Feminist Dating Resolutions for the New Year

Look, we’re not going to tell you how to date, who to date or that you even need to date. But if you’re looking for love, it’s worth looking for it in the right places—and going about it the right way. Here are some  ideas to consider for the New Year.

By Kristin Tschannen


dating-300x300Listen for Real Compliments. Start paying attention to what a potential love interest is reallysaying. There is a significant difference between a pick up line and an authentic compliment or question. Any lover you are considering bringing into your life should want to know the real you. He or she will admire your zest for life or your passion for travel; your family and the things that are important to you and make you smile.

Don’t Male Bash. Straight women, say it with us: Men are not the enemy! Leave your past disappointments and negative, preconceived notions about men and dating in 2012. It’s not only counterproductive to your efforts, but its downright unfeminist. We need men on our sides—in the board room and the bedroom—to make the kind of progress we still need to make. Start the New Year with a positive outlook in love.

Set Standards that Matter. Throw tall, dark, and handsome out the window and call in smart, funny, and spontaneous or any qualities you deem important in a potential love interest. Seek fit and a chemistry that keeps you buzzing. Date men who understand what it means to be a feminist woman and one who isn’t afraid of letting you know he’s a feminist man. Date men who have no problem talking to you about sex and are mature enough to have open communication and want an equal partnership. Then hold up a mirror and make sure you’re following the same standards.

Stay Single If You Want to Stay Single. Tons of alone time, a schedule beholden to no one, and the freedom to be as selfish as you want to be doesn’t exactly suck—especially if a little “me” time is what you really need right now. The New Year is a great time to start focusing on your relationship with You. You can surround yourself with people who really stoke your fire and who you can focus on having fun with. This is the time in your life to travel and have adventures and meet new people (see how non-sucky this is?). Don’t put expectations on your relationships with people; let them unfold naturally and enjoy it!

Learning How To Date When You’re A Divorced Mother

DateShadows-300x199I’ll be upfront and say that this whole dating thing is really weird for me. I got married at 20 to my college boyfriend and split up 16 years later, now with two kids. The dating I did in my teens couldn’t really be called dating. And my marriage was a dysfunctional mess that started off with bad dynamics that only got worse. As my therapist reminded me, by the time I was 36 I needed to spend a lot of time learning about myself, the kind of life I wanted and what kind of partner I wanted to go with that. That’s been easier said than done.

Since the split I’ve made plenty of time for sex but not really for dating. I figured out pretty early on that I needed sex on a sort of maintenance level to offset the stresses of my job and raising two preteens. It took a while for me to open that door but once I did I had no problem finding willing partners, mostly men I’d already known. But in order to do so, they had to accept the the terms of my relationship: You take what little time I can squirrel away from work and kids, and you never meet my children.

About year two I started dating an old friend on the weekends that my kids were with their father. It was my first real experience dating a grownup. He is an accomplished man in his late forties, never married, no kids. There were gifts and trips and great dinners out. And also lots of plans (on his end) for what our lives would look like after my kids were in college. And lots of little jokes wondering how soon could we pack them away whenever I had to say no to some plans because of the kids. Now, even though I had set the rules and made it really clear I wasn’t looking to ever get remarried or have a stepparent situation with my kids, the fact that my kids didn’t figure into his plans for us (beyond getting them into good colleges far away) really bothered me. We would break up (messily) because I realized I didn’t love him the way he loved me and I thought it was unfair to keep him hanging on, but I know that his view of my kids—or lack thereof—has something to do with it.

I’ve recently started dating a man unlike anyone else I’ve ever gravitated to. At 50, he’s 11 years older than me. And he’s a quiet steady sort. He’ll never be the center of attention at a party and there won’t be extravagant gestures of affection. But he is both physically and verbally affectionate, as well as smart and funny, with a good steady job, and a very good clear sense of himself and what he wants. And he has a 10-year-old daughter he adores and co-parents with his ex. From our first date, he was head over heels for me. And I can’t front, I love having someone in love with me. That adoration is intoxicating. But I’ve also found that I just enjoy his company. We have a wonderfully comfortable time together. And then when we actually had sex, turns out the quiet guy is quite the freak in bed. And that’s a really good thing.

