I’ve always loved dating apps. I've used them religiously since I was 18-years-old, living away from home for the first time.
First dates are the weirdest interactions; you meet up with an absolute stranger, because you sort-of-maybe want to have sex with them. You buy outrageously overpriced drinks (if you live in London) and try to learn, in the space of a couple of hours, about who they are, their experiences, the way they live their life and the people who’ve broken their heart. I’ve loved casual dating for this reason, it’s like one big social study, but instead of publishing a report, your findings circulate in your funny anecdotes and sexual health history.
I used to be really open with my dates, I’d lay everything out on the table for them. Since I’ve gained an online following though, I’ve become more reserved about what I do for a living. It’s not the 200,000 people who follow me on Instagram that are the problem, it’s the reason they follow me.
There was one particular encounter that led me to exercise caution. I’d been sleeping with someone for a few weeks, we’d been on three or four dates - although 'date' seems like far too fancy a word. I’ve always ignored the ‘don’t sleep with him until the 3rd/4th/5th...’ rules, they play into that weird medieval idea that a woman’s sexuality should be hidden away and protected, and if she gives it up too soon she’s not worthy of respect. It’s an attitude that’s made even more ridiculous by the fact that the men involved are also having sex on the first date, but somehow the rules don’t apply to them.
My companion asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a cartoonist, I elaborated but the topic swiftly changed when a drunk woman stumbled over and said ‘Ellie good to see you, how’s your sister doing?’ (My name isn’t Ellie and I don’t have a sister). Later, he texted me asking for my Instagram handle, I sent it to him thinking nothing of it. If he’s like me, he’ll like what I’m putting out there, I thought. The next time we met up, however, he was shuffling and red in the face.
Before I could even sit down, he was claiming 'feminism has gone too far' and 'it’s not about gender equality but instead a ‘witch hunt’,' (where men are the witches, predictably). This response doesn’t surprise me anymore as I get it from trolls (both online and in person), but I was surprised it was coming from him. We had talked about everything under the sun, but somehow he’d still managed to hide this troubling attitude from me. Maybe he didn’t have a problem with feminism until it was the girl he was sleeping with who was publicly peddling it; it’s the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality.
This is my conundrum. The cartoons I create and publish are, unfortunately for my romantic life, mocking the sexist behaviour of the very people I’ve been dating; men.
I’ve always tried to empathise with my opponents, and my book has this theme running through it (in the book I befriend my troll). So I listened to my date; I asked questions and tried to understand his frustration. Empathy is a strong tool, but nothing is strong enough to force you to sit through an idiotic argument where a bruised ego puts himself at the centre of a worldwide social movement. No matter what your attitude is towards sex, it’s generally agreed it’s an intimate thing to share with someone. The downside of jumping into bed with what is effectively a stranger, is you risk discovering that they’re a bigot after the sex has taken place. It feels gross, it’s like getting the 'ick,' but an ick of morality rather than something physical like hair toes. You want to shower off their sexism or racism, or both (in that case, you have to have two showers).
After this encounter I made some changes which, looking back on, I’m ashamed of. I changed my WhatsApp name to just my first name and I hid my cartoons or any trace of them from my dates for as long as I could. I should’ve been true to myself. After all, everything I draw about is what I vehemently believe in. Also, it wasn’t fair on my dates - I should have given them the benefit of the doubt, in the hope that they might surprise me.
Finally, it occurred to me that what I’m doing is just an extreme version of what I’m sure other heterosexual-leaning women often feel they have to do. Namely, avoiding having these important conversations with men for fear of discomfort and awkwardness at the dinner or drinks table. Which is ridiculous really, because when you strip it down, the question you’re asking is ‘do you respect me as much as you respect a man.’ It’s pretty simple stuff.
I realised what I was doing was cowardly. So I’ve taken the leap and I’m trying to practice what I preach, on behalf of every other woman who might be dodging the issue. I’m leading with what I do for a living and I’m having the chat, regardless of how difficult it is. I’m learning that they’re really not that difficult if the person you’re talking to isn’t a prick. Establishing your fundamental belief in equality shouldn’t provoke a long debate, it’s a yes or no answer. Also, it’s a real turn on when someone believes in your basic rights.
Lily O’Farrell is a cartoonist from London. She studied Sociology at the University of Manchester, has dragged her observations around the London open mic comedy circuit and has been told she has ‘an attitude problem’ by most of the men who’ve employed her. In 2017 whilst working as a waitress, she started doodling on the back of receipts (she was a terrible waitress). Since then, she’s grown a large online following with her funny drawings about the everyday annoyances of womanhood. Her book Kyle Theory, is available to buy here.
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