“Help: The man I love does not take my feminism seriously”

Dear Sarah,

My fiancé keeps brushing off my “feminism” as if it were some sort of childish hobby. For instance, when we were watching a show on TV and I commented, “That’s what the gender wage gap looks like,” after witnessing a harsh scene related to that problem, he rolled his eyes with a little smile. Another time, we were at a Nelly concert and he had three women come up on stage, and asked one of them to “walk sexy.” When I later expressed how ridiculous this was, he replied with something like, “Oh, I know…the whole feminist thing.”

I don’t know what to do. How do I tell the man I’m going to marry that, by dismissing me as if my feminist beliefs are unfounded, he’s actually being sexist? When I’ve brought up the fact that he doesn’t take my concerns seriously, he usually says, “No, I support feminists who want equality for everyone. I just don’t like the extremists who are against men.”

I think it has something to do with him feeling personally attacked as a male. Like, when I was annoyed that servers at restaurants and bars nearly always address him exclusively even when I am footing the bill, he said, “Well, yeah, but that’s what we’re taught, that the guy should pay for everything.” I agreed that yes, there’s plenty of sexism toward men in our society that isn’t addressed. And I understand that sexism can be two-way street. But I feel like I’m in a moral tug-of-war when I have to argue with my future husband to get any empathy or understanding at all about my point of view.

How can I get him to take me seriously without being confrontational and making him feel attacked?

Frustrated Feminist from Pennsylvania

Dear Frustrated,

I’m really bewildered about that moment when “feminist” became a such a dirty word that even many women didn’t want to attach themselves too it. I’m glad you use that term and glad other younger women and girls are picking it up again, because for years, I heard, “I’m not a feminist but…I do believe in women’s rights.” What?? Why should we have a invent another term because it rubbed some (generally reactionary and not super pro-women’s rights type) people the wrong way. And then the idea trickled down that feminists “hate men.” In my early twenties, one older male relative said to me, after I referred to myself as a feminist, “Just don’t become one of those ball busting types!”

Umm…HELLO…this particular issue isn’t about men, it’s about women! Making sure women have equal status in our society, are free from violence and harm, and can follow their dreams does not encroach on “men’s rights.” Yes, men also face gender-related challenges and we can all get on board with fighting those too—and be feminists at the same time. It’s not an either or thing.

It can feel incredibly aggravating to have to “teach” someone about injustices that seem self-evident to you. And its OK to feel angry and frustrated. But remember, he grew up as a guy, i.e. not facing the same obstacles you may have as a girl or woman such as being belittled in a classroom, sexual or other harassment, being passed over for a job, etc. that raise one’s awareness. You must love him in a million other ways, or you wouldn’t be engaged, so trying to enlighten him is worth it. First, clearly define what “feminism” means to you and share that with him. Explain that it doesn’t mean “anti-man.” Let him know, perhaps in a moment that’s not already tense, that these issues are super important to you—like, are core to your being—and you feel like he’s not getting that. And, have your statistics at hand for the times you do want to raise a particular point—research credible info about sexual assault, the wage gap, reproductive freedom or other aspects of women’s rights that are important to you. The strongest argument is one that is deeply felt with cold hard facts to back it up.

Love, Sarah

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