My first "real" job I had (made all the more real by its lack of polyester uniform and matching visor and sturdy, black work shoes with heavy traction) was at a local bookstore owned by two pioneering women, one of whom was a graduate of women's studies. The shelves were stocked to well-over capacity with women's history, feminist, multi-cultural, and self-help books, along with our meat-and -potatoes, mass market trade fictions. In our small town, there wasn't a high calling for anything outside top-fiction and children's genres, but we made a go of it. I had all the books on women's issues I could eat, and could recite by the page sections from The Boston Women's Health Collective's famous book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, in addition to being inordinately well-versed in Ina May Gatskin's Spiritual Midwifery. I read Clarrisa Pinkola Estez' Women Who Run With the Wolves when we had a backlog of special orders for the title, and spent my down-time with my nose in Susan Fauldi's Backlash. I was so, so poor in those days, but was surrounded with a wealth of books to feed my early feminist ideals. Ahh, those were the days.
The one drawback to my bookstore job was a regular customer who made the Women's Special Interest isles his own personal meat-market. Don't get me wrong; he did buy books; stacks upon stacks of books pertaining to women's issues, books he'd pull from our shelves and books he'd special order. Its just that if (and that's a pretty big if) he read any of the books he purchased, he certainly didn't apply any of the feminist messages to his own interactions with women.
About once a week he'd come in, usually on Friday or Saturday evenings, with his date in tow, apologizing profusely to each woman for having to make the short stop before they began their evening together, explaining how important it was that he had been so excited, waiting for the books he'd ordered, and how he'd gotten our call that his books had arrived just before heading out the door to pick her up for dinner (try: the message was left days prior, cheap opportunist!). He'd make a spectacle of himself, examining each book as it was presented to him, making sure to offer his date an unobstructed view of its title. His dates would swoon, every time. With a fake smile plastered to my face, I'd make every effort not to roll my eyes in his direction, while the store owner, Carolyn, would narrow her own eyes at me from her observation point in her small office, silently sending me signals to keep my big mouth shut and be charming. He was a big customer, after all, and as a small, independently owned bookstore, we needed his patronage, even if it was part of his seduction ritual.
Remember that Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, "Charlie Wants an Abortion," where Mac and Dennis take up activism to pick up women, calling each other on their cell phones to give updates on the "action" before Dennis climbed the fence from the pro-choice protest to the anti-abortion camp to get laid? That was this guy.
Between each swarmy purchase, we developed an ongoing phone relationship, which bordered on hostility on his part. He was rude; demanding and overly-critical, and abusive in his contact with me. He seemed to feed off the humiliations he dished out to me, becoming increasingly arrogant with each communication. I got the clear impression that not only was he aware of ideologies pertaining to gender-based power structures that placed him, as a male, at the top of the heap, but reveled in them. It got to the point that when his specially-ordered books arrived from our distributors, Carolyn would excavate his books from deep within the cardboard box where they lay hidden beneath the bubble wrap, and slowly pull them out with a smirk on her face, saying (in an innocent voice) "Oh, look! Your favorite customer's books have arrived. Would you like to give him a call and let him know they're ready to be picked up, Anastasia?" I became a master of phone-tag, diligently making my calls to him in a great rush, trying to avoid catching him at home after business hours.
While I want to communicate clearly that in no way do I see men who self-identify as feminists as predators as the norm, there are predatorial men do prey on women by falsely representing themselves as male feminists. And they're sly. Supporters of women's rights are not viewed as the extreme, cultish, bra-burning man-haters, as depicted during the second wave of feminism. Feminist ideals have become increasingly mainstream, even in individuals wouldn't label themselves as being feminists. People know what's up. Men know what's up. Men, for the most part, have moved past the conundrum of who should pay for dinner and whether or not to open a door in the company of someone of the opposite sex. That being said, awareness of women's issues has opened the door for unscrupulous types to feign oneness with the cause to better enable to gain the trust of women with whom they have a sexual interest. They perceive feminist females as having stolen their dominance over us in the aftermath of feminist victories that have an equalizing effect between the sexes, as being unfairly strong and powerful in their own right. Their subtle seduction is insidious, in that they overcome personal insecurities by gaining a false-sense of power by duping women who believe they've finally found a man with whom they can connect with, while maintaining their own sense of power; unaware of the manipulation that feeds skeezy men's perception of dominance or that they have become a source of supply for the narcissistic ego.
Women and men, both, are sexual beings. We crave sex. We crave the intimacy that comes with having a relationship with an ongoing sexual partner. The clarifying difference between men who seek sex for the sole reason that they find sex pleasurable and men who prey on women is in their need for power. The same rules for dealing with "femme-ophiles" and rules for safe dating apply. When meeting a new romantic interest, go slow. We are all at our best when we want to impress someone new in our lives; and why not? Dating is fun, and many of us (but not all) want to have someone special in our lives. People rarely show their faults in the early stages of relationships, so avoid going any faster in a new relationship than you feel comfortable with. Some men garner a sense of entitlement over the pace your relationship takes, but giving him control over the speed at which things progress really puts us at a disadvantage as women. We loose the opportunity to notice any red flags about potential partners that would otherwise be blurred. Ask him about prior relationships; do they sound healthy and mutually satisfying? Why did it end? Sometimes, couples just don't click, but any animosity or resentment that lingers under the surface will eventually seen with his next partner. In the aftermath of a healthy relationship, most of us can see within ourselves areas where we made poor choices; taking responsibility for those choices and owning up to our mistakes is a sign of relationship maturity. Does the person you're interested in seeing romantically put off a vibe of superiority when dealing with others? It can be easy to look the other way when your date is rude to service workers, because, hey, he's perfectly charming in his interactions with you, but anyone who gains self esteem by the disrespectful treatment of others will eventually treat you with the same disrespect. Individuals who fall into this category constantly nurse a delicate balance in maintaining their own feelings of self-worth by surrounding themselves with those they can put down. Don't let yourself be one of them, even if he talks the feminist talk.
Trust yourself and your instincts. In a healthy relationship, you will be treated with respect, even when you have differing opinions on a matter. You will feel supported and encouraged, not criticized. In the best relationships, partners have a mutual trust of one another, and do not make groundless accusations or misuse your trust by pressuring you in areas you don't feel comfortable. When conflicts arise, healthy relationship partners listen to one another with respect and make compromises, and avoid using coercive behavior or making abusive personal comments to lessen your position. Healthy relationships allow each person to feel supported and connected to the other, allowing for time apart to engage in friendships and activities outside the relationship.
My hope for Mr. Swarmy Fake Feminist at the bookstore is that he stop trying to get into women's heads in order to make sexual conquests of them and that he take advantage of the many wonderful, costly books he pad for, and educate himself on how to really value the women he shares his time with, learning to savor them as he would a complex, full-bodied wine, unique in their own characteristics, and valuable in their own right, giving them plenty of room to breathe. Otherwise, some fine feminist might just go uncorked.