Recently the man I’d been seeing casually for a couple of months professed that he wanted to make things official. He’s a nice guy and I have fun with him, but I past the point in my life when I thought those traits were good enough to make someone qualified for a relationship. So, I told him that I wasn’t ready yet, and I needed some time to sort my feelings out. Now because of a conversation we had on the other night, I’m extra glad I held off on making this guy my next SO.
“So, how much of a feminist are you?” he asks, apropos of nothing. I tell him that I don’t understand the question. That feminism isn’t something you can measure on a scale or with a score on some test. I tell him that feminism — not the label, but the belief that men, women, and everyone who doesn’t fit into those categories should be treated equally — is really important to me, and that I needed him to be more specific.
“Well, because you were really getting on with [woman J] the other day, and I sent her this comedy video about women in short skirts once, and she ranted at me for like 2 hours about how anti-feminist it was and it really put me off.”
The contents of video, which he explained over the course of the conversation that followed, are not important. What is important is what I learned about him: that he thinks of feminism as a system of beliefs much like an organized religion that women like J and I expect people to subscribe to, that he believes — although he couldn’t come up with any examples — that there are some things men can do that women can’t, and that he is convinced that men and women are treated equally enough that women’s issues no longer warrant significant space in public awareness.
I don’t hate this man. I don’t even dislike him. But I do dislike that he’s gotten this far in life without seriously considering the privilege he’s granted simply by being a man. I do want to educate him. But I can’t be his girlfriend. I’m too far past “Feminism 101.” I can hold someone’s hand and bring them step by painful step to the realization that feminist issues are civil rights issues. I can watch a person’s eyes widen with the discovery that patriarchal systems limit possibilities for everyone, not just cis-women (and I can teach them new words like cis-woman). I can lend books that will enlighten a person on how the struggles of women, PoC, and the LGBTQ community intersect and discuss those books for hours on end. But it will make me feel like a parent, not like a partner.
I don’t need someone who self-identifies as a feminist, but I do need someone who recognizes the need for social change that I espouse when I call myself a feminist. I don’t need someone who thinks exactly as I do, but I do need someone who is educated enough in these areas to debate with me on a level playing field. I need someone who can help me deconstruct my own privilege and tackle it constructively. And I don’t need someone for whom feminist issues are their biggest hot-button issues, but I do need someone who realizes that it’s possible to champion more than one cause at a time, because of all the phrases I heard out of this man’s mouth the other night, “I can’t be bothered” was perhaps the most disheartening of all.