I’m going to talk about falling in and out love while feminist.
Of course, we’re all still talking about the same things, pretty much.
I’m going to use the word “love,” and I am going to blame my mother. I dragged her into GUM the other day (uh, don’t ask what the hell I was doing there – let’s call it “tourism”), and as we were walking, I paused by a shop, and looked down at a text message on my phone, and smiled. “You’re just like your father!” My mother said suddenly. “You fall in love so easily!”
It’s true, so this is what I’m going to talk about today – falling in love. While feminist. Of course, I am neither a professional feminist, nor a famous one. My Slavic cultural background also plays a big role in how I live and love, or so I keep finding out. So maybe nothing I say here will actually be all that valuable. Or maybe it will. I’m not sure.
When I first meet someone, and decide that I adore them, I don’t really consider their politics at first. And while I usually mention that I’m a feminist, I do it in a flirtatious way – “yeah, I’m a feminist. A hardcore one.” Friedman’s description of guys who want the “Hellcat Dream Girl” is spot on, because I get dudes who are like that my way as well. And living in Eastern Europe, at the moment, doesn’t change that. There’s plenty of men around here who are attracted to feminists in theory, because they represent a kind of “challenge.”
I don’t mind being anyone’s challenge, not initially, probably because I believe that initial attraction is always pretty superficial. I don’t even care if a guy offends me at first, because I’ll argue with him, and maybe he’ll argue back, and maybe we’ll discover that we actually have more in common than we realize, or else even less in common than previously thought. I’ve made my peace with the fact that “feminist” tends to be a loaded term, and when it provokes a reaction, I just deal with it, and move on. I don’t even think about it much anymore. It’s a little like being on autopilot.
Whenever I sacrifice my feminism for a man, I do it while remembering that it’s feminism that allows me that choice in the first place. An ideology that positions a woman as more than merely a passive sexual receptacle also grants her the freedom to choose, as Nerve.com’s Erin Bradley might put it, “penis over principles.” There are always consequences to that decision. Sometimes they are unpleasant, other times, pleasant. Or else both.
I understand that to be a feminist, even one who uses the word “feminism” as a come-on from time to time, is to be despised from time to time, if not pretty regularly:
Even if you’re like me – a heterosexual bottle-blonde, you’ll get your share of it. And the brunt of it comes later, not when you’re hanging out and flirting, but when you are already involved, when something has happened between you, some sort of spark, when something is already at stake. Anything that goes wrong in a relationship, even a very casual one, can be blamed on feminism. “Of course you don’t know how to treat a man right, you’re a fucking feminist.” Etc.
Then again, there’s also that brilliant moment in a Margaret Atwood story, wherein a married couple is fighting and the woman screams something like, “Don’t you dare use my feminism against me!” It’s very wry, because, of course, the conflict has very little to do with anyone’s politics. “The personal is political” might be a handy battering ram, but love and sex are way too weird and complicated to fit within a slogan – even a very good slogan.
Oddly enough, feminism does play a huge role in the most personal, the most painful moments of my life. It’s when I’m screaming things like “you just want a woman you can CONTROL!” that I’m being a real feminist, not the flirtatious “hardcore” girl you might meet at the theater or in a club, but someone who, when the layers of make-up and mini-dresses are stripped away, just wants to be treated like a human being, goddamit. And it’s when I’m crying about a guy who faked friendship for a chance to be with me that the phrase “but you can get by on your own” becomes the equivalent of a warm and reassuring hand squeezing my shoulder.
I also think that it’s feminism that allows me, in better times, to be kinder and more understanding. In this interview I did with Maria Dmytrieva, she said something that really struck me at the time:
…feminist women don’t dehumanize men. A feminist woman doesn’t need a superhero, and guess what? Most men like that.
I definitely don’t need a superhero. Men that try to play superheroes sadden me – they also tend to be boring. I like a certain amount of simplicity. I don’t mind it if a man opens up a bottle of wine for me – and also pours the wine into my glass, and then refills it at regular intervals. I like it when a man helps me put on my coat when we’re leaving a cafe. I like the male body – because I consider it to be so much different from my own. I like it when a man reminds me of my femininity. I like allowing myself vulnerability when I’m alone with him. But I don’t need a saviour. I don’t want, as the line in “Pretty Woman” goes – “some diamonds and a horse.” Saviours tend to obliterate those parts of ourselves that are actually interesting, because they try to save us from ourselves.
I don’t care what a man defines himself as, because actions speak louder than words. Some of the most verbally anti-feminist men I know also happen to be my greatest friends. I don’t care if they say “all women are like this” or “put down that cognac, you’ve had enough, you’re a girl” – what I care about is whether or not they treat women with respect; whether they’re on good terms with most of their exes, whether their female colleagues complain about them or not.
And when I fall in love with these men, I don’t look over my shoulder. I just give myself over. Then I freak out about it, of course. Then I calm down again. What matters to me is having something to remember. A story to tell. Because at the end of the day, for me, being a feminist is also being able to show off my scars, like the dudes on the boat in “Jaws.”
Every woman needs a past.