I signed up to OK Cupid as something of a social experiment after reading about a highly scientific experiment in which a Black girl, whose profile seemed to attract only illiterate sleaze, put up an identical profile with a picture of her thin, white friend, and discovered that men’s responses to the white girl were mostly not sleazy or illiterate, but articulate, witty and warm. And I wondered, what reaction would I get as a conventionally attractive but clearly not Caucasian woman who includes “Casual Sex” as an option for a potential relationship?
The people who responded to me were almost exclusively white men, many of whom were taller and thinner than average, all of whom were cisgender and able-bodied. A couple of men fetishised me for being a “hot Asian” (after explaining my mixed background and English upbringing I was told it doesn’t matter because being a hot Asian is “in my blood”); a few approached me because they were interested in Japan, where I have lived and someday intend to emigrate; and, predictably, some approached me entirely because “Casual sex? Cool! I thought that was just for desperate ugly chicks!” On top of that there was of course the helping of persistent, illiterate sleaze that I think anyone signing up for a free online dating service knows to expect.
However, most of the men I spoke to were nice, sometimes a little too nice (it’s a woman with lower self-esteem than I who will find it attractive if a man constantly apologises for daring to contact her and exclaims that he can’t believe his luck that she would even be talking to him) and I actually ended up speaking to one guy seriously. We talked on OKCupid’s IM for hours every day for a week, then met up for a first date which lasted a weekend. I met his parents on Mother’s Day; he’s meeting my parents at Easter.
We’re still negotiating a lot of things but it’s going really well, and part of this is because he passed my own litmus test for online dating. It’s a little simpler than Jaclyn Friedman’s:
Right now my basic litmus test is this: Is he interested in feminist issues when I bring them up? And can he talk about them in ways that express curiosity and engagement and respect, instead of defensiveness or dismissiveness or attachment to stereotypes? If we can talk about this stuff in ways that are interesting and productive, I can work with it most of the time.
My litmus test? Rape jokes.
Rape jokes are probably the feminist issue I am most known for in my group of friends, because you make a rape joke around me and I will make you uncomfortable for it. On top of this, I was once burned when I was overjoyed that a male friend identified publicly as a feminist only to find out he makes rape jokes on a daily basis. My partner needs to be the sort of person who will not make rape jokes, but who will also not laugh if rape jokes are made around him. It’s not perfect, but it works as a litmus test because it demonstrates an awareness of the inequalities that women face simply for being women, very possibly because he has heard the anecdotal evidence of friends or relatives.
My identity as a mixed race woman is an increasingly significant part of my life, but feminism is not my job as it is for Friedman. Far more important to me than curiosity and engagement is validation: Yes, your belief that being a mixed race woman affects your treatment in the world is correct. Yes, you are right to be upset by the inequalities you encounter. Yes, your time spent talking about these inequalities is time well spent. Yes, rape jokes are always offensive and you are right to be upset by them and to make people feel uncomfortable for making them.
This guy won me over on OKCupid by treating me as an equal. He paid me attention without either putting me on a pedestal or implying that he was only talking to me because he wanted to sleep with me, and made me laugh by making fun of me without ever making me feel uncomfortable. You know, the way you’d expect a guy to interact with someone while becoming friends with them? When we spoke seriously he made it clear that my thoughts, opinions, time and attention matter; in other words, he genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say, because he thought that what I had to say was valid.
Now I know him better, I know that he finds my open, straightforward style of communication refreshing, and he likes my passion, even when it becomes rage about things that bother me. He has told me to calm down and stop overreacting before, but about things entirely unrelated to my political views or gender in any way (which means he still deserves a kick in the pants for being so ANNOYING, but it’s not a relationship dealbreaker). He’s not perfect, and I don’t know if he’s a forever-guy or not, but I will not suddenly wake up and realise that I’m with somebody who is a clueless, functioning cog in our rape culture society… and I cannot describe how much of a relief that is.