April 15, 2015

Dating as a Feminist

A Feminist, Dating in a Patriarchal Society

For me, getting dates is not an issue. There is no shortage of men trying to ask me out, trying to get me into bed, trying to woo me into a relationship - you name it. And yet, dating is a problem for me. 

A big, annoying problem. 

My "problem" when dating and being in relationships is this - I'm a feminist.

Yeah, the "F" word. I said it. 

Being a feminist means that I believe in and advocate for gender equality and sexual equality.

That's it. That's all it is. It doesn't mean I'm a fat, ugly cat collector carrying a torch and a spear who hates men, as the media would have you believe. Unfortunately, power protects itself, and our world is currently dominated by male power. It's no surprise that feminism is not a popular idea in a patriarchal society that, through a whole host of social and even legal constructs, restricts women's rights and freedoms. 

Now, you may be wondering why that would ever affect my dating life?

I've been told by men that I am too "aggressive" countless times, for merely expressing my opinions or ideas. For the record, during these alleged bouts of expression I did not:

 - Scream at the top of my lungs
 - Stand up and flip the dinner table so that silverware shattered all over the restaurant floor
 - Produce a megaphone from somewhere inside my evening bag
 - Pick up my steak knife and wield it at the table to force my point
 - Use profanity or offensive language to intimidate my audience
 - Insinuate physical violence of any kind

So what about the expression of my ideas was aggressive, you might wonder? And for that matter, what ideas was I even expressing.

That My Choices Not Be Trivialized 

Women are not stupid, and things that women typically do - though these things are in no way exclusively female - are often trivialized while at the same time made overly important, the goal of which is to perpetuate the idea that woman are stupid and focus a disproportionate amount of their time and energy on things that just don't matter.


If I had a nickel for every time I heard "the things you women go through to be beautiful" followed by a cut of the teeth or a shake of the head. 

I'm sorry...the things that we...go through?

Cancer is something that you go through. War is something that you go through. Makeup is not something that a woman goes through, makeup is something that a woman chooses to put on, the same way men choose to put on deodorant or cologne. Makeup is something that women use to enhance or change their appearance to their liking, the same way that men use shaving or hair product to do the same. Makeup is not some challenging process that women need a graduate degree to perform. Most women spend no more than five to seven minutes a day applying it. 

So what's the big deal? What's the big deal if a woman puts on lipstick, takes an extra few minutes to set her hair in curlers or applies a little Vitamin E under her eyes?

It isn't a big deal at all. But it is a big deal when a man suggests that by making the choice to do so, a woman is engaging in a behavior that is stupid, and it is also a big deal when he implies that she is working really hard at this stupid behavior. In other words, she is too stupid to participate in meaningful things so she focuses on the little challenges that she can take on, like applying her eye liner. 

No. Fuck that. I am not Betty Draper and I will neither be treated nor spoken to like her. 

You attempt to trivialize my choices - you will hear about it.  

That I Not Be Patronized

Smile, you're beautiful.

Oh, how I wish I could walk around with Secret Service flanking me for a week so I could slap every man that said that to me without consequence. 

This particular comment is both so sexist and so commonplace that it's disturbing. It not only endorses the sexual objectification of women, but takes it a step further and asks women to participate in their own objectification as though it is actually their responsibility to do so! Look pretty! is what you're actually screaming out at women when you say this. I want to look at something that's pretty, and smiles are pretty! Smile! I want a pleasing object to observe as I walk to work this morning!

A man said this exact sentence to me as I exited a building back in October. I was frantically trying to get my phone out of my purse but struggling because I was shaking, and the tears I'd been fighting were starting to fall down my cheeks. 

"Smile, you're beautiful," he said, as I came through the doorway. 

My mouth fell open, and I was rendered paralyzed for a moment, torn between anger and shock. 

I was exiting a neurologist's office. 

I could have just received the news that my life would only last another three weeks, and this man was telling me to smile because I was beautiful? This fucking stranger? What the fuck?! 

It is not okay, I repeat, not okay for men to do this to women! We are real people that are living real lives. When you see us on the street, no you may not instruct us to smile. It is not our social obligation. 

You want a prettier, more welcoming world, buddy? You smile. 

Hey there, doll. Excuse me, honey. You think you can remember that, sweetie? 

Unless you are my sexual partner or a member of my family you have no right to call me by any of the pet names mentioned above. These are terms of endearment that, when one adult speaks to another immediately alerts any listeners to the fact that these two share a deep, intimate connection. There are, however, times when adults use these words to speak to adorable little creatures that are not necessarily their intellectual equals - not yet anyway. 

The exceptions: Babies, children and animals. 

The words in question:

little lady
young lady

I'll stop for the sake of length. These are words that adults use when they are talking to babies, small children or animals, even if they and the baby, small child or animal are not familiars. 

It is absolutely unacceptable, however, for one adult to call another adult who is not their familiar, "baby" or "honey". 

