Oh my god, I love men. I really do. That’s not sarcasm. I really enjoy the male species, and I have since a very tender age. You know how some people start having crushes when they hit the age of, oh, I don’t know, eight or nine or twelve or sixteen? Well, I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t attracted to a boy. I could list for you all of my (major) crushes dating back until preschool, should you ever desire or require that information. Boys. Mmmm. Can’t get enough of them.
That said, they’ve been driving me absolutely freaking bonkers since I started getting seriously romantically involved with them. And while part of me does indeed mean that in the typical cis-heterosexual-female-who-does-not-specifically-identify-as-a-feminist way, in this case I’m speaking specifically from the comfy chair where my inner social justice radical and I like to have our most intimate chats. This is not so much a he forgot to text me back rant as it is a I really want to like him but can’t bring myself to fall hard for him because there are things – such as neglecting to respond to certain text messages – that are definitive evidence that he views my gender as the Other, even if subconsciously collection of musings. Geez, that was a complicated sentence. You know what else is complicated? Yup. Combining feminism and romance.
Modern feminism is already a difficult enough concept to wrap one’s head around. Back in the first and second waves, the movement had tangible, political goals that women could work to achieve. Nowadays, the movement’s focus has shifted largely into the social sphere. Women are now not only trying to maintain control over their bodies, achieve equal pay, and rise in the political ranks, but are also trying to discover how to identify as a woman and still be seen and thought of as equal to the men they encounter both at work and at home. It’s confusing, and it’s a lot to think about – so naturally us feminists spend a lot of time being confused and thinking about a lot of stuff. We analyze and discuss until our uteruses bleed, and even then we continue the discussion. (Get it? It’s funny because it’s a joke about periods! We literally – oh, never mind.) The movement is not cohesive because we are not collectively working toward a specific goal, and because we can’t exactly articulate what our goal should be in the first place.
Example: Beyoncé identifies as a feminist, yet her brand of feminism promotes marriage and motherhood. Are we wrong if we disapprove of this brand of feminism? Marriage is a construct, as is the idea that women hold some kind of special status as the soft, loving caretakers of their offspring. Yet if we reject this idea of “motherhood” (as well as that of fatherhood) for a gender-neutral “parenthood,” are we dismissing some kind of divine feminine power that women can and should have as the bearers of life? Or is this elevation of motherhood merely patriarchal oppression disguised as power, meaning that Beyoncé’s feminism is being subverted by that which it is meant to go up against?
These are the thoughts cycling through the mind of a third-wave feminist on the average day. As you can see, there are more questions than answers, which can make a gal feel a bit less grounded than she’d like to.
Have you heard that saying that gets tossed around by anti-rape campaigners that goes something like, “Every time a man makes a rape joke, a woman close to him silently decides that she can no longer trust him?” That happens over and over again, albeit on a much smaller scale, every time a heterosexual feminist female gets involved with a heterosexual male. It’s not so much a loss of trust, though, as it is just a little death (not the good kind that the French talk about) that occurs when we see him unwittingly display evidence of his patriarchal privilege or internalized misogyny.
Here’s what happens. Say we – cishet male and I – are on a date, and we are having a conversation about, say, comedians. It’s been smooth sailing so far.
“Have you heard of Shappi Khorsandi?” I say.
“No, who’s that?” he asks. He’s genuinely interested. He wants to know. We’re hitting it off. This is a great date, I think to myself.
“She’s a British-Iranian comedian,” I continue. “Her first stand-up set at the Apollo is absolutely hilarious.”
“Oh, cool,” my date replies. “Yeah, I dunno. I’m not really into female comedians.”
Perhaps there’s a world in which this comment would hold the same significance as I don’t like ketchup or something else equally innocuous, but unfortunately enough for all parties involved, we don’t live in that world. As a result, my mouth emits the vocal equivalent of a question mark.
With just one more sentence, the wonderful guy to whom I am very attracted manages to back himself into a conversational corner. “I just don’t find them as funny.”
And there is one little death for a feminist trying to enjoy a nice, romantic night out.
Where do I even begin to dissect such a statement? The guy did not explicitly say women are not funny or even women are not as funny as men, but the fact that he expressed a preference for one over the other demonstrates that he has fallen prey to the societal paradigm that places male comedians over female ones. Sure, we can argue that perhaps it is pure chance and that perhaps cultural influence has nothing to do with my date’s unadulterated comedic preferences, but can we really assume that nature has indubitably won over nurture in this one instance? If we can’t be certain, which I don’t think we can, then what this moment has just shown us is that I am seeing a guy who doesn’t recognize the offensiveness to what he has said, who hasn’t taken the time to think about the roots of his preference for male comedians over female ones, and who therefore is unaware of how he and his privilege are affected in some ways by the society in which he lives.
If we jump back into real time, we will see a not-so-real smile frozen on my face. All of these jumbled thoughts have tumbled through my mind in approximately half a second, and I have half a second more to decide on how to respond to my date before things get awkward.
What are my options? There are about two: either I keep my opinions to myself, utter a brief “oh, okay,” and in a way sacrifice the integrity of my beliefs, or I begin a five-minute tirade on male privilege in the world of comedy and throw in Tina Fey’s classic male comedy writers piss in cups line to help drive my point home. It’s a lose-lose situation, because both options drive a small wedge between my date and me. Either I say something and run the risk of him thinking I’m crazy, or I say nothing and run the risk of actually going crazy.
To be a feminist nowadays is to be constantly digging deeper to find the root of the problem, to see how inequality manifests and to search for where the flaws really begin. Which, fellas, I realize poses a challenge for you as well as for us. When you date a feminist, you are getting involved with someone who has trained themselves to find and overanalyze flaws (though, arguably, it is not really over-analysis). It must be difficult to be with someone and not know if making what you believe is a harmless comment will cause them to launch into a long and involved rant on society, privilege, and so on. It must be difficult to have your significant other get upset over and over again when you don’t fully understand how or why you’ve managed to set them off. It must be tiring to deal with. Guys, I know. I’m tired too. We’re all tired. Feminism is exhausting, and that sucks.
And if I could make it simpler for both of us, I would. I often imagine how much easier relationships would be if I wasn’t so far off the feminist deep end. But I can’t give up feminism, because I need it. We need it. We need feminism because we still live in a world in which an athlete can rape a girl, and she will be blamed for the entire incident. We need feminism because a serial killer can target the “blonde sluts” at his school who won’t sleep with him, and their deaths won’t be considered the result of rampant misogyny. So maybe I could take the easy way out and give up on all of this, but I’m not going to. Because I believe that we can make a better world where these issues don’t exist any more. Even though it’s hard to keep working for it, sometimes, I believe it will be worth it.
And if I’m hard on you, that’s because I believe that you can be a part of that world, and that you are worth it too.