Dating Tips for the Feminist Man
This post is in honour of male feminists and their dating rituals.
You’re a straight monogamous cismale who identifies as a leftie. Maybe you’re a Marxist or a socialist; maybe you’re an anarchist. You respect women. You would never act like a player. You fall in love with strong, smart, feminist women. You believe that our movements are stronger if they include everyone.
This is not the 1950s; if you’re committed to social justice but you are still marching along using ‘the rules’ http://therulesbook.com/ to govern dating, it’s time to consider the connection between your politics and your personal life. Social justice is intersectional; we can’t just fix our economic relationships without fixing our personal and cultural ones.
So identifying as a male feminist is a tricky line to walk. It’s important that men use the term. But keep in mind that you’ll get kudos just for taking on the term as your own; it may even help you gain trust extra-quickly with women you’re dating.
Want to be worthy of that trust? Practice your skill at meaningful consent. Here’s how, in a tidy list.
You’re a straight monogamous cisgendered feminist man,and you want to hook up with or date women? OK.
Here’s the deal:
1. learn to recognize your own emotions. Consent requires honesty, and you can’t speak honestly about your intentions unless you know what they are.
2. Just as we teach high schoolers that ‘if you’re not ready for the possible outcomes of babies and diseases, you’re not ready for sex,’ the same is true of emotions. Sex brings up emotion. That is just the reality of choosing to engage in sexual relationships. If you’re not ready to work with the emotion to make sure everyone is ok afterwards, then you’re not ready for the sex.
If you’re the kind of person who avoids your own or other people’s emotions, then you’re not going to be able to have good consent conversations until you get more comfortable with your own and other people’s emotions. Sign up for a consent skills workshop, or several. Read books on consent and on radical conflict resolution skills. Recognize that you agreed to or initiated a romantic relationship, however short or long-lived, and so you are responsible to the other person in that relationship as well as to yourself. Nobody put a gun to your head and made you make out with this person, so own your choices and their effects. People need different things after a hookup; know your own needs and be responsive to the needs of the other person.
*Don’t* say or act like you are serious about someone, make out with them, and then avoid them. Can I say this clearly enough? If you make out with somebody, you are responsible for checking in to make sure they are ok, not just during, but also after. Discuss casual sex as casual sex, and ambiguous sex as ambiguous sex. If your initial connection seemed serious but things don’t work out the way you hoped, do the work to end on good terms with this person. You may have to have some emotions-talk first to get to a good place and clear up any miscommunications or accidental harm you caused; if so, you’re responsible not only for grudgingly going along, but for actively initiating and holding space for that conversation. Do not make it their job to ask for a conversation to get you both back to a good place together. It is your job as much as theirs. Do not run away if things get uncomfortable or you start to feel emotions that confuse you. If you need space to calm down, pick a specific near-future time in which you will come back fully present and taking a proactive role in getting back to a good place. If you are in a conflict with this person due to tangled emotions, pick a process and, if you need it, a friend to help. Remember the goal is for you both to feel ok about things, not for one of you to win and one of you to lose. If you’re uncomfortable with process, work on that instead of making it their problem.
3. In that same vein: actively invite conversations before, during, and after a hookup to check if you are on the same page and have similar ideas about what it all means. Oxytocin’s a powerful drug; when you’re hooking up and having those heady feelings, you’re both vulnerable to misreading, or seeing what you want to see. It’s up to both of you to initiate reality check conversations: “what are you expecting after this? what do you think this means? are you ok with this if it’s casual? Are you ok with this if it’s serious? Do we understand each other properly?” Those conversations are not a one-time thing, just as you can’t get one-time consent to touch somebody. Consent is continuous and has to be established through ongoing checkins. If you want to be a good male ally, get comfortable with changing emotions – yours and the other person’s, and good at talking about them as they change. Life is messy; we have to be able to move with changes as they happen. This comfort is necessary in order to be honest with the other person, and to create shared expectations so no one ends up feeling used or played.
4. if you don’t know how you feel, or you’re not sure, or you have conflicting or ambiguous or confused emotions, say that. Say “I’m not sure what this means. Do you want to continue even if I don’t know where we’re going?” Do not tell the other person what you think they want to hear – you do not know what they want to hear. Do not say the thing that is easy for you to say, or oversimplify in order to keep them happy (and making out with you) in the moment. This kind of fuzzy communication can end up being dishonest communication.
It is ok to not know how you feel for a time, as long as you are committed to figuring out how you feel as soon as you can, and honest about your uncertainty in the meantime, so the other can make informed consent decisions.
Do not tell someone you’re serious about them or planning to follow up with them romantically if you’re actually not sure. For example: do not promise to date them again or say you will spend romantically-oriented time together again if you’re not sure whether you will. Casual sex needs to be discussed as casual so both people involved can feel respected and cared for.
