I began sexually and romantically interacting with boys at the age of 16. I had my first boyfriend at the age of 26 going on 27, and I haven’t had a second boyfriend since. I am currently 30 going on 31. It is difficult and confusing for all young people to develop healthy sexual identities. My difficulties were/are compounded by my gender and ethnicity. As I attempt to navigate the world of dating and sex, I come across sexist and racist behavior. I don’t feel like I have the tools to navigate this world successfully. Out of frustration after my three most recent romantic and sexual encounters (all of which felt supremely disrespectful in some form or fashion), I googled “Dating while Feminist.” Googling whatever is bothering me is one of my major coping mechanisms. Is there a guidebook out there somewhere? I’m not about to give up romance and having sex… though dating makes me almost want to.
Not expecting to find anything from my google search, I was delighted to stumble upon an interview on msmagazine.com with Samhita Mukhopadhyay, author of “Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life.” I was ecstatic for two reasons: a woman from the same cultural background as me has written a book about all of the struggles I have been facing developing a sexual identity and navigating sexuality and romance in a racist, slut shaming, and sexist culture.
Samhita describes the intent of her book:
“And I realized the question that no book addressed- which I now see as one of the biggest of the biggest challenges of our generation- was how savvy, smart, successful, politically conscious women date and find love, on our own terms, in a world that is still defined by traditional gender roles, impossible expectations, and archaic relationship models.”
YES! YES! YES! Tell me more Samhita!
Samhita begins the book by debunking the myth in popular culture that feminism- the political, economic, intellectual, and spiritual advancement of women- has ruined romance, dating, masculinity, the family, and everything else it has been accused of ruining. She refers to popular dating self-help books as a cog in the machine known as the “romantic industrial complex.” The function of the machine is to demonize all non-heternormative couplings and to make people feel insecure about their romantic lives. These dating books, often written by men and “reformed” feminists (who tried living feminist lives…. at the expense of a relationship) usually target women, convincing them to change everything about themselves in order to find a man who will be in a relationship with them. It is to be noted that men are not expected to change. If you are not seeking a heterosexual, monogamous, committed and leading to marriage relationship, society characterizes you in a variety of ways:
childish, lonely, sad, food-obsessed, sex toy obsessed, spinster, cat lady, selfish, unhappy.
Samhita deconstructs how constructions of gender, race, class, and ethnicity work together to influence the development and expression of sexual identity. She discusses harmful dating propaganda that encourages women to settle in romantic relationships and be less picky.
The author argues,
“The problem isn’t that we are too picky and should settle, the problem is that we’ve settled too often and haven’t been picky enough.”
Samhita talks about the negative impact of the gender binary, gender essentialism, and heteronormative privilege on people’s lives. (And if you don’t know what those things are, she defines them for you too!) She focuses on heterosexual romantic and sexual interaction more often than she references other types of romantic and sexual identities. She mentions queer and trans identities in her book as well as different types of romantic choices, but does not expand on them. As a result, this book might not feel as relevant to everyone as it did to me.
I was looking for an answer. I was looking for a guidebook. I was looking for anything that addresses the complexities that I haven’t until now been able to articulate. Samhita has succeeded in articulating my experience- and surely the experience of so many of my sisters- so artfully and thoroughly.