Can You Be a Feminist and an Old-Fashioned Romantic?


Can You Be a Feminist and an Old-Fashioned Romantic?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Once upon a time, there lived a princess. For all her wit, beauty, and intellect, her life seemed incomplete, until Prince Charming came along and saved the day with a grand, romantic gesture of love to sweep her off her feet. You’re probably unsure which fairy tale I’m talking about, because all of them have the same pattern – it begins with once upon a time and ends with a happily ever after. Cinderella’s prince went from house to house, in an arduous search for the maiden whose foot would fit the glass slipper. Snow White’s prince rode through cruel forests to find her and give her the kiss of life.

These are the stories we were raised on as little girls, and as we grew up, pop culture reinforced the notion that romance equals theatrical displays of undying love. Bollywood’s idea of love meant a boy “pursuing” a girl, regardless of her wishes, and no Hollywood rom-com can end without a romantic date that’s probably grander than most weddings, capped off by a dreamy ending that even Cinderella, Snow White, and Prince Charming would kill for.

As girls who formed their ideas of romance against this backdrop, it’s only natural that that’s what we look for in our relationships. It is only today, in the age of #MeToo, that we began to wonder if Snow White consented to “true love’s kiss”, and think of Cinderella’s prince as an obsessive stalker.

For starters, we need to get rid of the popular misconception that feminists are man-haters. And then try and make the playing field a little more even.

As someone who identifies as a feminist, I strive for equality in every sphere, but it also leaves me in a grey area, especially when it comes to pursuing a “traditional” relationship. I want him to send me a cheesy “Good morning, beautiful” message every day, but I know that my self-worth shouldn’t hinge so strongly on a man’s validation. I want to be whisked away to a private table at the beach, dining under the stars, with the soundtrack of the waves lapping against the shore. But I also know that it’s unfair to put that much pressure on him. If I have an ideal date in mind, I’m just as capable of making it happen as he is, right?

So has feminism ruined romance for me? Does the fact that I’m up in arms at the mere suggestion that women are expected to sweep the floor and give up their careers for their kids because that’s their “role in society”, mean that I no longer qualify to be swept off my feet? How does an old-fashioned romantic reconcile with her feminist beliefs?

An essay titled “Is Feminism Killing Romance?” goes to the heart of this confusion. “So does that mean that men should stop initiating romantic relationships or that women should start picking up the bill? In the short term (on a first date for example), conforming to cultural scripts may facilitate interactions, so long as both partners are on the same page. But in the longer-term, perpetuating gendered inequalities in our romantic relationships will likely cause more harm than good. Gender equality in relationships doesn’t mean that we lose the romance. If anything, it lays the basis for more satisfying and healthier relationships.”

Maybe, there is a way to reconcile the two.

For starters, we need to get rid of the popular misconception that feminists are man-haters. And then try and make the playing field a little more even. Sure, this will mean unlearning what we’ve been taught since our parents first heard the words, “It’s a girl!”, but breaking a few patriarchal norms tops breaking your own heart. Some mornings, I wake up on the truly feminist side of the bed and send him a mushy message. Other nights, I plan over-the-top, romantic dates instead of waiting for him.

It helps to date someone who’s socially aware, enough to shake you out of your denial – someone who loves you enough to do what you asked for, but also, through their actions, makes you question why you felt the need to ask at all. I did, and I found myself retiring my long-running “feminism has ruined romance” joke to contemplate the societal double-standard staring us in the face.

Maybe, the trick, as always, lies in finding the right partner.

Find someone who’ll light-heartedly joke on how “convenient” your feminism is, and how, at times, he wants to feel pampered and pretty too. A person who’ll send you a beautiful bouquet of flowers at work, with a note on how the people at the flower-shop wouldn’t allow him to puke on the lovely arrangement. Who’ll give you all the validation you need (and even the validation you don’t), but will also push you to become a better person.

I learned long ago that real life isn’t like the fairy tales. But that doesn’t mean a girl can’t hope for a happily-ever-after.