The scary thing online dating taught me about rape culture
Chad* and I met on Bumble. We didn’t message each other for too long before agreeing to meet up for a date, and I traded in my usual pre-screening for the thrill of spontaneity. I’m a tad bit of a traditionalist, so when he suggested we have dinner and not just drinks, I had hope. He made reservations at an upscale BBQ restaurant (I live in NYC, so that’s a thing) and upon meeting him I immediately decided he was cute, nice, and a good conversationalist. Which is not easy to do with first-date jitters and the anticipation of really good mac and cheese.
We spoke about our hometowns, our “favorites,” and our family. Then the topic of work came up, and I told him I was a writer. This seemed to please him.
“I could never date a woman who works in traditionally male-dominated industries like law or medicine, he uttered matter-of-factly.
I took a long sip from my drink, smiling into the glass rim, holding back the verbal whiplash I wanted to impose on him. The gulp didn’t last long enough. I put the cup down.
“Is that because dating such a woman is too much for your fragile male ego?” I blurted out.
“It’s my preference,” he said coolly, like we were debating whether he preferred women who are athletic to women who are into the arts, not a dating choice that screamed I like my women subordinate.
To many, Chad’s “preference” seems like just that—a preference. But to me, it was a glaring red flag. He essentially told me to my face that he needed power over his future wife, a slippery-slope of a mindset that feeds into and is a prelude for those who commit sexual assault and harassment. I’d expect this kind of mentality from a Twitter troll, but not from a seemingly cultured adult man. A guy who I actually agreed to go out with. Yet here I was, feeling like a had just stepped on a bomb in Minecraft.
After this date, I started to pick up on the blatant sexist and misogynistic things guys from my dating apps would say without batting an eye. It was like shitty treatment of women was normal to them. On a date with a guy from New Jersey, he revealed to me that most women who accuse men of sexual assault just regret having sex or just want attention. Apparently, he would know—his football star friend was once accused of sexual assault.
On another date that admittedly had already began to head south, the topic of sexual assault came up yet again. He asked what I did and I told him I write articles about women’s issues, especially sexual assault. “Did you know that 1 in 4 college women will become a victim of sexual assault?” I stated confidently, whiskey ginger in hand.
“Maybe if girls didn’t get so drunk they wouldn’t be assaulted so much, he replied.
Apparently, I’m not the only woman to endure such sexism while dating. I asked my Facebook friends if they had any sexist date stories like mine, and within 45 minutes my post garnered more than 10 responses.
One commenter said her date admitted to her he didn’t like tattoos on women, despite having many himself. Another told me that when she told her date she didn’t like his favorite movie, he said he’d slap her if she weren’t so pretty. An Indian and an Asian-American friend of mine had such horrendously racist sexualizations thrown their way on dates I can’t even repeat them here.
Men freely and casually expressing such contempt for women in situations where they’re supposed to impress them speaks largely to the problem at hand, and is quite frankly terrifying. What’s even more terrifying is how unapologetic most of them are about it. If I can’t even make it through a simple meal without an harmfully archaic view of women, it’s no wonder women face such momentous obstacles in every facet of life—from not getting that raise despite having the qualifications to having our bodies seen as public space to not being believed when we report our sexual assaults.
Of course, my limited experiences and the experiences of a dozen women on my Facebook page can’t show the full extent to which this problem actually exists in society, but the dates I went on showed me a pretty accurate scale of the rape culture we’re up against.
I realized it’s not just a creepy Twitter troll in his mom’s basement holding us back. Rape culture exists in the college professor who touches his female student’s leg ever-so-slightly. It’s the cute guy from your floor who walked you home while drunk, but forced his fingers down your skirt. It’s the Vice President seeing women other than his wife as imminent threats he must avoid at all costs. It’s even the guy from Bumble who tells you over a bowl of mac and cheese that successful women threaten him.
And the problem won’t stop until everyone else realizes it, too—and we actually do something about it. The burden shouldn’t fall on women to reduce the prevalence of rape culture and subtle sexism. It’s up to our society to teach our young men better. It’s up to men to educate themselves better and open their eyes. Because our bodies are not anyone’s property, and nobody should believe otherwise.
*Names have been changed