But he’s also a planner. Less than a month in and he’s already asked me if I’d ever consider co-habitating in a space that accommodated all the kids. He is a nester and wants more time with me than I can give him. Things have changed with my ex and now my kids are with me all the time. There are no free weekends to get away or stay snuggled up in bed together. But  instead of cutting and running away from new guy, I’m discussing the situation and talking to him about tempering his expectations. He says that he will take me however/whenever he can get me but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will become an unsustainable setup for one or both of us at some point. I keep cautioning him (and myself) to be in the moment, to enjoy the good feelings we’re giving each other and try to make too many plans. I’m just okay committing to going to see a play at the end of the month. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

I don’t know where this is all going. I don’t like not knowing but I also know this is the path my life must take and with each passing relationship I’m finding my voice and getting closer to where I need to be.

Girl Kisses (and More) In TV and Film: A 20-Year Retrospective

It’s been twenty years since two women first kissed on a prime time television series. (To find out which show, read on.)

Ellen1-300x206So to celebrate, here’s a brief chronology of girls-who-like-girls characters in TV and film. While many such story lines are produced to merely titillate audiences (see Virginia Heffernan’s 2005New York Times article on television series using lesbian subplots during sweeps week), I can’t deny that these shows also opened up a larger dialogue in our culture. Here are some of the most positive examples of girl love from the past two decades:

1991: L.A. Law delivers the first on-screen girl-on-girl kiss in the episode, “He’s a Crowd.” Here’s how it goes down: Abby and C.J. (played by Michele Greene and Amanda Donohue, respectively) share a meal together after Abby is turned down for a partnership at the firm. Afterward, they kiss outside in a parking lot. C.J. identifies herself as “flexible” (possibly the first character to ever use that term on television) while Abby considers herself completely heterosexual. Although this subplot doesn’t go very far (and was mostly used as a ratings ploy), I have no doubt that without it the list that follows probably wouldn’t exist.

1996: While the ten-year run of Friends did not primarily feature a lesbian relationship, the episode known as “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” is quite a milestone. Long before the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions, Carol and Susan walked down the aisle and declared their love in a relatively traditional ceremony. On a particularly sweet note, Ross, Carol’s ex, offers to give her away in lieu of her father who disapproved of the marriage.

1997: Ellen DeGeneres as Ellen Morgan comes out on Ellen in the now-infamous “Puppy Episode.”While the show’s ratings suffered and DeGeneres’s own personal revelation that she is gay set off a major backlash, it wasn’t long before she was back on top—hosting the Emmys in 2001, performing a new stand-up comedy routine on HBO, and of course, launching her daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Oh and need I mention marrying one of the most gorgeous women alive, Portia De Rossi? She’s also a Cover Girl—which is both a milestone and an awesome slap in the face to her critics.

1999: Our first feature film on the list is none other than But I’m a Cheerleader. Now considered something of a cult classic, this Jamie Babbit film not only featured a lesbian couple, but a lesbian couple at a “gay rehabilitation center.” Graham (Clea DuVall) and Megan (Natasha Lyonne) are in high school when their parents send them to True Directions (the name is so ridiculous it’s meant to be laughed at). I not only give this movie props for its frankness and humor but also for giving us a happy ending. It is one of the few lesbian-centric films that does not feature one of its characters going straight or dying some untimely death. (Two sadly common plotlines.) Thanks, Jamie Babbit for inventing the lesbian romantic comedy. (Also check out her 2007 flick, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, also with a happy ending.)

1998: In High Art, a heroin-addicted lesbian photographer, Lucy (Ally Sheedy) gets involved with Syd (Radha Mitchell), a shy girl-next-door. It’s the ultimate in escapism for both parties and naturally, given the subject matter, the cinematography is both breathtaking and surreal as the women create their own world, separate from their realities. Unfortunately, the reality of drug addiction proves too powerful to ignore. While it does fit into a certain depressing stereotype, High Art still deserves recognition for how it addressed the homosexual desires of a supposedly straight character—as awkward, thrilling, and overwhelming as they are in real life.

Incredibly heartbreaking, but a story so worth telling, Gia not only grapples with same-sex attraction but drug abuse, self-destruction, and HIV/AIDS. The real-life supermodel, Gia Carangi was known for her tenacity and passion, and those closest to her knew of her attraction to women. Even in Gia’s darkest moments—whether losing her lover or falling short of kicking her addictions—the film is riveting from start to finish. You simply cannot take your eyes off her, and not just because she’s played by Angelina Jolie. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jolie won a Golden Globe for her performance.)

