Why I Find It So Hard To Date As A Feminist

Features. Posted 2 months ago

Courtney Sanders


Image: Julia Stiles as Kat Stafford in 10 Things I Hate About You. Image Source. 

Fourth wave feminism has been hijacked: by ‘empowerment’ and by marketers everywhere. It’s Beyoncé’s “empowering” Ivy Park activewear range which is allegedly made by exploited women in the developing world and it’s pink pussy hats being sent down the runway on a set of thin, white women at Missoni’s recent Fashion Week show. It’s now cool, popular even, to be feminist. It’s now cool, popular even, to date feminist women. Enter the age of the feminist man.

I’m a pretty picky dater. On Tinder, for example, I’ll only match with men who have at least semi-funny captions, and have photos in which they are fully dressed (and not in women’s clothing). I’ll direct-message with them for some time before going on a date in order to gauge their semi-funniness, and to, usually, bring up feminism in some form or other to separate the wheat from the chaff. Which means I’m left with self-proclaimed feminist men, which, I’m beginning to realise, might be just as bad as everything else.

So fourth wave feminism is well underway and women still can’t have everything we want. We can’t get reproductive healthcare. We can’t break the glass ceiling. We can’t get the wearer of perfect pantsuits elected to the Presidency of the United States. We can’t enjoy our celebrity crushes anymore because of sexual assault accusations. We can’t get our boobs out in public. And we can’t have feminist boyfriends.

Or at least, we can’t expect the men we date to be as woke about feminism as we are, and we can’t expect the men we date to be free from the internalised misogyny which governs us all. Let me be clear: I am not excusing the behaviour of misogynists, nor am I excusing the behaviour of self-proclaimed feminists who are actually misogynists (which is arguably worse). We might not like it (I certainly don’t) but that’s irrelevant because no man is entirely free from the insidious social conditioning of the patriarchy. At least none I’ve ever met.

When it comes to my recent romantic life, I’ve found myself returning to this excerpt from The Beauty Myth time and time again to explain the varied – but you know, kind of the same – situation I find myself in:

“Sadly, the signals that allow men and women to find the partners who most please them are scrambled by the sexual insecurity initiated by beauty thinking. A woman who is self-conscious can’t relax to let her sensuality come into play. If she is hungry she will be tense. If she is “done up” she will be on the alert for her reflection in his eyes. If she is ashamed of her body, its movement will be stilled. If she does not feel entitled to claim attention, she will not demand that airspace to shine in. If his field of vision has been boxed in by “beauty”–a box continually shrinking–he simply will not see her, his real love, standing right before him.”

Yes, words like “sensuality”, “beauty”, and “love” make me cringe too. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, published in 1990, details how the patriarchy has constructed ‘the ideal woman’ and disseminates this image to women and men alike in order to control the former through both self-imposed behaviour and gender discrimination.

I think I return to this paragraph in order to unpack my internalised sexism: that my physical flaws are not actual flaws but symbolic flaws taking the place of more historic forms of subjugation (disenfranchisement, being considered the property of men, et cetera). Sometimes this helps: sometimes I’m rational enough to see past my constructed body to my actual body and not feel terrible about myself. Sometimes it doesn’t: sometimes I buy a gym membership I never use (because gyms are the worst – aren’t they the worst? All those people sweating in one room together), and sometimes I worry about everything I eat for a few days or so (I don’t have any more self control than this).

Which is to say these messages are so cemented in the framework of our culture that they mess with everyone, including people, like me, who know they’re there. These messages are so cemented in the framework of our culture that they certainly mess with the people who don’t know they’re there. I think I return to this paragraph from The Beauty Myth because it unpacks my internalised sexism, but it unpacks the internalised misogyny of my partners, too.

This ever-present patriarchal framework dictates every part of our lives, and because our romantic relationships arguably intersect more parts of our lives than any other relationship – sex, the body, the intellect – this framework is at play, and we notice it much more, than we would with our friends or even with our families.

The big problem is, of course, that the internalised misogyny of women affects women, and the internalised misogyny of men affects women, too. Internalised misogyny is still misogyny.

With regards to dating, misogyny takes many forms. We know the sexual consequences it can have: one in five women will be raped or sexually-assaulted in their lifetimes, and too many women have had sexual experiences which made us feel stripped of our autonomy. This article unpacks too many all-too familiar instances in which so-called feminist men act misogynistically when it comes to sex.

I am lucky in that I have only had to deal with so-called feminist dudes making micro-misogynistic aggressions towards me. Discounting my feminist arguments as ‘too radical’ because I hope to see actual gender equality in my lifetime and not the continuation of discriminatory life under the patriarchy; talking about women I know in – misogynistic – derogatory terms because I’m supposed to agree with him first and womankind second; fucking other people while supposedly only fucking me, then rationalising this – misogynistic – behaviour with the – misogynistic – never-discussed excuse that we were ‘just casual’. In all of these cases, these feminist men apologise through the lens, prose, and arguments, of feminism, which relays the blame back onto me (is he actually nice? Was it actually me? Was it my body? What’s wrong with me?).

I’m probably going to know more about feminism than the men I date. I know this means I’m going to see micro-misogyny everywhere. Should we expect self-proclaimed feminist men to recognise this misogyny in themselves. Of course. Do they? I honestly don’t think so. Which I think means asking: if I’m a heterosexual woman and I want to date a heterosexual man, how much misogyny am I prepared to put up with? And, if I have a zero tolerance policy, where does this leave me?

Get more dating advice from Courtney:

Why Those ‘Little Lies’ Men Tell Women are a Part of Rape Culture