Being a student of Women’s Studies can be extremely frustrating- everything you thought you believed in is deconstructed and proved to be total bullshit. You feel guilty every time you sing along to Honey Singh (yes, I know the words to Chaar Botal Vodka). You feel guilty every time you enjoy pretty much any Bollywood film. You realize that Shah Rukh Khan really was a douche in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai-” Rahul” wasn’t exactly the ideal man. You feel guilty for taking the “Is He Really into You?” quizzes in Cosmo-but let’s face it, sometimes only Cosmo can answer life’s big questions.
However, none of this compares to the conversations I’ve had to have with people about my subject. When I say the words “MA in Women’s Studies”, I am met with looks of what I can only describe as polite confusion, usually followed by one of these responses:
- The “Oh, so you’re a feminist?” response.
- The “Oh, I need to be scared of you”, response (Yes, you do-only if you are a misogynistic pig)
And my favourite:
- The “So, do you like, hate men?” response.
I find this one particularly funny, because anyone who has known me for more than two days will know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. If I had to make a list of all the men I thought were the loves of my life, it would probably run into a few pages- from the dance instructor at summer camp when I was ten, to that guy in college I thought was oh-so-cool because he was “too stoned to attend class” (his words, not mine) – I have adored them all. Moreover, my dating history has been rife with choices that range from good to highly questionable.
Dating is complicated enough to begin with- there are so many questions with no right answer: Should I ask first? Who’s going to pay? Will he text after? Should we hug or shake hands? And somehow, being a feminist, .i.e. woman with an opinion, just seems to complicate matters further.
Being single in a new city, I decided to download Tinder- I hesitated initially, thinking it was of course something *I* would never do. I was too cool. I didn’t need to do this. But, turns out I did. With a pretty much non-existent social (read: love) life, I needed to take matters into my own hands.
I have to admit, there was something oddly satisfying about swiping left. While I knew I too was on display for men to reject/ accept, it did feel good to have the same kind of power for once. I got a few “matches”, which I must confess did a lot of good to my self esteem, and I should perhaps consider myself “lucky” that I didn’t receive any gross/ abusive messages. Most were harmless, ranging from “nyc name” to “do you believe in destiny?”
I did have great conversations with a couple of guys who didn’t have the usual clichéd responses to feminism in general, and my subject in particular. So I did something I’ve never done before and went on a date- I was scared, what if he turned out to be a serial killer, or worse, a misogynist (:P). I tried not to worry about what people might think, but I did. Maybe writing this post is a way of casting off the shame associated with particularly women who indulge in online dating.
The evening started off well. He showed up on time and looked like he did in his pictures so that was obviously a plus point. We got to talking and he asked me the loaded question: “So, are you a feminist?” I said yes, and asked him if he was one too. “No. I’m not.” Ah, I felt my heart sink. There was nothing wrong with him. He was intelligent and attractive and the conversation was flowing well. I had my ears trained for any offhand, casual sexist comment so that I could launch into a diatribe on male privilege and misogyny-but he hadn’t said anything even remotely close. Dating a feminist could be difficult- we analyze, critique and question possibly everything we come into contact with.
So, I remained calm and pleasant and asked: “Do you think men and women should be equal in all respects?” He answered in the affirmative, thank god. “So then you’re a feminist!” He looked confused- saying that he was told feminism meant reversal of women’s exploitation, man-hating and so on. I replied saying it was nothing of the sort- “Very simply, we believe in equality between all genders”. He asked me questions and we had a conversation on feminism in which I spoke of public spaces, harassment etc, in which he seemed to be genuinely interested (or so I hope) – and at the end of it he realised that he’s a feminist too- and everybody should be. I did a little victory dance in my head and went on to have a fantastic evening.
Maybe Tinder isn’t just a den of vice. Maybe there shouldn’t be such embarrassment attached to it. To me, it seems pretty damn cool- it challenges the idea that the hook up culture is a purely masculine one, and allows women a space where they are allowed to look for whatever it is they want (though no online space can be truly safe for women) – whether it is a relationship, sex or a friendship. So let’s stop demonizing and shaming women (and men) for being on an app that is de-stigmatizing online dating- and swipe away.