The following is an adapted excerpt from Sexy Feminism, by Jennifer Armstrong and Heather Rudulph.
Here’s the main problem when women get into issues of sexuality and feminism: If you’re straight, sex is the one place men get to mess with you, by definition. That is not to say you should let them really mess with you, but you cannot separate men from the issue the way you can when it comes to pursuing your career or fighting for political rights. Even a smart feminist woman can find herself paging through The Rules looking for answers after running into her ex with his young new girlfriend. A feminist who’s gone on one too many bad dates can find herself letting it slide when a hot prospect scoffs about how feminists are so annoying. None of us is proud of these moments later. But under the influence of loneliness and hormones, things happen.
In a strange, twisted way, The Rules — as well as its descendants, like He’s Just Not That Into You — were trying to come to feminists’ aid. It’s good to have a system in place to temper your impulsive reactions when dopamine and oxytocin are rendering you senseless, a system that stops you from jumping at the first attractive man you see in a bar, from calling the new crush five times a day, from rushing into physically or emotionally unsafe sex. These and many other attempts to give women control — the dating site AdoptaGuy.com, for example, which allows women to “shop” for men they’d like to date — may be well intentioned, but they’re also misguided. Putting women on a pedestal in any way by saying they’re the only ones qualified to take control of relationships and “train” men to behave just perpetuates the idea that women must be all sweetness and light, men must be all sex drive and stupidity, and never the twain shall meet (except to have unequal, unsatisfying, disconnected sex and relationships).
Another major roadblock on the way to feminist relationship satisfaction has been the persistent question of whether feminism has made women happier. Flipside of Feminism coauthor Suzanne Venker declared in 2011, “Feminism has sabotaged women’s happiness.” The truth is that feminism means choices, and choices breed discontent, because of some irritating quirk in human psychology. Does that mean our lives are worse? No; it just means we have more shit to think about. Gone are the days when women married the first men they could find just for lifelong security and baby-making. All of that is bound to have an effect on societal indicators of commitment, but that doesn’t make us less happily-ever-after, just more skeptical of an erroneous concept. We’d rather be free and thinking than happy.
The media is, overall, of little help. When commentators are not warning us about feminism’s detrimental effects on marriage or women’s ticking-time-bomb biological clocks, they’re offering up some of the most offensive “solutions” to those “problems” possible. From women’s magazines to The Millionaire Matchmaker, we hear loads of specific advice about how to attract a man, how to keep a man, how to please a man.
The problem, of course, is the fair success rate of all these approaches — The Rules, The Game, He’s Just Not That Into You, Cosmo — all the way back to the granddaddy of offensive advice based on traditional gender roles, Men Are from Mars, Woman Are from Venus.
We do not — repeat, do not — need to treat our potential mates as aliens with different psyches from ours, even if those potential mates happen to have penises. As feminist psychologist Naomi Weisstein said way back in a 1969 issue of Psychology Today, “Except for their genitals, I don’t know what immutable differences exist between men and women. But it is clear that until societal expectations for men and women are equal, until we provide equal respect for both sexes, answers to this question will simply reflect our prejudices.” Weisstein also said in the journal Feminism and Psychology in 1993, “Let us return to an activist, challenging, badass feminist psychology.”
In fact, we’re thinking “challenging, badass feminist psychology” would make a great mantra for any of us as we embark upon the often soul-crushing world of dating. It’s a place where it’s easiest to lose our feminism and most critical that we don’t. If you’re searching for Mr. Right, shouldn’t he love you in all your activism, feminism, and general badassery? Shouldn’t he show up when he says he will, call when he says he’ll call? Shouldn’t he be not just okay with your feminism but a feminist himself?
We say yes. He doesn’t have to donate monthly to Planned Parenthood and lead rallies to revive the ERA. But he does have to subscribe to basic tenets such as women’s right to equality, choices, and self-sufficiency. We’re not sure any guy who doesn’t believe in those things could be much fun on a date — much less good in bed or worth long-term commitment or gene-mixing. “We need to be willing — and brave enough — to be clear about what we expect,” said Pamela Haag, author of Marriage Confidential.
And for us, that means an “activist, challenging, badass feminist psychology.” We hope it does for you too.