27 Comments

Focus On: Dating while Feminist

Amanda Hess has a great interview with Jaclyn Friedman about sex and the single feminist:

Fucking while feminist presents a peculiar set of challenges for the pro-sex single. How do you talk rape culture on a first date while still managing to get laid once in a while? How do you find the feminist guy who won’t self-flagellate to the point of unfuckability? How do you avoid dying alone, basically? Friedman agreed to talk to me about establishing a feminist fucking litmus test, the art of locating non-douchey sex partners online, and the secret perks of fucking a feminist.

JF: 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.

JF:…you know the Bechdel Test for films? It states that any good film has to have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a guy. Well, this is my test: When I look at personal ads, I look at their lists of favorite books, movies, and music, and they have to list women in all of those categories. They don’t have to have a majority of women, but they have to know that women exist in the culture and be fans of some of them. It’s a pretty low bar—or it should be. I used to look for guys who don’t list Fight Club in their favorites, but I’ve had to relax that rule, because all dudes evidently love Fight Club. I do draw the line at Ayn Rand. It’s more about avoiding red flags than anything else. . . . I also don’t respond to any guy who says they’re looking for a woman who “doesn’t have drama,” not because I have a lot of drama, but because I feel like that is code for women who have opinions.

The interview ends with this:

Do you ever feel like there’s a conflict between your life as a professional feminist and your personal life?
JF: 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.

Jill at Feministe responded to the idea of a conversation where other feminists are weighing in, and a great discussion is going on there.

I encourage you to go and join the discussions on either of these two posts, but if you’ve got your own blog why not open the discussion there as well? I’m sure that there are probably other posts out there from the past few years discussing this issue that haven’t crossed my radar for one reason or another – please leave a link in comments if you know of one.

In terms of feminist dating litmus tests, it’s nearly 20 years since I last dated, and perhaps this one isn’t so uncommon now as it was then, but one of my litmus tests was: is he OK about me thinking of something we could go see together, me ringing him up to invite him, and then me organising and paying for the tickets plus paying for the meal beforehand? My experience was that some men found this reversal of stereotypical dating roles confronting. Most were surprised, definitely. My partner of the last nearly 20 years hardly turned a hair (this doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our “why can’t you see this is a problem?” moments at times, but it was a damn good start).

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writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

27 comments on “Focus On: Dating while Feminist

  1. I’d have no trouble (were I still dating) with the woman paying for the date.

    I have favourite women writers and artists in a number of categories (I surprised one writer, who I don’t know personally, because I wrote a favourable review of her first collection of poems; it was a good, solidly-written collection, I liked it, I said so; another Caribbean woman writer may be very unhappy with me because I don’t think she can write a love poem to save her life, and she feels she has to for some unknown reason). I can’t afford to buy the work of my favourite artist; I wish I could afford the painting of a younger version of me sleeping, back when I was slender.

    I think the larger problem, to get to the point is that there is a set of social expectations that most of us carry around in our heads. These expectations are mostly useless, and mostly get in the way of honest communication and honest human relations. And they are disastrous when it comes to the assumptions that we make about how men and women are supposed to behave in all sorts of situations (especially if you’re a young man and you’re worried about what your peers will think about you). Overcoming these is an important part of learning how to treat other people as human beings — or, even more basically, in the way that we want to be treated ourselves — and thus overcoming the problem of patriarchal conditioning.

  2. As I’m approaching dating again after ten or so years, my blog has a lot of posts about it. But it never, ever occurred to me that my being a feminist alters in any way the dating process. I mean, I like the men I like because of who I am. I am a feminist, so, I like the men I like because I am a feminist. Do you know what I mean? I have no litmus test specifically for “issues,” in other words.

    • @TsaphanBabe,

      Interesting point: is it harder dating while feminist than any other sort of dating? I think yes-ish, but I wonder whether/how it’s different from being any other sort of iconoclast e.g. dating while atheist.

      My gut feeling is that all iconoclasts do have a few extra areas of difficulty in the dating process, but iconoclasms that deal with anti-oppression advocacy/intersectionality have to do a lot more filtering of folks that actually view certain classes of other people as less than fully human.

  3. This post made me go back to one of my old posts on this topic.

    It definitely sucks being heterosexual if you are a feminist. And I have no words of wisdom.

  4. What a great interview! I really like her discussion of compromise. This is a terrain I’m trying to navigate as well. I’m glad I found your blog!

