Feminism or bust
October 30, 2012 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Boyfriend is not a feminist. I am. We don't see things eye to eye and we have long disagreements about it. Is this healthy?

My boyfriend and I are in a relationship dynamic that I find very toxic. At the same time, it's somewhat ubiquitous, and at least we're discussing it.

I have more feminist beliefs than he does. I see these as important personally, professionally, at the level of the family, and at the level of micro-interactions in society. Because of being really interested in women, I have done extensive research on topics like rape and domestic violence.

My boyfriend's world is totally different. Sometimes when we discuss them for like 2 hours, he can roughly understand by analogy what I'm talking about when I say rape jokes aren't funny, or that a portrayal of women in the media is "hostile." But for the most part, he thinks I'm reading into everyday life dynamics that aren't there.

A typical example of how we would disagree would be:

-We're talking about Richard Pryor (within 5 minutes of waking up Saturday morning). He says, "there was this one fan of Richard Pryor he got involved with and she got so angry one time, he thought she was going to beat her up and so he beat her up instead. That's so ironic."

Me: (skeptical) Why would a fan beat him up?
He: I dunno, I mean maybe she was crazy. Anyhow it was fine because he got out of jail.
Me: ... That's fine from his perspective but not from the fan's.
He: Well I guess I'm more open minded because to me the story would be exactly the same if the fan were a man. I don't think there's a difference between male/male and male/female violence.
Me: I just don't like the story.
He: Why? But that doesn't make any sense!!

We also talk often about sexual assault, especially topics like Tosh.O's recent rape jokes and about the topic of whether "feminism" is an extreme or a moderate position. I'm often in a position of defending my beliefs.

In addition, when we talk about gender in art, he is sometimes sympathetic. But he says things like novels about relationships (like most of the novels I read) are not "objective" enough to be true art. We then begin a 2 hour conversation about what objectivity means. I find this frustrating. I would rather be talking about novels by women specifically and the themes in them than talking about women as a category but he just lacks this specialized knowledge.

From an intellectual point of view it's frustrating to me because I feel like there is a lot of what I value that I simply have to explain to him. And maybe I'm jealous because ultimately, his point of view is much more "moderate" than mine. I come off looking like a malcontent just for stating my opinion a lot of the time.

We continue these conversations because basically once they get started, they go to a very deep place very quickly, and a point at which we both find it very very difficult to step away. But there is some doubt to me about whether they are constructive or just deeply toxic. I have told him just not to bring up topics relating to gender, especially gendered violence anymore.

Is this a toxic discussion, or one that is worth having between men and women in a relationship?
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (81 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
These conversations are important in a relationship.

What matters more is that both of you are able to respect and love the other in spite of the differences.

Absent that you have a relationship doomed to fail.
posted by dfriedman at 10:52 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's also important if you want to raise children together. These are the values you will instill in them, and it's worth being on the same page (or at least in a place where you respect each other's position) and can demonstrate that to your children.
posted by judith at 11:01 PM on October 30, 2012 [13 favorites]

It's difficult for me to see how it's "worth" having these discussions in a relationship with someone who considers feminism an extreme position. If his view of women is so limited and low that he can't even discuss a novel that happens to be written by a woman as a novel, rather than, "Chicks write like this, amirite?" what makes you think he respects you as an equal partner?

It may be worth having these arguments with acquaintances, but that's a lot of patronizing to take from one's romantic partner.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:09 PM on October 30, 2012 [82 favorites]

I don't think one needs to be a feminist to think rape jokes aren't funny. I would call anybody who thinks rape jokes are funny to be either ignorant, stupid, immature, or sick. Frankly, I don't know why anybody, man or woman, would want to have a friend, romantic or otherwise, who thinks rape is funny.
posted by Dansaman at 11:11 PM on October 30, 2012 [47 favorites]

Sometimes when we discuss them for like 2 hours, he can roughly understand by analogy what I'm talking about when I say rape jokes aren't funny

I'm not sure I'd call myself a feminist, at least not without a long conversation about what that means, but whether or not feminism is a problem in your relationship, it seems like on this topic, he's a bit of an ass, feminist or not.
posted by Jahaza at 11:16 PM on October 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Of course these conversations are important - it means you get to determine the nature of ther person you're dating.

