Feminism. This word has sparked controversy for decades now. Every year, I get to hear some (not all) college students of both genders equate feminism with bra burning and man hating. Others mock feminists as women who create problems that don’t exist, who go looking for conflict in the pursuit of attention and affirmation. Feminists often come across as hypocrites, soliciting compliments and attention only to reject them. Hey, sometimes that’s even true.

If that’s what feminism means, though, why would a guy ever want to date one? Feminists sound even worse than the normal stereotypical woman who never says what she means, designs games and tests for inane reasons, can never decide what to wear or where to eat, and can’t wait to drag their men out on torturous shopping expeditions. I’m writing this in hopes of changing at least a few minds about what feminism entails, to make everyone’s lives a little easier. I’ll conclude with some practical advice on things like how to flirt with a feminist, who pays on the first date, and how to avoid pissing off your feminist girlfriend.

First, let go of all your assumptions about feminists based on what Sean Hannity recently spewed on FOX News, or what some Vin Diesel wannabe told you over drinks last weekend. Feminists are often defined in popular culture by their most extreme stereotypes. For example, we have someone like Anna Sarkeesian—whom I admire a great deal. At the same time, I can see how guys could watch one of her videos and think, “Fuck. If I date a feminist, is she going to sit on the couch and lecture me while I’m trying to play Batman? Is she going to throw out all my video games while I’m sleeping, burn my mint-in-box Harley Quinn collectible figurine?” Relax. Most feminists I know have respect for personal property, and we have better things to do than watch you play video games. Besides, I’m not opposed to cosplay. Side note: Sarkeesian doesn’t want you to throw away your video games. She wants you to think a little bit about how video games might represent a wider range of female characters.

Men shouldn’t be afraid to date feminists. For all you know, you might even be dating one right now. I think if you asked most educated women, they would concede that they’re feminist in some ways. Most feminists I know don’t declare themselves up front, just like I don’t know any real vegans or atheists who make a huge deal out of it to strangers.

Dating a feminist just means that you’re dating an assertive woman. The most consistent feminists I know don’t toy with guys. They’re decisive. They know what they want most of the time. They’re honest and direct. They’re usually pursuing education, have ambitious career goals, and they’re always looking to improve themselves. They’re curious, funny, and open-minded. Occasionally, they’ll rant about sexism, just the same way you might rant about sports. You want Bernie Sanders for president. We want jerkoffs like Brock Turner to actually go to jail. We’d also like for men to stop debating whether or not we can have abortions.

Feminists come in all forms. You can’t stereotype them. Myself, I’m aligned most closely with the French feminists—Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Simone de Beauvoir, Marie de Gourney. After them, Judith Butler, Susan Bordo, and so on. These women didn’t just sit around taking selfies, they constructed a canon of critical theory for women who were confined by the mental spaces built for them by men. Did you know that Immanuel Kant, still one of the most revered philosophers in the Western canon, thought that women were incapable of reason and therefore should be treated like children? We’re still living with the repercussions of that. So give feminists a break.

Now here’s my practical advice:

Flirting with a Feminist

Context decides all. Imagine you sit down at a Starbucks and see, in the corner, a beautiful brunette. She’s your age, mid 20s, and she’s sitting in one of the nice leather chairs reading a book. Do you talk to her? Some feminists might say no. I say sit next to her and start reading or typing or whatever you’ve come to do. Glance her way every now and then. If she’s open to conversation, you’ll eventually make eye contact. If she smiles, then ask her what she’s reading or working on. Yes, I’ve often been that girl.

A feminist doesn’t play around. If she wants to talk to you, she’ll either invite you over or come to your table. Seriously, I know three different girls who literally hand their phone numbers to guys at cafes as an icebreaker.

So, when do you not flirt with the beautiful brunette at the café? Pay attention to her body language and mood. Is she hunched over a laptop and typing furiously? Does she have earbuds in? Does she have papers scattered all over her lap and/or desk? Then she’s probably busy. If some guy comes up and interrupts me when I’m clearly busy, I’m going to act as polite as I can without inviting further conversation. I’m probably going to avoid eye contact, because I find you intrusive and rude. A guy who interrupts me in the middle of something had better be Chris Fucking Hemsworth.

If you’re absolutely convinced that a girl is your soul mate, and she looks slammed, or she’s in a hurry somewhere, then do this: write your phone number down on something and hand it to her. Better yet, carry business cards. Just say, “I know you’re busy, but I’d really like to have coffee with you sometime. Call me.” Trust me, this strategy works for both genders.

