Identifying as feminist, womanist, or as a part of any group that advocates for gender equality brings with it a unique set of challenges when entering the dating scene.
Terms like these, though certainly less stigmatized at a liberal arts college consortium in Southern California than in other places, create burdens for women that are often left unacknowledged and unvoiced outside of conversations with friends.
It is important to note that these issues extend beyond the experiences of cis women, as trans, non-binary, and intersex people face similar, yet uniquely difficult, challenges. Therefore, I will be using the term womxn as I write to express the commonalities of these groups, but acknowledge that the levels of hardship differ for each group.
These burdens are clear in all realms of sexuality, as most relationships are impacted by heteronormative gender roles in some way or another.
On Sept. 19, these issues moved beyond late-night dorm room discussions and entered Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE).
During the first part of the “Dating While Feminist” series, Scripps College students examined an array of struggles, from the sacrifice of one’s feminist ideals while in a committed relationship to feeling unfulfilled after attempting to ‘win’ the 5C challenge.
The 5C challenge encourages people to sleep with at least one student from each of the five colleges as soon as possible. This challenge sets sexual goals in a way that is reminiscent of conquest. It further perpetuates unhealthy narratives equating hook ups to victories, making it seem like there must be a winner and a loser.
The most striking aspect of the conversation for me was the ways in which communication (from womxn, specifically) is perceived as a weakness. As an upfront individual, I have often battled against the ‘cool girl’ mentality that I have been taught to abide by. My desire for clarity from a partner, be it romantic or sexual, often leaves me feeling weak, on a lesser level than the person I am engaging with.
It is important to notice all the small things I do that go against my view of feminism when I attempt to date, such as putting on flats when meeting up with a possible romantic or sexual interest.
I am 5’10” and wearing heels is a daily tradition that reminds me of the space I deserve to take up. Yet, I often find myself sliding on my flattest sandals when I may be interacting with someone I want to be attracted to me.
That is not true to who I am, yet it is a way for me to minimize what I consider to be my feminism, and myself. I replicate this with my communication habits.
If I ask the dreaded question “What are we?” or inquire about the other person’s feelings toward me, I automatically feel as though I have lost points in a game I don’t know how to play. While many feel an inability to navigate hookup culture, womxn find themselves losing power on multiple levels due to gender differences.
I have found this phenomenon to be most apparent when engaging with cis men, as it seems necessary I remain nonchalant if I am to maintain any sense of control. The assumption from those that believe a womxn communicating correlates directly to her being clingy or infatuated is entirely ungrounded.
Most often, I search for clarity so that I can calculate how many hours I will be putting into a person. It is a time-saving method at its very least, a way for me to ensure I will be able to balance everything I need to, yet it is seen as something very different altogether.
While commentary on the feminizing of emotions has been extensive, the feminizing of basic, respectful communication is also a problem.
The reasoning behind this is power, for being honest lends oneself to vulnerability. This vulnerability further exacerbates the helplessness I often feel in relationships with men. Even with men I do not particularly care for, being candid seems to give them the sense that I have suddenly fallen in love with them, when generally it is in fact the exact opposite.
Specifically at college campuses, womxn often end up being perceived as anything other than ‘chill,’ simply for vocalizing their opinions. I am afraid of appearing overly emotional, overly feminine, and overly invested when I interact with men.
I often disregard my feminist ideologies and naturally upfront nature in order to appear as uninterested in someone as is possible. While one cannot be expected to be the perfect image of feminism at all times, there is a level of guilt that arises in these situations.
I find myself doing this less so in queer relationships, causing me to question the strength of my own pro-womxn beliefs on a recurring basis. Womxn often blame themselves for not acting as a ‘good’ feminist, but acknowledging how difficult it is to constantly act that way is a part of the growth process.
As a feminist, the balance between holding onto the power of nonchalance and also respecting myself enough to value my own time has always proved to be delicate and easily broken.
Even when I am in queer relationships, the pressure to behave in the ‘correct’ way is still there, and I find myself stifling my own honesty in a desperate attempt to behave in the manner by which I was taught. I have been instructed to tone down my candidness, that men don’t want desperate women, and this seeps into my interactions with non-men as well.
As someone who was closeted well into high school, when I did come out, I took the ways in which I had learned to present myself for the male gaze and attempted to translate this into queer spaces, resulting in obviously unhealthy interactions.
Realizing that my own internalized misogyny does not make me a ‘bad’ feminist is important. The unlearning process is a long one, and sometimes remaining distant (therefore fulfilling the ‘cool girl’ persona) is a protective measure.
It is exhausting work to be a proud feminist while looking for love, sex, or both. We cannot blame ourselves for taking the necessary time to unravel our own knots of misogyny. We have years of it to untie.
Josie Winslow is a second year at Scripps College studying international affairs and writing. She has eight pets at home, including a bunny and chickens.