Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The thoughts of a feminist serial dater

By Nikita Blanes
I weirdly love dates. Dating it supposed to be fun and sexy. Regardless of the reason- for true love or a score board- dating should lead to a good time. We all know the anxiety it comes with, the fear of rejection, the courage you need to actually get to the point of asking someone out, how nerve-racking it is to be in front of someone you want to impress and so on. Despite the cons, we date, and often it’s surprisingly fun!

I go on a lot of dates, and I love it. Or used to anyways…It’s just not ‘surprisingly fun’ enough times to outweigh the costs anymore. I’m tired. I’m tired because dating takes a lot of energy by default, but when you’re a feminist, it just drains you.

I love getting dressed up, feeling attractive, going to a new cool bar, drinking fun cocktails that have witty names and too many ingredients. I like figuring out if I like this person, and I love throwing my dates for a loop and I especially love it when they throw me a curve ball. But these days that side of dating is getting shorter and shorter, and the fun is outweighed by the desire to go meet my friends instead. I feel too much pressure for it to go well.

It’s not the same pressure I used to feel, which stemmed from fear of inadequacy. Although questions like ‘am I pretty and smart enough for him?’ ‘will he think I’m stupid?’, still haunt me, and I have acted super weird on dates because I was nervous, and high on caffeine, recently and often. I’m not some kind of robot or Beyonce (sadly)…However, today I am secure enough to think I am a fun person to go out with, that I am worth the time and effort, and I really would rather be single than to be with someone I am not sure I want to spend time with. So the pressure shifted- it is on them to meet me half way to have a good time. You wouldn’t think it was too much to ask.

I work for NGOs that focus on ensuring women’s rights and on achieving gender equality. To top it off, I’m an expert on sexual violence. So I’m an activist, and the queen of dating apps and sites. I’ve been on OkCupid, Tinder, and Happen and others- all for a considerable amount of time. That means most of the guys I go on proper dates with I haven’t met before. That’s where the headache starts. Also, I’ve dated in Canada, France, the US and India, not to mention all the places I have vacationed in. So this isn’t me complaining about French men- although I’ll admit my fellow countrymen have been the source many of my frustrations. Men from all over the globe have made this blog possible, and have had a part in my exhaustion. So props to all of you out there! ;)

NOTICE: This blog does not mean to complain about men, bash them, or incite you to throw the towel in, rewatch Scrubs for the 16th time while eating rosemary ham and stop taking showers. I have some wonderful men in my life whom I love and respect. Plus we’ve all done stupid things to get someone to like us, so I’m not judging the entire male race, nor will I spitefully ridicule my ‘exes’. So although I could probably write a book about my romantic life- trust me- this is just a comment on the things I’ve had to go through as a feminist-serial-dater. I’m just spelling out some of my frustrations, which I am not the only one to face. Plus, whether I’m single or a polygamist- I will continue watching Scrubs and eating rosemary ham.

Anyways, I want to date because I want to have fun with someone I think is fun, spend some time with a man I can laugh with and feel attracted to and who respects me. I swear, these dudes exist. But this is not what I often end up with. It’s not only the fact that I met the guys I go on dates with online, because even the guys I’ve met at clubs, bars, friends of friends, and my friends, have led to the same tiresome conversations. You’re never safe from a superficially progressive guy, who is always quick to say ‘I love women’, ‘I do this cool progressive thing’, and will even say ‘I’m a feminist, cuz look at the women in my life’- and then BAM- he inserts a sexist/dumb comment in conversation. Surprise, when you scratch the surface of these boys, the shining glow of feminism disappears, leaving you with the ugly color of veiled sexism, generalizations, rape culture, stupidity, racism, and inaccuracy. These are the types of guys I have a bone to pick with- so I can subsequently throw it in their face.

First, even when I’m not dating or looking to, I have to deal with stereotypes, the same questions and conversations over and over about feminism, which eliminate many potentials, and make me avoid certain people at parties and dinners. When I do meet men, online or off, and they ask me what I do, their response is my first indicator of where they stand on the scale of ‘worth my time’. The reactions range from curiosity, to confusion, to smirks and eye rolling. It’s super rare that I get a ‘that’s cool’, and we move on. Those moments are treasured.

Next usual step: they ask me, ‘so are you a feminist then?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Yes. I’m sorry are you not? Do you not believe in the political-social-economic-sexual equality between men and women?’ You see, now I have flashcards I insert at a given moment every time I meet new people. It’s come to that. That’s how predictable people are. This happens to me all the time- weddings, dinners, parties, you name it, I didn’t escape it. Of course I have to keep my cool, spill out my answer, calmly but firmly explain, and show I will not let them say whatever they want, and end up becoming the ambassador for the entire feminist movement. I have to be very careful, because if I lose it, I’m thrown into the ‘angry feminist category’ and I’m done. Not that feminists have any legitimate things to be angry about, of course not! That’s totally irrelevant honey. I’ve been thrown into that category years ago by the way…but this is another topic, another blog, maybe.