  5. I suppose. But everyone has their own screening process. It’s just that I don’t separate out parts of me as feminist or not feminist, if that makes sense. I mean, I’m not attracted to backwards baseball cap wearing chest banging sports bar deep fried finger foods expecting my vulva to be bald beer chugging frat boys. But that’s not because I’m a feminist, it’s because I’m me and I happen to be feminist. Still, a very interesting subject that I’ll probably blog about once the thoughts gel.

  6. [Paragraph full of anti-woman assertions without evidence deleted by moderator]

    [Paragraph full of anti-woman assertions without evidence deleted by moderator]

    As for litmus tests – which ones do YOU pass? Which ones SHOULD you pass? And why do only women get to decide all of this? So much for “equality” – again, the lefty American feminism doesn’t really want equality at all.

    [Paragraph full of anti-woman assertions without evidence deleted by moderator]

    • Orenthal Jay, who says only women have litmus tests? Or that women only have feminist litmus tests?

      As far as I’m aware, everybody has dealbreakers concerning who they will or won’t hang around with, including who they will or won’t date. Aesthetic standards of appearance/grooming, hygiene standards, a sufficiency of shared interests, political affiliations etc etc etc.

      This thread is just to discuss which particular dealbreakers amongst the collection are ones that we may have developed due to our feminism in particular.

  7. Unfortunately, when you pay for a date, some men take that as a sign of submission and even desperation. It can show up on the radar of some predators. I think there are many women who let him pay specifically to ensure he isn’t that type of man.

    That being said, I really prefer to pay for at least the first date. It makes me feel much more comfortable that I’m not being infantalized and the man usually appreciates it. Some men really admire that you’re not afraid to break the rules. You just have to watch out for the sort of men who think to themselves “This is someone I could really take advantage of. If she will go so far as to even pay for our dinner, what else can I get her to do for me?”

    @Orenthal Jay
    Wow, that’s really something. You’re actually shocked and angry that women “get to decide” who they date.

    • Okay, so even though I go by Fred, it’s short for Winifred and I’m a woman.

      I have been with the guy who thought that because I paid for date number 1, I should also pay for date numbers 2, 4, and 5 – and he thought that we were splitting costs evenly! And that if I paid slightly more money, it was to make up for years when men had to buy everything for women who weren’t pulling their weight! I don’t even know how it got to date number 5 – my only excuse is that I was young and stupid. And he was actually pretty clever at hiding these sorts of opinions for a little while.

      I think this contrast – letting me pay/expecting me to pay – shows the limits of the behavioral litmus test. Absolutes one way or another will fail at times. I think my absolute test isn’t about my dates actions – it’s about my feelings. Does he (or she or ze) make me feel respected, validated, and liked? If yes, we’re good. If not, we’re not.

      • the limits of the behavioral litmus test

        Some behaviours are red flags rather than deal-breakers per se, I reckon. They indicate an area that deserves a little extra scrutiny of what was said/done – how it makes you feel, as you say. Does something that initially takes you aback actually seem not a big deal on closer examination, in the context of his other behaviours? Or does it continue to colour every other interaction?

        It comes back to what we’re discussing in the other thread, that there is no Magic Formula that will either attract or repel every woman. We all want different things, and we all have different lines that we will or will not cross.

  8. I’ve never actually *dated* anyone in the traditional sense, so I’m not sure what kind of impact that has on my perspective. I can say that one thing I’ve always appreciated about my husband is the fact that I don’t always have to be *on*–I don’t have to constantly prove to him that I’m competent. If I’m having a bad week, I can let him pick up some of the slack without worrying that he’s going to start thinking I can’t look after myself. A lot of the men I’ve met will take any opportunity to go into Chivalry Mode, which is something I really can’t tolerate.

    • I do respect feminists who reject chivalry and any and all special treatment. They should expect to be treated no different than a man.

  9. Does anyone else totally want to know what comments were deleted?

    I respect it’s your blog and you do what feels right to you. But I’m still totally curious. I’m not into flame wars or anything, I’m just naturally curious and I feel like it would have provided better context to see it all.

    Again, I respect your choice to edit posts.

    • I understand your curiosity, but honestly it was just derail stuff as well as being abusive: assuming that all women are exactly the same, and what we’re the same as is one really nasty stereotype. Maybe some woman he dated was a horrible jerk to him, and if so then that’s not fair and maybe she should be ashamed of herself, but the rest of us are not her.

      I do moderate very strictly here to avoid derails, because the whole purpose of the blog is to (a) provide a place for feminist bloggers to point potentially derailing commentors to when they ask for explanations of basic feminist concepts, and (b) to demonstrate to feminist bloggers that it is totally OK to own the control of your own blog and refuse to publish anything you see as unacceptable content.

