NB: All my relationship experience has been with men, so this piece is from a straight, cis-female perspective.
One of the women at the last Moonlight Feminist Wine Club asked: does it make us bad feminists if our partner or the person we want to date does not identify with feminism? The women at the meeting all had different answers: some absolutely could never date a non-feminist and some are currently dating people who do not like to associate with the ‘f’ word. After the meeting the question stuck with me, and I think there are a multitude of answers and context is obviously key. I texted my close friend asking what she thought and she instantly replied “how could you love a person who doesn’t believe you’re an equal?” This is the perfect answer if that person is not a feminist explicitly because they do not believe women are equal to men. For me it would be like dating a Nazi empathiser or a Donald Trump supporter – never going to happen.
But how do we identify and avoid these anti-feminist types in our dating lives? Should we just straight up ask them while on the first date? Should we preface our tinder bios with “feminists only”? Frankly it’s probably going to result in very few matches and seems a little over the top, right? Especially because being scared of the word feminism doesn’t make you a misogynist. I’m an advocate for asking your date, if it’s appropriate, something like, “so what do you think about feminism?” Fingerscrossed they say something along the lines of, “I AM A PROUD FEMINIST”, in which case you’ve found a winner. If not, they’re either an anti-feminist or probably fall into one of the following categories:
· He believes that you’re equal and the reason he doesn’t consider himself a feminist is because of the stigma surrounding the word. They associate the feminism with ‘man-hating’ and ‘misandry’ and they might even use the word ‘feminazi’.
· He is simply ignorant to the fact that the world still needs feminism and mistakenly believes that we have already achieved gender equality. He thinks of feminism as when the suffragettes won the right to vote in western cultures and doesn’t really get why everyone keeps going on about it.
So is it ok to keep dating this person?
I guess the answer to this question really depends on how much their non-feminism is going to bother you and whether or not the person you’re dating is open to the idea of feminism and willing to try and understand why it is so important to you. Both of the reasons above are just misconceptions about feminism, so if your partner is willing to learn then I see no reason to hit the brakes on your relationship. It’s also really important to remember that although we should be proud of the word feminism for everything it has achieved, it is still just a word, and actions speak louder than words. Maybe your boyfriend is pretty much a feminist in all of his actions, but he just hasn’t fully embraced the word yet- that’s ok. Or maybe your boyfriend proudly calls himself a feminist but his actions don’t quite match up, which makes you feel uncomfortable- that’s not ok.
Both of my serious relationships have been with men who have shied away from identifying with the word “feminism.” But both of these men were curious about my passion and despite their moments of defence and our many clashes of ideas, I have a feeling that at their next date they would say, “I AM A PROUD FEMINIST.” And I am proud to have without a doubt contributed to their feminist enlightening. Being able to educate the men that I loved about issues that I was passionate about, and getting the same in return, was such an enriching aspect of our relationship. And even better was when my passion seemed to rub off on them: they would begin to point out acts of sexism, have genuine questions, or call out their friends for an offensive comment. These moments when I could see how my feminism had inspired and changed them were truly wonderful (and such a turn on). So without trying to say that you should date someone who is not a feminist, I do want to say that just because someone isn’t a feminist now, doesn’t mean they can’t be. We all start somewhere right? We should strive to inform and guide those in our lives that are in or nearing their fetal stages of feminism, rather than cutting people out because they don’t tick all the right boxes.
So next time you’re on a date with that person you’re really into and you ask them ‘the question’, and they give you a timid look and start to explain why they just don’t really like the word, try not to get angry and defensive (and trust me I know it’s hard). Instead maybe flash them a smile and say something a little ambiguous yet sinister like “…just you wait.”