How to talk to the sexist men in your life about gender inequality, because we all know at least one
Let’s face it: No matter how many good people we bring into our lives, nurturing those relationships and learning from each other, we all know at least one sexist man who needs to get majorly woke when it comes to gender inequality.
It could be a sibling, friend, co-worker, or even a lover — sexist men find their ways into all parts of our lives. And while it certainly shouldn’t be a woman’s job to ~educate~ a man about gender inequality, you might actually find yourself wanting to talk to your male friend or partner about the bias and discrimination you face on the daily, and how he’s perpetuating it.
Not sure if a man you know has sexist beliefs and needs a lesson in the realities of gender inequality?
We get it — it can be tough to pinpoint exactly what a person is doing that’s sexist. You might just have a feeling that something’s wrong, but aren’t sure how to explain it.
Dr. Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist and author of The New Monogamy, says there are a few signs your partner has sexist beliefs.
"When men refer to women as ‘cute’ when they are mad, or ‘needy’ if they want attention, this can be demeaning and sexist," she says.
She adds that if you’re on a date with a man and he makes comments about other women’s bodies, you shouldn’t be afraid to call him out, because he’s definitely sexist (not to mention rude to you).
“Having a conversation with your partner, or any man in your life, about any of these issues is important if you want to have an ongoing relationship so that you don’t have to hide your feelings, feel bad about yourself, or demean yourself as a woman,” Nelson says.
Talking about gender inequality with the men in your life is important not only because men’s participation is essential to ending women’s oppression, but because gender inequality makes life worse for men, too.
Julie Chekroun, a feminist researcher and lecturer at California State University, Northridge, notes that society’s strict gender binary blocks men from expressing the full range of human emotion — they’re not supposed to cry, they can’t be “feminine” in any way, etc.
“To be a man is to be anything BUT feminine,” Chekroun says. “So ending sexism is not just a ‘women’s issue.’”
These conversations are definitely important in theory, but actually talking to the men you know about gender inequality probably seems pretty overwhelming, especially if they have sexist views.
It can be done, though, and Nelson suggests approaching the men in your life about sexism in the same way you’d approach any other sticky issue.
“One way to begin a conversation is to talk about your own feelings when your partner or a man in your life says something that makes you feel uncomfortable,” she says.
As a conversation starter, Nelson suggests, “When you said that about that woman, it made me feel bad about myself, and I realized that perhaps you don’t understand women.” Or, “I felt hurt when you made that statement, and I wonder if you know how that may have sounded?”
Chekroun agrees, noting that sharing personal stories makes it difficult for even the most resistant men to turn away.
“I think we must start connecting on a personal level,” she says. “For instance, when I teach about rape culture in one of my classes I always tell students, ‘We are not just talking about a few women you don’t know, but this is something that people you know and love have lived through.’”
Using statistics to back up your arguments can help — like noting that 1 in 6 U.S. women has been sexually assaulted in her lifetime, or that Hispanic women are paid 54% of what white men earn for the same work. These numbers help show that gender inequality is systemic and widespread, and that your experiences are part of a bigger picture.
You’ll probably encounter some resistance, though, and that’s okay.
Says Chekroun, “Once they acknowledge that these injustices are really happening, they cannot pretend they aren’t happening and have to act to challenge them. This is way more uncomfortable (even though needed) than to pretend sexism does not exist.”
Keeping an open dialogue will help — these kinds of attitudes don’t change overnight. If you care enough about this person to keep them in your life but want them to give up their sexist ways, know that you’ll have to be patient and persistent.
Chekroun says that having another man with you when you start your initial conversation might help.
"I know it sucks to say it, but men will be more willing to listen to and trust other men when discussing these issues. So if one of your male friends is a proud feminist, he could join in on these conversations."
Ultimately, you might not make a dent in your friend or partner’s attitudes about gender inequality. Sexism is deeply ingrained in our culture and families, so you’re going up against centuries of discrimination.
“[But] if the other person gains a deeper understanding/perspective about women’s experiences in this world, that is already a big step forward,” Chekroun notes. “Then, the goal is to equip them with actual actions they can start taking to challenge and end sexism.”