Recently, a friend contacted me with a bit of a dilemma. She was dating a new guy, and it was all great, but there was a stumbling block: he didn't identify as a feminist. The beliefs were all there, but he showed the familiar aversion to the word that all feminists are probably familiar with: too scary! Too extreme! Too associated with armpit hair and aggression and yelling! Given that I am now an official Person Who Yells About Feminism On The Internet, she wanted to know how to let him know what feminism really meant. Because him not being one, or identifying as an ally? Totally a deal-breaker. And I agree with her. Feminism needs to be a quality in any partner, regardless of gender.
Let's get one thing out of the way first, though: whether men can identify as feminists. Some people believe that it's not actually OK for men to be allowed to call themselves feminists, as they can't experience the sexist structures of discrimination that fuel the movement. There's a bit of disagreement about this (after all, patriarchy affects men too, forcing them into models of "masculinity" that have their own varieties of damage), but regardless: even if your dude is uncomfortable with incursion onto feminist turf for this reason, they can still identify as an ally. That's a legitimate mode of support.
So why should a new partner not being a feminist, even after discussion, education, and giving them Jessica Valenti articles by the bucketload, a deal-breaker? Let's break it down.
1. Having A Partner Who Doesn't Think Women Are Equal Is A Bad Idea
There are two issues in debate here: dating a partner who simply doesn't identify as feminist, and dating a partner who doesn't believe in the fundamental tenets of feminism (the right of women to social, political, and economic equality). The first is a bit more complicated, so let's address the second situation first.
Dating somebody who doesn't really believe in female equality, whether it's questioning if misogyny exists, thinking that catcalling is a compliment, believing that women have prescribed social and economic roles, or simply failing to understand glass ceilings/sexist hiring/objectification/unequal media representation/whatever, is a quality that is going to cause problems. Obviously, dating a Men's Rights Activist or a pick-up artist is a bad idea all round, but this can be more subtle than it seems. Many sexist beliefs go so deep that a person may believe overtly in equality but manifest problematic ideas on further investigation, a phenomenon called internalized misogyny. Or they'll try to mansplain the problem to you, and how to fix it.
These things are real, and impact you and your gender. A partner who can't support and fight for that is not one who can be there for an aspect of your existence in the world. It's your choice: see if they're willing to be educated, or cut them loose.
2. Belief In Gender Equality Makes For Better Relationships
Here's a basic, selfish reason for shacking up with somebody who believes in gender equality: it's going to make you happier. Statistics show that gender-equal marriages and long-term partnerships result in greater happiness (and perhaps longer lives) than gender-unequal ones.
A study from Georgia State University in 2015 found that equal childcare duties improved the quality and happiness of marriages, while a 2005 study found that perceived inequity in household duties seemed to increase the risk of divorce for wives and make both partners unhappier. And Tech.co's collection of studies on gender equality in relationships point to more sex, greater health, and more successful children. (This finding hasn't been studied in same-sex relationships, but one can assume that partners sharing equal loads there would produce happiness, too.)
3. The Word Itself Is Very Important
You may think a manifestation of equality is enough. Perhaps your date doesn't believe, as Aziz Ansari says, that "Beyonce should earn 23 percent less than Jay-Z," and they're conscious and supportive of feminist issues — but they're still running scared from the full enchilada. Do they need to feel comfortable with the word itself?
In a word, yes. I'm all for clashing beliefs in a relationship (go and marry a Conservative if you like!), but looking at the F-word in depth, you get the idea that it, itself, is essential. It is both very powerful and widely misunderstood: the word "feminist" does not automatically turn a normal, sane person into a rabid man-hating underarm hair-growing lunatic with an inability to have a rational argument or accept that some women like being stay-at-home moms. The public conception of the word is slowly changing, but it's still a big and (to some) alarming political statement. And that's an important thing to embrace.
The word "feminist" means big things. It means serious things. It means being part of a legacy of thought, diverse opinions, and political action around the world. Saying "I believe in female equality" and "I am a feminist" are essentially the same thing, and yet on a certain level they're not. Saying "I am a feminist" also means "I am part of a movement in history, and willing to combat the patriarchal bullsh*t and constant misogynist misunderstanding that will come with that declaration of solidarity". It also means "I'm not scared of standing up for equality," and if you ask me, that's one of the sexiest things a partner can declare.
So if your new date says, with a shrug of their cute shoulders, "I just don't think of myself as a feminist," make them aware that this is a problem. Straight up. No talking around it. In my opinion, if they want to get with you, they've got to get with your feminist ideologies, and tolerating them simply isn't enough.
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