Establishing a Feminist Dating Litmus Test
Last week, I interviewed Jaclyn Friedman about fucking while feminist and the tangled web feminists weave when we try to bring a relationship partner into our down-with-the-patriarchy worlds. In the interview, Friedman expressed the desire to establish a dating litmus test that feminists can use to weed out incompatible matches early on in the relationship. Friedman used to screen guys who professed a love for Fight Club, but she abandoned that particular test after she "learned that a lot of smart, progressive, even feminist guy like Fight Club." Is there any shortcut that feminists can use to ensure they're not wasting their time on misogynists? After Friedman bared her dating dilemmas, the feminist blogosphere exploded with insight on the idea of the feminist fucking litmus test. But first, I'll share my own litmus test:
Mine is pretty simple. I don't require people I date to identify as feminist, or be aware of what "male privilege" is, or watch porn with a critical eye, or give even the tiniest shit about gender roles in Superbowl commercials. Of course, I've got some idiosyncratic deal-breakers unrelated to feminism (if you have ever changed your handle or IP address in order to comment multiple times on a blog post, it is probably not going to work out). My dating litmus test is the same one that many have used to consider candidates for the United States Supreme Court: If you don't support a woman's right to abortion, then we can't have sex, ever.
Jill Filipovic at Feministe suggests that it's a lot easier to suggest litmus tests for other feminists to follow than to actually weed out men based solely on principle:
Even getting to the point of “this is a person worth dating in the first place” is… not easy. Any relationship requires compromise and flexibility, sure; but how and where to compromise on the feminism thing is particularly difficult because we aren’t talking about a political issue here, we’re talking about a way of seeing the world. I also watch a lot of women date men who are, to be kind, Not Great, but they want to date someone and Not Great Guy is there I guess. I remember being at one feminist conference or another, and an audience member who identified as a feminist asked a panel of feminist writers what they do about the men in their lives who joke about sexism — she was engaged, she said, and her fiance and her dad love to joke about how she should get in the kitchen and make them a sandwich, ha ha ha, and she told them a bunch of times that it bothers her but that they still do it. And all I could think was, “Oh sister they are not joking, dump that dude and dump him now.” But I’m pretty sure I could have said that and she would not have dumped that dude, now or otherwise. And then I remembered that I once dated a dude who sat me down to watch an episode of Tough Love (“I know you’re skeptical, but he totally helps these girls!”) where host-man tells one of the contestants that she’s so slutty she’s going to get herself raped. I voiced my disgust and he was basically like, “But host-man is kind of right, don’t you think?” And I didn’t dump that dude on the spot either, even though I felt so gut-punched I could barely talk.
Point being, it’s awfully easy to look at other feminist women and think that they are making obviously terrible choices with their love lives; it is much harder to actually find someone who meets all the requirements of a feminist litmus test, and is single and is someone you’re attracted to and is also attacted to you and is someone who you want to discuss things other than feminism with and is in the right place at the right time. So if you want a relationship — and I think that most people really do want relationships — you have to be able to put some things aside. Where and how you put your feminism aside is, for me, significantly harder than he likes cats and I’m more of a dog person.
Andrea Grimes at Heartless Doll doesn't cop to a particular litmus test, but she does say that her feminism has greatly improved her love life. At some point, her standards shifted in imperceptible ways, and it resulted in a quality-over-quantity change to her dating roster:
I didn't self-identify as feminist until a couple of years ago. It was a long process of consciousness-raising through blog-reading, book-buying and news consumption before I finally, at the age of 24, decided that feminism was the way to go. And I definitely did a whole hell of a lot more dating–casual and serious–before I was 24. Is feminism to "blame"? Hard to say. Being in college, and being young generally, put me in a bigger dating pool. I was less jaded, willing to put up with all kinds of shit and fairly serious about seeing what the world had to offer me in the way of dick.
