When People You Love are Sexist

Navigating sexist conversations and interactions. This post is going to be different because I received a letter from a reader and I really want to address it, so this post is going to revolve around that one letter. I think it will be helpful for a lot of people especially if you're someone that is currently experiencing sexism and you're close to other people who are directing that behavior at you.

Hey. I'm a 28-year-old woman living in the mid-west and I have a dilemma involving two of the most important men in my life, my boyfriend and my dad. The problem is slightly different for each of them but I felt like they are similar enough to be included in the same email. So I'll start with the issue with my boyfriend. He is an amazangly sweet guy and everytime I'm around him I'm even more thankful for his presence in my life, however there have been a few things that he said to me comparing men and women and it really rub me the wrong way. He onces said that popping a boner 5-6 times a day is as bad as menstruating and he tried to stand his ground and I had to forcefully explain to him that getting unexpected erection is not even close to being as bad as having to deal with period. Another example that I have is little more disturbing, he once said that because women are able to give birth they should be able to withstand uncleaned fingers going into their vagina. There are few other things similair to this that have really frustrated and flabbergasted me. I kinda have the same problem with my dad but it's even more severe. My dad is very open with his rasicm, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. He calls people fags, homos and constantly scrutinizes women and people of color. I myself am a queer person but I'm not out to my parents and everytime he says something offensive, I like him less and less. Him acting this way also makes me question my mothers choices. Why did she marry such an offensive and frankly awful man. My mum is amazing and I do not understand how she could end with someone that acts the way my dad does. All of this this is incredibly difficult to deal with especially because I love both of these people very much but I need to know how to respond to this offensive things that my boyfirend and dad say. I have a feeling that my boyfriend is speaking out of ignorance because he tries to understand women's problems and he is such a supporter of women's rights but as far as my dad, that is hate speech. If you have tips on how to respond I would love to hear it. Also I would love to hear any advice as to how to deal with being constantly angry and dissapointed at these two. Love, M.

This is a lot to take in, it was definitely a letter that stood out because it's something that so many people experience and don't know how to navigate because these people are close to you and you love these people.

It's so easy to just be snappy with someone on Twitter that you don't know, some a**hole in your school is making remarks, you can kinda just write them off and choose not to be around them. But it's someone you love and you know they can be a good person too, so it's way more complicated and suddenly it's how do I approach this without causing too many problems but also something needs to be said.

This is coming down to you personally and because you're a woman, the things that they're saying directly have to do with you as a person and it's not just some random political view. It is something that's affecting you, your relationships and I think we all have been there.

Starting with the boyfriend, it definitely seems like he's falling into the category of "saying sexist things but having good intentions?", trying to learn more and want to support women's rights. There is a lot of room for growth here, it ultimately comes down to what it is that you're willing to take on because it's not your responsibility to educate him if you don't want to. It's not your responsibility to just stick around and take it because there is hope for him growing if you don't want to. It comes down to what is the rest of your relationship like, are you willing to take this on, are you willing to be around someone who is saying these kinds of things and also I'm interested to know you gave examples of the things that he said, what is his response when you give your response. Is he closed off to it? Is he open a little bit more or defensive? Because I think it's one thing to say that you support women's rights and that you want to see more equal world and it's another thing to act like it.

It seems like there is definitely at least a medium-sized disconnect happening there, where he is supporting women's rights but also not acting in a way that would typically reflect that. I'm not saying that anyone is perfect but these are more egregious acts, to say things like that to your girlfriend like talking about "dirty fingers going into a vagina", comparing an erection to period. In what instances are these things coming out, what is he hoping to get out of these conversations? Is he just saying these things to upset you, to feel bad, to diminish your space in the relationship? I think these are all things to consider, in terms of the person you're spending time with.

Everyone wants to be the biggest victim, 'No it's worse to be a girl' 'No it's worst to be a guy!'. Is that the dynamic that is happening here, is it a competition between you two or did you complain about your period so he is like 'this is no big deal'. Of course, more details would give me the ability to give more specific answers.

The vibes I'm getting is that he's immature, he is ignorant but if he's worth it to you and he is willing to listen to you, work on it. It doesn't mean that you're always going to be right on every topic like that but when it comes to issues that are about genuinely understanding women's rights, how they've been oppressed and that whole conversation,  if he seems open to that stuff for real not just to make you happy then it's definitely a good thing and you guys can grow. Honestly, people do have to learn and they can change and grow.

I've had journey myself in terms of just seeing the bigger picture and we've all said things that we look back on it and we're like 'oh sh*t!'. Also it is important to evaluate how you're feeling in this relationship because while there is a lot of room for growth and he could be a great person with really good intentions, you also have to consider what it's going to mean for you to stick around during that growth period for him and how that is going to affect you, what are you willing to take on and what is unacceptable for you.

