A few weeks ago a friend of mine in Japan brought something to my attention. I won’t say what it is, because once I do, it will be easy to find. It is publicly posted online and I’m not trying to embarrass anyone, today. However, after listening to the hilarious trolling of the incident and its perpetrator by my friends, it brought to mind a date I went on in my earlier 20s.
In that moment, I realised that the incident was not isolated. And worse, I’m sure I’m not the only woman who has, on multiple occasions, suffered a man’s misguided belief that it was his prerogative to do something as noble as allow or push her to be better.
I‘m not talking about well-meaning family members and friends—though they are often guilty of this, too. I mean men who barely know the woman they are attempting to teach a lesson she never asked for.
A Date With a “Feminist”
As seems to always be the case in my life, I was immensely busy. There was a guy who really liked me at the time, and though I did like him too, I much preferred to focus on my work than make time to see him. After turning him down a few times in a row, one Friday I was finally able to set enough work aside to meet him.
I left it up to him to decide what we would do on the date. I lived in the suburbs and he lived in the city, so as boys will often do, he chose a location that was most convenient to himself. After turning him down so many times, I decided that was only fair. So, I ended up taking a cab to an art gallery that was walking distance from his apartment.
To make it to the date on time, I had chosen last-minute work over breakfast, so I was starving by the time we finished looking at art. I immediately started scoping out restaurants nearby, but he pointed out that the area was expensive. I paid him no mind. I picked a restaurant and he meekly came along.
Once we were seated, he picked up the menu and asked me if I wanted to share a sushi roll. I looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “You did hear me say I was hungry, right?” I asked him. He ordered a small roll for himself and I ordered something else.
We then began to talk about the artwork we had looked at. He was great at conversation, so I quickly forgot his many blunders. After a while, I realised time was ticking, so when the waiter passed by, I asked for the check. The waiter looked at the guy and then me, and asked, “Is this separate checks or together?”
Remembering how the guy had complained about how pricey the area was, I quickly volunteered to have them separated. The waiter was about to walk off when the guy said, “Aren’t you going to pay for me, too?”
I was still looking at the waiter and caught the flicker of “Is this guy f**king serious?” in his eyes, before I turned to look at my date. “Excuse me?” I asked him, the very picture of innocence.
“I was asking if you weren’t going to pay for me, too,” he said, boldly. There was no playful twinkle in his eye, no smirk.
I turned back to the waiter, who at this point was struggling to hold a straight face. He was halfway between incredulous and fearful drama was about to start. I smiled and handed him my card. “Make that one check, please.”
His eyes widened as he took it from me and he hurriedly disappeared from the table. He returned almost as quickly as he had left. I signed my name, pocketed my card and stood. “I think it’s time for me to go.”
“I had a great time!” my date piped up. I smiled and without saying another word, I made my exit.
For days afterwards, he called and texted, while I ignored him. However, it finally grew to the point where he was calling and texting twice as much as usual. Finally, I replied by telling him I didn’t think we were on the same page with some fundamental values and it was better we stopped seeing each other.
He was flabbergasted, but finally asked if it had anything to do with me paying for dinner.
I told him, “Yes, in fact, it did.”
He promptly told me that he didn’t understand what the big deal was. “The girls I date are feminists,” he said to me. “They don’t like the idea of a man paying for everything, because they don’t want to feel bought. I had paid for the tickets to the museum, so I suggested you pay for dinner to allow you to exercise your rights as a woman.”
I almost died laughing. Sure enough, this boy who was a long way from home had somehow got to thinking that it was his responsibility to empower or encourage me as a woman to do big and great things, such as purchase his dinner.
He did not take into account that he made at least four times as much money as I did, that I had to take two cab rides and then also pay for dinner. In fact, in total, I had paid about US $80 and he had paid maybe US $30. I won’t even count the opportunity cost related to the fact that I gave up freelance work I could have been paid for to see him.
In the end, he did a lot of whining and I did a lot of blocking, and in time, he realised I was steadfast in my decision, and left me alone.
Misguided Male Feminism
I’m going to say something that’s going to tick off a lot of people today, and that’s okay. Sometimes people need to be a little ticked off to see themselves through someone else’s eyes. Here it is:
The only boys or men I have ever met or known who felt it was their responsibility to “allow” me to be great were White Americans.
There, I said it—bite me.
As a young woman who lived in the tourist capital of an island that is a favourite tourist destination worldwide, I have dated and befriended men from all around the world. However, the only ones I ever had this issue with, whether they were in their own country or not, whether I only knew them through online interactions or not, were White American men. And, not just any White American men—specifically, millennials.
I do not have a single doubt in my mind that there are genuine male feminists. I know many of them!
They don’t do anything to empower me. My feminist male friends still fight with me to pay the bill at dinner. They still rush to the door to open it for me, because they know if I get there first, I will hold it open for them before entering. They do not do anything different or special for me to nudge me to be strong, because I am a feminist.
Whatever feminist actions I carry out in their presence are entirely my choice. Their protests to the contrary are not because they want to tell me how to be a woman, but because they want to be good men. Their focus is on being a strong man, not pushing me to be the version of feminism that works for them or their budget. And that is empowering!
A man who finds he cannot be a strong man in the presence of a strong woman is not a strong man at all.
The same is also true of women.
I agree that women are at a disadvantage to men. I agree that women, from time to time, need a helping hand. However, the second you find yourself in the position of Mr. Feminist who put me on the spot, so he could encourage me to be more like what he wanted me to be, or what suited his preferences, then you are exercising control, not empowering. Feminism is about choice—our choice—not your preferences.
If you don’t know the difference between the two, please don’t empower us anymore. Believe it or not—and this is probably going to blow your mind!—we’ll be just fine. We’re not so fragile that you need to be responsible for our well-being or success.
We have fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins and best friends to charge with that duty, if we so choose. And yes, many of them are White American millenial males who actually get it—amongst a colourful sea of other options. Perfect strangers or new dates need not apply.
To the women reading this article, have you also found yourself the victim of misguided feminism from men who barely even knew you? What about family members and friends? Have you been pushed towards certain standards or actions by a man who felt it was his responsibility to encourage you to be better? Share your stories with me in the comments below!
And, before I forget: HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. You rock!