8 Things A Feminist Looks For In A Partner, Because Conforming To Gender Roles Is Completely Optional

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Starting at a young age, we receive a number of messages from the media, our peers, and our elders that train us to seek out imbalanced relationships: "Men should make the first move." "Women shouldn't want sex." You've heard them; we all have. So what is a feminist relationship, then? Obviously they can be as varied and unique as the sheer number of people in the world, but what most feminist relationships have in common is this: They're not based on the need for each person to play the "feminine" or "masculine" role all the time. They can, if each party chooses to — but they don't have to. The partnership is such that everyone can express all sides of themselves, with every participant holding an equal amount of power.

With non-heteronormative relationships gaining more and more visibility, society's scripts around dating have necessarily needed to change. Who should pay for dates? Who should take whose last name? Does anyone need to go changing their name at all? While previous generations may have had a set of standard answers for these questions, there is no longer any need for standard answers. Furthermore, there doesn't have to be one person who is more dominant and one who is more submissive, or one who is more emotional and one who is more logical. While all of these changes may bring many daters into uncharted territory, it can be exciting to revise your concept of a relationship in motion. We don't have to be limited to just one idea of what a "relationship" is — and that is enormously freeing.

Here are some things any feminist of any gender or sexual orientation looks for if they want to form an equal partnership:

1. Intelligence

This applies to all feminists, of course, but in light of a new study, it's especially applicable to men who date women: Research slated to be published in November's Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that many men are still threatened by intelligent women. A heterosexual man who is looking for an equal, however, will view intelligence as a plus; it means each partner will be able to learn from one another and challenge each other's thinking. Relationships should be about mutual learning, not just one person educating another.

2. Social Consciousness

Most feminists care about what's going on in the world — and not just issues pertaining to women, but also all issues related to social justice and equality. We want to be able to discuss these issues with our partners, and we also view someone's level of concern for humanity (and non-human animals) as a metric of how they'll treat us.

3. An Understanding Of The Nuances Of Consent

Feminists know that one key ingredient to a healthy relationship is vigilance about consent, both inside and outside the bedroom. We don't want someone who would pressure us to do anything we don't want to, and we also don't want to do anything with someone who isn't enthusiastic. Feminists seek out consent not only for sex but also for date activities, conversations, and everything else we do together.

4. Communication In The Bedroom

Both to make sure everyone is consenting and to get to know each other better, we want to hear about our partners' desires and share our own as well. We reject societal formulas for how sex should be and view each relationship as an opportunity to explore new forms of sexual expression based on what we and our partners want. Communication makes this a lot easier and more fun.

5. Independence

Feminists understand that, as Audrey Hepburn reminded us in Breakfast at Tiffany's, "people don't belong to people." There was a time when women legally belonged to men, and we definitely don't plan on returning to that situation time any time soon. Feminists value spending time with their friends and pursuing their own hobbies and interests, and they want their partners to do the same, because two people are more powerful together when they can stand strong on their own. We would never want to diminish someone else's autonomy by being controlling or possessive.

6. Skepticism Of Gender Roles

Feminists don't expect their partners to conform to gender roles, and we're not afraid to defy them ourselves. Feminists who date men don't need a guy who makes the first move or suppresses his emotions or can lift heavy objects. And feminists who date women don't need someone who diets or wears heels or shaves her legs. The qualities that make up a good partner are not gender-specific.

This isn't to say that gender roles are inherently a no-nom, by the way; the point is that no one ever feels like they absolutely have to conform to them.

7. An Equal Amount Of Giving And Taking

No feminist wants to put more into a relationship than they get back or take more than they give. We want things like household work, time spent visiting each other, and money spent on dates to be even, or if we can't be even in one area, we want to make up for the imbalance in another. Feminists understand that ultimately, inequality breeds resentment, while mutual effort breeds appreciation.

8. They Take Their Partners' Concerns Seriously

Whether by name or simply through experience, most feminists are familiar with gaslighting — painting someone else's perspective as crazy, paranoid, or otherwise invalid instead of addressing their concerns. Gaslighting is often used against women, preying on stereotypes that women are crazy or emotional, and it's also frequently used against people of color and other marginalized groups to tell them their oppression isn't real. Feminists expect that, to the contrary, if something their partner says or does hurts them, they can say something. And even if their partner says something they don't want to hear, a feminist will sympathize and try to improve rather than turning the problem around and making their partner feel unreasonable for bringing it up.

Ultimately, feminists want their partners to feel loved and respected, and they believe the best way to do this is to let them express themselves and treat them as equals — because that's how feminists want to be treated themselves.

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