Victoria Marie Page. 23.03.16.

A friend and I were speaking last week. After recent break ups, disappointing flings, and frustrations with men as partners, we decided we wanted to see if things were any different, or really any better, if we turned our attention to women. We gave each other the task of going on a date with a woman in the next month and even opened up a Tinder account to see what women are “out there.” As I pondered on this later that evening, I realised that I am totally unprepared for dating a woman. Not because I’m inexperienced in this field, but because suddenly I wondered if, woman to woman, I could still expect her to be the one to “make the moves,” to lead, to be the one to give compliments, to go in for a kiss? I realised in that moment that “passivity” has been so well embedded in how I act as a woman in my relationships with men. The thought of being the one to initiate the advances intimidates and frightens me hugely. I expect men to come on to me, for me to decide whether or not I like them, for me to refuse or reject, and I sit back and wait for men’s advances. I wait, expect it, and more often than not, it comes.

But what if I were to see someone, or know someone, decide I like them and be the one to make the first moves? Right now I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And it dawns on me what men really have to go through, how much pressure this puts on them, and how disempowered I feel to do the same thing. Of course I have my ways: subtle looks, smiles and body language that let another person know I am at least receptive to them – but this remains a passive way of engaging.

Passivity, many have argued, is an innate quality of women, while men are more aggressive. But more and more women dispel this myth, challenging this stereotype and grabbing the world and what they want from it with both hands. And clearly men are not all aggressive: more and more examples of men as caring, supporting and nurturing individuals are emerging. I see myself as a woman who is independent, active, and decides what she wants in life and goes for it. I’ve travelled on my own throughout the world, gone against the grain of my family to pursue education, and one day decided I wanted to be a dancer without any experience – and went for it. I see a challenge and it excites me. I am in my everyday, non-romantic life much more the aggressor than passive. I know how to be a “man” until faced with a “man”, when I suddenly become a “woman.” I am mocking these gender stereotypes here. But the point is, there is a sudden shift in who I am and how I am when confronted with a prospective or actual male partner. I de-activate myself and let him take the lead. But why?

The theories we could use to answer this question are endless. Psychoanalysis would say it’s down to my relationship with my parents. Others would say this is the natural order of things, it’s an effect of patriarchy, it’s my own individual failing, or it’s an outcome of unequal relations in a capitalist world. Most now recognize how we are socialized into what it means to be a “woman” or a “man”, into masculine and feminine gender roles. We are, through the media, advertising, school, families, the government, and endless numbers of institutions, told how to act. For each person these influences differ, but there remains an overarching sense that as women in heterosexual relationships we put our partner and our families before ourselves. We take a back seat and let them lead.

It doesn’t take a long review of my past relationships to see that this has been a common characteristic of mine. A part of me suddenly disappears. I hold on to the validation that being in a relationship, of the possibility of someone wanting to marry and have children with me, gives. I do not question whether or not it is right for me; if I do at some point see that I am not happy in the relationship, I see the problem with myself and try to adapt, to become happy. I wait for them to decide it is no longer working for them. What would it be like if I started to take the lead, to take the initiative to decide and act on feelings of attraction or unhappiness? What if all girls grew up knowing they could also be the ones to take the lead? What if we didn’t put everything in boys and men’s hands? Would this lead to more equal and empowered relationships? What if men didn’t see women as something to ‘get,’ to ‘obtain,’ and what if we didn’t see women who are romantically assertive with men as promiscuous?

I still haven’t dated a woman and I don’t know whether I ever will, but either way, I realise I have sold myself and all my partners short by being ‘passive.’ This is not me as I see myself, so why should I become less than myself just because I am in a relationship? Being assertive may get me called names, it may make some men feel challenged – but this is little in comparison to a future of more equal relationships, and as women, we need to take this lead.

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