The fifth episode of Netflix’s Dating Around centers Sarah, a 25 year old analytic recruiter with very strong red lipstick game and an enviable curly bob. Sarah is outgoing, sharp, and funny. She loves puns. The voiceover from her roommate at the beginning of her episode explains that she has a tendency to fall for the wrong guy, but on her five first dates, she is both extremely game and appropriately cautious. So, why, when you search “Dating Around Sarah” on Twitter, will you find so much vitriol?
Why is one of her five dates openly making fun of her on Instagram, with fans of his gleefully egging him on in the comments? Well, the short answer is sexism. The long answer goes something like this:
The “Quirky” Trope
A lot of the comments you see about Sarah utilize the word “quirky,” or use “Brooklyn” as an adjective. It seems like we’re so used to seeing female characters that fit into types in our TV shows that we can’t stop seeing them — even on a reality show, where we’re not watching a character, but a person.
Sarah makes puns, has catchphrases (“Let’s kick rocks!”), and at one point turns a messy bite of food into a joke with her date, but that doesn’t flatten her into a trope. The idea that it might is, frankly, sexist — as is the hateful reaction to anything that resembles quirk. You don’t have to date Sarah or be her best friend — but if you absolutely can’t stand her because of certain stereotypically feminine characteristics she displays, you might be dealing with some internalized misogyny.
And, by the way, Sarah knows what you think of her — her Instagram bio was recently changed to, “Trope. Sarah from Dating Around!”
Boundaries And Tiers
A sticking point for many people who had a strong negative reaction to Sarah was her conversation with Antonio about boundaries. Sarah started this scene by saying “When I date men... there are certain tiers to dating me. Like, you have to get up to, like, tier three before I’ll cook for you.” Antonio asks her why it takes so much to get there (“because I’m worth it”), questions whether her ex went through those tiers (no) and whether he’s the reason she has them now (yes).
Sarah asks if Antonio has tiers, he explains that he’s very anti-tier, because, “If you’re not 100 with me, how am I gonna be 100 with you?” It’s a little unclear how Antonio made the leap to seeing tiers as disingenuousness, but the crux of the disagreement is that he sees Sarah’s self-protection as selfishness. Sarah is alluding to the fact that if you don’t set boundaries, you’re likely to get taken advantage of — particularly as a woman dating men. Antonio’s unwillingness to accept the tier system makes us wonder if he’s exactly the kind of guy who would take advantage.
It’s possible that those who identify with Antonio are either taking advantage, or feeling defensive about being taken advantage of. To that, we quote Sarah and say, “That’s called boundaries, Antonio.”
Did She Pick The Wrong Guy?
A good chunk of Internet commenters wondered why Sarah chose Matt over Nick. Her banter with Nick was good! He told her that her brain was sexy! She and Matt had sweet moments, but seemingly less chemistry.
The decision seemed to come down to Sarah’s last few minutes in the car with Nick. He was assertive about kissing her; he got in her space, and then leaned in. She kissed him back, but it’s entirely possible that she did that because she knew it would be easier and safer than pushing back, and that his direct approach without any verbal communication or consent was off-putting.
It seems like Sarah was really working hard to maintain boundaries, and Nick may have crossed one by dominating the space and initiating a kiss without asking. Plus, he didn’t want to hear her nine minute joke about Greek mythology! So, does he actually find her brain sexy, or just her?
Great (And Totally Unfair) Expectations
Sarah spends her dates cracking jokes. She’s not soft spoken and agreeable. She doesn't fits into the exact type of femininity we’re conditioned to be comfortable with. And while she's interested in having a good time, she is quick to bristle at the first sign of misogyny.
That last part is the key. Sarah said during her episode that her biggest fear was falling for the wrong person, which explains why her bullshit detector was on high alert. When a date said something she didn’t like, such as, “Relax,” or “You like it big?” she didn’t hide her distaste. When she was done, she bounced.
If you look at Episode 2 and Gurki's bad date, on the other hand, she clocked many red flags from her awful (insensitive) suitor at dinner, but still saw the date through to the “After Hours” portion of the night. Eventually, she pushed back on the offensive, rude, belittling things he said to her, but she made a good faith effort to explain herself to him until the very end — despite the fact that he’d given every indication that he wasn’t willing to empathize. By the end of her date, Justin has been so mean to Gurki, and she has been so patient with him that it’s impossible not to be on her side. But should a woman have to endure hours of rudeness and eventual beratement to have our sympathy? Would everyone still be Team Gurki if she had ended the date as soon as Justin told her he thought her parents’ arranged marriage was terrible? Based on the number of people calling Sarah condescending and uptight, I'm not so sure.
Dating Around is reveals much about what we ask of women — what they must present as and endure to be “likeable,” and how hard it is to date men as a woman. If you go on five first dates with five men, it’s not shocking when one or two of them turns out to be misogynistic and fragile.
When Antonio (who is not being hounded on Twitter, by the way) made a quick exit from his date with Sarah, finding herself alone at a bar, she sighed and said, “Oh, my god. I’m going to go home and masturbate.” As women dating men, sometimes that’s all we can do.