Here are some ways to help your male partner understand sexism

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"Sexism is a social disease" button by Etsy seller ThatLovelyBrooch
“Sexism is a social disease” button by Etsy seller ThatLovelyBrooch

We put this question out to our fellow Homies on Facebook…

As a woman married to a man, I struggle with how to talk to him about sexism. It is so obvious to me in my life, something that affects my work, social, and volunteer interactions daily. Yet it can be so hard to describe to someone (ie. a man) who does not see it, live it, or seem to believe it.

I want my partner to be my ally, as well as an ally to his mother, sisters, and nieces. How can we as women, help our male partners see sexism and how it affects us every day? What are some ways to have this conversation? What has worked for you? -Caity

And you guys were so amazing with your thoughtful answers. Here are some of the things our readers have done to help male partners understand sexism…

My husband and I are both huge nerds. He is definitely a feminist and always had an understanding of blatant sexism and had a vague knowledge of how rampant it and more Insidious everyday sexism was within the nerd community. Funny enough it wasn’t until we tried to watch Halle Berry’s Catwoman together that the topic ever really came up. We got into a very heated debate almost argument over female superheroes and their over-sexualization and representation. This carried on to sexism within the nerd community as a whole.

It wasn’t until I pulled up some messages that I received — the ugly sexists kind — and showed them to him. He was understandably horrified and asked me why I didn’t tell him immediately when someone said something like that. That’s when I sadly said, “because I would be telling you every day.” He was confused. So I told him things that have been said and done to me, that have made me uncomfortable, that have given me the creeps. He was very upset.

Ever since then, the dialog has been open and we talk through stuff, even the hard problematic stuff like slut shaming and victim blaming. It’s always an ongoing learning process. And we are both still growing. But I have found that honest open communication is the best way to do that. -Kat

I don’t generally love Huffington Post, but this article covers this issue perfectly: The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About -Patricia

My husband has become increasingly aware of everyday common sexism, within the last few years. I think some of it was telling him about things I learned from the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast, and providing concrete examples in real life.

Sexism like racism has a lot of implicit bias and sometimes it is helpful to draw parallels between the two. Sometimes people don’t realize it’s there until you can point it out. -Jessica

Someone who “plays devils advocate” or disbelieves you about your own lived experiences is wrong. He does not have the ability to be any more logical or objective than you. You know what happened, and he should believe you at your word, assuming you’ve proven to be trustworthy otherwise. The fact that he doesn’t believe you, in other words, is subtly sexist.

Maybe you could start with this: If he believes you about other things, why not this? Make him think about his own prejudice against the issue, because there’s definitely a wall there. There is no way to “say the perfect thing” and magically change his mind… but you can lead him to water. -Elle

I’ve noticed that if you want to make sexist remarks towards women more obvious, it helps to just switch the genders in the story. Oftentimes, remarks are more obviously ridiculous and sexist if you imagine the same thing had been said to a man. Sadly, that also brings out the fact that we are just so used to sexist remarks that sometimes we don’t even notice them. Especially if you’re not the addressee.`-Steph

My husband is tall, strong, and an experienced fighter, so I asked him to imagine what it would feel like to have someone who was literally twice his weight and significantly stronger than him start to behave in one of the ways that men have acted towards me. It helped him to realise how it would feel, the way that a man might not have to do anything tangible to threaten a woman.

I think these examples have been helpful, but it’s been a long dialogue that is constantly evolving between us.
Other things that I think have helped have been asking him to take notice of what happens around him especially at work or in public, pointing things out in public and explaining why these things are bad. It can be so frustrating to see and feel sexism and not have your partner understand but it isn’t something that they are likely get over night. -Louise

Recently I got cat-called while on a walk, and it really upset me. Although he’s not a cat-caller, at first he kind of chuckled, because he couldn’t disagree with their complimentary assessment of my posterior. But instead of laughing it off (like I used to), this time I decided it was worth it to actually explain…

I tried to relate it to his own experience of the world. How, if the roles were reversed, he might actually think it was funny and complimentary to be catcalled by a car of women. But unlike men (generally), we women worry whether the guys in that car will circle back around and yell at us some more, or worse. And how we have to check our reactions, because we don’t want to piss them off or be called a bitch — who knows what will happen then? And how humiliating it is to realize that everyone else in the intersection just heard what those guys yelled, and are now staring. And I just wanted to go for a freaking walk. Now I drive to parks so I can walk in peace, and it pisses me off that I feel I need to either do that, or ask him or one of my sons to walk with me on the street.

By the look on my partner’s face, it seemed that he had never really considered what goes through our minds in that situation before, or that we generally don’t consider it funny or complimentary, or more than a minor annoyance. So I think it’s important to put our experiences and our feelings about them into words as much as possible, even to ourselves. If our first reaction is to hide our reactions to those situations, in order to feel safe, everyone will continue to think we’re cool with those situations. -Melanie

I’m a data driven person, so I tend to avoid talking about how sexism feels, but rather providing evidence of how it occurs.

For example, This article from The Conversation Australia is a great example of the incremental ways that men and women are considered in news reporting. -Loey

My husband and I got into one of our biggest fights ever when he used the “not all men” line in an argument. What finally got him was when I asked how I could tell the difference between the two types of men.

