I was going to write a different blog post. For some time now, I had a text in mind that, in the wake of Jacquelyn Friedman’s new book on ‘feminist’ (obviously, broadly spoken…) dating and sex, concerned itself with the question many people who are attracted to men™ have asked and discussed and never answered: feminist men interested in heterosexual relationships – anyone? Anywhere?
Obviously, this has been debated a lot (e.g., on Feministe when Jill posed the question how people “date while feminist”) and is a complex issue; for me, due to personal reasons, especially regarding heterosexual relationships and all the negotiations and potential deal breakers they can entail. Thankfully, I have not yet had to deal with super special misogynistic snow flakes (…and being fat helps when it comes to weeding out the people who do not deserve to get laid in the first place…), and since my private environment is either in support of feminism or at least somewhat aware of my political base line (albeit due to my snarky comments or raised voice or the combination of the two… *ahem*), I can be quite happy to report that overt, unchallenged sexism is something I seldom have to deal with in my immediate (male) surroundings now (…it used to be different). And having any sort of (intimate) relationship with someone who does not share key features of this basic value system, i.e., “leftist” or “progressive” policies or whatever you want to name it, is a clear “deal breaker” and dude would neither get a second glance nor open ear.
Notwithstanding, as “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” has just recently shown yet again, defining yourself as a progressive or even explicitly feminist man does not mean that you actually are one. I think this is a problem due to a lack of individual reflection and comprehension (and here is a fantastic piece about the horrors of “faux feminists”), but also a structural complexity: of course, overcoming socially engraved beliefs and practices is hard, especially when you are living within the culture and society that reproduces and reinforces said beliefs and practices every single day, and belittles or threatens you if you refuse to play along. I expect you to try damned hard, however – it is your responsibility if you claim to support gender equality (that should be an integral part of your “progressive” stance).
I was now going to start dissecting the question as to how feminist exactly a man has to be (and in which regards), so one can “work with” that – clearly, certain issues that I would deem feminist in principle are somewhat relational negotiations in practice, and although the slogan “the personal is political” holds true, intimate relationships tend to not function satisfactory for either person/people if handled as party conventions where the goal is to push your political wing’s programme to the fullest extend (…although I’ve heard that works for some people – and I’ve once tried… hard… ;)).
Yet, right in the middle of the classic thought about how much (anti?-)feminist compromise is justifiable and how to write about that, something else happened, and kind of caught me off guard.
As said above, feminism does not come as a surprise to virtually every man I know on a more personal level, is somewhat common in the professional/humanities/academia surrounding I am working, and I am far from ‘hiding’ it in daily interactions (although, apparently, simply stating a differing opinion is still considered radically feminist, even totally akin to the SCUM manifesto… :: eye roll ::), although I do not roam the streets yelling about it (yet) or wear batches (anymore). This blog is written under a pseudonym, nonetheless, because I actually like to not be identified for once, would find it a bit too revealing to share things like these under my real name with the internet, and think that words can carry without names (although most of my friends and some of my colleague actually know who occupies this virtual space :)). As I had to experience, however: in times of googling people, privacy is just shot to shit anyway.
Due to student/political/academic activism that also included/includes talking to certain media outlets and/or having your work documented digitally, a google search with my name comes up with a very specific type of results. It does not bother me – this is who I am and what I do, and fortunately, I have not yet had to encounter any negative feedback in a job interview or anything the like, which is clearly due to having the privilege of working at a university. I have also googled people, and was surprised or even shocked at some results, and felt a little guilty at the same time, because one is virtually invading their privacy without their consent, since google (or every other search engine and interwebs in general) is clearly not asking for permission, and neither are many of the originators of the information about you that is shared online and will be accessible virtually indefinitely.
So: recently, I have met this guy and thought he was cute and funny and smart and surprisingly (self-proclaimed) feminist. We had a good conversation over coffee and continued it the next day via a social media network’s chat (…yes, talk about privacy…). What I did not know was that, apparently, I was dealing with a compulsive “googler”, because ten minutes into the virtual conversation, he started asking me about things I had not shared yet, and finally decided to paste links to articles I had been quoted in and deemed it a good idea to “confront” me with “copy & paste” of certain google information, asking me to acknowledge it or comment on it.
Um… well – I was rather bemused. I know the information is out there, and I know the likelihood of being able to get to know someone without virtually stalking them at some point is near zero. Yet, I found this to be intrusive, annoying and curious at the same time. Was he at least honest about it and trying, in a really bad way, to include me into the first virtual stalking? Was that just an asshole move or the new dating present – exchanging virtual data before you actually talk to each other? The question was answered rather quickly, when, after trying to politely respond to his first question about a quote, I asked him why he kept doing that when we had not even ‘officially’ exchanged last names yet? Why was he using my information (about where I work and what I do) to find out my last name and extended contact information, then google it, then confront me with the results and implicitly ask for justifications? He then actually answered that he would not like it if I googled him because he is such a private person.
Great, dude, thanks! After thinking about it for a while, I told him that I’d prefer to just stop communicating with each other, but I am still not sure how to evaluate this experience. As I said: it is neither about the information on political activism, about 8-year-old quotes that seem a little murky today at best (thank goodness, apparently I am still learning things :)!) nor about the fact that one will find out quickly that I am rather serious about gender and race issues – that would have happened anyway… It is not even solely about personal privacy and ruining the actual excitement of getting to know a new person you find interesting or attractive or intriguing – what pissed me off was the “testing” moment, the necessity for him to use the information he got to confront me with it, whilst at the same time being quite serious about protecting his privacy.
He did not comment on his “findings” in a negative way, but still: it was irritating. At the risk of taking myself way too seriously here, to me, his behaviour was a kind of faux feminism too: trying to get as much information about a person you just met without actually asking her personally; multiply that information; maybe intend to use it as an ill-advised conversation starter; then relentlessly confront the other person with that information to provoke some sort of reaction; all whilst keeping yourself as covered as possible so your conversation “partner” is never your equal, if only (or: for starters?) not information-wise, and you’re the one in control. This is not how getting to know each other works, I believe, when you’re out for an egalitarian friendship or relationship. This is not what you do when you try to get to know someone you actually like. So – people will keep googling me; and I will be on the lookout for those who do not need me to explain and are actually interested in what I do, have to say and feel right now.