Any online dating profile containing the word “feminist” is bound to elicit some unsettling reactions, some merely misinformed – “I’m not a feminist; I believe in equality” – and some outright adversarial – “I guess you don’t want a man with balls” (that’s an actual OKCupid message). You probably won’t give these people* a second glance. But some are less upfront about their sexism. They may even make it through a few dates before you come face-to-face with their covert but insidious beliefs.
1. Mr. Nice Guy
His MO: He believes he deserves a gold star for treating you like a human.
His case for himself: Guys like him are a rare lifeboat in a sea full of douchebags, so you’d better grab onto him before you drown.
Why I’m not buying it: Mr. Nice Guy is not an escape from the douchebags; he’s one of them. The minimal respect he would show a man should be a given, not a source of pride. Men like him believe a woman is a prize that you win for beating a villain in a video game or being a “nice guy.” Entitlement complexes are dangerous.
2. Mr. Guilt-Free
His MO: He would never advocate sexism, but he’s not too eager to challenge his beliefs about gender differences or update his views based on your personal testimony. “Privilege” is not in his vocabulary. He thinks as long as he’s not a mean person, his actions couldn’t have a negative impact on society. He also believes that owning his desires means not questioning their problematic roots. He’s probably attracted to conventionally feminine qualities. He also probably sees no issue with racial preferences in dating.
His case for himself: Like the nice guy, he believes simply being a decent person is enough. He wouldn’t deny that women have been oppressed historically, but hey, he didn’t do it.
Why I’m not buying it: Mr. Guilt-Free may be fun for a few dates, but after a while, you’ll probably get tired of him getting defensive when the topic of sexism comes up or dismissing your personal experiences.
3. Mr. Free Love
His MO: He’s all about sexual liberation, but his version of liberation is men taking liberties with women.
His case for himself: He’s a free spirit. He likes to test limits. Life is an adventure, live on the edge, blah blah blah.
Why I’m not buying it: Unfortunately, he’ll probably try to test YOUR limits. Mr. Free Love will try to push things a litttttle further physically than you seem willing to go – and might even whip out (pun intended) that “sexual liberation” rhetoric to guilt you into going there. Sexual liberation means not being ashamed of your sexuality, but he would have you think it means sharing your sexuality with everyone. Nobody should ever try to influence what you share and whom you share it with.
4. Mr. Separate-But-Equal
His MO: Whether backed up by evolutionary pseudoscience, New Age spirituality, or even just cultural difference, he celebrates gender essentialism as a form of diversity.
His case for himself: He believes in respecting one another’s differences. Yin and yang energies, male and female brains, etc. should all be considered equal – what’s not to like about that?
Why I’m not buying it: It’s hard to feel respected or equal when you’re being squeezed into one half of a yin-yang or one side of an evolutionary strategy. Mr. Separate-But-Equal isn’t listening to you; he’s finding a way to interpret all your actions as “feminine”: If you bring up an issue in the relationship and then move on and talk about something else, this is feminine fickleness; if you want to spend a day hanging out without any strict plans, this is feminine flexibility; if you want to talk about something he did that bothered you, this is feminine emotionality. Everything you do is fucking feminine. And everything he does is masculine: He probably believes that he is more logical, more visual, more sexual, etc., leaving little room for you to possess those qualities or him to possess “feminine” ones.
5. Mr. Men’s Rights
His MO: He fears that feminism is excluding men, resents the masculine stereotypes he has had to live up to, and counters your complaints about being a woman with anecdotes about why it’s hard to be a man as well. He’s also the kind of person likely to believe that he faces disadvantages by virtue of being white, straight, or middle-class.
His case for himself: There’s an appeal to someone who challenges gender roles and advocates some beliefs that are central to feminism, such as more balanced divisions of labor and challenging stereotypes.
Why I’m not buying it: We all agree that men should not be oppressed, that feminism shouldn’t reverse the current hierarchy, etc. Feminists aren’t trying to do that. I know it’s hard to be a man, and feminism is trying to change that too, but don’t try to compare our experiences or use yours to counter mine. A true ally will be sensitive to women’s struggles without claiming to fully understand them. Plus, Mr. Men’s Rights is often guilty of mansplaining.
Online dating is filled with these people, and sometimes they have noble intentions, and sometimes they really want to improve, and sometimes they’re just extremely attractive and hard to resist – but resisting them will be worth it once you find a true ally! While I’m all about educating people to become better allies, this education has to be solicited and should not be the condition upon which you are willing to date someone. Unfortunately, trying to give someone a feminist makeover is usually not only poorly received but also an ineffective use of your time. And it’s not your job.
What behaviors have you noticed that reveal a date’s covert sexism? On a more positive note, what are some behaviors indicate that a date is an ally?
*As always, this is written from the experience of a heterosexual woman without the desire to speak for others but with the desire to learn more about their experiences.