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20 May 2012

Young Feminists: Strong, Confident, & Single — Dating Distresses of a Young Feminist

By Christina Cherel

They say good men are hard to find and that sailing through the dating waters can be rough. I’ve found that, for an outspoken, pro-choice feminist woman in her early twenties, the pool of eligible bachelors is even shallower.

I have publicly self-identified as a feminist for about five years now. Even before my official declaration, dating was difficult — to say the least. I never purposefully attempted to emasculate prospective partners but, for some reason unknown to me, my opinions on legal abortion, access to reproductive health care, and women’s rights in general seemed to scare away even the most promising suitors. Our dates were enjoyable, we had good chemistry, and then the inevitable “F” word would find its way into our conversations — and that was it. Relationship over. It appeared as if the right to form my own opinions and beliefs was acceptable only as long as doing so did not empower me or other women.

My strong connection to feminist ideas are at the very core of who I am and yet I found myself minimizing the importance of feminism to me in order to appease the men I was dating. I did not want to scare them away by demonstrating my unwavering dedication to women’s rights and justice — so instead, for a time, I dismissed their meaning in my life. Relationships require a certain degree of concessions and balance, but I realized that sacrificing the part of myself I most loved was not a compromise I was ready to make. As realization took hold that these men would never truly appreciate and love my whole self, I ended whatever relationship we had. It may be difficult to imagine spending a cold winter evening without a significant other, but being forced to downplay how important feminism in my life would be even harder for me.

The men who comprise my recent dating history are by no means “bad” men, but they clearly did not respect or reciprocate my desire for independence and equality — socially, politically and financially — for myself and all women. Admittedly, I voiced my passion for these issues quite vocally but, for me, this was the same as discussing my favorite band or sports team: a piece of myself I wanted my partner to understand. I would discuss at length the importance of copay-free birth control access and programs to promote gender equity, but my dates never could comprehend why these were more than just ideological beliefs for me. They didn’t get that these beliefs form the basis of both my professional and my personal life, and are not matters on which I am ready to compromise.

Turns out, I’m not alone in thinking that feminist men are hard to find. While women may unite and rejoice in the opportunities and advancements feminism has afforded us, men are not as quick to do so. According to one survey conducted in the United Kingdom, 50 percent of men reported feeling unappreciated or undervalued; an astonishing 82 percent of men reported feeling that their traditional role in society has been usurped. Undermining men’s traditional role as “family breadwinner” and making them feel unappreciated is not the goal of feminist ideology, but maybe it’s become an unintended effect. Though fewer women are dependent on men to provide economic security and physical protection, feminism does not eliminate the basic human desire to love and to be loved in return. Accepting women as equal human beings with the same rights, responsibilities, and desires and being in a loving, mature relationship should not be treated as mutually exclusive entities.

Perhaps men’s fear of the growing ubiquity of feminism in popular culture and among younger women isn’t completely unjustified. Although women still only earn 73 cents to every dollar men earn (even for the same job), we are becoming more financially self-reliant and, as a result, are marrying later in life. Women have substantially increased both their education and wage earning levels, so marrying to gain financial security has become a way of the past for many women. It may be that for some, feminism, and ideals of social equality generally, may cripple men’s spirits as much as it empowers women’s.

On the way home from work recently, a friend and I discussed a rally I’d attended at the Supreme Court building to defend women’s access to contraceptives. As I described my disenchantment with the numerous anti-choice supporters who were also protesting that day, an older gentlemen sitting across from me gave me a puzzled glance. He asked me if I found it hard finding men to date who were not intimidated by my strength and dedication to feminist ideals. At first, his question amused me; how could my dedication to equality intimidate any well-educated, socially-conscious person? I had never given much thought to the way my passion for women’s right and reproductive freedom may threaten others — especially men.

He clarified by explaining that he thought it must be hard for a young woman with such strong beliefs in feminism — which is sometimes, albeit falsely, perceived to be anti-male — to date. I realized that he’s right. Dating can be difficult and frustrating; it can make you want to give up on love entirely — and those are on the good days! Attempting to find a man who not only accepts my own feminist beliefs, but also endorses them himself feels almost impossible at times. According to my dating history, men view feminism as an unknown force to fear, not as the source of empowerment and sisterhood I’ve experienced.

Is it too much to ask that a partner understand and respect my views as a feminist? Women have undoubtedly achieved major strides in economic, political, and social sectors, but how meaningful are those achievements if a self-proclamation of feminism still intimidates men? I envision a dating world where my strength, perseverance, and dedication to social justice are what attracts a man to me, rather than being attributes he’s willing to overlook. Marching in DC at women’s rights rallies, supporting feminist women’s health organizations, and never relenting in the fight for affordable and accessible health care for all women are among my greatest passions. Participating in these events with other women (and men!) make me feel alive and that I can accomplish anything. It is hard to envision my life without these wonderful elements, and yet I have not yet had success finding a man willing to not only accept that them as part of my life forever, but also be proud of my strength and commitment.

Feminist men exist and have certainly grown in numbers over the years. But, the sad reality is that there just are not enough men who are comfortable admitting to being a feminist, whether out of fear of the unknown or false perceptions of what feminism means. While the long-term dating potential of most men I meet now may be limited, I continue to hold out hope for a caring, intelligent, AND feminist man to complement my social activism and very busy life!

Christina Cherel is a former NWHN intern; she is currently working on her Masters in Public Health in Epidemiology at Boston University.

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