• Ever been on a date where the guy claims to be a feminist but then says all of his exes are ‘psychos’?
  • Or met someone who claims to be progressive but regularly questions marginalised groups’ human rights for the sake of ‘debate’?
  • If so, it’s possible you’ve caught yourself a wokefish

What is wokefishing?

According to VICE, wokefishing is “when people masquerade as holding progressive political views to ensnare potential partners.”

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A wokefish may initially put on a front of being an intersectional feminist who goes to BLM marches and reads anti-capitalist theory for fun, but over time you’ll find that their actions don’t really tally with their words. In some cases, they’ll turn out to be apathetic towards social justice issues. But sometimes they’ll actually have more conservative values which directly contradict the things they say. It’s essentially a form of catfishing, but with political beliefs specifically.

Why do people wokefish?

It’s unsurprising that wokefishing is having a moment right now.

We’re living in particularly turbulent times: writing in June 2020, Oxford Brookes lecturer Jonathan Wheatley declared that “contentious politics is back.” It’s no surprise that the chaotic political landscape is having a knock-on effect on the dating scene: while in years gone by, asking about politics on a first date might have been seen as taboo, nowadays, it’s more likely to be one of the first things you talk about. And it certainly has more potential to be a dealbreaker, which is partly why lying about your beliefs is becoming more mainstream.

It’s possible that you’ve been wokefished in the past and not even realised until now. Perhaps this is bringing back memories of that guy who drank oat milk to ‘save the planet’ but refused to stop buying fast fashion. Or that girl who initially claimed to have read the entire works of Kimberlé Crenshaw, but then tried to argue that she wasn’t that privileged just because her parents both earned six-figure salaries.

Speaking to Refinery29, dating coach Damona Hoffman explains further: “typically, individuals don’t lie with the purpose of intentionally hurting someone else. Generally, they’re reluctant to tell lies unless the truth poses an obstacle for their goals.”

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So, wokefishing might not always be done with malicious intent – more often than not, they’re probably just really keen to impress you, or else afraid of upsetting you. That said – that doesn’t make it OK.

Why is wokefishing bad?

Wokefishing might seem harmless, but just like catfishing, it can actually have some pretty serious consequences.

Hoffman goes so far as saying that wokefishing is actually worse than catfishing. “People commonly blur the facts when it comes to age, height, income, and things that don’t necessarily translate into the kind of partner they’ll be or what they believe,” she says. “Wokefishing means you are changing details about your core beliefs and character, which is far more misleading.” 

Dr. Carmen Harra, speaking to Health, agrees: “Being honest from the beginning helps avoid mistakes that were made in former relationships. It will save you much time if you come to the conclusion that this person doesn’t hold the same values as you. Allow yourself to be led by your intuition.”

Wokefishing is truly a lose-lose situation. It’s obviously painful to be deceived if you have been wokefished – but if you’re the wokefish yourself, you’re also at a loss. Ask yourself if you’ll really be able to build a solid relationship with someone who has fundamentally different values to you – chances are, you won’t. Research suggests so too: the Journal of Social and Political Psychology found that “ideological dissimilarity” between couples simply doesn’t work long-term.

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Moreover, you shouldn’t have to lie about who you are just to impress someone. There are plenty of people out there who will share the same values as you, so you should never have to pretend to be someone you’re not.

How to spot a wokefish

Thankfully, there are a few red flags you can look out for to ascertain if you’re dating a wokefish or not.

Speaking to Cosmopolitan, dating and relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan says that there are a few easy ways to spot red flags. “If you hear, for example, casual racism from someone who claims to be progressive and interested in equality and human rights issues. Or perhaps it’s someone who claims to be a humanitarian, but then argues about nature or nurture for human beings who have less than others in the world.” 

Ryan also stresses that trusting your gut is invaluable: “Do you trust this person? How is being around this person making you feel? Do you trust them? If your gut is saying you do not trust them then it will be hard to build on anything from there.”

Speaking to The Tab, dating expert Dr. Elesha Vooght affirms the importance of listening to your intuition: “Be aware of things that make your gut go ‘hmm… you say you’re a feminist but you just slut-shamed someone’. These are the indicators that someone is no good! If what they’ve portrayed themselves to be is different to the views they’re starting to express, however small, take note.”

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Dr. Vooght also adds that it may be hard to wrench yourself away from a wokefish if you only see their true colours after making an emotional investment in them – but it’s important to “really trust your instincts, and if something doesn’t feel right, jump ship as soon as you can”.

She continues: “It’s often not worth trying to educate these people as they’ve already demonstrated themselves to be slimy chameleons interested in personal gain and you’re unlikely to form a meaningful long term relationship with them if your moral compasses are so off from each other. Remember, this is not your fault. Don’t feel like it is something you’ve missed back in the early days. Dust yourself off, you’re worth so much more.”