Feminists in Love
Relationships are a lot of work! Half of the fun is finding a love interest, and the other half is working through issues that crop up while romancing. One of the most important aspects is whether or not you agree on societal issues and how differences in viewpoints are handled. Read all about how WWACers have experienced being feminists in love and about their romantic entanglements.
Have you ever been in a relationship with a partner that didn’t identify as a feminist? How did this person respond to your feminism?
Lindsey: I’ve not had many relationships, and the topic hasn’t ever really come up, though I did have the awkwardness of a young teenager in dating a guy whose parents were probably not very feminist. They scared me a bit, to be honest.
Sarah Richardson: Oh, hell yes. There was a lot of macho stupidity around the crowd I ran with as a young teenager. I found it incredibly frustrating and didn’t have the vocabulary to explain why it was so wrong. I was going through my own nasty “not like other girls” phase, though, so I was confused on many levels. But the guys I dated dismissed me as “feisty” and “too smart for a girl.” It reinforced the idea that standing up for myself was somehow wrong.
Carly: I’m sure I have in the past, but back in high school and early college, I was still getting a grasp on what feminism entailed and how to look beyond my own bubble. I’ve certainly dated someone who got frustrated when women didn’t treat him as desirable. Another man I dated made the occasional sexist joke, but it wasn’t at a time in my life when I was comfortable addressing it. They seemed to not think much of my feminism at the time, but I was also pretty quiet about it then, because I was uneasy about people’s opinions of feminism, especially since I was (and am) still working out my own internalized sexist comments about myself and other women.
Al Rosenberg: Yes! I dated, very briefly, a woman who found my self-identification as a feminist to be “annoying.” Well, it “annoyed” me that she could be a woman in this society and not see the need for feminism.
Wendy Browne: I’ve only just recently gotten in touch with my feminist self and have been a bit more vocal about it. I used to be quite vocal about things I believed in, but then went through a lull. Now that I’m back and loud and proud, it initially was difficult for my husband to come to terms with this, especially when I officially labeled myself as a feminist on my blog. It’s a label he is not particularly fond of—he doesn’t believe in labels at all—so we had a big discussion about it. He was defensive at first and concerned about partaking of things with me that might be construed as offensive and sexist, but he’s slowly come to terms with the fact that it’s possible to enjoy something while critiquing the negative elements. We’ve had similar discussions about racism, and he’s done a great job of trying to be more empathetic to my concerns, so I’m confident he can handle my feminism too. Our daughters will appreciate it.
Ginnis: Sarah, I so relate. Not having the vocabulary, dealing with your own internalized sexism, being the “fiesty” girl or the “firecracker,” or stuff like that because you had an opinion. I think being fairly petite and small made it come off more cute than genuinely threatening. It allows some room, but also can be really frustrating, because people read stuff as “cute.” But it was only more recently, after my divorce, where I’ve been very explicit about anyone I date must be a feminist.
Robin: I’ve also only gotten in touch with my feminism in the past year or so. I’ve certainly dated people who didn’t identify as feminist, where that conversation didn’t even come up. But it was actually the guy I dated in college who did identify as feminist who was the worst, because he espoused these beliefs and then proceeded to treat me and other women like garbage. I think it’s what scared me off of feminism for a while. Lately, I have also made it explicit that I won’t date somebody who’s not a feminist.
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone that considered themselves a feminist, but it turned out you had conflicting ideas of what feminism means? How did this go?
Lindsey: In terms of feminist ideology, we never debated it. But I did date someone who seemed to have double-standards. They were allowed to do things that I was apparently not. This was mostly down to levels of silliness and expression. They were allowed to be silly and funny, but if I did it, I was met with weird looks and awkward silence. It made me feel bad, like I wasn’t allowed to be open and myself because it was “embarrassing” for a woman to act that way? I don’t have this problem anymore, thank god. (By the way, this was while dating another woman. Double-standards indeed!)
Sarah: I’m going to have to go with no, although I’ve had the fake feminist friend, in that he said he was a feminist and paid a lot of lip service to the ideas, but his behavior was such that women were here to please him, and not full people like you know, him.
