When I look back on all the relationship advice I've been given in my life, I find I'm pretty disturbed be it. Whether it came from friends, family, books, or magazines, I was given a lot of dating advice that perpetuates sexism — and a lot of dating advice that perpetuates rape culture (rape culture being the set of beliefs and behaviors that normalizes nonconsensual interactions and disrespect for boundaries). And because this so-called wisdom is often accepted as common sense, I didn't even realize how messed up it all was for an unsettlingly long amount of time.
As someone who is perceived as feminine and typically dates people perceived as masculine, I've been fed a particular version of this advice. The dating advice I've received has stemmed from the assumption that I should play the "feminine" role in relationships, which usually means waiting for my date to make the first move, being "coy," and making my partner feel like he's in control. Because a lot of the sexist dating advice we get is also heteronormative, some items on this list will apply mostly to straight relationships. But the need to challenge these conventions applies to everyone.
Here are some pieces of dating advice that unknowingly perpetuate rape culture and undermine gender equality.
1. "Don't Show Too Much Enthusiasm."
A lot of people have been told at some point or another not to text someone until three days after a date (or some other similar, equally arbitrary rule). Straight women especially are taught to "play coy" and give men the "thrill of the chase." This makes it seem like a woman's unwillingness is attractive and discourages the honest communication that is essential to making a relationship consensual. Aside from that, the three-day rule is just torturous, in my humble opinion. If someone's interested in you, they'll still be interested regardless of when you text them.
2. "Don't Sleep With Them Too Soon..."
Telling women to wait before having sex is similar to telling them to wait before calling or texting. This advice is predicated on the assumption that straight men are more attracted to women who are less interested and ultimately less consenting. It's also predicated on the belief that a woman's sexual decisions determine how valuable she is as a person and a partner. This belief objectifies women and contributes to the view of more sexually promiscuous women as less worthy of respect and deserving of boundaries.
3. "...But Don't Wait Too Long To Sleep With Them"
I've been given two opposite pieces of advice with regard to this issue: I was once told not to sleep with someone too soon because men "won't buy the cow when they can get the milk for free" (as if women were items to be bought and sold)... but then the same person told me that someone I was dating probably broke up with me because I didn't sleep with him after a month and that I would need to learn to compromise. There are a lot of areas in relationships that require compromise, like how to spend your time and even where to live, but sexual boundaries are not one of them. The advice to have sex with someone just to keep them happy encourages people (again, particularly those perceived as straight women) to disregard their own boundaries.
4. "Let Him Make The First Move."
I've received the advice even from very progressive people to let men make the first move because it's supposedly in their nature to want that. The problem with this idea is that it a) teaches women to put aside what they want and b) teaches men to move ahead without learning what their partners want first. Men are often taught to "take the initiative" in a way that borders on pushiness, like by initiating a first kiss before they know a partner is ready. While straight women are taught to wait for men to do this, straight men are often taught they have to do this to make women happy. This leads people down a road that many members of both genders are uncomfortable with.
5. "Make Him Feel Like A Man"
I once went to a talk by a professional matchmaker, and she discussed one client who was having bad luck with dating because she was a high-powered attorney and wasn't acting "feminine" enough around the men she dated. The idea that power and strength are disadvantages to women in the dating market — as well as the romanticization of naive women that we often see in the media — is extremely problematic; seeing a woman as more attractive if she is weak perpetuates rape culture by romanticizing inequality. When the ideal relationship is one that's completely consensual, the ideal woman is one who is assertive and empowered.