Feminism is on the up and up in 2021, and we love to see it. Recent polls show that around 60% of women identify as feminists in the US, and the number is even higher across the pond in the UK. In other words, it’s safe to assume most of us in the dating world are feminists! Heck yes!
Well, except for the part where dating isn’t easy.
From juggling busy schedules to dodging effboys to simply existing in a patriarchal world as a woman, there’s a lot to navigate. Add to that the fact that to many, “feminist” is a dirty word, and needless to say, interacting with strange new men on a daily or weekly basis can be exhausting.
But, before you delete all of the dating apps off of your phone, we’ve got some advice! We don’t want you to suffer through dating. Even if the world sucks sometimes (okay, most of the time), dating, at the very least, should be fun.
We’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the dating world as a feminist, in a way that doesn’t make you compromise or hide your convictions. Instead, it affirms them to allow you to dodge the bad dates.
For better dates
For less stress
In this guide
Bye, bad dates
- Who Is This Guide For?
- What Does It Mean to Be a Feminist?
- What Feminism Isn’t
- The Benefits of Dating as a Feminist
- Know What You Want
- What’s the Best Dating App for Feminists?
- How to Write a Feminist Bio
- The Feminist Boogeyman
- Get Acquainted with the Way Patriarchy Hurts Men
- Who Pays on the First Date?
- Spot the Misogynist… Quickly!
- What Kind of Person Should You Be Looking For?
- Dating as an Activist
- How to Tell if He's a Real Feminist Ally
- Find Thoughts: Bring Your Optimism Into Dating
Who Is This Guide For?
If you’re a feminist that dates men, then this guide is for you. We wrote it primarily with women’s experiences in mind (after all, feminism is about the liberation of women) but it’s not exclusive. If society oppresses you by virtue of your perceived femininity or femaleness or if you find yourself dating people whom patriarchy privileges then we hope you can find some good advice here.
What Does It Mean to Be a Feminist?
If you’re reading this guide, chances are you already know what it means to be a feminist, or at least what it means to you. There are a lot of different streams and definitions, from both academia and pop culture.
What all feminisms have in common is that they acknowledge that society has historically been organized in a patriarchal way and that to achieve equality it must be dismantled.
What is Patriarchy?
In case you ever have to explain patriarchy to an unaware date (but one who has some potential, hopefully, even if he’s uninformed), here’s the quick and easy definition.
Asa consequence of this system, society has kept men and women separate in many spheres and has made it so that men start out their lives with more power and privilege than women (although we’d argue that in many ways, patriarchy also hurts men).
Historically, it was exemplified in an oppressive family structure that had men in charge of their households. Their wives and daughters were their property, and there were no options for women to exist in the world independently from men.
In other words, we didn’t always have the freedom to vote, work, own property, or even make decisions about our own lives. Its thanks to the feminist struggle that for most women reading this article, the situation has improved.
However, patriarchy is still the root cause of many existing feminist issues, like violence against women, the wage gap, reproductive rights, and more. The oppressive division of power also informs our social relationships, since we’re often seen as less worthy of respect, by virtue of our gender. There is a deep misogynistic component that informs homophobia and transphobia.
Patriarchy isn’t the only oppressive system that directs the way our society functions. Racism disenfranchises people of color, ableism disenfranchises people with disabilities, and so on. Capitalism, which is our overarching economic system, disenfranchises the working class while giving extraordinary power to corporations and the people who own them, and it’s because of the intersection of oppression that members of disenfranchised groups are much more likely to suffer the heaviest brunt of capitalism.
These different forms of social inequality intersect with one another in hundreds of different ways, so a truly emancipatory form of feminism rails against all of society’s injustices and aims to dismantle them from the root.
To learn more about these topics, we highly recommend checking out these resources:
UN Facts and Figures on Domestic Violence
The Gender Pay Gap
The Center for Reproductive Rights
Columbia Journalism Review: The Origin of the Term Intersectionality
What Feminism Isn’t
Feminism is often mischaracterized as striving towards female superiority or being a man-hating ideology. Hopefully, our explanation of feminism and patriarchy above makes it clear that this isn’t true.
