Love in the Time of Feminism

Hello, my name is Cuppy van der Cake and I am a single feminist.

Dating as a feminist isn’t actually as glamorous as you might think (for starters, the expressions of genuine surprise when I show up on a date wearing a skirt and heels–“Wow, you look amazing. Wait, you’re a feminist. Are you allowed to do that?” Foot In Mouth Disease continues to afflict huge numbers of our nation’s men). Feminism is such an “f-word” in our society and so loaded with so many connotations–most of them patently false–that just casually dropping the word into conversation can lead to more melodramatic facial expression than a college performance of Hamlet. On the one hand, it’s a great litmus–if the guy immediately looks like his genitals just took up residence high up in his abdomen, he’s probably not compatible with me. I’ve also gotten some great teaching opportunities out of it, such as with my friend who, when out with me once, remarked, “I still can’t get over the fact that you’re a feminist. I mean, you’re so much fun!” (While I enjoy elucidating my politics to him semi-regularly, you’ll note he’s no more than f riend.) Sure, it’s always great to demystify feminism and have the opportunity to help someone better understand what this whole racket is about.

Trust me, I’ve got my fair share of aggravation that it requires the guy hoping that he’ll get laid to make him willing to actually listen to me.

There’s also been the fair share of people who respond really poorly. That’s terribly disappointing, believe me, but also disappointing is the fact that they receive such mixed signals that it’s almost hard to blame them.

This morning, one of my friends linked me to an article on CNN about first date rules for guys to help them get a second date.  I don’t even know where to begin with disappointing this article is, and should be, for both women and men. For starters, the entire thing is just one constant reinforcement of gender roles in the worst way.

We do not want to decide where to go. We will never tell you this, but it is true. Ask us what kind of place and/or food we like; then, pick a place like that. Do not leave it up to us to choose. You are the man. Act like one.

Really? Is that REALLY necessary? Why does picking the place have to fall on the burden of the MAN? What does it have to do with gender? I’ve always thought that the person who does the inviting should make suggestions on where they would like to take the other person. I mean, why ask someone out if you have no ideas about what to do? But likewise, person being asked out, why would you agree to go out with someone if you can’t come up with something or someplace that you’d like to share with them?

Ultimately, this is a disgusting reinforcement of the idea of women as receptacles in the dating world–we are passive objects, upon which dating is an action that men perform. Why on earth would we want to show any agency in making any decisions or being active in the potential relationship? Our willingness to conform to whatever our man wants, and to prop up his ego with grateful appreciation that he has spared us from the agonizing pain of having to make a decision, is really where our charm lies. Or at least it must be, because our charm is apparently not in the fact that we know a really great hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant with a fantastic cocktail list that we’d love to share with someone interesting.

If you forget, we will feel angry and want to leave. Then you will be sorry.

Are we on a date, or are we negotiating a hostage situation? Yes, that’s right, do as I wish or NO VAGINA FOR YOU! Listen buddy, I’m not screwing around here–either you start listening and asking thoughtful and sensitive questions, or I will start letting my pubic hair grow in! YOU’LL BE SORRY!

Feminism, shmeminism. Take care of the bill without comment. That is what we want. Wave off any offer to go dutch. We lied. We don’t want to pay half.

Oh. My. God. Do I even need to say anything? I can’t even decide which part of this comment to bold for emphasis. It’s just all so finger-lickin’ good rage-inducin’ IDIOCY. I can’t bring myself to sell short any of it by emphasizing one part over another.

Sweet merciful apeshit pogosticking christ on a fuckshingle.

MUST we push women back fifty years every time we turn around? Really? Look, I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it when a guy picks up the tab because my dates usually make more than I do–I’m a grad student and I work in the education sector, so if you think I can afford, well, anything, then you’d be wrong–but to expect it, and to suggest that not paying the whole tab could be the reason why a guy doesn’t get a second date… That is incredibly insulting.

It is 2010. The age demographic that is reading CNN and stumbling upon these dating tips are presumably all in at least their 20s. Therefore, we have jobs, we have apartments, many of us have crippling student loans, possibly even car loans or mortgages. Gym memberships, cell phones, all of that jazz–modern living is not cheap, and yet us ladies are managing to pay our way through all of that. So why, for fuck’s sake, can we not pay for our share of a dinner? What happened to being independent and competent?

Don’t even get me started on my reaction to the “feminism shmeminism” bit. I think I burst so many blood vessels from my rage that I have permanently discolored my face (bonus: no more need to navigate the tricksy dating landscape!). THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG. THIS IS WHERE MIXED SIGNALS COME FROM.

Women: are we still children? Do we need our dates to be our fathers? If the answer is NO, then find that backbone that you surely must have somewhere inside that body of yours and pay for your fucking dinner! If that’s too challenging, then maybe offer to pay for after dinner drinks. Basically, this isn’t the 50s anymore–women can, and do, work. We have our own income, so there’s no longer a RATIONAL reason to have the men pay. It’s just upholding a gender imbalance, encouraging restrictive roles, and continuing to relegate women to commodities that are purchased (sure, he’s not actually handing you cash and saying “that’ll be one blowjob, please,” but there’s a heavy cultural subtext in that direction).

Anyways, continuing on down the line. Let’s say the date is successful, despite all these ridiculous expectations and bullshit norms flying around, and we keep on seeing each other. We make it to the sexytimez. Awww yeeeaaah.

