How To Date A Feminist
Many women—especially young women—call themselves feminist. But for a man it can be hard to know what that means. Like most social movements with rather abstract names, feminism means different things to different women, and various threads of it have emerged over the centuries to emphasize a range of aims and desires of women in society.
If the girl you’re dating says she’s a feminist, you need not be alarmed. It need not mean she intends to emasculate you, have sex with other women, or make your life hell in some other way. She may believe in a feminism that sees gender as a social structure that creates an imbalance of power between men and women. Or she may accept the latest fad in feminism—that is, empowerment feminism, which puts more emphasis on the right of the individual woman to do as she pleases without being shamed or ridiculed.
Even conservative women, of all faiths, have claimed the feminist mantle. Their claim is that traditional gender roles actually give women more power, freedom, and opportunity to shape society. Truth be told, there is not much to this brand of feminism. Those who espouse it merely play with words; they redefine solidarity, freedom, and patriarchy in an absurd and dishonest way, so as to make mainstream feminism look oppressive and misogynistic.
If your girl is a conservative feminist, she is no feminist at all so you need not probe her beliefs on the subject any further. If she is into empowerment feminism, then you may want to go deeper into her thinking and feeling on the subject.
Of course, the trouble with the latter type of feminism is that it lacks a distinct ideological principle; its adherents are given no specific cause or solution to fight for. Your girl may see empowerment as everything from eating her breakfast online to going out braless to sending naked selfies to demanding maternity leave. Breastfeeding in public, running errands in spandex, wearing flat heels at work, being listened to and taken seriously in a mostly male meeting—all of these have fallen under the rubric of empowerment.
So what is all mean? What is the common thread that holds this form of feminism together?
I would say respect and being non-judgmental. In the end, that is what this latest movement in feminism is all about. Whatever truth there is to the historical forces that have shaped gender roles in society, modern women are more educated and independent-minded than they have ever been. They are expected to go to college, graduate, and establish careers just like men. They expect therefore to be treated as equals not only in the big things but in the little ones as well.
It is perfectly fine to state your opinion on whether a certain outfit looks nice on your girl. But if you want to go on seeing her do not make comments suggesting it looks “slutty” or other some other such notion. It is fine to disagree on politics and other matters, and you should develop your arguments in the way you see fit. But don’t be condescending and patronizing; don’t speak to her as if she were a child or an irrational hysteric.
Respect is the key word—respect for her mind, for her decisions, and for her freedom of action.
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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.