It is okay to be ignorant because to some degree we are all ignorant in various phases. You have to think about from more objective perspective, that's where I start and then I move in towards what the core issue is here. It's really with the responsibility peace of this and it is up to them to conduct themselves like adults and take on the responsibility of educating and learning because they want to. The thing happening with young men is that there are not necessarily the bad guys but there is one bad apple in the bunch, but nobody says anything to them. It's not that they're ignorant, they know it's wrong but they’re not speaking up and saying anything, that’s a confusing thing. Should the guys say something, should the girl say something. That’s interesting dynamic that I see happen quite a lot and there is nothing said.

For humanity to get better, yes they should say something but are people always going to say something, no. I don’t think that someone can lean on ignorance over and over again when is just this consistent pattern over an extended period of time. That’s making an excuse for your bad behavior and your unacceptable treatment of other people. We all make mistakes and we should all be given some grace with certain things that we say. Ultimately it’s up to you and you have to take responsibility for your own actions and you can’t rely on other people to teach you and educate you, you have to go and seek it yourself. Yes, there are going to be people who are willing to teach and have conversations and want to be part of the education but you can’t expect every single woman to want to be your teacher. They’re nothing the gatekeepers of educating every man on women’s issues, that should not be expected.

More men in addition to taking responsibility for their own actions, they need to say things that may make them feel uncomfortable because somebody else is doing or saying something that isn’t okay. More men need to harness a little courage here, like women have had to fight social and cultural battles and it is so terrifying for women to step out and push for certain things, the least that we can do is to say ‘Hey, that’s not okay to say’ when someone says something inappropriate or something that makes someone upset, that’s the least that we can do. It might be awkward but so what? We all feel awkward anyways when someone says something inappropriate.

One of the biggest issues in terms of this situation and you see it a lot in an office situation is just people not wanting to say anything because of their fear of awkwardness but you’re not in physical danger here. Just bite the bullet, swallow the pill of awkwardness and do something that could potentially make things better.

Back to the letter. When it comes to your dad because in America in the south and midwest those are areas that are just less progressive socially and always have been so even though your dad has all of this hateful thoughts, feelings and words towards certain people groups, if you look at his life growing up and who he is now how much friction and contrast has he had with his action and his thoughts? Has anyone called him out in the past, does he know how wrong he is and he continues to do it. A lot of times when you grow up around people that believe the same things more or less, you don’t have the perspective of how hurtful are the things that you say because you’re in that bubble.

He is just a person and he has complex feelings and he lived his life the best way he has known, that’s not to give him an excuse in any way for saying bad things but it’s just food for thought. If you’re in a social setting your whole life where you’re saying things like this and no one is calling you out for it then you’re not going to realize that it’s bad as it is. At the same time I’m not saying you should be the only person that goes up to your dad and champions for all queer people and women and saying ‘you’re racist a**hole dad’, but there’s maybe a conversation that could be had, it sounds like he loves you it doesn’t sound like you have terrible conflict. It sounds like you’re afraid to tell him how you feel and that’s understandable because nobody really likes to be told that they’re not right or they’re doing something wrong.

People can get defensive especially men that tend to be a little bit more aggressive and your dad sounds like he has a strong personality so it can be intimidating but you’re his daughter maybe he should hear it from you. If I were a parent and my child expressed that I would immediately want to question that, I don’t want my child to feel sad, hurt or uncomfortable around me in this conversation and I would want to explore that. I don’t know what the context of your relationship is with your dad, it could be a situation where is not like that at all, it could be a much more intense or aggressive situation where you don’t feel safe having those conversations, in that case, I would suggest distance.

I don’t know how possible it is but if you feel unsafe and really really uncomfortable around your dad in a way where you feel this can’t be approached because of the fear of your own safety as a human being then I would explore ways in which you can find distance from your dad and this is something that it’s extremely difficult and painful because even though all of this horrible things are being said it doesn’t mean that the love goes away. I think as we get older we start to see all of the different facets of love. When you're this close to someone and when they do or say awful things it doesn't make the love just completely disappear overnight, that's what makes it so complicated. It's that love that's keeping you there. You can still have that love for your father but also cultivate some distance as well.

Regards to the mum, I think that in general things were very very different when your parents met and got married. One thing you have to realize is, forty years ago things were different. There was segregation and all of this racial turmoil especially in the south or the midwest and there wasn't a lot of room for accepting people for who they are, no matter who they are. Your dad might not have stood out as much back then as he does now and things evolve, we change our social norms and what's okay and what's not okay. Your mom is not to blame here because she sounds like she is amazing and you said that she is wonderful and you don't understand how she can be with someone like that, but it's not that simple and your mum just like you probably struggles with feeling weird about your dad making those comments too, but she loves him and she's still with him. You got to cut her some slack, it is complicated and if he is not harmful to her and she loves him, has children with him, has a life, I can understand why she would be with someone like that. Maybe you don't know about all the conversations they had or not had about this and it's a slippery slope when you're looking at your parent's relationship and try to dissect because you don't know all the details and you're in a way outsider looking in what kind of biased perspective.