For me, your boyfriend's views would be a dealbreaker, but obviously YMMV.

But, yes, that is largely the point of these conversations - where does this person stand on x view and is this compatible with how I see our future relationship (particularly if that entails marriage and kids)?
posted by heyjude at 11:16 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

The conversation is worth having. Excuse the clumsy analogy (it's past my bedtime), but the patriarchy is kinda like air, you know? Simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. Unless people born into our culture have been educated about its existence, they tend not to recognize or acknowledge it. Even many women.

That said, the sample dialogue between you and your boyfriend is totes concerning. He claims to be more open-minded because he doesn't see a difference between male/male violence and male/female violence? That's like saying it makes no difference whether you use your fists or a handgun in a fight. After all, they're both weapons!

Have you considered you might be smarter than your boyfriend?
posted by jessca84 at 11:20 PM on October 30, 2012 [51 favorites]

But for the most part, he thinks I'm reading into everyday life dynamics that aren't there.

Dude just straight up isn't paying attention. Feminism on the level you're talking about isn't rocket surgery for people with even a basic capacity for empathy. He's high on privilege and doesn't want anything (like "facts" or "other people's feelings") harshing that buzz. Who are women to get in the way of his hilarious rape jokes?

He sounds like an asshole. DTMF.
posted by zjacreman at 11:21 PM on October 30, 2012 [46 favorites]

It sounds like you guys are both young (I would guess 20?) and are both pretty flexible and tolerant - your boyfriend is willing to contemplate is own beliefs and thought patterns, and you are tolerant of someone who doesn't understand why rape jokes aren't funny.

Anyway, who's going to change who during the relationship? What do you get out of it? Do you enjoy these conversations? Do you have shared interests? If not, why not just take a time out or move on?

There's plenty of guys out there who like to debate stuff but are also not going to question your dedication to feminism.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What bothers me is that he's not necessarily for rape jokes, but has these extreme *libertarian* views that free speech is so important that anyone who criticizes rape jokes is not understanding the give and take that makes up free speech. I promise I won't threadsit but I'm trying to describe a particular kind of double bind.... Not contradicting that kind of statement is totally frustrating to me because I think there's enough common ground for an informative discussion... on the other hand, engaging in debate often leads to a sense for both of us of getting heated and feeling misunderstood...
posted by kettleoffish at 11:24 PM on October 30, 2012

And maybe I'm jealous because ultimately, his point of view is much more "moderate" than mine. I come off looking like a malcontent just for stating my opinion a lot of the time

"Moderate" or not, you're the one that's right.
posted by atrazine at 11:25 PM on October 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If he gets it and can extrapolate, yes. If you are having the same conversation over and over, just with minor topic changes (aka Tosh's rape jokes, then rape jokes, then DV jokes, then rape jokes again and so on) then no.

For me it's a deal breaker. My partner doesn't need to read works written by women or about women (he does already, could probably stand to read more), but he needs to not dismiss work written by women, or about relationships, or about women. That is toxic. He doesn't need to go out and read Dworkin but he needs to either accept my greater knowledge or do his own research (it isn't enough to just disagree with me about something that I have put significant amounts of research into, just based on news articles and reddit for example). For me it is about respect - respecting me as a woman, but also respecting my knowledge and my understanding of these things is actually greater than 'well, I don't like that idea' or 'the news said X'.

It probably helps that my partner was 'exposed' to me and my feminist views for a significant period before our relationship began, so a lot of that learning came by osmosis rather than 'challenging conversations with someone you love'. So we didn't start from a place where, like Eyebrows McGee says, he was patronising me. It isn't that he was perfect (a lot of that osmosis was from arguments I had with him, other dudes, his brother, the TV and so on) but that he was not operating from a particularly embedded sense of superiority. Male entitlement yes, but not arrogance.

