"Do you know how hard it is to date a feminist?" My jaw dropped as the words spilled out of his mouth. I couldn't believe it was a serious question. How could this possibly be a question?
"No, but I do know how hard it is to date a misogynist," is what I should have screamed back. In that instant, I suddenly felt that I wasn't 100% respected.
Instead, I sat there in disbelief, convincing myself it was okay. These were the people I'd have to face for the rest of my life. I wasn't wrong for thinking that. Fighting for what you believe in is hard, and if we want to achieve gender equality, it's going to take everyone's effort. However, my experience as an activist and heterosexual woman has taught me that the most effective way to advance this cause is to date someone who doesn't cringe at the word "feminism."
The lack of education and ignorance surrounding the beauty of feminism can fog many people's worldview. I can hardly claim myself a feminist without receiving suspicious glares and assumptions that I'm a "man hater," but I'd like to settle the score. Just because I label myself a "feminist" does not mean I hate men. It means I believe women have every right to be respected as men do without question.
So, how do you know if your potential significant other is afraid of this particular f-word? For one, they refuse to call themselves a feminist. How familiar does this sound: "I'm not a feminist, but I believe in equality."
Yes, my eyes just rolled too.
Someone that understands feminism knows that, by definition, it refers to the complete equality of all genders. The person you date shouldn't be nervous or scared of the word "feminist" because inequality affects all of us. If the person you're with doesn't make an effort to understand the wage gap, rape culture, and the social inequality of women to men, then it is evident they do not respect you. This lack of respect can quickly take a turn for the worst. This can lead to your partner dominating your relationship. When one person dominates a relationship, the other inevitably feel submissive and oppressed. Relationships are built on compromise, love, and trust. Not domination.
Examples of dominance include anything from criticisms about your outfits to isolation from friends. Because of the dominance of the perpetrator, one might feel the only person they have in their life is their partner. No relationship should ever feel this way— it's emotional and psychological abuse. If you fear aspects of your relationship and your anxiety heightens when you think about things you wouldn't normally worry about, this is a red flag that your relationship could show signs of having an unequal balance of power. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV),
48.4% of women have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner. Furthermore, 4 in 10 women have experienced coercive control by an intimate partner in their lifetime. This dominant behavior is more common than people realize, and it is behavior that is the exact opposite of feminism.
Another way to tell if your partner doesn't respect you is if you feel guilty for voicing your opinion. While partners don't have to agree on everything, one should never feel guilty for standing up for themselves or having faith in their beliefs. A partner who makes you feel weaker or less intelligent because you say something they disagree with is not making your relationship an equal partnership. Relationships should never undermine a person's confidence or sense of self-worth. The NCADV
says that this kind of psychological abuse leads to long-term damage to a victim's mental health. One may experience depression, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, or even a higher chance of suicidal ideation.
In my past relationship, there was a power struggle because we were both dominant people. I felt as if my voice was never heard or respected because my partner didn't take the time to understand the oppression that women face every day. He was controlling, manipulative, and made me feel inferior to him. His false pretense included the behavior of pretending he was more intelligent than me, telling me what clothes I should wear, and even went to the extent of saying he was turned off by the idea of me not shaving. Even for one day.
These comments came from him daily, and made me feel like I wasn't good enough for him, lowered my self-esteem, and triggered my PTSD from a past that I worked so hard to recover from. I suffered through a love that sometimes nourished me, but more often than not broke me down.
Just as love is defined by respect and trust, so is feminism. But the stigma around feminism has prevented far too many people from seeing this. I'm not a man-hater. I just want to be equal and have my voice heard in any loving relationship.
In the feminist community, there are many debates about what equality looks like. This is not only limited to society, but also extends to the relationship between two loved ones. Feminism advocates for a balance of power, a concept that shouldn't intimidate people. It doesn't advocate for "man-hating" in any possible way.
Too many times, potential lovers do not see the benefits of dating a feminist. A feminist will work as hard as they can to show equal amounts of effort, love, and respect for their partner. Because of the modern stigma, this idea of equality is largely lost in the sea of accusations of the feminist being a “man-hater."
But feminism, by its very nature, fosters an unbreakable love because it is rooted in equality, empathy, and respect. And if you can't respect that, it's safe to say you're not worth my time.