The resentment that you were feeling towards your mom is totally understandable but if you step away from it a little bit you'll see that is little misplaced because as I said you don't know all the details of your parent's relationship and they've had a relationship before you existed. It is complicated with long-term relationships, people change, their life circumstances change. You don't know all the reasons, how and why they ended up together and what exactly they were like when they were younger and before you were around, what was their life like. All of this facets of our lives that can affect who we are, jobs changing, passions diminishing or igniting. All of those things are just part of the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship.

To really look at your mom's situation with more compassion because you're saying that she is an amazing person. Maybe this isn't the situation that she signed up for but this is a situation that she finds herself in. So many people in long-term relationships find themselves there and it's not about saying to the person 'why are you in this?', it's about saying to them 'how are you doing, how does it make you feel when dad says all of this things?' 'does it make you uncomfortable?'. It doesn't have to be presented in a way where the two of are coming together to go after your dad, this is about removing your dad out of your dynamic, approaching your mom as not only your mother but because you're little bit older now, as a friend and a confidant and really talking to her as a human being. This is an opportunity to even know your mom more because maybe if you ask her these things, whether the things that make you uncomfortable make her too uncomfortable. That can open up a broader conversation and maybe at some point that will help shift your dads perspective, but when it comes to your mom the best way forward is really just opening up that compassion treasure chest and giving her everything that you have to give and I'm sure she will return it to you.

I wanna leave you with some tools that will hopefully help you navigate situations that you might find yourselves in where sexist behavior is occurring because it can really make you helpless when you don't know what to do.

If you find yourself in a conversation where someone is very clearly saying something sexist and you notice it at that moment because sometimes you don't notice it in the moment, you notice it after and you would want to say anything. Just simply saying 'hey that's a little sexist don't you think?' is often enough because that is kind of opening up the door for conversation and to hear what this person has to say and it's also holding them accountable for what they've just said.

I know that can be scary especially for people who deal with social anxiety, don't like to be confrontational and I get it that is uncomfortable, scary thing to do but at the same time this isn't an easy scenario to just fix and because sexism is just running rampant in our world, society, our country it is so important now to say something when you're uncomfortable even if you don't have all the answers. You don't have to be prepared for this hour-long debate after you call somebody out and you don't have to do it in an attacking way. If it's a guy the last thing that they going to want is people calling them out for being sexist, they might just think twice before they say something again, that's worth the uncomfortableness that it might cause for five minutes.

The next point is not only standing up for yourself as a woman but also standing up for other women because the only way the women are going to change an anti-women culture is to support each other and have each other's backs. Having each other's backs can be really tough especially when you see somebody experiencing something awful and you decide to step into that. If you see somebody putting another woman down, speak up and I know that we've all had moments where we wish we had but we didn't and that's totally okay because sometimes you don't feel safe or comfortable.

Lastly, being aware of the situation because only you can really assess how best things are going to turn out. You have to gauge the situation if you feel physical danger is a possibility maybe that's not the time to step in, so it's about understanding what your surroundings are, are there other people around that could potentially help if things do escalate and also on the other end of the spectrum if the conversation is just going nowhere and you are talking in circles, the person is not clearly open to any kind of discussion, just don't waste your energy on that and exiting from that situation.


  1. I totally agree with David here. Yes, it's love that keeps us together, but it is this same love that makes us weak and doesn't let us go against that person even if he/she is wrong. It requires a lot of courage to speak up, especially against our loved ones, but once you raise your voice, once you keep your opinion in front of them, it won't be that difficult next time. Maybe that person will change, and if not, you will be content that you had your say.

  2. Wow! This is so tough especially when you love both individuals and it is so hard to get all points across without taking it personal. I hope you can work it out

  3. This is a very difficult situation as those concerned are all closely connected to each other. I think the boy friend sounds like inexperienced and immature and maybe having an open talk when he makes these comments may help to resolve how ever with the dad its harder as its a lifelong habit and train of thoughts which are difficult to change.

  4. Cant speak on the issue of your boyfriend. But regarding your dad, I think it is because you haven't yet come out to him is the reason you feel that way.

  5. I think you have to just be straight out and speak to people saying the remarks and if they don't understand why you're upset and offended then you shouldn't be spending time with them x

  6. This situation is kinda tough. But I always believe in right intention in right timing. Speak out how you feel, and how it affects you. Give them time to think it through as well.

  7. This is a very serious issue. As much as possible, you shouldn't be sexist and gender specific. It should be general sometimes.

  8. I’m a firm believer in everyone being equal. I hate this nonsense about gender specific, feminism, sexism etc. There’s just no need, we’re all human

  9. I try to stay away from racism and sexism whenever I have a conversation with others. It's not very pleasant to be a part of the conversations. If it does get into the conversation, I would either try to steer it in another direction or just leave the conversion altogether.


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