2000: This retrospective wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the monumental series, Queer as Folk. It helped turn “queer” into a household (not to mention positive) term in the early 2000s. While there was only one central lesbian couple on the show, Melanie and Lindsay spiced up the group dynamic. During the show’s five-year span, they had two children, got married, separated and reconciled twice, and led successful careers. This couple ran through the gamut of emotional highs and lows, making them feel particularly genuine.

2001: Buffy the Vampire Slayer earns a space on the list as featuring a two-and-a-half year relationship between female characters, Willow and Tara. Clearly, this storyline was not just for the ratings.

2004: The L Word. The first all-girl, all-lesbian/bisexual television series. The L Word picked up the banner that Queer as Folk started carrying four years earlier. These characters were just like any other dysfunctional group of friends—except they liked girls. Oh and they were all wildly successful and lived incredibly well in expensive Los Angeles. It tackled difficult subjects, too—child rearing, affairs, cancer, gays in the military, to name a few. I’d like to believe that it will pave the way—if it hasn’t already—to more series and films, albeit with a little less underwear and a little more realism.

2005: Oh those California girls of The O.C. While I admit the teenage soap opera is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, I have to call the show out on its cheap use of girl-likes-girl storyline in season 2. Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Alex (Olivia Wilde) have a brief affair and share a couple of smooches on screen. No sooner do they get together then Alex leaves Newport Beach and Marissa ends up back with her true love, Ryan Atwood. Huh? Sounds like someone (cough, Marissa, cough) was killing time before her former BF was conveniently available again. Of course, when I first watched the budding Marissa-Alex romance, I was excited—ready to stamp my seal of approval on any mainstream television show that had the guts to feature a gay couple. And that enthusiasm is probably how I justify owning all four seasons on DVD.

2008: Grey’s Anatomy hooked its huge following with some good old-fashioned relationship drama. In season 4, however, the show took an unexpected detour from the roads of McDreamy and McSteamy when Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) began a relationship with Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith). Together, they embark on their first same-sex relationship. Unfortunately, while Erica embraces her newfound sexual identity, Callie does not. But have no fear—in season 5, Callie finds a new love interest in Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw)—and the courage to face her feelings. The couple has overcome many obstacles—from disapproving parents to deciding whether or not to have children. After much struggle and heartache (as only Grey’s Anatomy can deliver), the couple finally wed in season 7. Much like Melanie and Lindsay of Queer as Folk, Callie and Arizona are another great example of a lesbian couple in a long-term relationship with its many ups and downs, like any of their straight counterparts.

2010: Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) seem like the run-of-the-mill lesbian couple with two kids and a white picket fence in The Kids Are All Right. The only monkey wrench? Their kids are about to discover their sperm donor father. While this film caught some criticism for the lesbian-has-an-affair-with-a-man plot, I commend it for its portrayal of a marriage (in nearly every sense of the word, these women are married) that has been strained. Julianne Moore’s monologue on struggling to keep it all together is so moving, anyone can relate—gay, straight, or otherwise. Interesting trivia? This film was written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, the same woman who wrote and directed High Art. Unlike her earlier effort, The Kids Are All Right was widely recognized in the mainstream media and was even nominated for several Academy Awards.

To the writers, producers, and actresses of these shows and films, bravo.

Sexy Feminists Read: Anna David’s ‘Falling for Me’

FallingforMe-pb-199x300In Anna David’s new memoir, Falling for Me, the author sets out to find the empowering side of being single by following the advice set forth in Helen Gurley Brown’s groundbreaking 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl. So should we be living more like women in the ’60s? We talked to David (whose book launch we’re sponsoring in New York City Oct. 10) about that — and why it’s still so hard to be single.

You recently ignited a bit of a blogger controversy by asserting in a post that “women had it better in the ’60s.” Do you really think women had it better then, hands down? Or just in certain ways?

Definitely just in certain ways. Which is what I said in the piece! But I get that when people want to pick a fight with you — or are, say, angered simply by the title of your piece — they don’t see words that might minimize their vitriol. My point was that I wish women would stop making statements about things that don’t matter. I love Gloria Steinem and am incredibly grateful for all that she’s done, but for her to go around making a stink about the Playboy Club TV show when everyone knew the show was terrible and wasn’t going to make any kind of cultural impact seems silly. Instead, I’d rather she talk about things that do matter and we can change, like how judgmental and cruel women can be to one another simply because we always see each other as competition.

