A dating pool full of wokefish: How to spot one and release it from your net before it bites you

Beware the wokefish, even during a pandemic. (Getty Images)
Beware the wokefish, even during a pandemic. (Getty Images)
  • Between #BlackLivesMatter, the ongoing fight against gender-based violence, and a pandemic, this year might just be the one in which wokefish thrives the most. 
  • Wokefishing is the dating trend everyone is talking about right now and it's an intellectual form of catfishing.
  • This article takes a look at what wokefishing entails and how you can spot a wokefish. 

The more you date, the more dating trends you become exposed to. Breadcrumbing, ghosting, ghostlighting, cushioning, orbiting and now wokefishing are just a few of the terms that have been coined to describe certain behaviours of people who have pursued romance with someone and later decided against it for some reason or another.

Actually, some of these behaviours even happen within a relationship - think gaslighting or cushioning.

READ MORE: Ghostlighting - What is it? Have you done it to someone? And what to do if it happens to you  

So what's wokefishing? 

Hardly a new trend, wokefishing - as defined in the Urban Dictionary - is "when a man who is talking to a woman, starts asking her vague questions regarding progressive causes, in an effort to determine her interest level, and then mirror her responses. Said man has no interest in the same groups or causes, and is just trying to find commonalities with the girl to get into her pants".  

Essentially, a person - often men - use political beliefs and social justice causes to lure a suitor into believing they're ethically aligned enough to sleep together.

It might be more prominent in the hetero dating space given the fact that men are what they are, but wokefishing happens across the entire field. 

For more context, a Vice article further defines it as follows:

"A wokefish may at first present themselves as a protest-attending, sex-positive, anti-racist, intersectional feminist who drinks ethically sourced oat milk and has read the back catalogue of Audre Lorde, twice. But in reality, they don’t give a shit. Or, as is often the case, they are actively the opposite in their personal lives. It's sort of like catfishing, but specifically with political beliefs."  

Sound familiar? Of course, especially if you've used a dating app before. And if you're currently using one, now would be a good time to pay extra attention. 

READ MORE: Bad manners, smoking, religion and more relationship deal-breakers for single women

But before I even get to why wokefishing is highly problematic, I also want to take a brief moment to bemoan the concept of dating trends as an entire genre.

See, as a writer of the fashion fraternity, the word "trend" doesn't have negative connotations for me. More importantly, trends are harmless (with the exception of what they can do to your wallet when you follow them too avidly).

However, dating "trends" are often just manipulation and emotional abuse dressed in a faux fur coat - it seems less threatening because no animals were harmed in its making, but the reality is that it does bite in one way or another (and synthetic fibres do harm the environment). 

We should perhaps start calling ill dating behaviours by the moniker they deserve then - manipulation; not trends. Because language is powerful, simply putting manipulative actions under the umbrella of a "trend" gives the false impression that they aren't as harmful as they actually are. But that's a topic for another day.

Back to wokefishing and why it's a brand of deviousness you should be wary of when dating. 

The anatomy of a wokefish

After dabbling in dating in Joburg before the pandemic, I observed that there was something very disconcerting about the men I had encountered. Not so much violently threatening (although one can never be too certain), but there was something very off about their energy. 

The more I thought about it, the more one word kept coming to mind. Just a word; not a description or a feeling. 

The word is "glib". 

I would be on a date with a guy and as he would sip the words "I hear you" out of his gin beverage in response to me engaging him on why I'm at a stage in my life where intentions need to be clearer than the well-cleaned wine glass in my hand - my brain would immediately go "glib!" 

Am I implying that there is a high prevalence of wokefish in this city? Maybe.

A wokefish will often say "I hear you" to appear accommodating and rational. They're appeasing you. It also saves them from having to engage meaningfully with what you've just expressed.

Because a wokefish has most likely not done enough homework on the cause they have come to know matters to you; they don't have the language - beyond buzzwords and taglines - to offer you a healthy exchange in conversation on the matter.

The cause need not necessarily be sustainable fashion, veganism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights or women empowerment - sometimes the causes are your principles, the feigning of compatibility of emotional intelligence between the two parties involved, or even what you're looking for romantically. 

To put the latter two into perspective; if you tell a wokefish you're looking for a long-term relationship, they might say "I'm looking for a best friend - someone to do life with in the long-run, you know" in response. This neatly packaged answer doesn't say anything in definite terms, but it sells the idea that they agree with you - that you're on the same page.

Should you reach a point where the wokefish's veneer is scratched (and soon it often does) and you call them out on it, they still have a window to elude accountability. More than wokefishing, though, this is explicitly emotionally manipulative.

Because differing beliefs can be deal-breakers, this "trend" manifests itself more commonly with regards to social justice causes and questions of ethics, though. 

READ MORE: Brexit caused 1.6 million breakups - would you date someone with radically different political views to yours? 

The thing about a wokefish is that it uses the same internet we do. And if you met your wokefish in your DMs, they most likely studied you before diving in. Notice that they will conveniently agree with you on issues you posted about without adding anything or they'll bring up a hot topic only to make the insincere contribution that "that's crazy, I don't know what's wrong with people, man" and nothing more.

Filtering out the wokefish

For those who use dating apps, pay close attention to a prospective match's bio. Bumble has an option to complete a sentence as one curates their bio - "After work you'll find me..." ; "My year 5 teacher described me as..." ; "My most recent act of kindness was..." and; "If I could change one thing about the world it would be..." 

The scripted facades here are intriguing to say the least. Needless to say I deleted the app.  

I've seen the following; 

"After work you'll find me... reading books on social justice." Convenient, right?  

"My most recent act of kindness was... feeding a homeless person." Even if they did, you really don't want to be with someone who uses helping others - especially vulnerable members of society - as bait to hook up with you. 

Oh, they go to town with this one:

"If I could change one thing about the world it would be...

"... misogyny". 

"... inequality against women".

"... sexism". 

One does not need to even explain why those three entries alone epitomise directionless and performative "wokeness".  

If you see any variations of the above or a man that has "feminist" in his bio, do exercise caution by swiping left - more so if you are someone who is part of a marginalised group. 

They swim among us 

Some wokefish are better than others in the sense that they might have actually studied you and your causes well enough to engage you adequately on them. So yes, it can happen with people who have been in a relationship with each other for a while.

The Vice article mentioned earlier highlights that "wokefishing can be particularly disturbing and damaging when those on the receiving end belong to marginalised groups themselves", sharing a personal account from a 19-year-old Hannah who was wokefished for six months by her boyfriend. 

“When we first started talking, he spoke about how awful he thought the 'whiteness' of his education was, and how he wished the south of England [where he was from] was more diverse."

But things quickly went downhill and in the most extreme way possible.

"He introduced me to his home friends as 'his dirty Arab girlfriend' and passed it off as a joke," she remembers. "Then one day, he sat me down, started crying and told me he used to be involved with Nazi groups. He said before he'd met me he wouldn't have wanted to marry a non-white person because he'd thought - quote - 'mixed race children were impure'."

Hannah broke up with him shortly after. 

Layla, a qualified sex and relationships educator who spoke to Vice explained how "deception like this can be hugely damaging for those on the receiving end".

"Realising that you have been deceived by a romantic partner can have devastating and long lasting effects," she said. "The person who was deceived may be led to question their whole reality and feel uncertain about their ability to judge people correctly." 

And given this point made by Layla, if you have been wokefished, don't beat yourself up for not having been able to see through the deception from the get-go. 

Plenty of fish in the sea, huh? Maybe they're all just wokefish.  

Have you ever been wokefished? Or have you wokefished someone? Tell us about it here.

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