Feminist Dating Dilemmas

After our “How to Be a Feminist Boyfriend” post sparked its share of debate, we realized how ripe for discussion this intersection of politics and personal life is. Just goes to show that heterosexual dating is an endless minefield in a world that’s otherwise pretty clear-cut when it comes to implementing feminism. (In areas like the workplace and the law, strict equality is the standard; in relationships, where power dynamics constantly switch, some of us like to be tied up in bed, and, in any case, we need men, by definition, it’s a little bit more fraught.) To that end, we offer up some thoughts on more specific situations a feminist can find herself in — and our thoughts about how to approach them, many culled from previous posts on related topics. As always, these are just suggestions — feel free to offer up your own. (We know you will!)

Dilemma #1: You want sex, and he doesn’t. This sounds straightforward, but can get tricky in the heat of the moment because we’re so socialized to believe men always want sex that it’s hard not to take their moods — or lack thereof — personally. We hope, however, that you’d give his headache the same respect you’d expect for yours. In fact, he might even be trying to spice things up or preserve a little mystery by holding back; a night off here and there is a compliment, not a curse. Though if this goes on for too long, a talk is probably in order — either you or he or both of you may have your signals crossed.

Dilemma #2: He wants things in bed that you don’t.
Man, Third Wave feminism is confusing, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be constantly breaking through our hangups to explore vast expanses of new sexual territory to take advantage of all that our foremothers fought for … or something … right? And yet, we might just not be that into having a threesome or making a sex video or anal. Stop trying to figure out why you don’t like some stuff — we all get to just not like stuff. Sure, give it a chance if you’re iffy about it and he’s dying to do it, but if something really makes you uncomfortable, draw the line. Not doing so can be the beginning of the end of any relationship.

Dilemma #3: Your insurance sucks and you’re paying hundreds of dollars a year — or even a month — for contraception that keeps both of you safe. Yeah, we’re still harping on this; ask him to pay half!

Dilemma #4: The paying-for-dinner thing. This caused a lot of discussion on our message boards last time we mentioned it; we’ll try to clear that up here. In short, equality absolutely means sharing costs in a relationship, no doubt about it. (“Sharing” can be different for every couple and evolve over time based on how much each partner makes, etc. But that’s between you and your partner.) There are men out there who like to use feminism as a way to duck that first dinner check completely; there are women out there who never offer to pay a dime. We think both of those kinds of people are wrong. Ladies, always offer to pay or split the check. If you find over time that you’re the only one ever picking up the tab, and you don’t want to, say something or ditch the guy for good. And, it should be said, this works the other way around, too. Some women like to be “taken care of,” but it’s important not to feel constantly indebted to the man in your life. Also, it’s just more fair.

Dilemma #5: He badmouths feminism. Too many of us have been on that first date where the guy makes some derogatory reference to what boner-killers “those feminists” are. Let us hope you never give him a second date. Let us hope further that you tell him why. We wish we had. We were young then. We’re sorry.


Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong


  1. MRA-Truth says:

    I start all my dates by asking if they’re a feminist. If they are, I leave. I’d rather risk being alone then being robbed of my wealth.

    • Aditi says:

      You mean, ‘if they aren’t you leave’ not if they are, right? I’m confused abt how a feminist could rob you of your wealth…?!

  2. Karl says:

    I’m cool with sexual freedom for women. But if you want me to pay the other half of your birth control, I want to get PROOF that I’m the only penis inside your vagina. After all, a woman would not accept paying for half of all a boyfriend’s dinner dates with OTHER women, would she? I accept feminism, but I do not accept getting cuckolded. PS: A real man demands DNA paternity tests on ALL children before signing a birth certificate. Any problem with that ladies? What might you be afraid of?!?!?

    • The Sexy Feminist says:

      There is an understanding emotional nature to your comment, Karl. Many men have been burned, lied to and meant to feel like they were suckered. But reproductive rights are not an “anti-man” agenda: They’re human rights that will better society as a whole. Here’s hoping your sentiments of being “cool with sexual freedom” and “ok with feminism” will translate to acting on them as well.


  1. [...] with our “Loving While Feminist” series of posts — we’ve already talked dating, boyfriends, and girlfriends — we’re tackling feminist relationship dilemmas [...]

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