If your feelings change, simply name the change. If you were interested in a possible partnership or in an ongoing relationship, and then aren’t or are less sure, and you feel bad about that, do not avoid saying so to make your life easier. Just name the emotion and be available and present to the changes in the other. Try things like this: “I felt this way when I said and did that, but things have changed, and this is how I feel now. This is why and when they changed. I feel bad that I let you down or inadvertently misled you. Are you ok, and what do you need?”
5. Don’t mix up acting ‘nice’ with being a genuinely good person. Kindness and treating people well are valuable, but politeness can be violent if it masks normalized oppression. Naming oppression, even when done gently, is not always perceived as being ‘nice’ because it pushes back at status quo ways of relating, seeing, and thinking.
When naming oppression happens as a response to naturalized harm, the anger you’re hearing is a response to actual harm that you may have enacted while thinking you were being ‘nice.’ So before you decide that you don’t have to listen because someone is breaking politeness protocols, consider whose interests those protocols protect. Don’t mix up your internal defensiveness, which can arise at having your real privilege pointed out, with the external message you are receiving. Is there trust being offered to you behind anger or critique – trust that you’re the kind of person who is open to growth and change? Notice that trust, and earn it.
6. Lest you be thinking “but sex should be fun! All this how-are-you-feeling-talk would be suuuuch a mood-killer!”: just like conversations about condoms, consent, in addition to being basic human decency, is also sexy. Cuz guess what? Trust is hot.
Lest you be thinking “but women don’t want men who talk about feelings” or “talking about how I feel is emasculating”: not all men have to be masculine, or feel the need. But for those who do, there are ways to know yourself and offer the truth in a responsive way that are not ‘just the same’ as what ‘women’ do necessarily. Masculine energy can be deeply protective and powerful when it is accountable in these ways, where emotions are present to heal, protect, and create shelter. Knowing how to recognize and honour your own needs at the same time as those of a lover, or former lover, has got its own energy. It lets you love from a deeply grounded place. People can feel that. And fuck is it sexy.
Knowing the person you’re hooking up with has the skills and capacity (not just the intention) to stick around afterwards to make sure you’re both ok, that both your dignities and your capacity to get along will survive the hookup – or the relationship – after it ends makes for much, much better sex. And maintaining trust post-hookup builds stronger movements, because the physical and emotional intimacy shared creates a permanent bond, instead of a permanent rift.
7. Actively taking on the identity of a feminist man means you are equally responsible to do your own research and actively notice these things. Help your friends of all genders see them. Realize this is your responsibility. If you miss something, you don’t do the work yourself, and someone has to approach you with a way in which they feel you’ve been sexist or clueless, don’t make them convince you. Stretch yourself. They’ve done enough work in figuring it out, extracting the internalized programming that tells them your sexist behaviour is totally normal and that they’re just crazy, and then offering you the gift of their honesty. That shit is not easy when you’ve just been harmed by behavior normalized through dominant scripts. If someone has bothered to share this with you after they manage to figure it out? The likelihood is that they hope you’ll hear them – even if they sound defensive, scared, sad, angry, or otherwise upset when they bring this to you. Instead of challenging them to logic battles or insisting that they provide evidence, kindly recognize just how hard it is to understand and name harm one has experienced. Assume there’s some truth to what they’re saying, and take on the role of helping them articulate it better if it’s wordless or fuzzy at first. Honour the gift by listening and asking questions, and taking it upon yourself to educate yourself.
8. Notice if your tendency when called out is to bolt. Notice if your tendency when you bolt is to turn to a reaffirming other female friend and ask them to reassure you that you’re really not sexist. If your friend feels loyal to you, they’ll want to support you and they may see things your way, but they aren’t the one who experienced the problematic behaviour, so they’re not the one you should be listening to. A female friend who is not the person you dated may not know how you behaved in that dating context, and so may not be the best one to tell you whether you’ve actually acted like an unconscious douche. The nature of structural forms of oppression like sexism is also such that we all internalize the normalcy of oppressive behavior; discomfort with conflict or a desire to be the ‘good’ member of that group, or simply to be on your side because they are your friend, can also come into play. Be wary of your desire to just seek proof of your goodness, rather than actually being a good person by being open to learning about ways you can be a better ally. If you notice you want to retreat to women who praise you, take time to check that response to find out what you can learn from the women who trust you enough to tell you where you have blind spots.
9. Give up on trying to be perfect. It just gets in the way. Get used to process. You fuck up, you learn, you grow. If you want right relationships with other human beings in our shared spaces and communities, show that you walk the walk by being big about admitting mistakes quickly and rolling with them. Make amends, make it better in your actions as well as your words. That honours the trust people have given you.
