When I was 16, one of my best friends said she doubted that I would ever get married.
“It’s because of your liberal views,” she said. “Men don’t really think that way.”
I was hurt by this statement. But I didn’t believe it. I thought of my hometown, a small South African town, as a place with mostly narrow-minded people with an apartheid-era mindset. I thought my love life would look far more promising once I got out.
“Just wait until I go to university,” I thought.
And eventually, I did leave for university. I packed my bags and moved towns to pursue a degree in journalism.
I met men who were feminists. I met people in interracial relationships. I watched theater productions about confronting your own white privilege. I protested against rape culture on campus. I was around the enlightened, and my perfect man was somewhere in the crowd.
Except he wasn’t.
Politics is cool when you’re in university, and so is activism. But there’s a time and place for it. In class. At protest meetings. But not so much in social settings.
I met boys. I went out and got drunk on a regular basis in my first-year. There were drunken hookups. Boys have, for the most part of my life, taken an interest in me. Up until the point of politics.
Often boys have initiated conversations with me. It must be fun to watch. At some point, the conversation moves towards interests and I talk about politics and social justice. One of two things happen. Their eyes glaze over and slowly they make their way out of the discussion. Or they entertain me and even challenge my ideas. It’s fun. But that’s all.
It’s very seldom that someone will follow up their pursuit after they have heard me talk politics. And so, I’ve stayed single – but I’m okay with that.
Social psychologists from the University of Buffalo studied the reactions of men to women who appeared smarter than them. They found that men found smarter women attractive from a distance but less so when they came into close contact with them. I don’t know whether men find me smarter than them. But I do know that most men are uncomfortable with the way I engage in conversations.
My friends used to warn me about avoiding discussing social issues at events. “You always talk about such serious topics. It’s depressing,” they’d say. “Guys find it intimidating when you talk about intellectual stuff.”
They’ve mostly given up warning me since I ended up talking about politics anyway, even though I used to try not too. I used to try to be less opinionated. Less vocal. Post less on Facebook and talk less about social injustice.
But I can’t, and I won’t. And that’s okay.
I have always been interested in social affairs. This interest is not limited to my studies or writing. It follows me around during my shopping trips, my travels and yes, even my nights out.
My interests in social issues often paint me as the angry feminist. And it’s true, I am angry. Angry at the many ways society has failed marginalized groups. But I don’t direct this anger to people who engage with me, I simply explain it.
Apparently, that’s not cool. In fact, there’s even research to show how badly society responds to angry women. A paper in the journal Law and Human Behavior presents a study that has shown that when women express anger in a group discussion it undermines the argument to the group. The opposite is the case for men and their anger validates the argument. It’s a narrative most women are familiar with. The angry woman is often portrayed as being emotional and hormonal rather than legitimately angry.
In a Medium post, Sana Saeed wrote that caring about politics is shorthand for, “I care about what happens to people and how our world functions.” For that very reason, I can’t pretend to be apathetic about social injustice and I can’t truly be happy with someone who is indifferent.
I hope that in an era of social justice and women’s rights, women will no longer feel the need to suppress the parts of them that make them appear intimidating and thus undesirable. But until then, I am happier being angry and intimidating on my own.