But I’m not, like, one of those crazy feminists or anything. You can still hold the door open for me!”
This was the qualifier I used to use, whenever explaining to someone my stance on human rights. I always felt the need to disassociate myself from the extremists, from the too intense, from the crazy, when discussing my beliefs around gender equality.
We’ve all been on one side of that equation, right? Either we’re deemed man haters and the killers of chivalry every time we utter the F word, feminism, or we’re the ones complaining about how those crazy femi-nazis won’t even let men open their doors these days.
Feminism and Dating
The overlap of feminism and dating has, quite honestly, been really hard to navigate for me. When people hear my stances on equality or the rights I think women should have, they assume I hate men or I’m anti-relationship, which I find to be totally unfair—I don’t believe that in order to be pro-women you have to be anti-men. And a lot of traditional dating practices are rooted in a sexist, patriarchal system, which makes a lot of normal dating feel a bit restricting to me.
Yet how do I date without actually dating? How does a feminist in 2017 date in a manner that promotes equality, yet realizes all the inequalities that still exist? Not to mention how does a feminist find a feminist guy who’s really, truly on board with equality!
There are a lot of parts of dating that feminists push back against—and for good reasons. We have traditions still around from a misogynistic society where marriage was largely an economic transaction. The pursuit, the date, the money spent, the manners a gentleman showed were all ways to prove he was of a social class worth marrying. And marrying was taking his name, becoming his property, and starting his family. Yikes.
It’s easy to want to push back against all those things. In today’s world, women are fighting so hard to be seen as equals. I’m independent! I have a job! I can pay! I can ask a boy out! I can open my own door!
But where is the balance? I find myself getting asked, more often than you would think, if I let men open the door for me, do I appreciate it or if I take it as an insult. And along those same lines, should feminists allow men to open the door, expect men to open the door, or even care if men open the door? It’s a revolving door around door opening, and I’m the first to get dizzy.
I've found for my situations that I care far more about someone’s true intentions than their actions. I think we all do. A man’s intentions of opening a door speak much louder than how many times on a first date he actually opened it. Is he opening it, this one time, as a show—trying to make a big deal out of a small gesture, to prove a point of his assumed, stereotypical manliness? Is he opening it because he truly believes that I, as the weaker sex, am unable to do such a task? Is he opening it tonight, for me, to make our date seem special? Is he opening it as a natural habit without even thinking, a reflection of his kindness toward others?
It’s up to each woman to figure out what she’s looking for and what she wants. Some people really value feeling taken care of, and men opening the door is a way to love them. Some people really value independence, and men opening the door is frustrating for them. Feminism is about letting each and every person—male or female—decide who they are and what they want. No shame in pushing against every single gender stereotype, no shame in fulfilling every single gender stereotype. There’s freedom to be you.
Personally, I value when a man asks me on an official date (not to “hang out”), opens my door, and pays for wherever we happen to go. Not for the sake of tradition it’s rooted in, but for what it shows about the man.
Asking someone out takes intentionality and risk. It involves naming a desire and acting on that desire—something far too rare these days. Opening the door for someone shows an awareness of others and an ability to put someone else’s needs before your own (albeit in a small way).
Paying for a date says, “I value this one-on-one time spent with you and I view it as an investment. I asked you to spend this time with me, and I am following through on that commitment to take you out.” None of these have to do with a guy being a “real man”—it all has to do with the type of man I am looking to date.
Feminism isn’t against manners; it’s against gender norms. I’m not against you holding the door for me out of politeness, but I am against you holding the door for me out of a sense of control. I don’t expect a man to always pay, to always be the one pursuing me, or to always be the “spiritual leader” (whatever that means).
I am more than happy to step into those roles from time to time. In fact, I want to step into those roles from time to time. I seek an equal give and take and a true partnership, not an agreement where we each clean our side of the room that’s been clearly divided by a piece of duct tape. I want something fluid and relational, not something rigid and transactional.
The best relationships I’ve seen don’t fit a mold. I think it’s time we stop trying to do so. Why are we holding people to expectations before we even know them? In any relationship—especially in the early stages of dating—this is an unhealthy habit. Instead of assuming things about someone’s hobbies based on their gender, let’s ask them. Instead of projecting someone’s feelings based on their sex, let’s give them freedom to be real. Instead of predicting someone’s talents based on their DNA, let’s see what they’re good at. Why do we insist on putting people in boxes, instead of breaking down walls to let them flourish?
So, feel free to open my door. As long as you remain open to me opening yours at some point—equality, after all, is what I’m after.
Cover image by Todd Cravens.