Feminism is the call for social, economic and political equality for all genders. It’s really as simple as that. But what does feminism look like in the context of a relationship? Like, can you expect bae to pay for dinner and be a feminist?
Feminism is dating whoever and however you want to.
Despite that, there may be some folks who try to prescribe a catch-all brand of feminism. This involves dictating that there’s a ‘good’ way to perform your personal politics. The truth is, there’s no ‘right’ way to be a feminist.
An example of what is perceived as ‘good’ feminist behaviour is when someone proclaims their hatred for the colour pink (the colour of oppression), trashes their makeup (and judges other women who love theirs) and ditches anything representing the ‘expected’ gender roles of women (shaving their legs, cooking for the household, etc).
But wait… What happens if I like pink? What if I prefer my bra unburned and love my face beat? If feminism is all about choice, why are we vilified when we choose the ‘wrong’ one? More importantly, how are there rights and wrongs in the first place?
‘Feminism is an approach to our everyday decisions and actions’
‘My personal belief is that feminism is an approach to our everyday decisions and actions,’ says Cape Town-based graphic designer and artist Anja Venter. ‘It’s how we move towards a world that is more equal and progressive, in solidarity with those who have the least power in our current social climate.
‘Feminism is responsive, intersectional, nuanced, pragmatic, empathic. Bad “feminism” is restrictive, dogmatic, intolerant and prescriptive.’
‘As feminists, our wokeness is irreversible!’
Venter tackles what it means to date as a feminist – after all, dating is one of the biggest games of choice there is. What’s there to tackle? Well, as with any relationship, dating someone is about dynamics and dynamics are about power. Feminism, in part, deals with the unequal power structures that keep all types of women and queer people marginalised.
‘As feminists our wokeness is irreversible! We’re constantly parsing our interpersonal relationships through a complex set of progressive beliefs, navigating unmapped territory,’ says Venter.
What it’s really like dating as a feminist
What types of power structures play out in the dating world? There are a lot of outdated rules to dating that often manifest in misogyny and sexism. An example would be being slut-shamed for having sex on the first date, or being told that women should never make the first move when asking someone out. There are multiple ways gender inequality is normalised in dating, so how do we stay woke?
‘Relationships are nothing less than the knitting of your own personal politics with those of another person. Dating as a feminist is when nobody feels caged in by scripted gender roles, or oppressed by gendered power dynamics,’ explains Venter.
Your Qs on dating as a fierce feminist answered
On the backdrop of this dilemma is when your own dating tastes conflict with your feminism – but only because there’s the potential to be shamed for desires or boundaries seen as ‘anti-feminist’. Is romance dead for feminists? Venter says romance can look ‘however you want it to look! Feminism is about your ability to choose.’
Is it possible to be ‘fully’ feminist and still date someone who isn’t feminist?
‘I have a few friends who identify as feminist, but whose partners don’t. I realise that the label can seem like it’s heavy baggage for those who aren’t familiar with the discourse,’ says Venter. ‘I personally believe you don’t have to agree with all of the politics to agree with the greater cause. Some of the most feminist people I know don’t label themselves as such. It’s something that needs to change, but the world is big. We’re all different and I’m personally not militantly going to go about converting people like some deranged missionary. I know that people will come around as our society shifts out of its current patriarchal gear. I know that the dinosaurs will eventually die.’
Relationships don’t just have to mean the romantic kind.
Your feminism impacts most relationships you’re likely to have, with co-workers, family, friends and community.
‘All of my relationships are based on mutual respect and support: in friendships, partnerships, collaborations, romance, or my relationships with family members. We don’t have to agree about everything, but I have the right to not engage with people who are prejudiced, bigoted, emotionally taxing or toxic. I judge people by how they treat the least powerful person in the room.’
Is it okay for your date to fit the bill?
‘Of course!’ says Venter. She explains that getting your date to pay your dinner may be even more feminist than you think. ‘I know some cis-heterosexual women who believe that their cis-het dates should be paying, because of wage gaps and historic oppression. Paying the bill can be a form of reparations.’
What about if you like all the dating clichés?
‘As long as that doesn’t skew the power dynamic, and create entitlement to your body/time. I think as long as everyone is consenting, respects each other’s boundaries, and not forced into anything, you can go full “kept woman” and still be a feminist,’ says Venter.
Is wanting to tie the knot anti-feminist?
‘In my opinion, not at all,’ says Venter. ‘I’m about to get married to my ride-or-die. Feminism can mean a polyamorous commune, legally binding yourself to a lifelong companion (or three, or multiple divorces) or choosing a life by yourself. It’s important that we get to choose what works for us, and not impede or judge others’ right to choose for themselves.’
We know what feminism is but what it isn’t is policing women for their desires.
You can still be a feminist and decide the types of relationships you want to have.
You have the agency and the choice to either want to be treated like a princess or be a king, or both.
Feminism is the freedom to not limit yourself to what you’re supposed to want according to society’s standards. So do you, boo!
Anja Venter is a contributor to Feminism Is, a proudly South African collection of stories edited by writer Jen Thorpe and featuring the narratives of feminists, womanists and the identities in between. Grab the fiercely femme anthology here.
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