I teach. I'm also part of residential faculty where I teach, which means my apartment is adjoined to a dormitory with about 20 teenage girls of whom I’m in charge.
A couple of weeks before we closed term, in an anonymous session of Dr Love (where the girls on the hall anonymously submit questions that have to do with love and dating), one asked; "How can I handle a relationship if I'm a feminist and my partner isn't?" Giggles ensued. As did splices of do-thises and do-thats. Our weekly Hall Meeting was almost up, so I made a mental note to write my response to the question.
I wrote it about a day later through our Whatsapp Group with the following, and I thought I'd share it here. Here, it’s amended to include some thoughts I shared on Twitter. At the dawn of the year, I hope it'll be meaningful read, and will shape your understanding of what love can be and do.
[21:23, 11/27/2018] Takondwa S:
Yesterday, I had so much to say about the question re: dating someone who isn’t a feminist. I deeply understand what it is to leave home and change in such profound ways. To realize things that we didn’t before. I think it’s important to know that it’s okay that you have changed. It doesn’t make you better than those you left behind. But it’s true, it’s real, it’s valid, and sometimes this change comes at the cost of relationships and friendships- it did for me.
I’m not saying that you must sever all ties to people that you knew before you knew what you now know. I’m saying that this is what happens when you leave. You often change in ways that you might not have if you hadn’t. We are, after all, products of our environments.
Ok. Now, to the feminist thing. First off, human beings get more caught up in words and the baggage they come with rather than with what they mean. This is the shortcoming of words. Feminism is one of those words, for which too many of us have our own definition. It’s like the Laurel/Yanny thing. The same word can sound completely different in different people’s ears- some hear it and think anti-men, some hear it and hear healing and justice. I hear the latter.
Feminism, to me, is radical love. Feminism is systemic intention and attention that leans towards the least of us. Feminism is feet that run swiftly towards justice. Feminism is listening to women. Feminism is taking those that suffer oppression as the experts in its discourse. Feminism is unlearning patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Feminism unlearning internalized patriarchy. Feminism is an obsession with the survival of those against whom systems- political, social, economic, institutional, filial, communal, religious, capitalist, societal- work. Feminism is a drive to dismantle these systems.
So, what does love have to do with feminism?
Simply put, I think love- REAL love- must be revolutionary. It must never make you, your needs, or your desires feel small. It must make you, your needs, and your desires feel vast, expansive, and important. Love must advocate for your full, protected, and equal existence. Love must fight to the death for your survival. Love must stand in committed opposition of all that oppresses you. Therefore, with all this considered, love must be feminist. There are no two-ways about it.
I know that these things sound neat in theory. That when you love someone, and have loved them for so long, and you feel yourself changing in ways that you know they aren’t, it’s not as easy to reconcile what you know conceptually to be love with how it manifests in a real, everyday way. For this, I have no answers. Life’s messy like that. But the mess can be navigated, and ultimately, you have agency. You have all of the agency in the world. So no matter how you choose to define love, or live love, I hope that you will always have a love that fights for your survival. ❤