10. Share the load. Consider it your responsibility to be continually self-reflexive about your actions and their effects. Don’t wait to be taught, because that puts multiple burdens on the other: to understand and name the harm that’s affecting them, and to take the risk to talk to you about it, and to find language to articulate it in a way you’ll hear. Those things all take a lot of energy and are not easy. So if someone you’re dating gets angry at you and has a hard time articulating why, check your defensiveness and listen. If you want to be a feminist, you are going to have to challenge yourself to invite having things you do, that you don’t notice, pointed out, without withdrawing or attacking or putting the burden of proof on women. Don’t try to defend yourself and say you’re ‘not sexist.’ One of the features of oppression is that it creates silence. Articulating what has happened to you is particularly difficult when you’ve born the brunt of oppression, particularly if you were raised to believe it is normal. So it is hard enough for someone experiencing the impact of your actions to figure out how to name them; if you want to be a feminist that is your job, not just hers.
11. Do you believe in solidarity and mutual aid? Do you also believe we are all just individuals? Notice the contradiction in those beliefs. Question the assumed values you may have inherited from capitalist forebears, and put them to the test of your belief in mutuality. If you are a socialist who still believes that we are all individuals who enter voluntarily into relations and can exit them without accountability, notice the contradiction. Human beings are not interchangeable, fungible entities who freely enter into contractual relations; we are interdependent and need each other to live. It is a very privileged position to be able to retreat to your individualism when you have harmed someone, rather than being in relation with them, and staying present for the change as that relation shifts out of a romantic one to something new and long-term you both are comfortable with. Your theory and your lived daily practice will line up if you notice this contradiction.
12. Which leads to the next point: if you cause harm, even by accident, and someone calls you on it, and you believe we are all mutually interdependent, ‘i need space’ is not an acceptable response. You can take space to get your head clear so you can listen and know yourself better – but that kind of space is measured in hours, or at most days. If you want ‘space’ measured in months, you’re not taking space, you’re avoiding responsibility.
Get used to being uncomfortable and learning to have loving, clear, and interconnected boundaries that honour your internal voices as well as the needs of the other humans you share this planet and this community with – that is where learning happens. So when the zombies or the bankers come for us, we won’t have to waste energy fighting each other.
13. Saying ‘sorry’ only means something if your behaviour changes. On its own it does not remedy the situation. ‘sorry’ has to come with responsiveness.
14. Similarly, don’t threaten to leave if emotions are running high. Those kinds of threats just exacerbate the situation. If you can calm your own knee-jerk tendency to avoid, and offer a grounded listening presence instead that honours your own emotions and those of the other person, you’ll find that foundation reduces the intensity of the emotions coming at you quite a lot. remember that you care about each other, and/or that you’re both humans sharing this planet, and that we need each other to survive. connect your daily life and daily relationship practices with your beliefs in social justice, mutual aid, anticapitalism, marxism, etc. When the zombie apocalypse comes (or we bring it about?) we will need skills for getting along with each other and being able to work together even after we hook up. Start practicing now.
15. If you find you are paralyzed with feelings of guilt and resentment (sample script: “I feel guilty, but I shouldn’t feel this guilty because i didn’t do anything, well maybe i did something small, but it’s not worth feeling this guilty, and I feel guilty because she’s upset even though I didn’t do anything, so it’s her fault I feel guilty, so since she made me feel guilty unfairly, I don’t have to deal with this!), notice the internal script, and check it. Your feelings of guilt may be completely useless and completely out of proportion to the situation.
If they prevent you from being responsive and accountable, they cause more harm than good. Learn to recognize the difference between internal feelings of guilt or shame, and the external messages you are receiving or reality you are observing. Practice this skill in general in your life to be a more responsive radical; the same skill at working through inherited guilt scripts to become responsive, that makes you a better lover and friend to your exes, also makes you more responsive to the violence of colonization, and other structural violence in which most of us are complicit.
16. If you find yourself disregarding something she is saying because she is upset as she is saying it, notice that this is sexism. You may have been raised to believe emotion is not rational and is therefore not legitimate. That is for you to unlearn, not for you to impose on others. Emotion and intuition, when finely honed, serve clear thinking. Don’t retreat into your head or use logic to disconnect from empathy when you find emotions coming your way; clear thinking is informed by ethics and compassion. Build up your capacity to feel and to respond to feelings in a rational, intuitive, self-aware way. You’ll be more human for it, and a better feminist, too.
17. Sometimes being wrong is a gift. be grateful for your mistakes and for the interdependence that lets you maintain relationships through them. Feel proud of your strength to be able to say “I messed that up. I’m very sorry. I’d like to not make that mistake again. How do I make things better?” and then to be able to follow through in your actions.
18. The benefits? other than ‘integrity’ and creating a better world and movement, the personal benefits of walking the walk include deeper friendships with those strong feminist women you find yourself attracted to, after the hooking up ends.
Benefits may also include creating more spaces where kind, gentle, intuitive people – who may be the same people as those strong feminist women you like so much – can be themselves and open up to you.
Practicing consent, which includes the ability to work with emotions during and after a hookup or a relationship ends, creates more shelters, more places from which our movements can heal, ground, and resist from a place of strength. It calls into question received forms of masculinity that shut down parts of men from the time they are young. It is good solidarity. And it just may open your heart.