So, for example, early on in the friendship years the Other Anachronism repeated a DV joke. I was scathing and extremely angry in my response. He was taken aback and defensive. He also stopped repeating those jokes, and started thinking about those kinds of jokes. It wasn't just that he stopped telling them, it's that he started thinking critically about them. He still occasionally drops a bit of sexist drivel but he usually owns it afterwards (it's usually in times of extreme stress). We just roll with it, and make our choices, and keep going and trying to get better and manoeuvring as a team within the sexist environment we inhabit. We have a little girl and we try incredibly hard to make our personal space one where there is nothing that is telling her she is less important, less worthy, less than just because she's a girl and she will grow up as a girl. Me and her get enough of that when we step outside the house, or turn the TV on, or listen to the radio, or do anything that engages with mainstream culture. My partner KNOWS that, and he knows that he is working from the top end of the patriarchy, and that there is a whole lot of society that he doesn't understand and has never needed to, so he relies on me and my knowledge and my understanding to make it so we can act as a team to make this space, this world, just a little bit better for everyone.

In short, he listens to me because he loves me, he knows this is important - not just to me and for me, but for our child, and he acts because it's the right thing to do.

I guess what stands out to me is that he assumes he has the knowledge for a two hour conversation about objectivity as a standard for true art, but somehow can't discuss themes in material written by women? He is making a concious choice, over and over, to not engage with something important to you.

Ugh, on preview, he's just a fucking dick. I know that's harsh but if free speech somehow means rape jokes are important but speech against rape jokes is censorship, he is actively and wilfully refusing to engage with you as an equal. That's the bind of free speech - you can say what you want, but I can respond. The bind is not that you aren't allowed to reply - that's actually the patriarchy speaking because it wants to silence the opposition. Free speech is giving voice to the voiceless as it were, not foghorning the mainstream over the oppressed.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:28 PM on October 30, 2012 [145 favorites]

If it's just a libertarian attitude towards free speech, then you should probably tell him that he's free to tell rape jokes, but it will likely alienate women. Tact is everything.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:30 PM on October 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

How exactly is he "moderate"? I don't see it.

Furthermore, I can't reconcile these two things you said:

Sometimes when we discuss them for like 2 hours, he can roughly understand by analogy what I'm talking about when I say rape jokes aren't funny, or that a portrayal of women in the media is "hostile." But for the most part, he thinks I'm reading into everyday life dynamics that aren't there.

What bothers me is that he's not necessarily for rape jokes, but has these extreme *libertarian* views that free speech is so important that anyone who criticizes rape jokes is not understanding the give and take that makes up free speech.
posted by Dansaman at 11:33 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

"My boyfriend and I are in a relationship dynamic that I find very toxic."

You already know what's up. Why are you going into specifics?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:36 PM on October 30, 2012 [25 favorites]

It sounds like your partner not only doesn't understand, but doesn't want to understand. If he were to pause, say that he doesn't understand, ask questions to further his understanding of your point, and be open to changing his stance regarding issues you are more qualified to understand.. then it would a conversation worth having. But the way you describe him makes it seem as if you're going to be hitting a brick wall on this topic forever. It's up to you if that's a dealbreaker or not.
posted by buteo at 11:38 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Is this a toxic discussion, or one that is worth having between men and women in a relationship?

No, it's not toxic and yes, it's worth having. Is it worth having over and over and over? That's up to you, and if you're already asking him to just not bring up sensitive topics, it sounds like rehashing the discussion isn't doing you any good.

Tangential example: I'm black, and once dated a white guy who thought racism was over, and it was okay to use the n-word in jest, and there should be a white history month. He thought I was a little silly and overreacting and making mountains out of molehills when I complained about, say, negative depictions of black folks in the media. It took me a while to see that dismissing my point of view as irrational or even self-serving was a form of contempt.