Feminism is about undoing existing oppression
These are usually strawman arguments, used as a disingenuous attempt by the right-wing to discredit feminism. However, it’s not uncommon for feminists to make jokes or to even decide to keep men out of their lives in earnest.
While this decision can be right for some, it’s mostly a dated concept. It also misses the fact that the issue with patriarchy is that it’s a systemic structure that interplays with other systems of oppression, rather than a conscious male conspiracy. Men can be nice. It’s patriarchy that’s the problem.
Just as absurd (and frankly, reactionary and regressive) is the liberal notion that feminism is individualistic, and that there is a blueprint for how a feminist should live her life. There is nothing revolutionary or freeing by attempting to “lean in” to careers. This type of feminism might lift up a few lucky individuals, but it won’t help us as a whole nor will it help the most marginalized people in society.
The Benefits of Dating as a Feminist
It’s really easy to get sad or angry when coming to terms with all of the ways society disenfranchises women. We feel it the hardest when we consider our relationships to men, the family, marriage, and reproduction.
Because of that, dating as a feminist can be harder in some ways. However, it also allows us to take charge of the reigns. One of the greatest gifts feminism gives to women is that it allows us to see which societal standards are rooted in patriarchy and the need to control us. It empowers us to reject outdated standards for dating (which happen to hurt both men and women) and lets us control our dating life.
The Power to Demand Equality
When putting this guide together, one comment that came up, again and again, is that feminism empowers women to demand equality in their relationships.
As Carly Basian, the founder of My Sex Ed, explains, her feminism empowered her to look for an equal energy exchange: “I expect to be treated with the same amount of interest and care that I put into the relationship.”
It can also be more basic than that, with the simple demand that a potential partner put as much effort into taking care of the household or planning dates. Many women brought up the fact they refuse to be their partner’s surrogate mothers, and they don’t want to be solely responsible for cooking and cleaning.
Being aware of just how common it is to fall into such unequal relationships is often enough for most feminists to avoid them.
The Power to be Proactive
Patriarchal standards dictate that it’s up to men to make the first move, and every subsequent move, as well. We say hell no to that! There is no reason why you should stand around waiting for some guy to do or say anything — if you like someone, ask them out! It’s a little scary to do the first time, but it’s also incredibly empowering.
It’ll teach you to handle rejection with grace, and it’ll also make you feel like a goddess when you get a positive reaction. Oh, and you’ll get to actually go on dates with guys that you’re incredibly interested in!
The other benefit? Men aren’t used to women who take charge, and contrary to what stodgy conservatives say, they actually find it incredibly flattering.
The Power to Say Yes
It's largely thanks to feminism that all those absurd notions about the value of female virginity (blergh) have been quashed. No matter who you are, you deserve to have fun, affirming, pleasurable sex with anyone who consents. You don’t hurt anyone, so why should you judge yourself or let anyone else judge you for doing what makes you happy?
The Power to Say No
The other side of the consent coin is just as important: You have the power to say no. It’s sometimes hard for younger feminists to reconcile their sex-positive beliefs with their actual wants and desires.
However, being a feminist means that you acknowledge your right to say no as much as you acknowledge your right to say yes. This is important in dating but also in life in general. Beyond this, if someone doesn’t respect your nos, kick ‘em to the curb.
Know What You Want
It’s easy to assume that because you’re a feminist, you’re supposed to reject certain things, like marriage or commitment, because they’re patriarchal institutions or concepts.
However, while you should fight ferociously to make the world a free and equal place for all women, in your personal life, your goal can just be happiness. That’s why the ultimate individual feminist move is to know what you want and to make it happen.
Whether what you really want is to date casually for the rest of your life, to have a big wedding and a house with a picket fence, or to end up in a loving relationship but live in separate homes… that’s perfectly fine!
You’re allowed to want whatever you want and you’re allowed to change your mind!