First Date

As Chloe Barnes tells a guy during Season 1 of House of Cards, “If I wanna fuck you, you’ll know.” I’m not sure I would ever say that aloud, but most feminists I know are pretty direct about their sexual desires. And don’t you appreciate that? You don’t have to master some complex code language. Just act like yourself.

As an added bonus: Most of us really don’t care about your salary, what kind of car you drive, where you buy your suits, who you know, or how much you can bench press. These traits are not impressive to any feminists I know. Here’s what we care about:

Are you happy? Do you have a job/career you’re passionate about? Do we share at least a few interests? Are you a kind person? Will you help other people in need? Do you have hobbies? Are you a good judge of character? Are you funny? Are you humble (not the same as spineless)? Do you treat servers with respect, and do you tip well? Are you open-minded? Are you a law-abiding citizen? Have you managed to stay out of jail?

If you’re all that and she finds you attractive, chances are you’ll be hooking up shortly.

Who pays on a first date? It depends. Just offer to pick up the check, because that’s gentlemanly. If she insists, it probably has nothing to do with you. One friend of mine had a huge crush on a guy, but she never let him pay for anything the first couple of weeks they dated. Once, she accidentally did leave her purse at home and he had to pay. It wasn’t a test; she honestly forgot. She was so embarrassed that she drove by his work the next day and paid him back in cash. He was a little taken aback, even speculated that it was some secret code for rejection. But that weekend she took him on a date, and laid all his anxieties to rest.

No feminist I know is going to judge a guy without laying out clear expectations. If you get confused on a first date, just ask a direct question. Try something like, “Where do you think this is going?” or “Do you want to go out again?” Most feminists I know will give you a straight answer.

Once You’re Actually Dating

Don’t mansplain to your girlfriend. You might disagree on some issues, and that’s fine. But don’t talk to her like she’s a sheltered teenager and you’re the fountain of knowledge. You might change her mind on some things, but she might change yours. Be open. Letting a woman teach you something new isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Don’t insult her taste in music, clothes, movies, or anything else. She’ll like some things you don’t, and vice versa. That doesn’t make her preferences inferior, or girly.

One guy I dated often insisted he drive everywhere so that he could listen to “real music.” That relationship ended quickly. In fact, here are some reasons I’ve dumped guys after a couple of weeks, or even just one conversation:

 

  1. Sexted me after the first date.
  2. Asked me, on our second date, when I would have sex with him. When I shrugged and said, “A few weeks,” his eyes bugged out and he demanded to know why so long.
  3. Joked that I’d never use my master’s degree.
  4. Told this joke to my friends: “What do you say to a woman with two black eyes? Nothing. You told her twice!”
  5. Said I was culturally illiterate for having never seen Dirty Harry. I dumped him, then I watched Dirty Harry.

Allow me to expand on point number two. I’ve enjoyed a couple of one night stands, usually at a conference, with someone I knew I’d probably never see again. (Except the one guy I slept with at two different conferences.) Sex on the first date isn’t a great recipe for a long-term relationship, though, and acting like I’m a prude for thinking so gets a man a first-class ticket back to his bachelor pad.

Finally, here are things that you can do: You can sex up your feminist girlfriend. Dating a feminist doesn’t mean killing all spontaneity, and it doesn’t mean you can’t “objectify her.” You’re DATING. She finds you attractive, and she wants you to express your attraction for her in ways that arouse you both. If we’re on a date, or hanging out at the apartment, my boyfriend might slap my ass playfully or randomly pull me into a kiss. That’s called affection.

So feel free to slap your girlfriend’s ass or pinch her boob if she tells you it’s okay. Don’t overthink things. If you’re hanging out with friends, and she’s being cuddly with you, whisper in her ear what you want to do to her later. That’s hot.

Generally, dating a feminist means you make the relationship fun and exciting for both partners, not just one. Communicate. Comprise. If you’re not wild about musicals, and she’s not wild about comic conventions, then you can negotiate a trade-off, and you owe each other a couple hours of pretending not to be miserable doing what the other person enjoys. The good thing: most feminists I know are also pretty big nerds. We’re happy to go to the comic convention with you.

Just don’t slap her ass in public, or in front of your friends while telling her to grab you a Zima, okay? That’s just plain degrading. That’s when a feminist will throw your shit into the stairwell and burn your video games.