Despite championing feminism in her every day life, digital writer Megan Murray came to a stark realisation while watching Elder Millennial.
In my group of friends, I’m known as ‘The Wanderer.’ I gleaned my moniker from years of taking mini excursions around a bar or club, to scout out the talent and look for potential boyfriend material.
Leaving my friends dancing together on the floor, I used to head off like a lone wolf and attempt to catch someone’s eye. However, if I ever did spot someone in the crowd, would I approach them? Absolutely not. That, dear reader, would be far too terrifying.
I’d never really considered the impact of my wandering tendencies (and refusal to approach anyone) until I watched American comedian Iilza Shlesinger’s Netflix special, Elder Millennial.
Having recently gotten engaged, Shlesinger’s latest show is a deep reflection on the single life she’s left behind. Speaking the truth about what it can be like as a woman in your 20s looking for a partner and what a complicated, painful, tactical game that can be.
Describing a typical nightlife scene, Shlesinger explains to the audience: “There’s a hope, that we will go out and a man will see us, save us, rescue us. The hope that we’re going to be seen, that this will happen for us.”
“It’s the fantasy that you walk into a bar, or a club, and that a man picks you out of the crowd. He sees you – for the beautiful soul that you are.”
Spinning to the side, she pretends to be a man DJing in a club. She looks out across a make-believe crowd, eyes locking on special lady in particular, before announcing: “YOU!” Doubling back into the role of the woman, Shlesinger shrieks with delight, flaps her arms like a bird and with wide eyes, echoes: “Me?!”
Delivering the final blow, she says: “…and then your life begins, right?”
Watching this joke play out from the comfort of my own sofa, I suddenly realised, for the first time, that I’ve been clinging to this exact same fantasy for as long as I can remember.
Despite being passionate about vocally rejecting gender stereotypes in my job, to my friends and my family, there’s something about going on a night out that makes me forget my feminist credentials. In the light of day, I would never seek validation for who I am through the eyes of a man I don’t even know, yet under the strobe lights it suddenly feels like the most important thing.
Like a shy girl in a teen movie, I sit at the side of school hall, hoping someone will ask me to dance. As Shlesinger says, it’s not just that I want male attention, it’s that I’m waiting to be “seen,” hoping someone will “pick” me. I become incapable of being assertive and fall straight into the passive female stereotype that’s written into the Bond girls of the Nineties and the damsels in distress of fairy tales.
But I’m not a shy, teenage girl or a damsel in distress. I’m a 26-year-old woman who works at a feminist magazine.
I’ve read the seminal feminist texts and challenged my male friends’ views when they’re less than progressive. I follow the body positive bloggers, the hashtags, the whole shebang – but when it comes to getting up the confidence to approach someone I like the look of, I can’t shake off the traditional assumption that a man should make the first move.
The reason, I’ve realised, is the fear of looking desperate.
There’s a school of thought that says men are hunters. That they want to be the ones to chase, to pursue, to have earned their catch. This is why women are discouraged from making the first move, or having sex on the first date.
It makes us feel like if a woman is confident and assertive enough to show that she’s openly interested, she instantly becomes too available, too easy and therefore desperate.
I’ve felt the effects of this damaging mindset myself. It isn’t a regular occurrence, but the few times I have put myself out there and given my number to a man, they’ve never followed it up. Leading me to think to myself afterwards, did I come across too keen? Is that where I went wrong?
I hate that I’ve been forced to punish myself with more insecurity simply for talking to another human and being honest about liking them. It baffles me that a man can hit on, say, five women in a night and be seen as forward, confident, ‘a lady’s man’. But if a woman does it, she’s tarred with the sticky, gloopy brush of desperation.
I can’t change the way men perceive me, but I can change the way I perceive myself.
The Wanderer was a funny name when my friends first knighted me with it, but spending my evening looking for approval from random men I don’t even know isn’t actually all that hilarious.
The real truth is, I don’t need to go out with the hope of getting picked, seen or saved. Next time I go out with my friends, I’m going to do just that. Go out with them and be present in that moment. It might have taken me a while to realise how much my night time escapades had become burdened with a search for affirmation, but I’m determined not to waste another moment seeking misplaced attention. And if I do see someone I want to talk to, for the right reasons, I will challenge myself to feel unencumbered by the oppression of passiveness, and just go and bloody talk to them.
Society’s attitudes to women are changing, but I need to be part of the change that I want to see, which means becoming the woman I want to be, not the shy girl at the disco.