      I could write so much more on the art of moderation (and have done in the past) but that would be a derail too, so we’ll leave it here for this thread.

  10. Viv, I respect your choice to delete that commentors comments, though I am forced to agree with TsaphanBabe in that I would have liked to have read what that person said. Moderation aside, you chose to decide what was moderate about the conversation and thus took power away from those participating in the forum by judging for us all. THAT said, I think the beauty of forums is your authority to do away with that which you find offensive.

    As far as this discussion is concerned… I find it problematic that we have such guidelines by which we can deem a man worth dating or not (based on books he has read that have female character?). Is he okay with you paying the bill? Well, I think that if he had a problem with that then yes, ditch him, but do we really want to judge the quality of a person based on an age old romantic concept of what men generally do for women? We are NOT paper thin; there are volumes of depth to who we are and a simple decision of protest against a gesture to have you hold the door instead of him cannot hold the weight of how good a person might be for us. There is absolutely NO doubt that there are a lot of men out there who are dogs and threat women poorly, but to subject that to an idea about what the right man is versus not is as unrealistic as subjecting a woman to an idea of what she ought to be in order to be a good woman. In the realm of human beings, there is no label that applies–we are just complex, and each and every one of us, no matter gender, deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even a male pig is such because of his background and upbringing, not due to nature. Thus, while we must not tolerate inequality, we must also not succumb to stereotyping what constitutes a good man to date versus not; it quite simply falls on a case by case judgement–if the girl finds him fuckable… Who gives a shit how many women he can name as pivotal in history? Fuck him! If you want to get serious with that person… That is a whole different blog.

    • Jaime, this blog moderates strictly because the internet is full of arsehats, and arsehats are a waste of time. End of story.

      Now, as per my reply upthread to Orenthal Jay,

      Everybody has deal-breakers regarding who they will date. Everybody. Life is too short sometimes, and certainly complicated enough already, to see whether someone whose habits ring your alarm bells might not actually be “that bad” if you just give them a chance. So your objections regarding superficiality and snap judgements are against the way that everybody operates when deciding “will I or won’t I go out with this person?”.

      This particular thread is just discussing whether feminism has added any extra deal-breakers to people’s lists.

      I’m a big fan of people getting to know each other in broader social situations before making the dating decision anyway, so in those contexts there’s plenty of opportunities over weeks and months to gauge deeper aspects of a person’s character. But even then, there are always going to be deal-breakers.

  11. You said, “So your objections regarding superficiality and snap judgements are against the way that everybody operates when deciding “will I or won’t I go out with this person?”

    Not everybody, or at the very least I try not to.

    I’ll tell you what: one of my best friends was a woman whom I had prejudged after knowing her the length of five minutes. Not only did she become one of the best persons I had ever met in my life (and one over whom I would eventually fall madly in love), she taught me the error of judgements and expectations. I was 19. Today I’m 33 and my point is that, yes, life is complex, and way too god damn painful to make all the more excruciating by adding, by the way, a whole new set of dynamics regarding feminism to dating! Understand that I am in no way, shape, or form trying to undermine the importance of equality and prying out of men that infuriating need to piss over anything they feel must be conquered. But in terms of just people, even meat heads can mean more than what they appear. When I met my wife… Well, suffice to say she had a list of pros and cons about me. I read the cons list and… She was right about them. But we live and improve. Is a guy less dateable because he might like Fight Club? Seriously? Silly question; is a guy less dateable because he has a different vision about certain elements of femininity? Perhaps. Or perhaps he is just a product of reality, but is he hopeless to change? Granted, you might just be looking for a date, not charity work in educating. All I’m saying is that we cast way too many labels, restrictions, and addendums to people when in truth, that is all they are–people. It is one thing to argue about the divide between genders, and quite another to fine comb through every thing he/she said sniffing to unravel an entire value code based on a gesture or comment, or absence of, however obtuse the act might seem or sound. My reason for lifting this point is that I respect the arguments made for equality and the like, but frankly… This kind of dialogue is as trivial (no disrespect here) as the crap you read at some vogue magazine–“ten hot tips when dating (blah blah blah).”

    If anything, why not offer constructive advice on how to show good/proper treatment about managing a guy who might feel threaten (for whatever unholy reason) by you picking up the check instead of when one should shout “off with his head!” the second he so much as smell like same old….

