feminist womanizer

Reader R.H. writes:

I consider myself a feminist. I have devoted time, energy, and money to a number of women’s rights causes. My staunchly progressive position has enmeshed me in innumerable arguments with friends and acquaintances. Romantically, I am also an inveterate cheater. I have been accused on more than one occasion of being a womanizer, a criticism I must acknowledge. I have found myself to be rather lucky in my dealings with the ladies, and frequently embrace this good fortune. I endeavor to be fair in my escapades, but have broken more than a few hearts. My position on social issues seems to run entirely contrary to my (ahem) biological imperatives.

Can one be both a feminist and a womanizer? If so, why? If not, how can the two competing inclinations be reconciled?

Dear R.H.:

I think your problem is one of terminology rather than ideology.

feminist or womanizer?

We all know what he's thinking. Image: djcodrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First off, I don’t think someone who “enjoys the company of women” is necessarily a “womanizer”. While most of the dictionary definitions I find simplify the definition to “a philanderer”, I think the term “womanizer” is generally accompanied by negative connotations of a man who lies to women to get what he wants. A womanizer, in my mind, is similar to a con man, although the con is worked entirely on the heart, and not on the wallet. Simply being a guy who sleeps around doesn’t make you a womanizer. In my mind, you’d have to be convincing them that you’re in love with them in order to sleep with them to be considered a womanizer.

At the same time, if you are calling yourself “a cheater”, you’re revealing that, while you may not be convincing women you’re in love with them for the sole purpose of getting in the sack with them, you aren’t being honest with them, either, and, I think more importantly, you’re not being honest with yourself. People who cheat have their reasons for doing so, but if you’re a long-time cheater, it may just be that you’re actually polyamorous and won’t admit it.

Yes, I know, what a dirty word, polyamory. It’s an ugly mix of Greek and Latin roots and it’s got a terrible reputation. It’s hard to be polyamorous, because most people (especially women) in our society think monogamy is the highest standard of sexual relationships, and by saying you’re polyamorous from the get-go, you’re basically saying you’re not interested in pursuing that higher standard, ergo hardly anybody will want to get into a relationship with you. But if you have absolutely no qualms with sleeping with multiple partners or being in multiple relationships beyond the qualms of a partner who only values monogamy as a relationship status, you are probably polyamorous. And it ends up, being polyamorous can be a very feminist occupation.

Being a feminist does not mean “abstaining from sex with women” or “not enjoying sex with women” or “not enjoying the female form” or “vowing to only sleep with one woman with whom you want to have children seriously” or any of that. There are differing ideas of what “feminism” means (just ask Sarah Palin) (ugh), but the foremost ideals of feminism are that women deserve to be treated as fairly as men are in society, including equal pay for equal work, equal representation in government, equal opportunity, etc.

I would argue that being a feminist means being aware of the disadvantages women face (which you obviously are) and doing work to try and change things for women (another thing you are clearly trying to do). In fact, some women believe that part of feminism is allowing women to be sexual creatures and enjoy their sexuality, rather than being ridiculed, maligned, or belittled for doing so. You may be advancing the cause of women more than you think. I think you’re right — you’re a feminist.

But another tenet of feminism is the “be true to yourself” idea — your sexual orientation, your gender, your size, your abilities, your beliefs. Most feminists I know think that regardless of what society thinks, you should be allowed to be true to yourself, whether you’re male or female (or any other identity between or encompassing the two that you may have). To be truly feminist in this sense, I think you should quit trying to fit yourself into the monogamy mold, and admit that you’re polyamorous. This way, you can quit being an “inveterate cheater” and just be someone who enjoys sex with multiple partners (all of whom happen to be women). Less guilt. Less personal internal judgment. And you’re open from the beginning with your significant other(s).

So go pick up a copy of The Ethical Slut (what I consider to be a rather feminist tome) and get to work.


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