Back when I used dating apps, the word “feminist” appeared on my profiles. And that’s how I learned how many people have a bone to pick with feminism.
My inbox filled with messages like: “Do you not like boys?” What if I told you I was a masculinist?” “Feminism ignores the oppression that’s been imposed on men for centuries.”
I ended up on dates with seemingly progressive people who made comments like “well, men do have spatial skills” and “but hijabs are oppressive.”
People told me I shouldn’t be too picky. They said I was splitting hairs by reconsidering relationships over things like this.
When a guy groped me in a park on a first date, a friend recommended I give him a chance because it could’ve been a misunderstanding. When a boyfriend ignored my complaints about pain during sex and kept going, a therapist told me that men can’t help themselves.
So, I settled. A lot. I ignored my nagging feeling that I wasn’t getting what I wanted, believing that would be too much to ask.
After a few years, I got tired of it. I decided that if being in a relationship required hiding my feminism and putting up with sexism, I’d rather just be single.
So, I spent a year deprioritizing dating and focusing on my career. I worked through the fear that being single made me inadequate and got comfortable with it.
When I met my current partner, I decided I’d rather risk things not working out over my feminism than compromise it. I told him feminism was important to me in the beginning, and I made a promise to look out for myself and not put up with certain things.
If you don’t follow the same rules, that doesn’t make you a bad feminist. There are many reasons someone might not have that privilege. Someone might stay with an abusive partner, for example, because they’re financially dependent on them or have been threatened by them.
ButI’ve pledged to follow these rules to stay true to my feminism while dating whenever I safely and comfortably can.
1. I won’t hide my feminism to get someone to like me. If they have a problem with it, I don’t want to date them anyway.
2. I won’t buy into the myth that I do or don’t “deserve” certain people due to my looks, my class, or my achievements.
3. I won’t feel obligated to have sex with someone just because they’re expecting it.
4. I won’t feel obligated to date someone just because they’re “nice.”
5. I won’t feel obligated to talk to someone just because they really, really want me to.
6. I’ll disappoint people if that’s what it takes to guard my boundaries.
7. If someone violates my boundaries, I won’t wonder what I did to “lead them on.”
8. I’ll ignore advice that diminishes my self-worth, victim-blames me, or encourages me to settle.
9. I’ll keep people who routinely say negative things about oppressed groups at a distance, and I won’t feel bad about it.
10. I’ll respectfully question loved ones’ sexist, racist, or otherwise oppressive word choices or assumptions. And I’ll with the belief that they want to be better allies but just don’t know how and the intention to help them.
11. I won’t let anyone convince me I’m “too sensitive” for suffering when others suffer, “angry” for caring about “small” injustices, or “closed-minded” for opposing others’ decisions just because they don’t personally feel the same way.
12. I won’t change my beliefs just because the majority of people around me believe otherwise.
13. I won’t apologize for voicing my discontent to my partner.
14. I won’t let my partner make me forget what I think.
15. I won’t internalize my partner’s beliefs about me if I don’t agree with them.
16. If I’m not enjoying sex, I’ll stop.
17. If I’m unsure of something my partner wants to do, I’ll say “no,” knowing I can change my mind.
18. I’ll never say “okay” when I mean “maybe,” or “maybe” when I mean “no.”
19. I’ll only date feminists.
20. I’ll dump anyone who tries to convince me that feminism is worthless or sexism isn’t real.
21. I won’t feel obligated to hang out with a partner’s misogynistic, racist, or intolerant friends or family.
22. I won’t keep quiet about my activism, shave my body hair, or do anything else to tone myself down to fit in with my partner’s friends or family.
23. I won’t buy into the myth that I’m “high-maintenance” or “a lot to handle” for ensuring my emotional needs are met.
24. I’ll demand courtesy, communication, and thoughtfulness about consent from even my most casual sexual partners.
25. I won’t have sex just to prove I’m liberated.
26. Sex will only include what I want it to include. I’ll feel free to forego kissing, penetration, orgasms, and any other “normal” part of sex that I don’t actually want.