    • I wrote an interesting blog about this very subject called “Why Rotational Dating works in your favour”. The idea is to get a women to date several men at the same time and to put all her judgements aside. Then relax and enjoy the dating experience until one man shines through whom she feels she really wants to pursue a relationship with. Rotational Dating is nothing new, our grandmothers did it way back. The idea is to actually date guys who don’t match your usual “type” because going for your “type” doesn’t always serve you well in the end. Just some food for thought :)

  12. Hey, actually, I wanted to make a few additional comments in retrospect. I do cede to the idea that in general we are like NOT to bother with someone who says or acts in a way that displeases us, and so perhaps it is wishful thinking to believe we would give (man or woman) the benefit of the doubt in the hope that they will REALLY be better individuals than they initially appeared. I am not naive about that; we do make judgements on first impressions, and in some respect we should. I guess my core argument is what I saw as “tips” on what would constitute dating a man versus not because I have a problem with the idea that we can define somewhat based on how they might have acted during a date. When in the interview, a person notes certain “red flags” she watches out for, or at least used to, and some of these are as superficial as what book list with female characters he has/know, or what kind of movie he watches, ect…, I cringe at that because stuff like that really does not define the content of a person. My ultimate fear is not that I don’t know the difference, but there are people out there that read stuff like that and use it as a codex for dating rules. That, to me, is a regrettable possibility. Does this make sense?

    • I’ll tell you what: one of my best friends was a woman whom I had prejudged after knowing her the length of five minutes.

      I once had a very good friend who made me question our entire years of friendship with just a few words that he did not mean ironically. For all his wit, charm and sense of fun, his underlying misogyny had made itself ragingly apparent in that unguarded not-so-flippant remark, and it was like being doused with cold water. We had mutual friends and I didn’t actively avoid him afterwards, but I no longer cared jack-squat for what he thought about my interests and once he realised that I no longer sought his validation he wasn’t interested in hanging out with me, either.

      I’m sure other people have other relevant contrasting anecdotes.

      When in the interview, a person notes certain “red flags” she watches out for, or at least used to, and some of these are as superficial as what book list with female characters he has/know, or what kind of movie he watches, ect…, I cringe at that because stuff like that really does not define the content of a person.

      You and I are on really different pages about what is superficial, Jaime. The fictions people like to immerse themselves in, the voices they prefer to listen to – this stuff matters. It’s not just fluff. Young people just finding their feet in the world can be given more leeway in what habits they have been reared with, because they are actively looking for new cultural niches to enthuse about and can be introduced to women’s voices in books/films/music, but this was a woman in her thirties talking about men of the same age. If a man in his thirties actively avoids female characters or voices in his fictions and music, then that’s a whole slew of habits that are deeply ingrained, and it would cause me some concern, definitely.

      Also, “red flag” and “litmus test” are just metaphors. Nobody’s saying that once a prospective date says something that makes your uh-oh-meter twitch, that anyone has to be a bitch (where on earth did your “off with his head” nonsense come from?) with their subsequent response, or even that every twitch on the uh-oh-meter necessarily means a deal-breaker, even though this was the word I chose to use. That twitch could simply be a tool that one uses to perhaps pose a few more exploratory questions, to see if what they said was just unfortunate or whether it really was a pointer to problematic attitudes that you’d rather just not deal with.

      And none of this stuff says anything about whether one might just sometimes like to fuck somebody who is hot, no matter what their opinions on life, the universe and everything might be, because you don’t plan to do much talking and maybe not even see them again afterwards.

      My ultimate fear is not that I don’t know the difference, but there are people out there that read stuff like that and use it as a codex for dating rules. That, to me, is a regrettable possibility. Does this make sense?

      Why would it be regrettable if some people do use it as a codex because it helps them feel validated in listening to their uh-oh-meter? Nobody is forcing anybody to do so, so no, this doesn’t make sense to me. If this method of engaging with people doesn’t float your boat, then don’t take it on board. But if other people find it useful, what’s it to you?

    • I think you’re inaccurately conflating “I won’t date you” with “I don’t like you” and/or “you’re a bad person.” I respect many people who I don’t get along with (we just don’t interact in compatible ways), and have many friends who are good-looking who I would never, ever date (while I enjoy their company, find their opinions interesting and stimulating, respect and learn from them, our values are too different for me to really ever even consider sharing my life with them). And we do all have these standards – otherwise, any marriage would work, any friendship would work, and all colleagues would get along – and this is NOT the case.

  13. Does the guy I’m dating mind if our “gender roles” are often reversed — in other words, is he comfortable if we have no assigned gender roles but rather a fluid partnership? The guy I’m currently with doesn’t care if I have more formal education than he does, that I will eventually make more money than he does, and he was comfortable with me asking him out, taking initiative sexually at times, and finally proposing to him.