Going into dating, it’s useful to have a very clear idea of what you want. Be totally honest with yourself as you consider your answers to the following questions:
- What kind of commitment do I want?
- What kind of family would I like one day, if at all?
- What sexual needs do I need fulfilled?
- What kind of household do I want to build for myself, and what role do I want a partner to have in it?
- What’s my timeline for all of these things?
- How do I need my partner to support me in my future life or career goals?
- What are my deal breakers in a relationship?
While you may not want to discuss family, timelines, and dealbreakers on a first date if you have very specific goals or desires, it’s good to lay them out early on. This way, you can avoid wasting time on someone who’s fundamentally incompatible with you.
The easiest way to get what you want in a relationship is to be able to express it. It’s a fairly well-researched fact that women are more agreeable than men, which means that we tend to be, on average, more nurturing, compromising, and considerate. It’s worth mentioning that the studies that exist so far have only looked at cisgender subjects, so we don’t know how this applies to non-binary and trans individuals.
This, at least in part, has to do with the patriarchal social conditioning that discourages young girls from expressing disagreement and being impolite. Later on in life, there are some benefits to being agreeable: Kindness and compassion are positive traits, and being able to cooperate can help us in many different spheres of life.
At the same time, high agreeableness makes it much harder for us to make demands or to express dissatisfaction. By being aware of the way patriarchy influences our psyche, it’s easier to undo its effects and to become more assertive.
Becoming more assertive is easier said than done. While feminism can encourage us to want to learn this skill, it’s practice that makes it perfect.
- Consider potential scenarios in advance, and plan what you’ll say in advance.
- Say ‘no’ more often, and even practice saying it in the mirror.
- Use “I-based” statements to get your ideas across in an assertive but gracious way.
- Make actionable demands, so that the other person can clearly understand what you need from them.
Further Reading: Assertive Communication Skills
What’s the Best Dating App for Feminists?
While meeting someone in real life would be nice, the fact of the matter is that most of us are dating online these days. So the question that follows is, on which application are you most likely to find someone worthwhile?
Bumble: the original ‘feminist’ dating app
Bumble is a dating app with a semi-feminist origin story. Its founder, Whitney Wolfe, started the app after leaving her job at Tinder (and filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company). Bumble aims to fix a lot of what’s wrong with other dating apps by putting women in charge of sending that first message.Just like with Tinder, you swipe on profiles.
Once you match, you have 24 hours to message the person, or the match disappears forever. While not all men using Bumble are aware of the app’s origin story, they’re still familiar with the reasoning behind how it works.
Because of that, they’re often more serious, mature, and respectful. Additionally, if you’re looking for something long-term, Bumble’s self-reported statistics suggest that 85% of users on there are interested in finding a relationship rather than a hookup.
OkCupid: for high-level vetting
OkCupid is the OG dating site. It’s been around since 2004 (i.e. before all of us had smartphones and when online dating was still taboo), so its continued presence deserves respect.
What makes this website unique is that it allows users to answer a ton of questions on everything, from their approach to dating to their political beliefs. It’s this maximalist approach to information that makes OkC a potentially good destination for feminists. As you sort through profiles, you can find out how your potential match feels about religion, which political party they align with, and even if they think climate change isn’t real.
OkCupid users can answer over 4000 questions (and they have to answer at least 15 to make their profile), so you’ll be able to do some incredibly thorough vetting. The other benefit to OkCupid is that users can only message you once to introduce themselves, but after that, they can’t message you again until you respond, which helps prevent spamming.
Hinge: for great conversation
Like Bumble, Hinge is another dating app focused on helping users find relationships rather than hookups. While anyone can send a message on Hinge, the message has to be in response to something specific on the profile.
Because of that, the app often generates more meaningful conversations than other dating apps. It forces the users to really think when putting together their profiles, and while the answers to questions are often jokey, you still get a lot of insight as to what kind of person the other user is.
Tinder: the unavoidable dating app
People sometimes talk about Tinder like it’s a sleazy cesspool, but we don’t think it has to be totally discounted. Tinder is the largest dating app, which means it has the widest selection of users.