First off, as Lady GaGa has so aptly observed, “When a guy says, ‘Oh I fucked all these chicks this week,’ there’s a high-five and giggling. But when a woman does it and its publicised or she’s open about her sexuality or she’s free or liberated, it’s, ‘Oh, she must have a dick.'”

So, that certainly launched into the “oh god it’s hard to be a woman and have sex” segment of this post!

But yeah, it’s hard to be a woman and have sex. The virgin/whore dichotomy is so popular and so prevalent that it almost doesn’t need a name; it’s just “our culture.” Women need to be sexy and sexualized and utterly sexually available–but also to just one man. He shouldn’t have to exert any effort to obtain her services–because that would make her a tease; she’d be blueballing him!–but nonetheless he should be the only man who ever has or ever will touch her. (Why is this? Is it because every man secretly knows that Captain Kirk is the coolest, so they too want to go where no man has gone before? Is it rampant insecurity about their performance? Is it the ability to claim ownership of the woman’s sexuality? I have no idea. I prefer not to hypothesize too much.)  So if you can even manage to get to the sexytimes, they are fraught with the peril that you will suddenly transform from desirable partner into shameful hussy, all in the matter of minutes.

As it turns out, sex is FUN. It feels good. The female body is wired incredibly well for sex. Ladies, our bodies kick ass. Even without another person present, our bodies are capable of some truly awesome stuff. So really, there is no shame in enjoying sex.

But of course, now sex has become a performance. Jezebel had a great piece about skin mags in Britain that talks about the pornification of sex. In it, author Natasha Walters observes “sex was now seen much more as a kind of performance rather than the intimacy and communication and emotional experience that it was once seen as, and I think that’s clearly tied in to the rise of pornography.” Now, as Anna, the author at Jezebel, notes, sex isn’t necessarily about intimacy and communication and emotions (and it doesn’t need to be), but it shouldn’t really be a performance. Real life sexual encounters and porn are two different things. The “pornification” of sex is getting ridiculous (no, really. If I was more into sharing my personal life, I’d have some stories!) and it’s leaking into the ability of people to have healthy, enjoyable sex lives.

I’m not saying it’s not fun to smack the occasional ass, pull some hair, shove up her skirt and go at it doggie style on the kitchen counter (because it’s fun. It’s really fun). However, porn is about sex LOOKING interesting. Sex is about sex ACTING interesting. Like with fancy shoes, just because it looks good doesn’t mean it feels good.

There was an article a while back on Salon that I just never get tired of linking: How Not To Make Love Like a Porn Star. I laugh so hard every time I read it, and I just keep coming back to it because it just keeps being true.

But I will conclude (because I’ve been working on this entry too long and really need to get to class) with the simple question of: how do you make it work? How do you own your sexuality and get what you want in bed without having to deal with enormous fallout from the social implications? How do you have a satisfying dating life without being a passive receptacle? How can you be a force for positive change in the dating paradigm without being so over the top that you lose people’s attention? It’s easy to be sexually aggressive, get what you want, etc, but if you’re too overwhelming, you get branded a “slut” and no one will listen. It’s frustrating and ridiculous, but there we have it.

I’m passionate about the concept of “every day feminism” and making how you live your life and conduct yourself in everyday ways be little acts of feminism. Live your dissent! So, it seems to go without saying to me that how I date, engage in relationships, and have sex absolutely must be informed by my feminism (thank god I’m nowhere near worrying about cohabiting or marriage, because that’s yet another can of worms that I occasionally reflect on, and then pretty much go into the fetal position from feeling overwhelmed). But how do I balance my personal feminism with the ability to make feminism more accessible? Teaching and opening minds is quite possibly one of the single most important things in my world (oops, is my grad school showing?) and I recognize that sometimes in order to bridge gaps, you must compromise. How does one achieve balance?

All that said, I’m glad that I live in a time when my concerns about dating and sex are how to balance them with my feminism. We don’t live in a golden age of women’s lib or anything, but I’m still glad that we’ve come far enough that I even have the option to worry about how to conduct my sexual relationships (that do not need to involve marriage) and so on. “How do I best live my feminism?” is the kind of pretty awesome problem that I’m okay with having to work with.


02/25/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.


  1. Tasty replied:

    Pretty awesome stuff. Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother once about how women are portrayed to men not so much as human beings with all their own quirks and ideas and lives, but as really difficult early ’90s Nintendo platformers: there’s exactly one way to win each part of a dating relationship, and if the dude does ANYTHING wrong, Mario falls into a pit and no sex for the dude! Of course, all women are exactly the same and respond to the same ‘correct’ actions (like paying for dates), and all men just want sex, so really, to be the ‘winner’, all you’ve got to do is follow the exceptionally narrow patriachy-defined gender roles we’ve been assigned, and you’re set to go!

    Mind if I link this to the BARCC blog?

  2. Jennifer replied:

    Hello! I stumbled across your blog and really like this. I’m also a feminist (equalist? I don’t even know what to say) and sadly single…I rarely get dates, not because of that but for some other reason…anyway it is tough bringing up something like this because people get weird about it! I just have to say, I love your criticism of the dating rules article. I see so much of that all the time, really sexist pieces that make me cringe. Stuff like on facebook, “100 Things Guys Need to Know”, and all written with “we” and “you”. Some are blatantly sexist and stupid. I remember one saying “You can never be late, but it’s okay for me to be late because I’m the girl.” They’re so aggressive and irrational. It makes me awfully sad some anxious men may wind up believing this and end up either absolutely paranoid when dating, or just become resentful and angry! So nice criticism.

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