifically: like anything else that's really important to you, you don't have to interrupt a flowing conversation to say, "I'm a feminist" explicitly -- good get-to-know you conversations aren't usually lists of self-identifiers, there are some pretty obvious signifiers you can throw into a good conversation, and there are things in the other person that you can and should be listening for. But if the people you date find you being a feminist weird or surprising (or negative), you probably are on dates with the wrong people, or people that aren't really paying attention to you. And, if you are, why do you care about "putting [your]self on the line"? If you want something specific in dating (a feminist ally) and s/he doesn't have it (any feminist awareness), it's so much better to get it on the table early and get on with dating someone else. And if, over and over again, the people you date can't deal, look to date totally different kinds of people. And if, over and over, they're surprised and put off because feminism seems so not compatible with the person you've otherwise seemed to be while you are dating, it might be time to examine your own date habits for signs you swallowed the patriarchal Kool-Aid in this area and didn't finish vomiting it up. Have a question? Email us with "advice" in the subject line. Anonymity guaranteed.

 

Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

how about starting a discussion

I concur that very likely this will not be news to anyone you date. But I guess part of the idea is are we getting off to a prov active start or can we just talk about progressive values. How about this, you can ask your person how many people that were not feminists they dated. If they say "once, OMG that was scary" I think you are off to a wonderful start.

how about starting a discussion

I concur that very likely this will not be news to anyone you date. But I guess part of the idea is are we getting off to a prov active start or can we just talk about progressive values. How about this, you can ask your person how many people that were not feminists they dated. If they say "once, OMG that was scary" I think you are off to a wonderful start.

Feminist Dating

I totally agree!
Being a feminist isn't a 'burden' or a curse!
If you have to ask yourself if it's okay to be yourself on a date, get out of there fast!

I can see where the question

I can see where the question asker is coming from. As someone who's only learned a lot more about and got involved with feminism over the last couple of years, it can be tricky to start incorporating it into your everyday life. E.g. it took me a while to feel comfortable linking feminist articles on FB and Twitter because I'd never really been political before. We're not all in the situation of having only radical friends and associates to choose our lovers from.

So, what to do? Maybe in your chit-chat bring up a feminist issue that's topical and has been in the news lately and gauge their response?

Good luck :)

Totally

I really started getting into feminism as I entered my 20s and found people's reactions were really hostile, ranging from knowing eyeroll + "it's just a phase" to the idea that a potential partner couldn't possibly find a *feminist* girl attractive. My older sister, for example, said to me (jokingly-but-seriously) "we've gotta do something about this feminist thing you're turning into". What I'm saying is, I agree it's hard to come out to the world as a feminist - in my experience, people (siblings, friends, family, potential partners...) can act like being a woman and political is an unattractive/undesirable/generally bad way to be - i.e. who is going to like someone who's overly feminist? But actually, and this article totally nails it, fuck them. If they can't handle you being YOU then they're simply not worth your time.

tl;dr: I totally feel you!

Totally

I really started getting into feminism as I entered my 20s and found people's reactions were really hostile, ranging from knowing eyeroll + "it's just a phase" to the idea that a potential partner couldn't possibly find a *feminist* girl attractive. My older sister, for example, said to me (jokingly-but-seriously) "we've gotta do something about this feminist thing you're turning into". What I'm saying is, I agree it's hard to come out to the world as a feminist - in my experience, people (siblings, friends, family, potential partners...) can act like being a woman and political is an unattractive/undesirable/generally bad way to be - i.e. who is going to like someone who's overly feminist? But actually, and this article totally nails it, fuck them. If they can't handle you being YOU then they're simply not worth your time.

tl;dr: I totally feel you!

Perhaps surprisingly this is

Perhaps surprisingly this is also a really perilous topic to broach if you're a guy too, at least in my experience.

Political Relationships are Poison

The reason why this gives the average guy pause is because if you go to the trouble to self-identify as a feminist it means that whatever relationship you have with him will be a political one. You are likely to view conflicts in your relationship as skirmishes in a larger gender war. When you interact with him the specter of imagined feminist onlookers will be goading you on. He will either tire of you and end it, or you will beat him into submission and won't be attracted to him anymore because you don't respect him.

I know a guy who is married to a feminist. One day we decided to go on a hike. Four options were identified, but for about an hour nobody made a decision. I was mute, more or less, because I didn't want to walk into the bear trap I knew she had set for me. I said "Hey, let's go here."

She launched into a diatribe about gender politics. She felt that I was telling her where we would go to assert my male dominance. She was gleeful; she got to take a shot at the "patriarchy." Am I the patriarchy? No. I'm a guy who wants to take a walk.

I said "look, I don't care where we go. You pick a place. I just want to get out. Or don't go; that's cool too."

Complete indecision.

My friend and I got in the car. She followed us, and complained about how miserable she was the entire time. She's his wife so it's not my place to say, but if she were MY wife I would have said "If you want to hike, hike. If you don't, don't. You came along just to make sure we didn't enjoy this, though, and that's rude."

I advise you to separate your political beliefs from your relationship, as long as you are respected and as long as you are an equal partner. If not, there's always cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Really, dude?

Haha dude, why are you even reading this if you hate feminists so much? You sound like someone who is really uncomfortable with having his privilege challenged and prefer to perceive and blame feminists as irrational instead of taking a hard honest look at yourself,

The personal is the political, but that doesn't negatively impact my romantic relationships because my boyfriend is a feminist who already treats me with respect and listens openly if I tell him he does something that makes me uncomfortable. I only would have a major issue with a guy like you, but I would never date you or anyone like you, so it's a moot point.

Back when I had to do this

back when I was dating, if I felt it needed to be stated explicitly I'd simply casually but with palpable joy say "oh but OF COURSE I am". As if it were the most natural thing in the world. An obvious part of me and not something I'm opening up for debate. Which it is to me, but this was usually something I'd needed to say out loud in situations with people for whom it WASN'T the most natural thing in the world.
In those cases I found that saying that I am a feminist with a huge smile and the manner of announcing that we won the lottery really messes with people's negative preconceptions and they're much less likely to be annoying about it.
I agree though that when it comes to dating, in time you'll learn to suss people out before you have to actually spell it out. There's a real art to being comfortable in your own feminist skin - I certainly didn't have that down at 21 so you're probably light years ahead already!
Oh and regarding partners..my husband is pretty dang feminist - but I'm not sure he'd given much thought to self-identifying as a feminist before he met me. He WAS into fairness, decency and not being an asshole though and he's curious so I think it's more about dating people whose hearts are in the right places rather than checking off a box of identities. Also, I've dealt with some horrifically sexist dudes who are all progressive in their politics and more traditional guys who nevertheless have been totally decent human beings and whose *actions* actually ended up being much more feminist than the progressive dudes. So, yeah, now I feel old dispensing all this dating advice, but it can't be said enough - go for dudes who'll excite and nurture you in equal measure. I'd say "be yourself" but I personally did know myself very well at 21 but I have such high hopes for you young ones, already reading Bitch and all!