If you don’t live in a major city, it might also be the only dating app that anyone around you uses! Sure, there are a lot of awful dudes on there, but there are also decent guys that you might be able to connect with. Just like in real life.
How to Write a Feminist Bio
The first step to setting up your dating profile, after selecting exquisite photos, of course, is writing your bio. The bio is where you can let potential dates know what really matters to you.
If your political beliefs are important to you (and we suspect they are if you’re reading this guide), it’s better to let potential matches know what you believe before you meet them. Your dating profile bio is the best place to do it.
You can simply state that you’re a feminist, or you can go into detail by adding an adjective or prefix, like ‘intersectional,’ ‘socialist,’ or ‘eco.’ You can also explain that your ideal first date is “planning how to smash the patriarchy over a cup of tea” or add a quote from one of your favorite feminist writers.
Pro Tip: Avoid the “Please Swipe Left If…” List
A lot of people like to add their list of deal breakers to their dating profile, but we’d strongly caution against it. For some, it’s just a sentence: “Swipe left if you voted for Trump” while for others it can be a whole list.
Don’t get us wrong — there’s nothing wrong with having preferences and deal breakers. In fact, we recommend you have them! The problem is that expressing them in a bio immediately puts the person reading it on the defensive.
Instead, go for the positives: “Swipe right if you support BLM!” or “Let’s talk about how to dismantle the cis-heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy!” You’ll still get those much-needed right-swipes from anyone who disagrees but without bringing on the initial negative mindset.
The Feminist Boogeyman
Most of us have run into self-proclaimed men’s rights activists (MRA for short) or libertarian anti-feminist types, either in real life or online. Nothing good will ever come out of dating a guy who buys into those ideas wholesale.
The problem is that those kinds of people (men and women alike) along with comedians, Redditors, and YouTubers, have created a feminist boogeyman that is absolutely nothing like the vast majority of feminists. A lot of perfectly normal people buy into the stereotype of the “feminazi,” which makes dating as a feminist much harder than it should be.
One helpful way to decide if a guy is worth the effort of educating is figuring out if he’s open to learning more or listening to you. Even if he has some preconceived notions about feminism, he should be open to hearing you out.
Ideally, he’d ask you to explain what feminism means to you, but you can also guide him towards that question by acknowledging that feminism is often portrayed incorrectly in the media.
“There are a lot of ideas about feminism that I don’t think are accurate, or at least, they’re not accurate for me. Would you be open to learning what feminism means to me?’
Any decent guy, even if he’s not particularly educated on the subject, will be happy to learn more about your thoughts and beliefs. If he’s not interested or won’t let you finish a sentence, then you’ll know he’s not worth your time.
Get Acquainted with the Way Patriarchy Hurts Men
When we focus so intently on the way that society disadvantages women, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that women aren’t the only ones getting hurt. While patriarchy disadvantages women by denying them power and self-determination, it also hurts men in a variety of ways.
It forces men to adhere to standards of masculinity that can be quite harmful. In particular, much has been written about the way patriarchy prohibits men from expressing any emotion beyond anger, and the incredibly harmful repercussions that can have on their psychological well-being.
It’s also worth remembering that patriarchy is not the only system of oppression that exists. Men are also susceptible to intersectional oppression.
As feminists, being open to empathize and discuss these topics with men can help deepen our bonds and relationships, while also helping men understand feminism a little better. It can also help men find constructive ways of dealing with the disadvantages and oppression they face in their own life.
A lot of men identify with the term Men’s Liberation, which focuses on the way patriarchy hurts men, as opposed to the misogynistic Men’s Rights movements. It’s an idea rooted in feminist ideology, so the men that identify with it are usually good guys. It can also be a very positive way for men to channel their energy and it can also allow them to work on themselves and their trauma in a way that can make them better people and partners.
The YouTuber Natalie Wynne covers this topic with exceptional (and exceptionally entertaining) thoroughness in the video Men, which we recommend watching.
Who Pays on the First Date?
