Confusing guys, rampant hook-up culture and going steady—oh my! The realm of college dating is rough for any collegiette. But how do dating and relationships differ for collegiettes who strongly identify as feminists? Are there any specific challenges these women face? Her Campus chatted with collegiettes about how feminism affects your chances at love and how to get through sticky situations!
Some Guys Might See the “Feminist” Label as a Bad Thing
Collegiettes Weigh In
Although feminism means many things to many different people, a basic working definition is that feminism is the belief in gender equality, specifically focusing on women’s rights, including female representation, women’s salaries and women in the workplace.
However, many people (not just guys) don’t know what the term “feminism” really means, which can lead to a lot of misinformation and awkwardness. Jessica*, a sophomore at the University of Florida, found that many guys were turned off by her feminist label. “As soon as I mentioned to any guy that I was a feminist, they either didn’t know what I was talking about or immediately assumed that I was some angry, bra-burning woman who hated fun,” she says. “It was really discouraging, especially as a college freshman, and I started to feel like I’d never find anyone who wasn’t turned off by the idea.”
Julie*, a junior at the University of Virginia, also found that many guys just completely missed the boat on what the word “feminism” even meant. “I was once talking about feminism to a guy whom I considered well educated, and he honestly believed it was synonymous for the term ‘prude,’” she says. “This same guy ended up telling a bunch of his friends that I was a prude, and it made things really awkward between me and them.”
Guys Weigh In
“I’m not going to lie: the word ‘feminism’ conjures up images of angry women burning down buildings in my mind,” says Luke*, a rising junior at Wesleyan University. “However, I think whether or not I’d date the girl depends on her personally, and just like anything else, people view and show their identities differently. I’m not just going to swear off anyone who says they’re a feminist!”
Aidan*, a sophomore at the University of Florida, adds that for some guys, the feminist label can sometimes be intimidating. “I’d be a little freaked out if a girl came to me saying she was a feminist, not because of the term itself but because the word means so many different things to so many different people,” he says. “It’s hard to nail down, so I think it’d really have to depend on the individual girl and what her personal definition of it is.”
Sticking to Your Feminist Values Can Be Tough
Collegiettes Weigh In
Carly*, a junior at Wesleyan University, didn’t think that identifying as a feminist would change how people viewed her. “Wesleyan is an extremely liberal school, so people are generally not thrown off by it,” she says. “However, I soon found that though many guys were okay with me calling myself a feminist, they had huge issues with what that actually meant in practice.”
As soon as she started dating a fellow Wesleyan student during her sophomore year, Carly found that just because her then-boyfriend Ben* was cool with the term didn’t mean he understood what it entailed. “A couple months into our relationship, Ben started getting controlling,” she says. “For example, he’d expect me text him every morning and night no matter what but didn’t think he owed me the same courtesy; he just assumed that’s what women were supposed to do.”
When Carly confronted Ben about how some of his demands weren’t equal for both of them, he broke up with her. “I was really upset at the time, because I felt like this guy who had been super into the idea of gender equality was a total hypocrite,” she says. “It also made me really skeptical of other guys at Wesleyan, because many of them say that they’re feminists. Are they unaware of what it means, too?”
Guys Weigh In
The question is, do other guys expect you to drop your feminist values when you date them?
Jack*, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks it’s totally cool for women to have strong feminist values — he just asks that they be patient with their significant others who may not be as educated.
“I’ve dated two different women who strongly identified as feminists, and I found that both of them defined the word completely differently, which was a little confusing for me,” he says.
Jack explains that many guys are fine with learning about feminist beliefs, but you have to give them time to let it sink in. “My advice for women who identify as feminists when it comes to the dating pool is to be kind if you’re correcting a significant other on [something] he said that may sound sexist,” he says. “It can be an awkward situation if you’re yelling at a guy for something he did when he doesn’t get how it was wrong. Remember that society sends so many sexist messages to young, impressionable men every day, and it takes time to correct.”
You Might Feel Like You Have to Settle
Collegiettes Weigh In
Carly also notes that one of the hardest parts of being a feminist is that sometimes you may feel like you can’t find someone who really understands why feminism is important to you.
“I’ve gone on dates over the years with many guys who either weren’t cool when I told them I was a feminist or very obviously didn’t agree with the principles of feminism, which was hard,” she says. “For a long time, I felt like I just had to settle for guys who didn’t get it, because I thought there was no one out there who did.”
So, are there guys out there who will totally understand (and practice) feminism?
Guys Weigh In
Don’t fret; there are still guys out there who will totally get how important feminism is to you! James*, a senior at Wesleyan University, even adopted feminist beliefs because of an ex. “My ex-girlfriend was really vocal about her feminist views, which at first was sort of uncomfortable,” he says. “She’d correct me (nicely) if I said or did something that was sexist or misogynistic, and eventually we broke up for unrelated reasons.”
James realized how important feminist values are in a relationship. “Looking back on our relationship since it ended two years ago, I can safely say I learned more from her about how to treat and respect women than from anyone else,” he says. “And for that, I’m really grateful, as understanding feminism has positively affected all of my relationships since then.”
How to Deal
Based on all of the perils vocal feminists face, you might be wondering: What’s a feminist collegiette to do? Luckily, our ladies have some answers!
Talk to Other Feminists
Over time, Jessica found comfort in talking to other feminists. “A bunch of my friends explained that guys not understanding what it means to be a feminist doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person; it means that they’re the ignorant ones,” she says. “It was also nice to know that I wasn’t the only girl dealing with these issues when it came to guys, and I’m so thankful for that!”
Jessica also thinks that other collegiettes shouldn’t be ashamed to call themselves feminists for fear of driving guys away. “It sounds clichéd, but any guy who doesn’t accept who you are isn’t worth your time anyway,” she says. “If you’re a feminist, say it loud and be proud!”
Communicate With Your Significant Other
After recovering from the breakup, Carly reflected on how she could better explain feminism to the men she dated or wanted to date. “I realized that in my relationship with Ben, the problem wasn’t that I was a feminist; it was that I hadn’t been clear with him from the beginning about what I thought that entailed,” she says. “If I’d talked to him sooner, I would’ve seen that him and I had different ideas of what the gender roles were in a relationships, and we could’ve either worked it out or broken it off earlier.”
If you’re looking to date someone long-term, Carly recommends talking to him about expectations before things get serious. “I don’t think it needs to be this really intense conversation about gender identity and whatever,” she says. “But I think making it clear that you think you should both have the same expectations and responsibilities in the relationship is important.”
When Carly started dating her current boyfriend, Zach*, earlier this year, she made sure to sit down and chat with him about what she wanted. “Zach already kind of knew about the issues I’d had with Ben, so he was really great about listening to me when I said what I expected out of our relationship,” she says. “Equality is important for both of us, and I’m glad I took the time to discuss it with him.”
Don’t Settle (No Matter What!)
Carly believes that you shouldn’t date someone who doesn’t deserve you or understand why feminism is so important to you. “Feminism is like any other identity you hold near and dear; you shouldn’t feel like you have to sacrifice it just because a couple of guys don’t like it!” she says.
She also recommends surrounding yourself with other people who believe in the same feminist values you do. “My friends are feminists and I’m part of several feminist causes and groups on campus, so I don’t feel like I’m crazy or something for believing in gender equality,” she says. “I guess all these guys just have to catch up!”
Overall, don’t be afraid that your feminist identity will affect every part of your relationships! As with any other part of whom you are, if a guy doesn’t like that you’re a feminist, he’s not worth your time. So kick him to the curb and find someone who truly loves you for you!
*Names have been changed.