Oh I relate to this interview with Jaclyn Friedman so, so much. She talks about the difficulties of dating while feminist, and how hard it can be to negoatiate your beliefs with your lovelife. I mostly date dudes, and let me tell you: That shit is not easy. Outing oneself as a Feminist Blogger does help to immediately weed out particularly undesireable men, but it also creates a lot of expectations and problems. One of those is certainly what Jaclyn calls Hellcat Dream Girl:
What happens to me that drives me up a tree is this: The guys who respond to me and are like, ‘You’re awesome. You’re kind of a hellcat.” They think it’s cool and kind of bad-ass that I’m outspoken and passionate about things. They think that’s really hot. They’re into it. But then when that outspokenness gets applied back to them, it’s suddenly game-over. You know the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? She’s light, and quirky, and she has no inner life of her own, and just there to serve our hero’s development and erotic interests. I sort of feel that I get cast in these dudes’ narratives as the Hellcat Dream Girl, there to prove how bad-ass they are because they’re dating such a bad-ass woman. They think it’s cute or sexy. But when I use that smart, outspoken bad-assery to challenge their own perspectives, it’s suddenly not sexy at all. It happens when they say something that I disagree with, and I act like a person and not someone that is playing out their particular fantasies.
It’s happened to me a million times . . . they want it as a trophy. “Hey, look at my bad-ass girl.” They don’t want to deal with me as a person. It follows this pattern where it usually comes from a person who seeks me out. They try to seduce me. They think I would be an accomplishment to conquer or something. They seek me out and try to get me interested in them, and then I am, and then they flee. . . . I feel like the same thing happened with the guy I dated for two years. He liked the idea of being a guy who would be with someone like me, but ultimately it turned out that he wanted someone who wouldn’t challenge him as much, a person who was easier and quicker to sweep away. I got evidence of that when, within three months of breaking up with me, he was dating a 23 year old who lists her political views on Facebook as “moderate.”
Oh darlin’ I’ve been there.
Another issue I run into all the time? Knee-jerk defensiveness if I say anything about sexism that may somehow kind of have something to do with you. Like the dude who lived in a males-only elite club in a culturally conservative country, and I asked him if he would join a whites-only golf club in the United States and he did not like that very much, and a few months later it started an argument that resulted in us not speaking for months. Or like the dude who referred to Joanna Newsom’s voice as “shrill,” and I made an off-hand comment about how “shrill” is a pretty gendered word and only used to describe women, which was met with “But her voice is actually shrill! It’s a sound! I’m not being sexist!” and that’s true but this argument still comes up, like, four years after the fact. And I don’t bring this up to be critical of those dudes — those particular dudes are very nice dudes, and the defensiveness kicked in, I think, because they were actually trying really hard to be not-sexist, and the realization that maybe they were partaking in something less than egalitarian — or being accused of being sexist — was frustrating and uncomfortable for them, especially coming from a Known Feminist. That’s laudable. But the whole “I pretty strongly ID as a feminist” thing means that anything I say about a dude’s sexism gets blown into a whole big thing, like if he makes a wrong move I’m going to handcuff him and throw him in a cell with Camille Paglia. And then of course there are the times when I actually do want to handcuff a dude and throw him in a cell with Camille Paglia because what he just said is so stunningly ignorant and offensive that I’m wondering how I ever came to date this person in the first place.
And that’s once the relationship actually exists.
Even getting to the point of “this is a person worth dating in the first place” is… not easy. Any relationship requires compromise and flexibility, sure; but how and where to compromise on the feminism thing is particularly difficult because we aren’t talking about a political issue here, we’re talking about a way of seeing the world. I also watch a lot of women date men who are, to be kind, Not Great, but they want to date someone and Not Great Guy is there I guess. I remember being at one feminist conference or another, and an audience member who identified as a feminist asked a panel of feminist writers what they do about the men in their lives who joke about sexism — she was engaged, she said, and her fiance and her dad love to joke about how she should get in the kitchen and make them a sandwich, ha ha ha, and she told them a bunch of times that it bothers her but that they still do it. And all I could think was, “Oh sister they are not joking, dump that dude and dump him now.” But I’m pretty sure I could have said that and she would not have dumped that dude, now or otherwise. And then I remembered that I once dated a dude who sat me down to watch an episode of Tough Love (“I know you’re skeptical, but he totally helps these girls!”) where host-man tells one of the contestants that she’s so slutty she’s going to get herself raped. I voiced my disgust and he was basically like, “But host-man is kind of right, don’t you think?” And I didn’t dump that dude on the spot either, even though I felt so gut-punched I could barely talk.