So. What do you want out of this relationship? Do you want your boyfriend to pick up a few books on feminism? Do you want him to listen to you and not negate you when you voice your concerns about topic X? Do you want him to become a feminist? Because that last one is unlikely. People with opposing views can treat each other with respect. Is that what's happening in your relationship?

Put another way, is this an "if only" for you? As in, "My boyfriend would be perfect if only he..."?
posted by Angharad at 11:39 PM on October 30, 2012 [27 favorites]

I can't imagine having this conversation over and over and over again with anyone, let alone someone who was supposed to be my partner. I kept waiting to hear you talk about all his other wonderful qualities that made this conversation worth repeating, but you don't mention one other single thing about him other than to give us the variations of the conversation you two keep having.

Not only do I have no idea why you would want any kind of relationship with someone who feels the way he does, it must be exhausting to have these discussions; I'm drained just reading your question.

On preview, I saw your update and that doesn't make any positive difference to me. Yes, this is an important conversation to have. You've had it. Again and again and again. Why are you with this guy?
posted by Room 641-A at 11:44 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

OK, well extrapolating on his "free speech" idea -- if he's "free" to tell rape jokes, you're free to express how they make you feel. If he's "free" to talk about his political beliefs, you're free to talk about your feminist views. He's being a complete hypocrite.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:44 PM on October 30, 2012 [13 favorites]

I'm male, fwiw. Bringing libertarian politics into a conversation, especially one about feminism, is a dealbreaker for me. I don't want to hear that shit from real people in my life, I already have an internet full of it.
posted by ead at 11:44 PM on October 30, 2012 [48 favorites]

Since these are important values to you, there is no way you cannot discuss them. The alternative is to silently bear him saying and doing things that you think are deeply wrong. That's just going to cause resentment.

And maybe I'm jealous because ultimately, his point of view is much more "moderate" than mine. I come off looking like a malcontent just for stating my opinion a lot of the time.

This is simply because of the framing he (maybe unconsciously) establishes. The way you describe your conversations, right off the bat, feminist ideas are a strange and not-normal thing that bears the burden of proof. Anti-feminism, in the form of rape jokes and the idea that books written by women are stupid, gets the benefit of assumption.

This is unfair, and really the kind of tactic that should be reserved for adversaries or opponents, not friends or partners. If you continue these discussions, you'll need him to drop this, or it'll end up exhausting you.

You might also want to consider that you may not be able to change his ideas about fairness and privilege in a timeframe that is worthwhile.
posted by ignignokt at 11:46 PM on October 30, 2012 [14 favorites]

has these extreme *libertarian* views that free speech is so important that anyone who criticizes rape jokes is not understanding the give and take that makes up free speech.

Hahaha, what a logic fail. If free speech is so important that nobody should object to any kind of speech, then HE should not be objecting to anything at all that you say ever, including criticism of rape jokes. If he does, then he clearly just doesn't understand the give and take that makes up free speech.

One thing that I have noticed over, and over, and over in life, is that when you meet someone who thinks of himself as ooober logical, he's actually likely to be way LESS logical that average. He is actually just way less aware of his own logic fails, and way more resistant to examining them or - egad - ever admitting them.

The only way to ever make headway with a personality like this is to just relentlessly point out their contradictions and errors every single time, in a blunt and somewhat rude way. However, a lot of the time, that's not going to make the person like you...

He: Well I guess I'm more open minded because to me the story would be exactly the same if the fan were a man. I don't think there's a difference between male/male and male/female violence.

There is nothing "more open minded" about this opinion. He's just declaring that it is, because it's his opinion; you could just as easily declare that the opposite opinion was the "more open minded" one.

But he says things like novels about relationships (like most of the novels I read) are not "objective" enough to be true art. We then begin a 2 hour conversation about what objectivity means

Let me guess, to him "objective" means something that shares his perspective and opinions, and doesn't contradict them or involve the perspectives of people who are not straight men. If he honestly doesn't even realize the straight male perspective is not the default and "objective" one, it's just another subjective one like everything else, then he has far, far to go.

