Dating While Feminist

By Sarah Tate Chambers

This past week, The Sexist interviewed Jaclyn Friedman on “Fucking While Feminist”.

It’s a magnificent (and short) piece that centers on how straight, single feminists choose their straight male dates (or sexual partners). This enormous question has kept my roommate and I up for hours on end. We’ve yet to come to an answer.

I tend to set the bar incredibly high which inevitably leads to dissatisfaction and coffee dates with friends. Although, I prefer friends to dates 90% of the time, I’ll end up deciding that trying to date someone who falls a bit below the bar might be worth the fun. Somewhere along the way, that man will disappoint me and I’ll feel guilty for choosing a guy who wasn’t top notch. Perceiving it as political failure of the most egregious kind, I add fifty pages to my litmus test. Low and behold, the cycle begins again.
Jaclyn’s interview is a refreshing break from that cycle, as she gives space for this negotiation. Even its low points.


“I don’t feel like I can go in to these dates expecting dudes to know as much about feminism or sexuality studies or rape culture, the stuff that I live my life talking about and thinking about. I feel like I’m going to die alone if I do that.”

Perhaps, I need to make space for men whose lives don’t revolve around the same issues. Can men still be aware and able to engage in a healthy relationship, of whatever nature, even if they aren’t informed on these issues? Is there a bottom line?

Jaclyn’s “bottom line” seems to change depending on the type of relationship she’s looking for.

“So I do feel that I have to try to be flexible out of necessity. But if I were to end up with someone–and I do want a long-term, stable relationship with someone at some point–they would have to be feminist on some basic level. They would have to be.”

I’ve taken the advice from the Sexton at my church in DC, “Get a kick out of life and pursue your dreams. Enjoy dating men, but don’t squander it all on trying to “love” an unworthy man.” So until I’m surprised, casual dating it is. When a long-term stable relationship does happen, I can’t imagine sharing my life with a guy who doesn’t claim some form of feminism. In the meantime, a different way of selecting men might be productive. Let me tell you, rigid standards lead to little but rowdy debates and a surplus of self-flagellating feminist men. Is casual dating more accessible to feminists if we relax our standards? What are we gaining and loosing by our litmus tests?
Another magnificent point by Jaclyn: even a wonderful feminist date can “end up being an ass…in unrelated ways.” I laughed out loud when I read this. I went to a small Mennonite college for my first two years, where Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies (PJCS) was a fairly popular major. I dove into relationships with guys involved in PJCS and Women’s Studies, assuming that they would be impeccable dates. Shockingly, they were still flawed! Setting the bar high doesn’t ensure compassionate and lively dates, even men who make the cut can still be less than lovely.

In the end, the bar might eliminate some genuine guys who have big smiles and stories to tell. If my litmus test is going to be less dense, then I’ve got to find a way to negotiate first dates. Framing her feminism flirtatiously rather than screaming, “I’M ALL THESE THINGS, DEAL WITH IT!” is Jaclyn’s approach. If I’m not incredibly centered, I spend the first several hours asserting my boundaries with wide eyes and flailing hands. Hint: This doesn’t open up communication lines. Learning to be honest about myself and all aspects of my life with a bit of laughter and sass could lead to more, and more enjoyable, second dates.

Even with Jaclyn’s words, I still don’t have answers but I do have new intentions. I intend on reexamining my litmus test and remembering that even some who passed it weren’t incredibly delightful. Perhaps, I’ll still call a guy even if video of Staceyann Chin’s performance at Campus Progress doesn’t make his pulse race. In the beginning, I intend on focusing more on honesty and kindness and less on aggressive assertions. 
Other than that, I’m going to continue along with Jaclyn in examining my practices. She ends the interview by expressing doubts about her own methods, especially how her feminist contemporaries would judge them.

Feminists are in need of a wide dialogue about dating practices. So, lets begin it. 
How do you negotiate this murky mess called “dating”?

The Sexist’s interview with Jaclyn is here: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/03/26/fucking-while-feminist-with-jaclyn-friedman/

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