How do you think the perception of single girls has changed over time? Or has it?

Well, contemporary society certainly didn’t invent the notion of a spinster or the idea of a single woman being lonely, damaged, or desperate. But when there were fewer opportunities for women, I think it was probably much easier to concentrate on finding and working on a good marriage. Yet our generation was told — or at least I was — that we had to have incredibly successful careers as well as successful marriages. And I know very few women who manage that but hundreds of men. Of course, we now also have millions of shows, blog posts, Op-Eds, Tumblr groups and what have you out there to perpetuate the idea that we should be able to have it all or that single women are pathetic. We put these cultural messages out there; I mean, if you think about The Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny was repeatedly called the “underdog” when she was single. Then she landed a husband and she’s the show’s great success story, off to her own series!

But I don’t really know why we have such a hard time making singlehood okay; maybe it’s threatening to a still patriarchal society that needs procreation in order to survive. Maybe it’s that no matter what we do, some women are always going to find fault with others for their choices.

How do you think we can change the way single women are perceived?

I think we can all work on being open to one another’s choices. And look, I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone because I judge the shit out of women who are perfectly capable of working but instead rely on their husbands entirely — especially when they try to make a big show out of their “work” when really it’s some dilettante-ish thing their husband is funding. And the truth is I judge them because I’m jealous, on a certain level. A part of me wants to have a man say, “Honey, don’t worry about the money. How about you try making that scrapbooking business idea a reality? You’ll have my full support.” Yet ever since I’ve become aware of the fact that my judgment is based on jealousy, I’ve been trying to curb it — by reminding myself that I don’t know what these women’s lives are like, that I don’t know what they’ve traded or had to swallow and that maybe it’s a lot more challenging than anything I do. And with awareness, couldn’t we all — even the Smug Marrieds — stop congratulating ourselves so much and in turn finding fault with the way other women are living?

Is it a failing of the feminist movement that we haven’t been able to move past this?

Yes, in a way I do see this as a failure of the feminist movement because it’s something we can change and we don’t need men to help us. And it’s about spreading positivity rather than negativity. I mean, I get that anger is often required in order to make a difference, but when certain women make the same arguments over and over again about how there aren’t enough women allowed in one field or another, I just don’t know how effective it is. Most people subconsciously tune out those who sound angry because they assume the people aren’t being rational — that’s a psychological fact. And sometimes those arguments fall into that category. Of course, what I’m talking about isn’t something you write an Op Ed or create a Tumblr group about and then hope men change but actual humble efforts of self-examination and trying to change ourselves, which is arguably the most challenging thing in the world.

What was the most important thing you learned from the journey you took in this book?

It was that I had to stop defining my life based on what the world seemed to think it should be. I love my parents but I was definitely raised by people who have very specific ideas about How Things Are Done and love was sort of doled out based on how “successful” you were. I spent years trying to please them and not succeeding and then very much took that attitude into the world; I was going to succeed at this life game if it was the last thing I did. But in growing up like that and then continuing to be that way, I’d neglected to really ever ask myself what did I want? What made mehappy? And really hitting an emotional bottom and then deciding to devote my life to the principles of a book from the ’60s forced me to get to a place where I could really start to question what I’d always valued and to build a life that involved more than just creating a bright, shiny career. Maybe it would have happened anyway — maybe this is just the place I’m at in my life — but I came to realize I could change those things I didn’t like and learn to really love what I did.

Can we ever balance our seemingly innate yearning for love with, well, all the other things we have to do in our lives — careers, friendships, and the general pursuit of fabulousness that seems to be required of modern womanhood?

It’s definitely possible. I think it takes a certain emotional maturity that I’m only now beginning to feel like I possess. But we have to make sacrifices and give up certain fantasies. The fact is, I know only two married women with incredibly successful careers and in both cases, the husband essentially agreed to remain entirely subordinate — to either give up his career entirely or to just do it more as a hobby. I think a lot of Type A women want a Type A man but most of the Type A men seem to want yes-women. This idea a lot of women have about having it all — the big life, the great career, the successful husband, the group of friends, the fabulousness — is, I think, a fantasy. And somehow doing my book taught me that that’s okay, that it’s not about doing or having it all but being happy with what you have.

What’s the biggest problem with the way we approach sex today versus the Sex and the Single Girl days?