27. I won’t live on a timeline that says I must partner up, get married, or have kids by a certain age.
28. I won’t turn people down because others consider them “different” or deem the relationship “unconventional.”
29. I’ll figure out how I feel about each individual I meet, rather than following prescribed societal roles for our dynamic.
30. I’ll strive to cultivate love for everyone, rejecting a narrow definition of love that says it must be felt or expressed in a certain way toward a select few people.
31. I won’t pigeonhole my partners or friends based on stereotypes.
32. I’ll feel free to make relationship choices based on intuitions, even if I can’t explain them, and values that don’t make sense to others.
33. I won’t project my preferences (even these ones) onto my friends. I’ll empower them to establish relationships that meet their personal criteria.
34. I’ll try my best to empathize with the “other woman” rather than let jealousy dictate my actions.
35.I’ll remind myself that other people aren’t really my “competition” because it’s not about who’s best – it’s about compatibility.
36. I won’t act “feminine” or “masculine” because that’s what a partner or love interest desires or expects.
37. I’ll demand emotional maturity, openness, and clarity from my partners, regardless of their gender.
38. I’ll discuss STIs with partners without holding back.
39. I won’t try to turn anyone’s “no” or “maybe” into a “yes.”
40. I won’t assume I have consent based on body language, past experience, or anything other than verbal affirmation.
41. I’ll wear whatever I want and talk to whoever I want without fear of making my partner jealous.
42. I won’t let my partners explain things to me as if they know better when they don’t.
43. If my partner does something to disrespect me, I’ll make it clear that it’s not okay to treat me that way.
44. I’ll ensure that the way my partner and I divide household labor and money makes sense to both of us.
45. I won’t tell my partners what to do with their bodies, or even opine on what they do, unless they ask or it directly affects me.
46. I won’t educate dates or partners about feminism or social justice when I don’t feel like it.
47. I won’t try to give partners or dates feminist makeovers in attempt to turn them into someone I want to be with. I’ll only date people I want to be with as they are.
48. I’ll speak up even about the smallest things that bug me so my partner has all the information necessary to accommodate me. I’ll view these conversations as mutually beneficial, not adversarial.
49. I’ll sympathize when I hurt my partner rather than defending myself.
50. If a partner is making it hard for me to follow these rules, I’ll express that with the understanding that if it leads us to break up, it’s for the better.
I’ve noticed a drastic difference in my mental health when I’m following these rules and when I’m not.
In my last relationship, when I compromised them all the time, I was constantly irritable because I was suppressing so much anger. I’d hide what I wanted and get mad at my partner for not giving me it.
In my current relationship, I notice this feeling creep up occasionally, and that’s when I know I’m not being true to myself. Once I speak up about my needs as a feminist, I feel valued in the relationship again – because I’m valuing myself.
You’re free to follow or disregard these rules as you wish. As I said, telling others how to have relationships is actually anti-feminist, even if you’re advocating feminist values.
But I’m offering them regardless because I wish I had them years ago. I wish I knew it was okay to ignore what my friends said and honor my needs. I wish I knew that expecting people to respect my boundaries was reasonable.
In short, I wish I knew it was okay to go against what the majority seemed to think. If the majority of people believe something, that doesn’t make it right – it may just prove we have a long way to go.
And living according to your own values, regardless of what others think, is important because it’s ultimately about consent.
The importance of consent in relationships isn’t just about sex. It’s also about making sure you’re consenting to the kinds of relationships you get into and the beliefs that inform them.
And if the beliefs you want to follow are feminist ones, this list is one place to start.
Suzannah Weiss is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Seventeen, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and more. She holds degrees in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Modern Culture and Media, and Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University. You can follow her on Twitter @suzannahweiss. Read her articles here.