What is fetishization and how can we avoid it in dating?

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The Cambridge dictionary has two definition of fetishization, both of which are relevant for dating:

  1. an unreasonable amount of importance that is given to something, or an unreasonable interest in something
  1. a sexual interest in an object, a part of the body that is not a sexual organ, or a person as if they are an object

Fetishization in dating often happens when a person places too much importance on a particular attribute. This attribute is usually something the person with the attribute has no or very little control over. Messaging or matching with someone specifically because of their race is an example of fetishization. Usually the desire to match someone for this reason comes from stereotypes, like thinking that Black men are well endowed, or thinking that Asian women are innocent and submissive. These stereotypes themselves are harmful, and then acting on them for the sake of sexual or romantic desire compounds that harm. This can also happen with other bodily characteristics, and some are common enough there are even names for the fetishizers. For instance, people who fetishize people with disabilities are called devotees and people who fetishize larger persons are called feeders. A really common and perhaps seemingly innocuous fetishization can be around height, but when a potential date is objectified and reduced down to their height, this is still fetishization and its still harmful.

So, how can you be aware of and resist potential urges to engage in fetishization?

  1. Dont focus your attention on one attribute

You dont date characteristics, you date people. You cant have a conversation with Blackness, or disability, or height. Even if youre just in it for a hookup, you also cant have sex with any of those things either. You have conversations, and sex with people, and people are more than just one attribute. While you can appreciate any one aspect, dont focus your whole attention on it. Ask broad questions about your dates range of experiences, hobbies, and values. Appreciate their complexity, and remember that you cant assume stereotypes based on any particular characteristic.

  1. Dont open with a comment on something your date cant control

This is a general tip for compliments, but with dating this goes double, and not just for compliments. Dont open your conversations with comments, questions, or compliments on things your date cant control. Instead of complimenting them on the colour of their skin or eyes, appreciate the work they put into their outfit, hair, or makeup. Instead of asking about their experiences as a disabled person, ask what their favourite movie is or where theyd go on their dream vacation. This isnt to say you cant ever ask about the kinds of characteristics that are fetishized, because those are also likely to be important to your dates identity, but dont start there.

  1. Do interrogate why you are interested in a particular characteristic

If you find yourself wanting to date a person with a particular superficial attribute, ask yourself why thats the case. For instance, if you want to date a Black man because you think they are well-endowed, then maybe you should just be looking for any person who is well-endowed. If youre interested in dating an Asian woman because you think they are cute and submissive, well maybe just go directly for that instead of fetishizing an entire group based on racial stereotypes. You should also examine if maybe your preferences are a little toxic. If youre a devotee because you imagine disabled people to be helpless and want your partner to be totally dependent on you, thats not okay. If you just like to be a helpful person in the relationship and your love language is acts of service, then that can be okay but its still problematic to assume that all disabled people would want or need that kind of partner. Again, you should go for the kind of partner that has the real characteristics youre looking for and that wants you to be into those characteristics, instead of using harmful stereotypes as a shortcut. 

  1. Consider using a fetish website instead of a dating one

If you really feel that you like what you like and theres nothing to be done about it then you should consider using a fetish website and being open about what characteristic you are looking for. Rather than going for a person on a dating site under false pretenses, or hurting a prospective date with questions and comments that objectify them, go to a place where everyone can be open and honest about their desires. On a fetish website, you can approach people who consent to be fetishized and objectified on the basis of whatever your fetish is.

Here at Mate Machine, we are committed to helping you find your perfect mate.

MateMachine is a Vancouver-based Technology start-up that has invented a unique secret crush search engine that can be used for connecting with the ones that we already know and have hidden feelings for. This happens through a unique and innovative search engine and is usable by anyone.

This work was supported by Mitacs through the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship.

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