Carly: I think two of the men I mentioned above didn’t consider themselves feminist, but my current partner and I have very good discussions about feminism! I think I teach more about it to him than vice versa, but it’s still nice to talk about it with him. Unfortunately, I have had friends who I learned were either anti-feminist or had a very narrow viewpoint on what feminism meant.
Al: Ugh, Sarah, I definitely feel you on the fake feminist friend. Dudes who are “feminists,” but still try to speak for women, instead of with women, every chance they get.
Robin: I mean, see my answer to the above question. Al, I totally feel the fake feminist friend thing. I think everyone kind of has differing ideas of what feminism is—it’s a notoriously in-fighty group, which is both great and terrible—but there is certainly a base level that I require to consider somebody worth my time. One ex was definitely feminist, but also a bit double-standardy, as far as jealousy and possessiveness goes. But none of us are perfect feminists; that doesn’t exist!
Have you ever corrected a date (or significant other, or spouse, or emotional crutch) for making a joke or comment that was misogynistic? If so, how did this person react to your critique?
Lindsey: No, but there were probably times I should have. Again, this has been past relationships—my current relationship doesn’t really have this problem. If anything, I’ll show him something and he’ll immediately know why I’m horrified/disappointed by it.
Sarah: Yeah, I have some close relationships with people who don’t seem to realize how much they don’t really like women and have a lot of internalized misogyny and are super invested in gender roles. Anytime I point out the problem with what they just said, there’s this awkward pause where it’s obvious I’ve broken the social contract, and they double down, trying to convince me, before giving up and trying to change the subject.
Carly: I wasn’t comfortable enough to correct my previous partners, but now that I’m in a comfortable relationship with someone who does truly listen, I will sound off when a comment makes me uncomfortable. My current partner doesn’t make misogynistic jokes, and if he makes a comment that makes me go, “Wait a minute,” it’s a comment born out of privilege rather than malice. For example, at a dance thing, I mentioned that I would be very anxious if he danced away from my side because from prior experience, men assume if I’m by myself or only with other women, then I’m open to flirting with them. My partner believed that wasn’t a common occurrence, but lo and behold, not too long after this conversation, a stranger wouldn’t leave me alone. He definitely listens to my experiences now.
Al: Ugh, I actually do this a lot, and I’m trying to learn to stop. My well-meaning friends and partners make mistakes, as do I. I know they’re not trying to be hurtful, and I should stop being so aggressive about it, though there are some jokes that are unacceptable, no matter who they are coming from.
Robin: I’ve been trying to bite my tongue less. Ultimately, speaking up about a misogynistic thing somebody said is easier for me when I know the person well and/or know they have good intentions. It’s best when I can be kind of jokey funny about it, like when a male friend recently told me to “calm down” in some context, and—continuing in the manic tone of voice that caused him to make the remark—I shouted “Don’t ever fucking tell me or anyone else to calm down!” I swear, it was all good fun. You had to be there.
On the flipside, have you ever made anti-feminist comments or jokes that your heartthrob disagreed with? How did you react?
Lindsey: If I have, they’ve never brought it up. I’m hoping it’s because I’ve not done it and not that they haven’t been able to tell me if I did!
Sarah: Not that I can think of, although I’ve heard myself saying a few things that caught me up short, and he doesn’t make a big deal out of it as I sputter past my own moment of stupidity.
Carly: I sure hope not! But I’m sure I’ve slipped up. I think I’ve fumbled over language when talking about transphobia, but he’s patient and offers corrections in a polite manner.
Ginnis: I say stupid things like everyone. My partner calls me out on problematic things, and then I fire back about it, and we then proceed to debate the many, many nuances of feminism and the construction of gender in our society. We are both recovering academics, so yeah.