And maybe I'm jealous because ultimately, his point of view is much more "moderate" than mine

I could not possibly disagree more. It is extreme to want to describe how you live in the world, and have that be acknowledged as being as REAL as anyone else's perspective or experiences? It is extreme to want to have equal rights and opportunities not be denied to you just because of your gender? IMO that could not possibly GET more moderate. To me, anyone who cannot get on board with that is pretty extreme. Maybe his opinion is more *mainstream* in the circles the two of you hang out in, and in the wider world, but even that is changing.

I tend to agree with you that your conversations are toxic, because it doesn't sound like anything positive is coming from them at all for you. It just sounds like he takes them as his opportunity to kind of hammer you with his opinions and insist on their rightness until you give up, or the conversation just ends from exhaustion.

In your shoes I would find this completely draining and not worth it at all.
posted by cairdeas at 12:01 AM on October 31, 2012 [43 favorites]

Also, right now, it sounds like your conversations are about things that are at a bit of a remove, things that happen in other peoples' lives (in the sense that the fan who was beat up by Richard Pryor isn't someone you know, the books that "aren't objective" were not written by you, etc.)

So, even though his opinions are bothering you now, you might not be taking them very personally. But I think the day will come where there WILL be something that affects you very directly, and then when you need him to be there for you, there's a good chance you'll come up against these opinions that have been there all along. Just now directly turned against you.

It doesn't have to be some kind of extreme episode. (In fact, something extreme might be more likely to open up his eyes) But I think it is likely to be the kind of common everyday thing that is so hard for women to get others to take seriously.

I also think that it is VERY likely that his attitudes that male opinions/perspective are the objective, more logical, and correct ones by default, will end up permeating all kinds of interactions you guys have, not just conversations about feminism but any situation where there is a difference of opinion.
posted by cairdeas at 12:30 AM on October 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

This is what I call the logical fallacy of the "in reverse it is still true" argument.

Basically, a historically privileged person takes an argument a historically disenfranchised person would typically use to prove discrimination and loss of free agency and reverses it to somehow prove that they really are the victim. I think it could be considered gaslighting, but I'll let the larger group answer that if they want, I still consider myself too close to the subject to reliably answer it.

So, you say "A man beating a woman in NOT OK." (based on a history of REALLY REALLY SHITTY THINGS done to women, just cause they are women, going back 50 thousand years)
He says "A woman beats up a dude, that's NOT RIGHT EITHER" (completely ignoring the historical reality of the tilted balance towards men)

Really, as a privileged dude, his answer should be (to you, if he wants you to like him) "You know, we should talk about how women have been historically disenfranchised and violently kept down in society for hundreds of generations, and how people STILL use sexually violent images to enforce a role that women should act like second-class citizens to a man's sexual interest".

Because really, our work has not even begun.
posted by roboton666 at 12:33 AM on October 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

These conversations are extremely important to have, because not only do they show what he thinks about women in general, but also what he thinks about you. In my personal experience, men who think feminists exaggerate things also tend to adhere more strongly to gender roles and to expect their girlfriends or wives to do the same. That's a conversation you'll have to have if you continue to date him, and you need to be able to trust that he respects your choices. It sounds to me that right now he thinks the things that are important to you are silly.
posted by toerinishuman at 12:52 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, in my experience, guys like this only change their minds re: feminism after other men convince them. They'll never be convinced by a woman because they already subconsciously distrust anything a woman says.
posted by toerinishuman at 12:56 AM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Mod note: Quick note here: This is a big topic that sort of straddles a lot of concerns and philosophies that most of us care deeply about, but while explanatory stuff is fine, we really do need to keep advice targeted on the OP's question more than expand into general opinion/chat about Libertarianism, relationships, feminist theory, etc. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:00 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I still don't think you're giving enough context to characterize his attitude, your attitude, and the relationship. People might be giving you some good general advice, but the ones that are calling him an asshole etc. are just projecting IMHO.
posted by victory_laser at 1:16 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

