January 13, 2006

Dating advice for feminists

Hugo has periodically thought out loud (on paper? in aether?) about putting together a list of 'dating tips for (pro-)feminist men', but never really followed through for various reasons. The biggest reason is probably that you really only need one piece of advice:

She's a person, not a plaything. Respect her, flirt with her, let things happen, and they will.

Of course, putting together a more detailed list can be amusing for both the author and audience. I'll expand on some of the points under that link under the fold.

5) If we go out for dinner on the first date, I will not let you pay. If you really want, I will let you leave the tip, but that's all. This is not meant to imply that you can't afford to pay or that I expect something from you: it's just the gentlemanly thing to do. If you disagree with this, let's talk about it: it'll make for good dinner conversation. But I still won't let you pay.

Okay, so the guy who wrote this probably doesn't call himself (pro-)feminist. That's fine. It's clear from #6 that he respects women, wants to get to know them before getting to know their boobs, and that's really all this feminist is going to insist on (despite diatribes to the contrary).

Personally, I'd suggest that whoever picked the restaurant (or whataever the venue happens to be) pays. It just seems fair -- there's nothing 'gentlemanly' or 'ladylike' involved. But don't make this grounds for a confrontation; picking a fight usually doesn't make such a great impression. If you duck into the bathroom just after the cheque's arrived, and it's still sitting there five minutes later, go ahead and pick it up.

8) I will not have sex with you on the first date. It's quite likely that I won't have sex with you on the second, third, or fourth date either. Unless I trust you and feel something for you, I don't want to sleep with you, and it will take a few dates before we get to that point. For those of you who can jump into bed with a stranger right away, I don't think that you're inferior to me in any way: I'm not one of those judgmental moralizing types. In fact, I'll admit that at times I'm envious of you. But that's not how I am, and you've got to be true to yourself (or to put it more colloquially, you've gotta keep it real).

I have to side with Hugo: sex between near strangers strikes me as kind of morally sketchy. I don't think this is just a Christian hatred of the body thing; for a long time, I've felt there's something to MacKinnon and Dworkin's analysis of the erotic in patriarchy. I do believe they're wrong in one critical respect, and a straight couple can create a space in which the erotic (even with differences of power drawn along traditional gender lines) can be liberated from the patriarchal; but this can only be negotiated with a partner you know, not with a stranger.

On the other hand, if you think Dworkin and MacKinnon are full of it, I don't see any reason two consenting adults can't get it on in a cheap motel a block away from the bar where they hooked up.

12) Once we have reached the point where I can call you my girlfriend, I will try my best to rearrange my schedule so that I can spend time with you. I have some hobbies that take up quite a bit of my time, but I will make sure not to neglect you.

This goes for 15, 16, and 18, as well. Kant argues that building a relationship (he's talking about marriage and friendship, but we'll pretend he means a twenty-first century thing instead) is about intermingling two lives, taking up what the other find's important and interesting and significant as both one's own and a joint interest. Thus, I'd expect the author to be looking for a woman who's herself interested in martial arts, or a professional engineer, or who would take a couple lessons or read some books to see if she's interested, to at least 'try out' his hobbies and interests. I'd also expect him to enthusiastically try out some of hers.

Personally, I don't need a girlfriend who loves to talk philosophy, loves to cook, loves being outdoors, AND loves City of Heroes. But, without two or three of those, it's going to feel more like just fooling around than falling in love.

16) I will want you to come to temple with me at some point if we've gotten serious. I'm a practicing Reform Jew (although I'm only half-Jewish: my dad's Catholic), and Judaism is something that's important to me.

This one I want to comment on personally. I'll try not to rant. If religion is a serious thing, and there's a deep incompatibility, the relationship needs to end right there. Suppressing a fundamental gap is just going to lead to an incredibly nasty breakup.

17) If I mention to you that I think another woman is attractive, I will immediately follow that by saying that she's an ugly hag compared to you, and you are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.

And some equivalent ego-stroking in the opposite direction is not unexpected, either. Plus, this shouldn't be limited to looks -- presumably the woman you're dating is not a model or porn star, and has sources of self-esteem besides her looks. Encourage her to get a photograph or two shown at a local gallery, or talk her up as she's training hard the last few weeks before the marathon, or what have you. (Ten Ra points for whoever gets the film reference in that last sentence.) Remember, she's a person, like you, and like you, she places value on things in her life besides her attractiveness.

I suspect the biggest conundrum for (pro-)feminist men is how to flirt. You can't sidle up to some scantily-clad woman in a bar, make a handful of crude comments and grope suggestively while talking to her cleavage, and honestly call yourself (pro-)feminist. For example:
(At a bar)
WRONG: 'Wow, your boobs looks great in that top!'
RIGHT: 'Wow, that top really compliments your eyes!'

(At the gym)
WRONG: 'Wow, your ass looks great in those running shorts! I couldn't take my eyes off you!'
RIGHT: 'Wow, you were really flying around the track! I couldn't take my eyes off you!'

(At work or school)
WRONG: 'Wow, you're looking HOT today! Want to get a drink after work?'
RIGHT: 'Wow, you look really lovely today. Want to get a drink after work?'

WRONG: 'Wow, your boobs drive me wild, girl.' (On or before the first date.)
RIGHT: 'Wow, your boobs drive me wild, girl.' (After her bra has been tossed across the room.)

Of course, let me encourage our female readers to comment: What have I gotten completely wrong? What have I left out?

Edit: I just remembered The Countess wrote a piece last month with some advice of her own.

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