All Men Are Trash...Except the Ones I Wanna Sleep With
words by Shanté Carlan
My entire life has revolved around feminism. Before I knew it had a name, I was captivated by the Spice Girls' credo of girl power. I championed the Sailor Scouts and their ability to maintain Crystal Tokyo while dealing with crushes and final exams. I made heroes out of women, and as I grew older I embraced the identity as a feminist.
I learned about intersectional feminism, read Ariel Levy, and fangirled over Beyoncé's self-titled album like the rest of the world. My feminism is entirely women-centric. Sometimes I forget true feminism includes both men and women, and life is dropping anvil sized reminders on my head.
Webster defines feminism as "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities." As a black woman, my feminism by default is intersectional because of my identities, and the identities my friends carry. I do my best to be an ally to those around me and show up where it counts: protests, events, gatherings, etc. My feminism on its surface is a journey to self-acceptance and love of others, but it serves a less justified purpose: revenge.
Revenge against the emotional hurt I've experienced at the words and inactions of men I was infatuated with, and avenging other women who've experienced worse. I carried myself with the idea that I was a one-woman army, vindicating women I'd never met by denying men the chance to even wave in my direction. I would ask interview style questions on dates, and at parties: "What are your thoughts on the pay gap? Do black lives really matter beyond cisgendered men? Hypothetically speaking, if I make more than you, would that be a hinderance on your already large ego?"
Not only did I view myself as a superwoman, I was a superwoman with a superiority complex: denying men's advances faster than Susan B. Anthony denied black peoples' right to vote in her quest for equality. I thought my feminism guided my sense of self to be fairer to everyone, but I allowed it to create a sense of self that didn't need a man, no matter how fine he was.
My feminism has no room for love. In the lexicon of lovers I've had, only one walked the walk in being "woke." I find myself crusading for men to collectively get their shit together, but making exceptions for men who are problematic because they complimented my hair or smell extra nice. The smallest things qualify as red flags for me, from not considering Cardi B a legitimate rapper because she was an exotic dancer to questioning the validity of non-femme lesbians.
There's my ideal man in my head: one that quotes bell hooks in conversation, has flushed out all misogyny and takes steps to be a better person. Then, there are the men in my reality: actively taking up space, remorseless in their bullshit, and non-complicit in holding themselves accountable. Maybe it's the kind of men I'm attracted to, or maybe I internalized the idea that I need to lower my standards to find a partner. Whatever the reason is, I've realized that my politics matter in and outside of my pants. So why would I settle for a man that I have to hand hold to enlightenment?
I've watched the women in my life bend and break for men who've stumbled and stuttered at the thought of reciprocity and swore I'd never repeat the cycle. I grew older and bought into the idea of companionship before independence, allowing people who didn't deserve me to project their toxic ideas and insecurities onto me.
Growth is expected from all of us, yet we expect women to be patient while a man can play until his hair turns grey. I never knew how much of a disservice I was doing to myself until I had one of many self-reflective moments and realized I was missing out on men who were more my speed because I was inadvertently taught to hold onto what was in front of me.
Whether or not my relationship with a man is serious, I need him to respect my beliefs and the rest of me. I've witnessed more successful relationships than failed ones, and I'm in a space now where I can vocalize my needs and desires without a soapbox and a megaphone. I don't need my man to be a freedom fighter, but he better not be on Twitter talking about #NotAllMen and caping for abusers and other undesirables for retweets.
Men can be shitty as a collective, but it doesn't mean I have to accept whatever a man is giving when there are other viable options whose beliefs match mine. I can have my cake and eat the whole damn thing, too.
May my growth as a feminist and woman be abundant, and my man be an unproblematic fave.
Shanté is an American-Trinidadian photographer based in NYC, and founder of FLASH. Her 'Bad Feminist' series is centered around her newfound shortcomings, and understanding that the world doesn't revolve around her. When Shanté isn't shooting she's drinking at least three 24oz bottles of water a day and learning to love herself. Follow her on Instagram @shazthephotog and view her work here.