A Feminist Who Dates Problematic Men

Being a feminist has long been a part of my identity. And while I was a late bloomer when it comes to claiming the word itself (I remember being offended the first time someone called me a feminist as a young teen in 2005), I have always cared about gender advocacy. Now that I passionately claim both the word and the identity, it has become a part of everything I do… including dating.

I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman, so I will be speaking to my own experiences dating as a cis-het feminist woman. However, I want to acknowledge that dating while feminist as any sexual orientation and any gender identity can be frustrating and complex. One of the most frustrating things about dating as a feminist, for me, is dating problematic men.

But how could I, as a feminist, date problematic men? I think many feminists will agree with me when I say: it is the only option we have. In a similar way I, as a white/cis/het woman know that I have done (and will do) problematic things. Although I do my best to be an ally, I know that I need to continue to learn and do better constantly. In the same vain, even men who call themselves feminists will do problematic things. It comes with the privilege.

So if all men do and say problematic things, how do I navigate dating men while feminist?

It’s not always straight forward, but I have different expectations for different types of partners. Casually dating and dating for a long term partner are two very different things. If I’m not looking for anything serious, I can probably look past the fact that you have never heard of Bell Hooks. But even for the short term, I don’t have the energy for men who think feminists are all man hating witches. To avoid these types, I tend to throw out the word feminist fairly quickly after meeting a man. It’s my personal litmus test of “are you shitty or not”. But when things get serious, I am looking for a committed feminist ally. Someone who is in the fight with me, and although they might fall short sometimes, they are willing to have the discussions and keep learning.

My biggest priority is that I date someone who is able to stop and reflect. Can they own up when they get it wrong? Franchesca Ramsey made an amazing video on how to be an ally (here). If a man is willing to put in the effort to be a real ally like the video outlines, then I am interested in seeing where things can go.

But the thing is, these boundaries don’t always work. Because on more than one occasion, I’ve knowingly dated men who were far from passing my feminist litmus test. Maybe I was having a moment of hope and I thought they could learn? Or maybe I was just tired of trying to find someone who “get’s it”? No matter the reason, it always makes me question myself. How important are my values if I am able to be with someone who doesn’t understand them?

Does this make me a bad feminist? To be honest, I don’t know... All I know is that navigating dating while feminist is a lifelong journey of negotiating what works for you.

Here’s to all you feminist folks out there doing your best to date while feminist. Good luck out there.

To read more and learn about Carly, check out her website, here: www.CarlyFriesen.com

1 Comment

Carly Friesen

My name is Carly Friesen, and I work as a project manager and organizational development advisor in the nonprofit sector. I also write and maintain my blog here, which focuses on social issues - especially issues around gender. 

I am also a multidisciplinary artist who creates works often inspired by the social issues I witness around me. I primarily work with textiles and acrylic, however I enjoy exploring other mediums as well. You can see examples of my work in my portfolio here.

I am passionate about women's rights, anti-racism work, human rights work, community engagement, and how art can be used to further social change.

I live and work in Toronto, Canada.