I’ve also started pointing out sexism and sharing things that happen and how they make me feel. So instead of just telling him I got hit on or cat-called, I tell him how scary it was to be alone with a guy yelling how great I look in a parking lot. Or how when I walked up to the bar and a guy hit on me, how he pressed into my personal space and I could smell his cologne and drunk breath.

Sharing the details of the experiences and pointing out things in the media that I see or institutional sexism has made him way more observant and aware. I’ve also seen him start calling out his friends in person and online. It wasn’t an overnight change but a lot of small conversations that have added up. -Maggie

If you’re into superheroes, this is a great object lesson: How To De-Objectify Women in Comics: A Guide. Plus, it’s an ironic thing that the comments make the exact point the author intended to battle. -Sara

Get him to watch Joss Whedon shows with you. -Emma

Let’s keep this going! What are your pieces of advice on talking to men about sexism?

Comments on Here are some ways to help your male partner understand sexism

  1. A few months ago, I took our dog for a morning walk while my husband went for a run. Near the end, he spotted us and thought it would be funny to run up behind us to make us jump.

    Yeah, I freaked out. All I heard were footsteps running up, a loud voice, and next minute the dog whipped round. I squealed and very nearly punched him. I mean, I get what he was doing but took the opportunity to explain (once I’d got my heart rate down) that it was NOT okay to do that because there’s a small part of women that’s always on the lookout and ready to defend ourselves, even subconsciously. This particular side of my experience had never really occurred to him and he was so, so apologetic.

  2. These are all great comments. I am fortunate that my husband does get it. However, I think the conversation needs to expand beyond our partners to our brothers, fathers, sons, male friends and co-workers. It is so difficult to have workplace conversations, but in the 80’s as new sexual harassment laws were passed, it became a national conversation. I believe it is time for a refresher course. Other workplace rules such as dress codes have loosened up – maybe guys think the rules about sexism and harassment have loosened up too. It is time to set them straight. Back then, HR departments took on the task because they were open to lawsuits if they didn’t address the issue. The best programs not only gave training for men on what not to do, but to also trained women in their rights what they can do about it when it happens. I’d encourage everyone who works in a place large enough for an HR department to talk to them about setting something up.

  3. I walk a lot in my city, but as a college town, we tend to see spikes of muggings and robberies at times of mostly students who can be easier targets. I always take my dog or my husband with me, especially if I am walking at night. One night, we were walking home from a restaurant where we had gone out to dinner and I went to cross the road that leads to our house to walk on the opposite side. My husband started complaining that I was just doing it to get extra steps in (I can be a bit of a FitBit obsessive). I explained to him that I walk on that side of the road because that is the side that has the street lights, so there is greater visibility and I can be more aware of my surroundings. He apologized and noted he had never thought about that before.

    I also work in a position in local government where I work directly for the elected body, so that means that my salary and benefits are discussed and voted on publicly. Several years ago when I pursued a job reclassification and title change (I am a department director but was not being compensated as such at the time) with an associated pay increase, the comments and harassment from certain members of the public were so bad that my bosses actually considered changing their minds about the reclassification once it was complete. I was able to successfully defend that, but advocating for myself is a challenge since, like a lot of women, I’m not very good at self promotion. My husband has watched my struggles with that as well, so I definitely think he is becoming more aware of the both blatant and subtle sexism that women experience on a day-to-day basis.

    • Hey, fellow Fitbit addict here. 😉 That walking anecdote reminded me of a convo I had with my fiance, another Fitbit addict. He told me that he avoids main streets whenever possible, walking on side streets instead because they’re quieter. I gave him that “aw, sweet baby” smile and said, “I walk on main/busy streets as much as possible because it’s safer, and if/when I get assaulted I want as many witnesses as possible. Must be nice to live in a world where you get to choose streets based on sound preference though.” That was a lightbulb moment for him.

  4. I find the hardest thing, obviously, is to talk about sexism with men that are uncomfortable with homosexuality. I read this example somewhere, but I’m not completely sure where so I can’t quote it.

    Usually men say “I don’t have a problem with gay people, I just don’t want to be alone with them.” Or “I just don’t want them to hit on me.”

    Then I say to them.. why is that? It usually stems from (even if they don’t admit it right away) their fear of being raped or assaulted or otherwise made uncomfortable. This fear is completely foreign to them, because they’re confident that their strength will protect them around women. When they’re around a man that they see as a threat of assault, they can’t say that they would be able to fight him off.

    Which is exactly how women feel, every time we’re alone with a man on an elevator, in a parking garage, or at a party where they’re hitting on us and we’re not interested.

  5. I can only speak from my own experiences and marriage, but I am a white woman and my husband is an African American man, so there’s an ebb and flow of me realizing my white privilege and him realizing his male privilege. There’s a lot of overlap: wondering if we’re the “diversity hires,” for instance, or watching a movie and realizing that there are female/POC/female POC characters who are just window dressing. When we were in college, I learned from him that there is a POC Bechdel-Wallace test–do two POC characters have names and speak to each other about something other than a white person? A lot of movies that my liberal, progressive friends love, like “The Help,” pass the classic Bechdel-Wallace test but not this one. So I listen to his experiences just as much as he listens to mine, and we (gently!) call each other out when we mess up.

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