In this op-ed, Linzy Rosen explains how she learned to recognize and deal with misogyny from other women.
Let’s see if you know this one. Two lesbians spot each other…they silently contemplate whether it would be feminist to make the first move. Needless to say, it can be difficult to navigate the world of queer women. Oftentimes, queer female dating is viewed as easier than heterosexual relationships — the only challenge that exists will be avoiding bed death in the very distant future, right? I used to balk at the complaints of my heterosexual friends’ relationships, and I once even held the idea that dating or hooking up with women would be simple. Since then, I’ve come to know that these ideas are just unfair stereotypes. In truth, lesbian relationships, like any others, can be really, really hard.
I was not just looking for women to Netflix and chill with when I started to swipe habitually on dating apps. I was nearly drowning myself in the wonderfully cozy queer dating pool of the greater Boston area. Her, Tinder, Bumble, JSwipe, and OkCupid became my BFFs. While my reaction to a match ensued a Pavlovian response of lust and salivation, it was always short-lived. This was due to a sinister reason that I didn’t expect to encounter while trying to date other women: misogyny. I realized very quickly how misogynistic and heteronormative ideals impact the way we queer women interact with one another.
As prominent author and Cornell professor Kate Manne describes, “misogyny is the law enforcement branch of patriarchy,” meaning it punishes women who do not fit into its mold and rewards those who do. In essence, misogynistic ideals train and sculpt women into “perfect” prototypes. This is relevant to the lesbian community since, although many of us do not date men, we are still exposed to gender-based societal conditioning. Many of us, such as myself, were raised with misogynistic notions like “men chase women,” “men set the pace.” Sound familiar?
While others have explored how butch lesbians can emulate behaviors of misogynistic men, it’s actually women as a whole who have internalized misogyny and respond accordingly in lesbian relationships.
Since many of my profile photos included more masculine clothing, I discovered I was expected to take the lead in conversations, hookups, and plans. It was a struggle to express my preferences and detach the traditional masculine gender role from my style of dress. It seemed that in the minds of my dates, there was no question that I would assume this more dominant role — and I resented it. I felt this kind of judgement that was likely the result of heteronormative socialization deprived me of the ability to define myself. Women are expected to wait for a man to make the first move, and in my relationships I was the closest thing. At the same time, I lacked the confidence or the assurance that I was allowed to feel this way. I had no idea how to advocate for myself in this context. While I had taken to the streets to advocate for gun safety and climate action, my relationship rights seemed like an afterthought. It seemed easier to lobby Congress than communicate with my partner.
Why was it so hard for me to believe a woman could be hurtful too? After all, the entire point of feminism is to treat every gender equally. But, I felt viewing the behaviors of these women as hurtful would go against the “women supporting women” mantra and feminist ideals I held true. While I now know this is simply untrue, it was confusing to hook up with women while also being a woman.
Let me be perfectly honest. The reality is that not every woman is a “queen.” Sometimes a woman will leave you on read or bail on a date. But as queer women, we need to hold each other accountable.
Rather than taking that bold step, though, I deleted all my dating apps and retreated to the safety of my friends, who supported me through it all. If I could go back, I would be honest. I would tell those women what I really wanted. Being rejected is far better than playing a part — and catering to internalized misogyny.
Misogyny has trained women to care less about their own needs and cater to others, and that certainly manifested itself in my lesbian relationships. But it is only through conversations like this, awareness, and education that we can enact change. Our community is imperfect, but I could not see myself belonging anywhere else.