“I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to meet someone,” I said to my friends one day. But one of my friends quickly told me exactly why: it was because I expected too much from men. I even expected them to be feminists.
I was immediately disheartened when I heard that she thought this was a lot to ask. I don’t expect the men I date to wear “women’s rights are human rights” T-shirts or have a PhD in gender studies. I don’t even expect them to identify as feminists, because it’s just a label and doesn’t carry much weight—I’ve met sexist men who call themselves “feminists.” But I do expect them to believe in gender equality, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Still, her comment got to me, and for a period of time, I was less outspoken about my beliefs, at least on first dates. It didn’t take me long to realize that holding these views back didn’t make dating any easier for me—in fact, it made it even more difficult. There are several reasons why I continue to talk about feminism on first dates.
1. Gender equality should not be a radical idea.
I get that talking about politics, religion, or social justice issues on a first date could be perceived as intense. At the same time, gender equality should not be a radical idea. If I’m out with someone who is offended or discomforted by the idea that all genders are equal, that’s a red flag.
2. I don’t want to be several months in and find out that he harbors sexist views.
Speaking of red flags, I’d rather identify them early on than be several months into a relationship only to find out that my partner and I have opposing fundamental beliefs. Gender equality is not something minor to me. There are some things that I’m willing to agree to disagree about, and this is not one of them. The kinds of beliefs someone has about gender tells me a lot about their expectations for our relationship. During the time that I was avoiding talking about feminism on first dates, I still talked about politics and assumed that a guy I went out with was compatible with me because he was anti-racist and fairly left-wing. I only later found out that in addition to being mostly liberal, he’s also anti-abortion and is a strong proponent of traditional gender roles. Because I had already spent a bit of time getting to know him and I liked other things about him, I tried to make it work, but we argued on a regular basis, and I would never be the “good wife” he was truly looking for (and I didn’t want to be). If I’m dating a sexist man, I will find out eventually. Why wait until I’m already in deep?
3. I’m not scared of scaring someone away.
We’ve heard it time and time again: don’t talk about religion or politics on the first date. But from my perspective, everything is political in some way. To avoid all political discussions is to have a pretty shallow conversation. I’m not dating to talk about the weather. I’m dating to truly get to know someone. During the time that I stopped talking about gender issues on first dates, I felt as if I was hiding part of myself. It’s not that my first dates are a two-hour long gender studies lecture; usually, gender issues come up organically because they’re connected to something else we’re talking about. If not, it’s natural for me to mention gender issues when someone asks about my passions or interests. Talking about feminist issues might scare some people away, but if I scare sexist guys away, I’m doing exactly what I want to do: filtering out people I’m not compatible with.
4. I want him to like me for who I am.
When I had my first childhood crush, I actively tried to be the kind of girl I thought he would like. I was a proper chameleon, buying a jacket with his favorite football team’s logo on it, and adapting myself according to his interests. But I’ve lived and learned, and I’m not dating to stroke someone’s ego or to change myself until they finally accept me. I want to date someone who I truly like, and I want to date someone who truly likes me—not the idea of me or an altered, watered-down version of me. I once went out with a man who stopped me mid-sentence when I started talking about gender issues. “I don’t want to hear about this,” he said. “I want to hear about you.” Maybe he thought he was being romantic in a way, but he didn’t realize that they’re one in the same. I’m passionate about gender issues, and it’s part of who I am, not a separate entity. If a man doesn’t believe in gender equality, he’s not going to like me for who I am. It’s that simple. I now realize that the kind of man I want to date is one who is willing to engage in these conversations.
5. I can learn more about who this person truly is.
I don’t expect anyone to be perfect. I don’t expect a person I’m dating to know everything about gender issues (I don’t either, of course), or to fully understand something that he hasn’t experienced firsthand. But I do expect him to be open to listening. I do expect him to not be defensive. Talking about issues like this shows me how he reacts when faced with something uncomfortable or challenging. Is he just defensive when I’m simply having a discussion and not trying to argue, or does he want to know more? I once went out with a guy who said he didn’t believe some survivors of sexual assault because they reported it years after it happened. Extreme red flags aside, I tried to talk to him about why women might wait to come forward about sexual assault. As I was talking, he got up to add more sugar to his coffee and asked to change the subject once he returned. That told me exactly how he liked his version of reality: sugar-coated and easy to swallow.
6. I don’t want to tolerate sexist behavior anymore.
Gone are the days in which I would ignore casual and benevolent sexism because it “could be worse.” I’m willing to give second chances. People can change, especially if they didn’t recognize that the way they were thinking was sexist. But if he just doesn’t really care about sexism, thinks it’s not a big deal or says something along the lines of, “Well, that’s just the way things are,” I’m not here for that. Benevolent sexism is still sexism, and I don’t want it in my relationships. I want an equal partnership. Unfortunately, maybe that’s a lot to ask from a heterosexual relationship at this point in time. But I’m going to keep asking.