The question of who pays on a first date is rife with controversy. Many feminists have posed different arguments on the topic, so these are your options.
Show Him Who’s Boss
Some might say, a woman can be as successful as a man, so she should show him that by paying! This is a great way of finding out how a guy will react to your displays of independence. If he responds negatively, you’ll know he has some toxic masculinity he needs to work on, and he might not be worth your time.
However, if you end up always paying on the following dates with the same person, you might be getting taken advantage of, so watch out for that.
Can a Dinner Date Make Up For the Wage Gap?
For other feminists, it's clear that the man should pay. After all, women earn 75 cents on the dollar, so a man paying on a date can be seen as reparations. It’s an easy spin, but we don’t find it convincing. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things traditional by letting your male date pay, but excusing it as “reparations” is a weak self-justification.
Who Asked Who?
One non-gendered way of look at the question is simply asking, who asked who on the date? If you ask someone to join you for dinner, it’s fair to assume that you’re also intending to pay for the meal.
You can always just go dutch. Each person pays their own way. It's easy and uncomplicated, but it's not particularly sexy, and your server might hate you for making their job that tad bit harder.
Keep It Low-Key
Our favorite solution to the question is to avoid having that first date be a dinner date, anyway. Meet up for coffee or a beer, ideally at a place where you pay when you get your drinks. That way, you can just buy your own cup of coffee, or you can alternate rounds.
This is easier to handle when it comes to money, and more importantly, it’s the kind of date you can extricate yourself out of easily should you run into any problems. Save the dinner date for a later date, when you’ll already know what kind of person you’re dealing with.
Never Feel Guilty
Many women feel like they'll owe a man something if he pays for them. Please remember that no matter what, you never owe your date anything, but we know that's easier said than done. If you know you're prone to feeling guilty after your date pays for you, don't let the guy pay.
Spot the Misogynist… Quickly!
For most women, dating is a filtering process. At every step, we need to consider if we’ll move our potential partner up to the next step. First, should we even match? Then, should we continue talking? Then, should we go on that first date?
One way to speed up this filtering process is to learn to notice if a man is a misogynist or anti-feminist as quickly as possible, so here are some sure signs:
- He expresses opinions on how he thinks women should behave, and implies that he expects certain behavior from you during a relationship.
- Attempts to derail conversations about women’s rights by focusing on men: “But what about men falsely accused of rape?”
- He brings gender into conversations where it doesn’t belong or talks about women as though they’re a monolith rather than a diverse group of individuals.
- Uses gendered terms to disparage women he doesn’t like. Uses “bitchy” or “shrill” instead of the gender-neutral “mean” or “jerk.”
- Judges women based on their sexual proclivities, and uses terms like “slut,” or “whore.”
- Tries to mask his misogyny with hyperbolic or unrelated comments: “I love women, they’re goddesses!” or “I was raised by women, I love my mom!”
What Kind of Person Should You Be Looking For?
Not dating a misogynist should be your lowest-level requirement. Beyond that baseline, deciding how to filter out people should be totally individual and based on your own specific needs. That’s why it’s so important that you know what you want when you date.
We don’t think your potential date has to identify as a feminist or as a feminist ally. We don’t even think he has to be written off completely if you disagree on political or social justice issues (although if these are deal breakers for you, that’s totally fine!). However, the one thing you should look for, no matter what, and that’s respect.
Respect is Key
Patriarchy makes it so that, almost by default, women, those assigned female at birth, and gender non-conforming people who present in a feminine way, are taken less seriously by society at large. Unfortunately, many men (even those that claim to have progressive ideals) don’t respect women by default.
Because of that, we’ve put together a quick checklist of signs that a potential match or date genuinely respects you and women in general. You’ll be able to notice some of these right away, but others may require a few dates to notice.
Signs that a man respects women:
- They speak well or at least neutrally about the other women in their life. They don’t mention “crazy exes” or “bitchy co-workers.”
- They don’t compliment you by bringing down other women. They don’t think that “you’re not like other girls” is a compliment.
