Missives from a Feminist who Keeps Dating Misogynist Men
I used to think it was just me.
There was this series of guys. Each time, they would come on strong. Each time, I would be flattered, flabbergasted, a little confused. This guy I hardly knew would be at my feet, giving me all this attention, basically begging me to go out with them..okay, not quite. But he would make it clear he was interested. He would be eternally emotionally present. He would offer himself like a gift at my feet, waiting for me to unwrap him.
That was the moment at which I would hesitate.
See, I have never wanted the kind of partner who expects me to do the unwrapping. To handle the intimacy. To manage his emotions for him while he built the container of our burgeoning relationship with zero input from me. He would stand there waiting for me to do my “girl” job so he could do his “boy” job and I would just..freeze.
Maybe it’s because I am genderqueer, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because I am a basically conscientious human being, or at least, I strive to be. I want a partnership where my partner feels in control of their participation in our intimacy. I want to feel in control of my participation in what we are building. I want to build the shape of ‘us’ together.
Each of these guys, as passionate about me as they seemed. Each expected me to play the role of damsel in distress so he could feed his ego by saving me. What did he think I needed saving from? I think the answer is — from me. Each of these men thought he was saving me from myself: my humanness, my power, my sexuality. He carefully tried to script our interactions so he could feel powerful and so I would feel safe to be vulnerable, regardless of how either of us was actually feeling.
This kind of pre-scripted performance just does not do it for me. Because I believe in relationships based in consent. I believe in conversations, encounters, kisses based in consent. That means both parties have to be on the same page. What I found with each of these men is I never knew what they were going to do before they did it, because they never bothered to tell me. I never knew if they were going to kiss me or ignore me, make a joke at my expense or hug me like they never wanted to let me go. Anything they did was either a performance meant to impress me, or else it was about taking care of their own masculine identity and ego.
In spite of their attention and seeming interest, I was never anywhere near the top of their list of concerns. Whether I understood what they wanted, whether they gave me enough information about their intentions to consent to give my own attention or time freely, was not really of interest to them.
Each time, I got hooked. When a charming, passionate, intriguing man decides to make you the center of his attention, even temporarily, it is difficult to walk away. Even when something inside of you knows better.
The first man dated me for a bit, then abruptly told me he just wanted to be friends. I found out from our mutual friend that he’d started seeing someone else. I confronted him, and he apologized. Days later he told me he would break up with her, and I believed. I came over that night and slept in his bed. I found out the next day she had just vacated that bed. I took him back after that, and he brought his mother and sister to meet me. I was not present to meet them because I was in the hospital with a sprained ankle. I decided then and there that he had to go, and told him so the next time I saw him. He cuddled me and sang me a song while I seethed. A few days after that, he insisted none of these events had ever taken place. He gaslit me so successfully that I followed after him like a puppy for months, calling every so often with a bleated-lamb apology. He destroyed my self-respect so successfully that I convinced myself our relationship went wrong entirely because of me.
Guy 2 was a poet. In retrospect, I’m not sure what it is that got to me. His rapey poem about fucking America against her will until she brought the troops home from Iraq? His totally disturbing poem about fucking a woman who didn’t care enough, a woman with a “titanium pussy” — performed with another man, to add insult to injury? The fact that he brought me to a party, then left me passed out in a stranger’s bed (I’m still not sure I wasn’t roofied)? His greasy skin, unwashed hair, teeny hips, obvious self-neglect, or the fact he lived in an attic because he didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford to rent a real room? His propensity for hanging out around campus even though he’d graduated three years back, but hey, didn’t want to cut off his supply of young freshman girls? Yeah. No red flags there, or anything. But again. That intoxicating combination of dude who mocked me, and dude who invested in me. Dude who seemed to really like me, at least until I started making feminist comments about his power tripping. Guys like that don’t like comments like this. Guys like that only like women like me when we act like little girls. The instant we demonstrate a hint of self-worth, they’re gone.
Dude three. Who was different, but also the same. Who liked me until I started to demand things, like respect or an end to his despicable sexist joking. Who wanted to be romantic one day then insist we were just friends the next. Who expected me to stay on that hook of his forever. And I would have. If something in me had not seen sense.
Each time, I went back. Again and again. Apologized after losing my temper. Apologized after setting my boundaries. Apologized. Again and again.
For the longest time, I thought it was my fault. I thought the only thing they had in common was me. I thought I had somehow driven them to act this way. I think maybe I was wrong.
Because. Here are the facts:
Guy 1 returned to the girl he cheated on with me and then cheated on me with. She was a foreign exchange student who knew no one except his friends. She was also under 100 pounds, vulnerable in the world. She stayed with him right up until she walked in on him f***ing her roommate. At that point, she finally got a spine, broke up with him and moved off campus. Last time I saw her, she seemed much happier. Last time I saw him, he was still sleeping with her roommate, a girl so thin as to seem basically insubstantial. A girl who did not talk.
Guy 2 started dating one of my best friends. He liked her to suck him off in the car between slam poetry rounds to make him feel like a man. He took her very private sexual assault and wrote and performed a very public poem about it. He offered to let her fuck him up the ass, hard enough to hurt him, so he would know what sexual violence felt like. A few months later he took his best friend’s virginity. Everyone knew she had been in love with him forever. The next day he told her the whole thing meant nothing to him.
Guy 3 found out his friend sexually assaulted me and didn’t call to see if I was okay. There is a point when something is over because it has to be over. That was that point for me.
Real set of winners, aren’t they?
These are the things they have in common, other than me: they are all cis white Jewish men. They are all the kind of “feminists” that means they can define the term gaslighting but not recognize when they are doing it. They call out Trump’s sexism but laugh when their friends make rape jokes. They make trigger warning jokes but would never make a rape joke, that’s gauche. They have never raped a woman, but they have definitely done things to women’s bodies without asking for consent or pausing to make sure they had it. When that woman said afterwards that they didn’t have it, they blamed her. These are the kind of men who believe most sexual assaults add up to misunderstandings. These are the kind of men who will fuck women of all body types, but will only date skinny blonde girls.
In other words, I believe secretly that all men are like this. That’s why I have such a hard time walking away. I don’t believe there is any better out there.
And why do I always try so hard to apologize to these a**holes, after I finally lose my temper? Why do I remain convinced that if I could only find the words, these guys would return to the person they used to be, the guy they started out, the guy who tried so hard to be my hero? Why do I insist to myself and everyone else that this is real love, and any problems are all my fault?
Maybe it’s because I don’t really think men can do better. Maybe it’s because these guys always convince me so fully that I don’t deserve better. These guys have a whole lot of practice convincing women it’s all our fault. We women, we have very little practice holding men accountable when they f*** up.
These are not the men I want to share my life with. These are not men I want walking around this world brushing elbows with my friends or my baby cousins. These are men who do a lot of harm. These are the kind of men who make a lot of money and find their way to applause. For most of history, no one cared what they had to do to women to get through the day. For most of history, no one cared that these seeming normal men turned into King Joffrey behind closed doors. Because no one cared what happened to whores, even if the answer is some entitled king murdered them.
We care now. I care now. I care about me.
These men have more in common than just me. They were taught to view themselves as the center of the universe, to treat their reality as objective reality. They were taught they are the most important person in the room.
I cannot convince them otherwise. I have finally come to terms with this.
I cannot talk or apologize or convince them to treat me better. But I can do one thing. I can walk out of that room they are in. And I can keep walking.