When that sort of question comes early- I can eliminate possible romance straight away. It’s annoying that they ask the question but at least it’s early enough that I can move on to someone else on Tinder, or eliminate the possibility of dating the person standing in front of me from the start. With people like my florist, who ask me ‘what about men’s rights?’ I smile and say ‘I’m pretty sure the world revolves around men’s rights, and that feminism is about equality for all, not diminishing men’s or anybody else’s rights.’ But you see, I don’t care about my florist’s opinions, I say my peace, buy his flowers, because they’re really nice, but I don’t sleep with my florist. I expect more from a partner. When random people ask the question, I answer, it’s my job after all, and move on- done.

Things get complicated when I’m on the date, and haven’t detected signs of the superficial progressive or plain sexist dude prior to the meet-up. I’m usually stuck at a restaurant or bar, so I can’t just move on. I’m also polite enough to not run out 15mins into the date saying my dog died. So when questions such as those listed above come up I have to answer, always striving to stay level headed, at every question. There’s never only one. Clearly I’m not feeling the vibe, so I enjoy my drink without dilly-dallying and find some way or another to eclipse myself. The next day I send a polite response text to them, tailoring my go-to ‘break up texts’ to the dude: ‘you’re great- but not interested’ or ‘I ran into my ex- it’s true love- good luck’. We’re clearly not compatible.

Things get more complicated and annoying for me when I’m on the ‘devil’s advocate date’ or the ‘I’m curious but clueless date’. I hate the ‘devil’s advocate dates’ the most. The ‘I’m curious but clueless dates’ are just disappointing really. The curious clueless guy, is usually a ‘nice guy’, he’s polite, and is genuinely curious, but clueless. So when he finds out what I do, he is usually impressed, or agrees with me on the importance of this issue. He has genuine questions, and he thinks he’s got it. These are the ones that catch you by surprise. They say something that sounds natural to them but is totally off base at best, sexist and offensive at worst. It goes something like this:

‘Women and men should get the same rights, of course, but they’re fundamentally different, and it means they’re born just better at doing X, Y, and Z, so they’re never really equal’

‘Are you on your period by any chance? It’s just an honest question’

‘I think girls playing American football in lingerie is cool-It gets guys to watch women playing sports’

‘Men and women are equal, of course, they can do the same job equally well, but I wouldn’t hire a woman in her 30s, she’s more likely to want a family’

‘I just don’t’ want to date black women. I am not attracted to black women, it’s their features, not the fact that they’re black. I’m not racist, it’s just personal preference’

These are just examples, I could go on forever. These guys don’t get why what they said is that bad and offensive. That’s what’s confusing, because you end up conducting a training on gender sensitization on your date, or pitching a project proposal. Often, they’re also actually nice guys, which is the perverse part. The problem with these men is that they look so clueless, and are otherwise, nice and fun, that you feel it’s your duty to educate them. You think, ‘you’re so close dude! I’m gonna nudge you in the right direction.’ So you feel the need to teach them that what they said is sexist or offensive so they can learn. But I consider my personal mission accomplished if my intervention means that they will think twice before saying the victim-shaming thing they told me to an actual victim of sexual violence- even if they don’t know why.

I cannot let these offensive comments slide to the detriment of my own mental health, and I don’t want to let an opportunity for education and sensitization get away. Sometimes these dudes are just excited and want to talk about rape and deconstruct what they’ve learned, and that’s great, but do it during my office hours. Call me or my colleagues when I’m at work. I’m on a date, I’m out, I want to have fun, and not talk about rape again. That’s not to say that I won't be elated if you have awesome news, such as Gambia finally banning female genital mutilation and you want to share your joy!

But if you have questions, even if interesting, I will want to change the subject. When they’re just stupid, I answer the question anyways, and will discuss them after having pleaded to change the subject. I answer for the duration of that evening, but I can’t do it again. It’s too much of a strain. It’s my day job to raise awareness about sexual violence, talk about it and educate- I can’t do it with my partner too. I want to share what I learn with him, and learn from his point of view too, obviously. It’s the cherry on top if he’s interested in what I have to say about the subject and contributes, but I don’t want my relationship with him to be like conducting a never-ending workshop. I don’t have the energy. You need to have a basic understanding of the world we live in and some level of awareness, or else I can’t date you. We can be friends…maybe.

