My Boyfriend Isn’t A Feminist
Anonymous dicks on the Internet have told me a few times that I’ll never get a boyfriend because of my feminism. First of all, oh noes, because being single is so bad and women’s lives are meaningless unless a man validates us with their commitment. Second of all, what? I’ve had a boyfriend for a year and a half. They go on to claim that the only men who date or sleep with feminists are some variation on the word “fag,” which I take to mean effeminate, which is sometimes the case and sometimes not. I will say that my boyfriend is extremely masculine but does not engage in the desperate, hyper-macho mindset that leads people to call other people some variation on the word “fag” as if it’s an insult. That, or they’re “white knights,” or male feminists who are only in it for that sweet, sweet feminist pussy (which is weird, because they’ve also made really vile remarks about my vagina).
Anyway, what I’m getting to is: All of the anti-feminist assumptions about my love life as a feminist are predictably wrong. Tick — I have a boyfriend. Tick — he’s not effeminate (although it’d be fine if he was). Tick — he’s not a feminist, either.
Sometimes we get stuck in this thought-bubble that says that people are either feminists or anti-feminists — “we” meaning all of us, feminists and anti-feminists — and that’s just not the case. I’m not an anti-environmentalist because that’s not what I spend my political energies on, I’m just not an environmentalist. That’s not my issue and it’s not the work I do. Michael cares a lot about the injustices in the prison system. That’s what interests him, and that’s where he feels he can do his best thinking.
Of course, he believes in women’s rights. He lives like a feminist: He believes that my decisions about my body are autonomous and final. He respects the identities of trans* people. He’s been a pillar of support in my recovery from rape and abuse. He has never used the words “slut” or “whore,” because he doesn’t think that other people’s choices with their sex lives are his business. He’s not rude to women, he doesn’t tell women what they should or shouldn’t be doing, he doesn’t feel compelled to condescend to women. All in all, he’s my ideal human being: He does his own thing, and he’s cool with other people doing theirs, and he wants life to be easy for everyone to live as whoever or whatever they are. It’s just that he doesn’t do that out of political conviction; to him, it’s just common decency.
There have been challenging moments for me with this particular part of our relationship, because to a certain extent political activism is defined by willingly exposing yourself to and challenging ideas that oppose your own, and exposing yourself to the people who believe those ideas. He doesn’t expose himself to those people or those ideas and doesn’t really know about them, and that’s frustrating sometimes: For instance, when I was targeted by MRAs a few months ago, I found out that he wasn’t even aware that men’s rights activism was a thing. I had been anticipating the harassment but was nonetheless extremely distressed; he had been oblivious to it and was just baffled, but the differences in our reactions were kind of dissonant to me in the middle of my distress (of course, he was extremely reassuring and as helpful as he could be as it unfolded).
But just like with everyone else in the whole wide world, what I really want (and receive) from him is respect, not him slapping a label on himself. I would be wrong to tell him that he should add something into his identity whether he wants to or not — freedom of choice and identity, after all, is a core feminist tenet. Feminism is not the lens through which he sees the world, and he doesn’t need it to be his lens for him to be a good person. And I’m glad that not everyone calls themselves “feminist”: Of course I wish that everyone would take the same tack as Michael and just leben und leben lassen, and give each other the individual respect and autonomy we all deserve as human beings, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make the world a better place, and it’s beneficial for us to do the work we care about the most.