    Most people, including women, are shocked that I proposed. Guys have told me that if their girlfriend who they hoped to marry took the initiative and proposed, they would dump her immediately. What a world we live in!

  14. “I once had a very good friend who made me question our entire years of friendship with just a few words that he did not mean ironically. For all his wit, charm and sense of fun, his underlying misogyny had made itself ragingly apparent in that unguarded not-so-flippant remark, and it was like being doused with cold water.”
    I have been in exactly the same situation, except that I let these comments slide and gave the guy the benefit of the doubt. Eventually I found out that this guy had no integrity of character whatsoever; he didn’t stand-up for his so called ‘best friend’ when a guy was abusive to her face and he called girls ‘sluts’ behind their backs. Some times it’s better to read into comments like this and to go with your gut instinct. I’d say it’s much the same with dating; it’s about striking a balance between (i) not judging someone too hastily and (ii) not getting too involved with this guy before you find out your hunches about his misogyny are well founded.

    “Guys have told me that if their girlfriend who they hoped to marry took the initiative and proposed, they would dump her immediately.”
    Oh well, better to find out he’s a [gendered slur redacted] at this point rather than after ten years of marriage!

  15. I have a real dislike/distrust of the concept of being “come on to” by men – I’ve often found that when a relationship is formed on the basis of the gentleman in question choosing YOU there is (to me) an underlying expectation of compliance/submission there that I don’t like- that is not a generalisation mind, that is a reflection on two past relationships that have begun that way and because the gentleman selected you personally to be their lover, there is a certain element of being expected to play by his rules, which I don’t like. I don’t know whether anyone else feels that way? Personally, I prefer the process of getting to meet someone as either mutual or more controlled by me.
    I totally feel the whole idea of heterosexual feminist dating to be problematic- I get round this with my partner by basically having no real gender roles on either side – we take turns paying, cooking, cleaning up, being dominant sexually etc and there’s no real expectation on either side of a behaviour being demanded because of one’s sex. I like dating to be as chilled out as possible so if I can cut out on power play bullshit it’s a bonus for me.
    One thing I do find problematic is dealing with come ons from other men- I’m someone who is subject to a lot of sexual harassment on the street and in bars from men – men will openly stare or make comments when he’s there which is as disrespectful to him as it is to me – I don’t want him to react to that and I see it as no different as blokes spoiling for a fight with him – but nor do I want to react badly to him caring for me and looking out for my safety when trotting about alone – I live in a particularly rough borough of London and his worry is sadly justified!

    • Call me a control freak, but I personally prefer to be the one “choosing”. At the end of the day the choice should always be up to you anyway: who you choose to date, have sex with or marry. I agree with you that if a man is doing the choosing then you are at his beck and call and he then feels that the terms of the relationship are his to dictate. Feminists generally have quite a hard time finding a bloke who fits in with their beliefs & isn’t threatened by strong women so we have to play our cards carefully, I think. Just my humble opinion :)

  16. “I have a real dislike/distrust of the concept of being “come on to” by men – I’ve often found that when a relationship is formed on the basis of the gentleman in question choosing YOU there is (to me) an underlying expectation of compliance/submission there that I don’t like”.

    Totally agree! The things I try to avoid immediately: when men confuse attraction with objectification, domination or invasion. Rather than treating me as a person they immediately assume I am a prospective property, and show my future propertyness by touching me, over-flattering me, buying me drinks, being invasively flirtatious before even having a proper conversation. That’s a no-no.
    Basically, I try to see if the man is able to keep a respectful distance at first, and remain casual. Since I prefer to get to know the guy before I date him, there’s no point for him trying to come on to me before that point. He has to leave some space and time for my own desire to build up, and for me to want to come to him by my own accord, when I feel ready and know that I really want it. If that doesn’t happen, then nothing happens.

    Second, I immediately introduce feminist comments in the discussion to see where he stands on important feminist issues. In fact, I don’t just do it with dates, but with EVERYONE. Given that I’m a radfem, the first thing I need to know about a person is whether I can openly talk about it with them or not, and basically be myself. Before I didn’t do it, but I ended up taking distances with non-feminist friends anyway, because they had habits that I just couldn’t stand and that made me feel uncomfortable (making sexist comments/jokes is the most common habit). Close firends or dates have to be feminist, understand it, or be willing to understand/learn, otherwise I won’t have much to share with them.

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