. . . As I've gotten older, I find it much, much more difficult to even crush on anyone. The allure of the deadbeat rock-star-bartender is gone. I no longer want to sleep with a guy just because he looks like Dan Radcliffe. I'm not gazing longingly at every writer under age 70 with a Rolling Stone byline. Having had several long-term relationships and experienced the good and the bad that comes with, I'm much, much less personally invested in finding one again and far more comfortable and happy with myself overall. I fantasize about weddings, not marriage. (I need to upgrade my Hello Kitty toaster, anyway.)
But while my dating quantity has gone down as I identified as a feminist, the quality of dating has gone way, way up. If I never again talked to most of the guys I slept with before I was 24, I would not much be bothered. But the guys I've met and loved and screwed since will, I hope, remain my friends to some degree or another.
I think being a feminist has made me a better girlfriend, a better dater, a better lover, a better person generally. What's not to like? (Apart from the functional alcoholism and cat obsession.) Indeed, I polled guys I've dated since my feminist awakening, and none of them seem to take much issue with my fierce-ladyness. In fact, it seems to be something they're into. I asked them whether my feminism was a problem, and whether they're more or less attracted to feminists generally.
Merrit Martin from Heartless Doll says forearms first, feminism later:
... when I was dating, I would look for someone interested in learning about the feminist ideals and women's issues I believe in . . . though, to be honest, I'd do that after the first chit-chat and "do I even like his voice, forearms, hair, etc." part. I have to be honest—the physical part is important. I may be fairly traditional in terms of waiting a while before doing the deed, but if I can't even comprehend his P in my V (or at least Frenching a little), there's no point in finding out how he feels about Margaret Sanger.
Natalia Antonova keeps her feminism in perspective:
When I first meet someone, and decide that I adore them, I don’t really consider their politics at first. And while I usually mention that I’m a feminist, I do it in a flirtatious way—“yeah, I’m a feminist. A hardcore one.” . . . I don’t mind being anyone’s challenge, not initially, probably because I believe that initial attraction is always pretty superficial. I don’t even care if a guy offends me at first, because I’ll argue with him, and maybe he’ll argue back, and maybe we’ll discover that we actually have more in common than we realize, or else even less in common than previously thought. I’ve made my peace with the fact that “feminist” tends to be a loaded term, and when it provokes a reaction, I just deal with it, and move on. I don’t even think about it much anymore. It’s a little like being on autopilot.
Whenever I sacrifice my feminism for a man, I do it while remembering that it’s feminism that allows me that choice in the first place.
Viv at Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog has got a litmus test that works on the very first date:
In terms of feminist dating litmus tests, it’s nearly 20 years since I last dated, and perhaps this one isn’t so uncommon now as it was then, but one of my litmus tests was: is he OK about me thinking of something we could go see together, me ringing him up to invite him, and then me organising and paying for the tickets plus paying for the meal beforehand? My experience was that some men found this reversal of stereotypical dating roles confronting. Most were surprised, definitely. My partner of the last nearly 20 years hardly turned a hair (this doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our “why can’t you see this is a problem?” moments at times, but it was a damn good start).
Some Sexist commenters offered up their own guidelines. bellacoker looks for men who have been capable of change:
I have a litmus test, but not about feminism particularly. If the topic comes up in conversation I pay close attention to how potential partners discuss their previous partners, how those relationships ended and how they distribute the blame.
Super bonus points for being able to analyze personal situations critically and admit and learn from their own imperfections. Complete deal breaker for references to how their ex’s are any kind of “crazy,” unless diagnosed by an actual mental health professional in a clinical setting.
Amber looks for men who treat her as an individual:
In my current relationship with a very good man I have taken an incremental approach to explaining what feminism is and how it relates to his life. When we hear a story about “corrective rape” in South Africa on NPR that can become a conversation about the rape culture here. When we see an ad that sexualizes rape, I try to explain how these images normalize violence against women. Why “Law and Order SVU” sucks. Point being, I’ve tried to show him the world through my eyes. There are compromises; the gender roles are a little more traditional than I would like but he passes my personal litmus test of seeing me as an individual rather than filling the role as an archetype for their personal narrative. I’ll take it.
And DB's litmus test sounds awkward:
Potential litmus #1:
his last girlfriend isn’t an idiot (ask for references)
Photo by L Marie, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0