- They accept it readily when you say no without trying to change your mind.
- They listen when you express your boundaries and demands, and accept them readily or engage with you about them non-judgmentally.
- They’re ready and willing to engage in conversation with a real back and forth. They ask questions that build on what you’ve said, without solely talking about themselves or making it feel like an interview.
- They celebrate your successes and accomplishments, rather than trying to denigrate them.
- They don’t question your knowledge base (i.e. no mansplaining).
- Their compliments go beyond just your appearance.
- In the long term, they ask for your opinion and advice.
Dating as an Activist
One of the amazing feminists we interviewed for this article is Leah Rowlinson, a powerhouse activist and organizer. For her, dating as a feminist was about more than just finding a romantic partner.
She wanted to find someone who could support the work she does. Part of it is about the physical support, she explains: “I need to date men who I know will be there to do the laundry or put the kids to bed when I’m at a meeting until 11 am.“
Beyond that, however, what’s just as essential is having a partner that understands the importance of her activism. It’s no surprise that she eventually found love while working on a progressive campaign.
“Some feminists may value being with someone who’s separate from the struggle, but I wouldn't be able to be with someone who didn’t understand the drive,” she says. “How can you explain this to someone who doesn’t do the same work?”
How to Tell if He's a Real Feminist Ally
Whether men should call themselves feminists or not is a complex question. Thankfully, it’s not one that’s strongly relevant to our guide! It’s up to you, as a feminist, to decide what you think makes the most sense, and hopefully, the men in your life will take note. This wonderful article from The Guardian explores both sides of the question eloquently.
The question we’re concerned with is how can you recognize when someone lies about being a feminist or a feminist ally?
As we discuss in our Guide to F*boys, some men do an incredible job of talking the talk without ever walking the walk. These men pretend to be progressive (and maybe they even genuinely believe in some progressive ideals), but they don’t actually do anything that makes the world a better and more just place.
Instead, they use woke lingo to ingratiate themselves to women so they can get what they want. They often rely on feminist rhetoric to avoid commitment or fidelity. The best way to figure out if that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with is to look for signs of disingenuousness.
One major green flag is if he does real activism. Does he campaign for progressive politicians, volunteer, or is he part of a progressive organization? However, there’s also the question of how he behaves when he organizes.
Every leftist organization has a horror story or two of men who used the group as hunting grounds for women, so pay attention to how he behaves when he participates in progressive activities. Keep your ear to the ground, and ask other women in your organization what they think about him.
Find Thoughts: Bring Your Optimism Into Dating
Women and those assigned female at birth get the shorter end of the stick in our world. It’s simple: Society wasn’t built for our benefit, much in the same way that it wasn’t built to benefit people of color, people with disabilities, members of the LBGTQIA+ community, working-class people, and anyone whose existence is at the intersection of these different identities.
If I may switch to the first-person perspective for this final section: I recently introduced a younger friend to social justice theory and encouraged them to do their own reading. A few weeks later, they came back to me and asked, “Doesn’t the world’s injustice make you angry? How do you deal with it?”
Mark Ruffalo’s iconic line as The Hulk in The Avengers immediately came to my mind: I’m always angry.
Our society kind of sucks and I feel it deeply in my bones. I see it in every interaction I have with the world, in my own psyche, and in every news story. But, for my own sake and for the sake of my beliefs, I can’t let that consume my attention because it’s simply not effective.
To be a good activist, I have to be fundamentally optimistic. Yes, the world sucks, but I believe that it can change. The alternative is hopelessness, misery, and bitterness, which are totally debilitating. If the world can’t change, what’s the point of caring at all?
So how does this tie into dating?
Don’t bring your anger at the world into your dating life, but instead, bring your optimism and your fundamental belief that the world can be a better place. Keep your feminism central to your interactions with dates and potential partners, but instead of overwhelming them and yourself with negativity, focus on the ways in which the world can improve.
You’ll have a better time, a more productive conversation, and chances are you’ll leave your dates with real feminist allies, regardless of how the relationship progresses.