Al: I once made a racist joke. I didn’t even realize it was racist at the time. And as soon as my partner pointed it out I was mortified. I try to be more careful in my speech, but there are certain words ingrained in our language that I haven’t weeded out of my vocabulary yet. Also, I’m Jewish, and my experience at temple is that older Jews make a lot of pretty offensive jokes about Jews regularly. I find myself doing this too sometimes, and a past Jewish partner was very upset with me. I’m thinking about the place of offensive humor in Judaism a lot now. Also, I make jokes about lesbian stereotypes, but I’m sort of okay continuing with those … partially because none of the lesbians I’ve dated have taken offense. It seems to me marginalized groups (including Jews and lesbians) like these somewhat offensive jokes when they are made by people of the same marginalized community. It’s like some weird bonding thing. Playful teasing. Though obviously not everyone feels that way. Are they anti-feminist jokes though? Yes, because my feminism is intersectional, and a racist joke is also an anti-feminist joke.
Robin: I’m sure I’ve said some very stupid and anti-feminist things. But I don’t think anybody’s ever really called me out on it, unless it’s in the context of a feminist debate/dialogue with a friend where it’s like, “I know you thought this thing about Mad Max, but actually let me show you why you’re wrong and that thing you thought was dumb is actually kind of awesomely feminist.”
Would you say you have become more or less vocal as a feminist as time has gone by? Has this had any impact on your romantic entanglements?
Lindsey: Since being here? Loads more vocal, ha ha! I’m lucky that my husband is a feminist, though I doubt he’d label himself as one. He’s incredibly supportive and gets it—he has women in his life that are very strong, so he doesn’t know anything different than “women can do anything they want.” It makes it easy to have conversations relating to feminism with him. I do try to be conscious of not overdoing it though—don’t want to overload him!
Sarah: Most emphatically, yes! I’ve been dating my partner for about sixteen years and did not identify as a feminist when we first started dating. We both thought feminists hated men, and there was a little bit of resistance when I first started exploring feminism. But now I’m pretty vocal about it, and help with an feminist organization that’s focused on getting more women in creative roles in tabletop gaming—and he’s the one who brought it to my attention. At some point over the last few years, something clicked with him, and he’s a pretty staunch feminist, whether or not he uses that label. Like Lindsey, I try not to overload him, but it’s amazing to know he feels the same way.
Carly: I am so vocal about it now, and this definitely hasn’t had a negative impact since then. I wouldn’t want to date someone who wasn’t supportive of feminism, and we’re learning a lot together. I think some of my friends have felt pushed away by my feminism, especially with my critiques of the games industry and certain games, because I do know women who would rather I celebrate simply having female protagonists over criticizing their male gazey character design or how they’re written. But in terms of my romantic life, I believe it’s had a positive impact—especially for myself. I want to spend my life with someone who treats me as an equal and understands my daily frustrations without getting offended when I speak about male privilege. There’s a lot of empathy and compassion happening, and I think the best relationships, platonic or romantic, need that to keep going.
Wendy: I used to be a lot more vocal, but went through a long period where I was not, and now I am again. The change in that and in other areas of my life has been pretty jarring for both of us as we find our footing around each other, but I think we’re getting to a point where he recognizes that I’m not on some big, boisterous campaign that will upheave our lives and he’s getting better at trying to understand my views.
Ginnis: Like Carly said, if you are a woman in a hetero relationship and you identify as a feminist, having a partner who acknowledges their male privilege and doesn’t get defensive or offended when you are frustrated at double standards regarding gender is such a psychological relief. The support is just amazing, and I hate that I am amazed by the support, not because of my partner, but because feminism is still so highly divisive when it should be a no-duh thing.
Al: I’m way less vocal about it now. In college, it was all I talked about. It was what I majored in, what I wrote my thesis on, and what I wrote a webcomic about. Then I realized I was preaching to the choir. I would say 90% of my friend group would identify as feminists.
Robin: Way more vocal! Every day I’m more and more vocal about it. Like Carly, I also feel like I’ve pushed some folks away through my vocal feminism (mostly my family), but I try to not be a jerk about it. But as far as romantic relationships go, feminism and gender politics and queer theory and stuff is most of what I talk about with my partners. I’m obsessed. Honestly, there’s nothing more romantic than having a debate about some feminist text with a partner and then realizing, “Whoa, I love you and I love your feminism.”