I think we’re as confused about sexual mores as we’ve ever been. Back in Helen’s day, girls either slept around or didn’t and most didn’t. But we were raised at a post-women’s revolution time, where we were told that liberated women could do whatever they wanted. And yet we were raised by women who’d come of age during Helen’s time so that message, to me anyway, always came out contorted or conflicted. Just because we have the Pill and the freedom to do whatever we want sexually, that doesn’t mean we’re always going to feel great about it. I’ve felt ashamed or like I did too much or like I shouldn’t have done something after many sexual experiences and I think many women feel an intrinsic level of shame when they have sex outside of a committed relationship. The fact is, sex is still, on some level, something women give and men take and we act like it’s not — like we’re liberated and everyone’s in the same boat. We’re not. And in many ways I think it was healthier when female sexuality was regarded as more of a gift — when it wasn’t so easily accessible. Until the day that a man could be called a slut and it would be viewed as something other than a compliment — a day I don’t really foresee coming — I believe the way we view and approach sex will be screwed up. I also think that while sex is everywhere — porn stars like Jenna Jameson and Sacha Grey have broken out into the mainstream, Kardashian-wear is sweeping the nation — our society is still so repressed. We’ll worship these sort of déclassé examples of female sexuality but won’t have open, honest communication about sex. And then everyone’s so shocked when wealthy golf players and politicians are embroiled in sex scandals. I actually have one section of my book that’s sexually very graphic and a few months ago, I panicked: called my editor and asked if we could take those six pages out. It was too late as it turned out, but my sudden shame wasn’t about me — I’d written the pages, after all, not to mention had the experiences I documented — but about how other people would judge me. And I think that if we as a society were as open and honest about sex as I wish we were, I wouldn’t have been so scared of that.

Feminist Dating Dilemmas

datingdilemmas1After 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.

How to Be a Feminist Boyfriend

malefeministAfter having a few recent conversations about whether men can even be feminist (The Sexy Feminist says: YES) and stumbling across this plea for guy-friendly feminist reading from a concerned girlfriend, we got to thinking: What does it take to be a feminist boyfriend? Let us count the ways:

1. Read feminist sites. We recommend this one, of course, but there’s also Feministing, Slate’s DoubleX blog, and many others. And we don’t say this as our No. 1 tip just to keep ourselves in business — reading sites that filter news through a feminist perspective is the quickest, easiest way to get a feel for, well, just how far we still have to go. He’ll get exactly why we still need feminism after spending an afternoon reading about Dominic Strauss-Kahn, Planned Parenthood cuts, and, ugh, Charlie Sheen. Hopefully he’ll also come out a fan of Bridesmaids, Tina Fey, and Jane Fonda.

2. Make sure you’re giving her what she wants, and not what she doesn’t want, in bed. This comes down to talking. It’s fun. Have some wine and discuss what you both like (and don’t). Then everyone’s on the same page. It’s so easy to lose track of equality in bed, and while we aren’t advocating strict and literal equality (if you like being tied up, ladies, go for it!) we think the key is making sure everyone is equally satisfied, whatever that means.

3. Share the burden of contraception. Again, it comes down to talking. Don’t assume the lady’s taking care of things just because we have a pill and you don’t. And trust us, she will swoon if you offer to foot half the birth control cost (even if she’s the one who has to go pick up the prescription). She may decline your offer, but it doesn’t hurt to put it out there.

4. Treat her like a lady, but let her pay sometimes. This is another case-by-case situation: Paying for stuff might be the most fraught area of modern dating. Basically, it’ll vary widely depending on which of you makes more, or whether you’ve got roughly equal bank accounts. That said, we don’t suggest using feminism as an excuse to be cheap; but we also appreciate you checking your antiquated ideas about manhood at the door and letting your woman pay sometimes, especially after the first few dates. It helps assuage our awkward feelings of feminist guilt and that nagging sensation of being a kept woman.

5. Cook together. It’s romantic, fun, healthy, and fiscally responsible. It also establishes a feeling of equality when it comes to domestic tasks and lays a great foundation if you take things to the next level and cohabitate.

6. Don’t resort to “stop acting like a chick” retorts during disagreements. Just be direct and honest; don’t drag gender into things.

7. Have intellectual debates with us. We love that.

8. Call yourself a feminist, dammit. This is basically like dirty talk to us.