Young Women on Dating and Feminism in America
The weirdness of dating as a young feminist woman in America
“Dating is super weird,” Amelia*, a 25-year-old Barnard College graduate who’s partial to the phrase “men are trash,” tells me. “I loathe it, but I don’t know if I hate it because I’m looking for a specific type of person who’s not that common — because I want a feminist man — or if everyone hates it, and we’re all fighting an uphill battle.”
Dating has always been, and will forever be, weird. But dating — and life — as a young woman in America is particularly fraught; a study in extremes. On the plus side, in this era of post-third-wave or maybe fourth-wave feminism, the concepts are largely mainstream. Groundbreaking work is being done with intersectionality; there’s #MeToo and rape-culture awareness; consent is taught at many colleges; there are more women in government than ever. At the same time, a man who’s bragged about groping women holds the top office in our country, the gender pay gap persists, and abortion rights continue to be chipped away in various states.
The internet has allowed information and porn to spread on an unprecedented scale, without necessarily promoting nuance or kindness or even accuracy. Early-stage courtship rituals can be conducted without ever meeting in person, thanks to apps like Snapchat and Tinder and Hinge. Because everyone pretty much has a cell phone, you never have to call and awkwardly get your crush’s mom on the phone. You can also FaceTime, bringing your digital relationship all the more up close and personal. But eventually you’ve got to meet in person. And that brings a whole new array of weirdnesses.
How does all this trickle down to young women, and what does it mean for their dating lives? I spoke to nine women, aged 19 to 25, to find out. While feminism and ways to talk about it are more accessible than ever, love and romance remains opaque and often confusing. “It’s easy to take a feminist stance in politics and public issues,” notes feminist author and Medium columnist Jessica Valenti, “but making that work in a private life feels much harder. I’m hearing from young women that it’s not so hard to find a boyfriend who says he’s a feminist, but that’s not the same thing as finding…