Point being, it’s awfully easy to look at other feminist women and think that they are making obviously terrible choices with their love lives; it is much harder to actually find someone who meets all the requirements of a feminist litmus test, and is single and is someone you’re attracted to and is also attacted to you and is someone who you want to discuss things other than feminism with and is in the right place at the right time. So if you want a relationship — and I think that most people really do want relationships — you have to be able to put some things aside. Where and how you put your feminism aside is, for me, significantly harder than he likes cats and I’m more of a dog person.
Again, I kind of fall where Jaclyn does:
Here is what’s depressing about dating while feminist. Feminism is what I do with my life, it’s how I spend my days, it’s my job, it’s not just an opinion I have among many other opinions. If I had a hardcore litmus test, the pool of men I could date would be so tiny. And then when you weeded out men who are gay, the men I don’t find attractive, the men already in monogamous, committed relationships—really, I would never get laid again. So I do feel that I have to try to be flexible out of necessity. But if I were to end up with someone—and I do want a long-term, stable relationship with someone at some point—they would have to be feminist on some basic level. They would have to be.
Right now my basic litmus test is this: Is he interested in feminist issues when I bring them up? And can he talk about them in ways that express curiosity and engagement and respect, instead of defensiveness or dismissiveness or attachment to stereotypes? If we can talk about this stuff in ways that are interesting and productive, I can work with it most of the time.
Basically, that. Where I differ from Jaclyn, I think, is that finding a long-term stable relationship isn’t a huge priority for me, and so compromising on feminist values doesn’t feel particularly urgent. It would be nice to be in a long-term stable relationship, but only in the sense that I would like to find someone with whom I am actually motivated to build such a relationship. In reality, though, I’ve kind of settled into the idea that I will probably not end up creating such a relationship; I feel like maybe that reads as sad or depressing, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. I mean, I’ve never been the person to fantasize about My Ideal Wedding, but I have fantasized about My First Published Book since before I could actually write. Which isn’t to sound morally superior or like this is actually a good thing; it’s probably something I should talk to a therapist about, to be quite honest. I read all these stories about women my age who are totally anxious about finding The One and getting married, and I keep hearing that women my age have this biological clock thing ticking quite loudly, and even a lot of my friends seem to be feeling like they should be locating their person right about now, and I often wonder if there isn’t something seriously deeply wrong with me not only because I don’t feel any of that anxiety but also because I don’t at all fear A Life Alone. Maybe that will change in a decade — my mother says it will, and then she reminds me that she would be a really great grandmother. But it means that in the meantime, I can get to know a lot of different people without feeling like I’m auditioning them for the role of Jill’s Perfect Mate. It takes a lot of pressure off.
It also results in a lot of disappointment and trainwrecky dates and aborted relationships.
And I also end up making compromises all the time, until I decide I can’t anymore, and that never ends well.
That said? I’ve also had the good fortune to date a good number of very solid, feminist dudes. So don’t despair! Good dudes — great dudes — exist, and they exist in large numbers, even. Great ladies, too. But negotiating actually being with them is no cake walk.
I’ll end with Jaclyn:
Oftentimes I wonder what the people who know me professionally would think about the compromises I make when I’m dating. I wish this were a live conversation where other feminists were weighing in. I’d like to know what other women are doing. Am I making the right compromises here? Should dating require these sorts of compromises? Is there any tactic that produces better results? . . . I feel very unsure about what the best way is to live my politics and have a sex life. I really feel in the weeds about it. But it’s something I think about all the time, and I don’t feel like I have the answers.
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- Feminists Do It Better by Jill October 17, 2007
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