So these dates are disappointing, and tiring but they’re not the worst. It’s the ‘devil’s advocate date’ I dread the most. They take so much out of me. Let me paint you a picture, I meet up with this guy at some bar I’ve been dying to try. This guy is usually good-looking, or he often thinks he is the bomb- often a lawyer or political scientist type of a guy, or is on Wall Street. His looks and charm are annoying because they blur his personality and warning signs. This dude is sly- because he doesn’t ask the direct questions like ‘are you a feminist?’ He thinks he’s a feminist on most issues, and he has thought about it and has questions. Man, does he have questions! I realized after a few of these dates that this type of guy doesn’t have questions, he has comments. What they’re doing is testing me. They want to know how much they can get away with, how much I know about this, how well I can formulate an argument which they won’t believe in, but can respect if I articulate it well enough. They want to know how well the feminist monkey can dance. Sometimes they can start off as an ‘I’m curious but clueless date’, making them tricky to spot- but then they reveal themselves, and turn into either the ‘I’m curious, are you for real a feminist activist?’ date or the ‘I’m curious, will you challenge what I say, and if so how well?’ date. These can look a bit like this:

‘Rape is bad, but I mean there are so many false accusations, how can you ruin men’s lives with so little proof?

I respond- disagreeing- taking the victims’ perspective

‘Yeah yeah totally- well let me just play devil’s advocate here- I’m not saying I don’t believe you- but putting a man in jail for something he didn’t do is horrible. Many of these cases are just women wanting revenge’- [insert here: angry rambling, inaccurate stat, victim shaming comment, ignorance on victims]

‘What do you think about quotas? I’ve thought about it, although men and women should have parity, I think the quota system doesn’t work and is actually saying women need help to get elected/hired. They aren’t needed, I hire based on individual candidates and personal characteristics, so do all the men I know.’

I give a first argument why quotas are necessary…So happens I wrote papers on this.

‘Right, but I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here…[insert next sexist question and reasoning that I have answers to]’

#2 is my favorite- quotas are for some reason THE subject that gets the superficial progressive riled up. To this day I still wander how much someone can play devil’s advocate without being the actual devil.

I welcome constructive criticism, at work and from my friends, and I like when my friends and colleagues challenge my reasoning to make me better, and show me a new perspective. I love that. But these dudes don’t want to refine my arguments, these dudes want to win. Well I’m not going to let them f*****g win. Guys, you don’t to get to go through life saying whatever the hell you want unchallenged. I don’t, so why should you?

It’s exhausting and I end up torn. I could just quickly finish my drink and leave, and answer nonchalantly. Unfortunately I’m not capable of that yet, and by then I’m usually 2 drinks in. It also just so happens on some level I’m always angry, kind of like the Hulk. So I can control myself a while, calmly answer, but my body’s temperature is already high. By then, it only takes a light press on the wrong button, and you don’t have time to realize my blood’s reached boiling point and I’ve transformed into the Feminist Hulk.

At that point, I don’t care if he thinks I’m on my period, and am just another crazy angry feminist bitch. If the next time he talks to a woman, he thinks twice before saying whatever thing that set me off, (usually victim shaming comments), and doesn’t say it because he is afraid she might have the same reaction I did- I still WIN. Think about it, 1 in 3 women worldwide is a victim of violence, if I can spare one the horror of a shaming or painful comment- you bet I will.

But I can’t date someone I have to educate and battle with all the time. I want my partner to challenge me to be a better person not just challenge everything I say. Giving a girl a hard time playfully, chiding them and having debates, does not equate to having arguments on domestic violence and access to reproductive health services. It’s possible- I’ve dated men who liked to be challenged and who would also not take the crap the worst version of myself would give them.

I am 23 and tired, guys. But you know what? I’ll keep dating. I believe in men, you’re capable of more and better despite what you think. My male besties -who have always picked me up when their fellow men had pushed me down- remind me all the time that men can be better, and grow to be amazing humans. Don’t let me down.

So guys, if you go out with a girl who’s cool enough to want to split the bill because she doesn’t think it’s fair you have to pay for her company, or one who wants to buy you a drink, if she doesn’t need you but wants you in her life, don’t treat her like a tissue- be happy she bought you beer. For the love of all that is holy, stop trying to push her to the edge of insanity. She has emotions just like you, limits to her patience, just like you do-not just a menstrual cycle. She already has so many things to deal with, don’t add your name to her shit list.

When in doubt live by the words of our modern day poets Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey- “Baby, if you give it to me, I give it to you.”

Warning: Hi future Devil’s Advocates and other a**holes, my name is Nikita, and I won’t let you win. No, I won’t let you get away with that rape joke, or offensive comment. Give me another drink, keep pushing, and the little patience I have accumulated over the years will disappear. Also I am not alone, your glory days are over.

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