Hey there Captain Awkward! I found your blog a couple months ago and have been reading it religiously ever since! Thanks for all the great advice!
But perhaps a “problem” as it were specific to dating is that simply stated: people who self-identify as feminists are a minority, so if you’re going to be out there dating and you’re a self-identified feminist, chances are you might be dating a non-feminist (or even an anti-feminist!). How do you do that? Should you bring it out on the first date? Second? Not at all and just let it come organically?
As a feminist man, when I find I’m with someone (either just socially or on a date) and a discussion of feminism comes up with a non-feminist, I frequently get something like, “You’re a lot more feminist than I am!” It’s a peculiar position to be in, and not one that any of my prior feminist experiences really prepared me for. After all, when you’re a feminist talking in a safe space with other feminists, you usually aren’t confronted with a lot of people being “more feminist” than others in the same way. Of course, you have debates within feminist communities with more radical feminists on one side and less so on the others — there is a spectrum, but everyone in the room is still feminist. My admittedly limited prior feminist outreach and activities was often in sexual assault prevention type stuff, and well, that’s obviously not dating.
- The other person is just a human
- Ask the person out sooner rather than later, before you get too caught up in a fantasy or invested in the outcome.
- Nobody owes you time or affection, so don’t approach dating with a sense of entitlement.
- Be cool with rejection.
- You can’t control whether someone will like you.
- Listen to the other person – pay attention to the actual interaction that is taking place and not the one in your head.
- Don’t date anyone who isn’t as cool as your friends.
- Acknowledge the awkward. Don’t try to be smooth if you’re not smooth. It’s okay to say “I feel shy about asking you out, but I like you.”
These apply to the very early stages of dating where you’re just getting to know someone. Obviously in those early stages you’re also probably finding out how the other person feels about books, music, movies, food, family, work, alone-time vs. together-time, sex, and politics.
Some people are feminists who don’t necessarily identify as feminists. If you think that women are human beings with souls and the same capacity for intellect and moral action as men and who deserve the same opportunities and challenges as men, on some level you’re a feminist (and much more advanced than most Western thinkers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when this was still a radical notion). Some people are feminists who don’t enjoy talking about feminism or politics in their free funtime. Some people haven’t thought about it very much – if you pinned them down on various political issues they’d have feminist stances – but they haven’t read up on it or used feminism as a frame for thinking about the world. Some people are in the Peggy Olson stages of feminism, where they focus on the plight of educated white women of a certain class but don’t think about intersectionality of race, class, disability, LGBT issues, and what feminism looks like outside of the prosperous West. There’s a big difference between “I am uncomfortable when my boss asks me, the only woman, to plan the company Christmas party” and “The women in our village walk 2 miles each way for fresh water and girls don’t ever go to school and are married off to adult men when they are 12, and since there are no family planning services, they’ll have way too many kids way too fast (if they’re lucky enough not to die in childbirth).” Some people will talk only about the second group of people and get mad at you for being pissed off about the Christmas party thing, which is also annoying.
So, yeah. Feminism: It’s Messy In Here and sometimes You Can’t Win.
The way you date while being a feminist man is just to…date. And have fun. And find people with the same interests as you, which may include radically messing about with gender roles inside your relationships. And be a cool dude with a lot of interests and friends who is nice to hang out with and who listens and who genuinely likes the company of women. Other suggestions:
- Listen more than you talk. (A generally attractive quality. If you figure out how, do let me know the secret.)
- Don’t share share every thought you have right away (see above parenthetical).
- Ask a lot of questions and find out all about her (not just how Feminist she is or how she responds to your Feminist insights).
- Make sure that you’re not mansplaining, or using your interest in and reading of feminist texts and blogs to browbeat or argue for fun! with someone about the real and painful stuff of her life. I don’t think you are doing this, but the fact that you’re getting into conversations that use the words “But you’re more feminist than me!” means that you’re maybe talking about feminism too much and applying it to everything in a way that feels not fun and competitive to the women you’re hanging out with? Like, maybe you are looking for credit and gold stars, just a teensy little bit?
- When you find out someone hasn’t really thought much about feminism, don’t automatically assign yourself to the role of Jeff, Feminist Mentor and start assigning reading and shit.
Here’s a big one: When online dating, I am automatically skeptical of people who list a whole bunch of books, music, and films in their profile but who fail to list any works by women. Sometimes, if the guy seems cool in other ways, I might bring it up – “Do you have any favorite books or albums by women?” 10% of the time I get a nice answer, like, “You know what, I never thought about it, but I do! Here they are.” Or sometimes I get an honest confession of “Can you recommend me some good stuff? I’m showing my ignorance.” And then that dude is cleared for possibly dating. But 90% of the time I get some defensive pretentious explanation for why he just likes art by men better and that’s just his preference and he’s not going to give chick art affirmative action by liking it just to meet chicks and I should really just dig his total honesty and, I guess, willingness to be a dick in defense of TRUTH and BEAUTY and LITERATURE, as if ignoring the creative output of half the human race is the fault of half the human race and not your own embarrassing pig-ignorance. I tag these people “DANGER: EXTREMELY UNFUCKABLE” and move on.
So do you like art by women, Jeff? Do you make it a point to seek out films directed by women and watch them? Maybe take a date to see Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff this weekend, and when it’s time to talk about the film (which is chock full of gender stuff and race stuff and also just gorgeous and audacious and completely gripping), let her talk first.