In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle talks about Dating While Feminist. Read on.
I’ve mentioned this previously, but it bears repeating: it took a long time for me to call myself a feminist. For many years in high school and college, I was afraid of the word feminist. I was tall, I was stocky, I was sarcastic, and I wasn’t afraid to (loudly) prove how smart I was. Basically I was the opposite of what television, magazines, and movies told me I should be trying to be if I wanted to Get the Guy.
According to films starring Freddie Prinze Jr., I was supposed to be beautiful, but not know it. I wasn’t quite sure how to pull that off. (Apparently by wearing overalls? I think the secret is overalls.) My life plan was to try to be Julia Stiles in Ten Things I Hate About You, but for some reason no local Heath Ledgers seemed to care that I listened to Bikini Kill or could quote Shakespeare. Overall, I figured that adding “feminist” to my self-description was basically the surest way to ensure that I would never get a date, ever. And when I was 18 and not terribly good at avoiding internalizing gender messages, I thought that getting dates was how you proved that you were good at being a girl. And I had never, in my life, felt like I was very successful at being a girl. (Seriously, at what point are you supposed to develop the ability to have gorgeous bubble writing? When does that happen? What pagan god do I have to sacrifice to in order to get that handwriting?)
But to quote Monty Python, I got better. To be honest I didn’t actually get many more dates, but I stopped caring as much that I wasn’t getting dates. Dating stopped being the thing that I thought was going to validate me as a woman. Basically, I stopped waiting for some dude to tell me I was pretty. I stopped being afraid to call myself a feminist. I started talking about representations of women in pop culture when I went on dates. Instead of being afraid that I was going to scare someone off by being a feminist, I decided that if someone was going to be scared off by me being a feminist, it was better to scare them off immediately before I wasted my time or put effort into wearing eyeliner for no reason.
As you might expect, I’ve had what you might call “mixed” results. Chief among them the time that the guy I was dating refused to wear my jacket when he was blatantly shivering (and I was from Wyoming, which is kind of like being from Winterfell in that it makes you immune to about 70% of the temperatures that other people consider cold) and also misjudged the classic “arm around the shoulder” move and ended up scraping his arm across my spine like he was trying to rub dirt off of his sleeve. But to be fair I haven’t pursued dating strenuously enough to really get a broad spectrum of reactions to women who are blatantly feminist.
Which is why it’s fascinating to me to see when other women also embark on the task of dating while feminist, and share their results. Recently Laura Nowak did what should have been a simple thing: she wrote “hello, I am a feminist” on her Tinder profile. And the results she got were… wow. Just wow. Because Laura Nowak is a gem of a human being, she made an Instagram account called “feminist_tinder” and shared her experiences with the world. Nowak seems to have had some interactions with some genuinely good human beings (such as the gentleman who understood that being on tinder isn’t something that automatically means you no longer deserve respect or decent treatment). However, most of the posts that she has shared (and I’m assuming most of the messages she has received, because I too have seen the internet) are the type of thing that make me want to shout “I have some good reasons!” when people accuse me of being a misandrist. (Note: I am not actually a misandrist. I hate willfully ignorant people, regardless of their gender.)
One message sender told her she had the “Worst bio possible: good luck.” Nowak sensibly explained that, ‘“hello I am a feminist’ is actually the best possible bio for people that don’t have time for misogynists, because men who don’t respect women are good at outing themselves” before helpfully adding, “Like you.” To which her would-be paramour replied, “?” and “You’re too ugly to have that attitude. Go make me bacon.” It almost makes me MORE upset that he used proper punctuation and capitalization in the second reply, because everything else in it is so, so wrong. Translated, his reply says “Only pretty women deserve to have self-esteem or to demand respect from men. Only pretty women deserve to articulate their opinions. I got bored of the phrase “make me a sandwich” and decided that since all the cool kids like bacon these days, I’d be ‘clever’ and switch things up so that I tell you to go make me bacon, because as we are well aware the only things a woman is good for are sex and cooking, and you’re obviously not going to give me sex. Also, I’m a misogynist idiot who doesn’t realize I’m making your point for you.” It’s almost impressive that he managed to pack that much context into two bile-filled sentences.
It’s definitely worth your time to peruse the rest of Nowak’s Tinder, partly because Nowak consistently replies to her critics with sarcasm and awesomeness, and partly to get an understanding of the sheer scope and scale of what a feminist faces in their attempt to simultaneously be taken seriously and be seen as a potential romantic partner. I’m sure some of the people reading this post have already gotten that understanding, because they have tried to (or succeeded at, not everyone necessarily fails as much as I do) Date While Feminist.
Romantic comedies have built a monolith to the idea that it is Hard to Get a Man or Hard to Get a Woman, but it’s a whole lot harder to do so in a culture that tells you that you are not allowed to simultaneously stand up for yourself and for women while also trying to get a romantic partner, or even get laid. The first and fastest response when a woman says something that a man doesn’t like is for the man to say that the woman is stupid, ugly, etc., as if a woman has to be stupid to disagree with a man, that any woman who does so is hideous and that’s the reason she does it. (Not that I even like the woman, but look at the way Megyn Kelly has been treated by Donald Trump. HER OWN NETWORK initially backed down when he was being a sexist moron, and then he called her a bimbo.)
The only woman who is beautiful is the one who doesn’t know she is beautiful. The only woman who is allowed to speak her mind is the one who doesn’t have anything challenging to say. And the only woman who is allowed to want to date a man is the one who unquestioningly accepts his superiority over her. If that remains the case, I’m totally okay with staying single. I didn’t want to share my sweet jacket, anyway.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to explain (again. and. again.) how to treat a woman with dignity and respect, she studies gender popular culture.