Learning To Love In The 21st Century: Navigating Dating As A Feminist
Photography credit: Simon Thollot
“You tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.”
I started dating at the tender age of 14. But even before that I can remember what I was taught about what constituted an ideal girlfriend, and the way that one went about finding an ideal boyfriend (and eventually husband). From princess movies to gendered sets of toys for girls and boys, and even questions from relatives about whether I had a boyfriend, I had thoroughly learned that women were: passive, sensitive, quiet, innocent, accommodating, bad at math, into their physical appearance, and had a very important purpose in life– finding a man. Even more, there was a lack of representation for Filipino women in the media (one that continues today), which caused my susceptible young mind to attempt to emulate a Western appearance.
It took me a long time to unlearn these values (not that feminized traits are bad, but what if girls were given the choice?) and accept who I was as an individual who is inherently different from all of this. When I reflect upon my past experiences, I realize that I compromised much who I was to fit into the cast of the ideal woman for the men that I dated.
So, when I started to analyze the manners in which my identity was molded because of who I am and where I was born, I realized that I had to profoundly change the types of individuals that I was letting into my heart. Before I made this self discovery– my proud declaration as a feminist woman of color– anyone who I found particularly attractive could have been a dating option. All I had to do was fit a certain archetype to seem desirable.
Entering the dating scene as a heterosexual female identifying person of color naturally caused me anxiety about the political beliefs of my future partner, specifically how in line with mine–or not–I felt comfortable with them being. For example, how comfortable was I with choosing prospective partner who was white and also “only dates Asian women”? (The answer: not, because I don’t appreciate being exoticized.) Or, even going further: would I be able to find a partner who had the ability to empathize with my identity as a first generation Filipino American woman? (Eventually, I did.)
Unfortunately for me, there were loads of attractive and available bearded men who didn’t care about microaggressions, structural racism, or even sexism. Mostly, they were individuals who had the opinion that we live in a post-racial society where everyone should strive to be an equalist.
I was in the position where I was fed up with trying to be a mentor on third-wave feminism, or even what intersectionality was in general. I didn’t have patience or time to explain the intricacies of privilege to someone I wanted to sleep with. In the non-dating sphere of my existence, I was already fighting against the variety of stereotypes imposed on me, and more importantly for the right to be seen as an equal, and not just as the “other.”
I was tired of explaining that racism and sexism still exists in the 21st century, even if people who weren’t a minority had the privilege of not experiencing this, and even moreso they are manifested in latent ways. What I didn’t want to do was have to go through a series of personal anecdotes– from having “ching chong” yelled at me, having individuals think that I went to my University only because I was used to fill a quota, or being cat-called on dark city streets– to prove that this wasn’t a theory, but my reality.
Instead, I was looking for a partner who not only respected my background as a non-white American, but also wanted to know more about how this identity caused an onslaught of racial-based and misogynistic transgressions that had deeply affected my sense of self.
I wanted someone on my level of thought– an individual who constantly critically assessed structures of power– political, economic, and social– and how they privileged individuals of a dominant identity, and left others– those not identifying as male, minorities, individuals with disabilities– marginalized. Furthermore, I wanted to create a discourse of healing, opportunity, and love. I wanted a partner who was on my side.
The main question I had for myself was: How can I rectify my (often perceived as) radical beliefs with my desire to casually date a random man with a beard? Or, how could I navigate dating as a feminist?
There was no easy solution to this. Even far past the early days of identifying as a feminist, I found myself breaking even my own most basic sets of rules. I laughed at racist jokes, let sexist language pass, played too shy to ask someone out. But I learned to be patient with myself. Fighting against the current of a force that is stronger than myself took time. I knew that I didn’t want to play into a gendered role that was subconsciously taught to me from even before I was beginning to date. There is nothing wrong with feminized qualities, but I wanted to make the conscious effort to reject them.
So I learned, at the very core of me, to not fear rejection, and I learned to abolish the idea that anyone other than myself validated my worth as an individual. I became honest with what I wanted in a partner– I began to demand respect, friendship, and equality. I was loud, asked people out, called people out when they offended my beliefs. I no longer was laden with fear and sadness when I didn’t receive the type of attention I wanted from an individual. I became unafraid of sharing my beliefs with those I dated, eager to display a passion that often times looked like anger.
When I met this person, immersing into an interracial hetero-normative relationship was surprisingly comfortable, but still left me confused and feeling vulnerable. It was exciting to have dialogue about issues such as how important it is to alter the language that we use; to equally sharing domestic tasks; and having love and respect without restraint. Though I often times struggle with my frustrations about the state of the world, it’s powerful to have the volition to vocalize it and have dialogue about it.
What matters is that it’s no longer a closed ended deal in which one person subconsciously plays one role, and the other person plays the other. It is that I have the agency to question the structures around me, and that I am able to ask these questions with those who are close to me. This is where it begins.
Did you like this post? Be sure to check out “Looking Back On My First Date, Being 17 And Falling For An Older Man.”
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