Imagine one man walking into a job interview and the other man saying, "Have a seat, sweetie. So, did you bring a resumé with you?"

Bizarre, right? 

On my first job interview the man interviewing me called me sweetie the entire time. He didn't use my name once. I don't know if it's because he couldn't read, couldn't remember it or was just so distracted by my good looks which given our severe age difference translated to him as adorableness that he couldn't help but express affection in some way. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter. It was wrong. 

Men - men who I do not know constantly call me pet names throughout my life. It is a remnant of a different age and I do not stand for it. I am a woman, I am not a little girl, and I am not going to pretend to be to make the men around me feel more powerful and comfortable. My name, thankfully, does not have a typical 1950's abbreviation but if I were an Elizabeth you would damn well call me Elizabeth, not Lizzy or Betty so that you could pretend and behave as if you were talking to a cute, little six year old. 

I explain this in detail whenever I have the chance, but when it happens in passing I typically just don't have the time. Still, I can't just let it slide and still claim to advocate for my beliefs, can I? 

One way that I effectively communicate my point in every day instances is simply to respond in kind. 

I once had a police officer shove his badge in my face while I was at work and ask me for directions to a different department. When I calmly give him the directions he asked me, abrasively, "Are you sure, sweetie?" 

"Yes, dear," I told him. "I'm sure."

He froze for a moment, completely jolted. Then he squinted and directed his gaze at the floor as though thinking, considering. You could practically see the wheels turning. Then he looked up again to face me with a considerably increased amount of respect and replied, "Thank you, miss." 

"You're welcome," I said. I tried not to smile my Cheshire Cat smile until he walked away, but what can I say. I enjoy a win. 

I told this story on a second date once. The guy nodded, impressed and said, "Wow. You're a bitch. I mean that in a good way." 

Sigh. Is my plight becoming apparent? 

That I Not Be Objectified

I invited a boyfriend once to a Christmas party for my job. My co-workers and I are so close that it seems ridiculous to refer to them as my co-workers. These people are like my family. After observing a co-worker kissing my forehead as a farewell, said boyfriend gave me a speech about the ability for men and women to be friends. 

He explained to me that I had to be careful about my male friends, and that he wasn't comfortable with any of them, because they were all probably waiting around for an opportunity to have sex with me. 

Needless to say, I handed him his balls.

The assumption that no man can be friends with any woman because all he'll ever be able to see her as is a collection of sexual body parts, a sexual object or a depository to ejaculate into is so demeaning...the word demeaning doesn't even begin to cover it. This man should have been shaking in his boots around these people, because these are people who know me, people who love me (and they all subtly and not so subtly told me that something was off about him and that I needed the flush his ass...) who want the best for me and are going to judge a potential partner with justifiable scrutiny to make sure he's worthy of me. 

Instead? He was puffing out his chest like a little penguin, trying to mark his territory and trying to isolate me from my friends by suggesting that they weren't friends with me because of oh say, shared interests, my personality, or my dry and unforgiving wit - but because they were hoping that at some point I would fall on my back and open my legs. 

Not okay!

I don't tolerate being objectified, and sometimes men do it without realizing it because our society brings them up that way. 

I work with a very, very sweet gentleman who sometimes says very sexist things with the very best intentions. But when I told him why it wasn't respectful for him to tell me to smile, he stopped, considered, and apologized. 

He once called me "legs" when I was wearing a dress. I was sitting in a chair with one leg crossed over the other, and when he approached me he said, "How's your day going, legs?" He meant it as a compliment. But when I told him directly, "That's sexist, and it makes me uncomfortable," he stopped, considered, and said, "Oh wow, I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to be disrespectful but I definitely see what you mean. My bad." 

Men are not all ill-intentioned, and change is possible. But we have to speak up. We have to speak out. If we don't advocate on our own behalf, who will? 

That is why I do not accept that whole shutting my mouth to be polite thing, and the whole time-and-place thing. Enough shutting up has been done, enough people have held their tongues and to what end? Just to maintain this stupid fucking patriarchy! 

Think about it. Who taught you to be polite? Who taught you that there were certain times and certain places when it was better to not speak up? Society - right? 

And who controls society? 

So no, I do not leave my feminism at the door when I sit down on a first date, a third date, at a dinner for a friend of a friend, or for any occasion. I don't check it the way I check my coat. It's a part of me, as it damn well should be, and I cannot and will not date someone who is not at the very least okay with it and at best, a feminist themselves, because - as feminism aims not for female domination but for gender equality feminism is for everyone!

One day, perhaps I'll find a like minded man that wants a partner, an equal, to share and build a life with. But until then I will not settle, nor will I endure yet another bad, blind date. I cannot and will not shrink, bend, or otherwise change to fit into the women shaped mold my many suitors may arrive at the dinner table with.

Being in a relationship is not more important to me that simply being myself. With patience and the right person, I don't think this is an impossible thing to have - a relationship while being one's authentic self. However, if I can't have both, if I have to choose...?

I choose me. 

And I'm not apologizing for it. 


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