I remembered a somewhat similar question from last year, and it got a couple of really insightful responses on how to approach the "super-logical boyfriend who maybe isn't as logical as he thinks": 1 2
posted by arianell at 1:31 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
― Isaac Asimov
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:52 AM on October 31, 2012 [42 favorites]

I don't think couples over the age of 25 spend a lot of time debating external/theoretical issues. For the most part people either agree or agree to disagree. After all, having each other's back in real life is much more important than whether a third party's novel is art or not. Intellectual discussion still exists but it becomes more applied (so to speak).

Buoyed by receiving an "A" in Philosophy 101 from Diploma Mill University, a guy can have dozens of quirky little ideas about gender roles in the workplace. But will that stop him from rushing to his wife's defense when someone craps on her career for no good reason? Another way to look at it, you can search for someone who mimics exactly what you say and then hope they stand by their convictions when things get messy. If he always says the right thing, but never takes an action that provides needed relief, is that going to be satisfying to you?

Some young-ish people seem preoccupied with finding other people's triggers and buttons. Likewise, some people spend their early twenties thinking they are experts on a lot of sophisticated topics and their mouths contain important messages that society must hear. A few people get initials after their name and supposedly earn the right to grapple with the bigger picture. Even fewer people target specific (more humble) real world problems and genuinely tackle them with abandon. Most of us do neither...and at some point we feel embarrassed by our inaction and silently blunt the swords of our rhetoric.

So relationships eventually move past ephemeral thought-problems and it becomes a question of whether you want to see their face after you come home from a brutal day at work. Are you going to find comfort? Or are you going to be met with two hours of exhortations about how things should be in a theoretical world?
posted by 99percentfake at 2:14 AM on October 31, 2012 [27 favorites]

This dynamic was present in two of my relationships, in one more than the other. It was a direct cause of both of them breaking down. Knowing what I know now, I would never stay in a relationship where it was present. As cairdeas said, it did end up permeating other aspects of our relationships, and in the end I was always upset while the guy couldn't see any 'logical' reason for me to be so. A bad scene all round.

But he says things like novels about relationships (like most of the novels I read) are not "objective" enough to be true art. We then begin a 2 hour conversation about what objectivity means.

This rings very familiar and it is just exhausting bullshit.

I don't want to say your relationship is doomed, because what do I know, I'm just a person on the internet. But from my experience, I can't personally see a way this will go well, if this attitude of his is a long-term thing and doesn't seem to be changing. You need somebody who respects you, intellectually and as a human being who is female in a sexist society; to me, he seems to be explicitly refusing to do this. Sorry.
posted by daisyk at 2:25 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I make it general policy to always believe people when they tell me shitty things about themselves, it is when we are most capable of truth and honesty. In these conversations he is really just doing his damnest to tell you how he feels about women, women's experiences, and the value that women's safety and liberty has to him - that is you, your experiences, and your safety and liberty. I'd recommend that you believe him.

"... has these extreme *libertarian* views that free speech is so important that anyone who criticizes rape jokes is not understanding the give and take that makes up free speech."

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism, in fact it means the opposite. That this man child is capable of the extraordinay level of cognitive dissonance necessary to hold something so ridiculous in his head and communicate it earnestly does not speak well to his ability to have adult relasionships of any kind, much less romantic ones.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:42 AM on October 31, 2012 [19 favorites]

OP, for me this would be unhealthy, toxic, and not a conversation worth repeatedly having with my partner. It would definitely be poison in my relationship, and not something that I could avoid simply by not raising/refusing to respond to the issue.

I think that maybe some people do thrive on constant conflict, competition, scorn, belittling, or dismissal from romantic partners either because they require a certain power dynamic to be present for their own reasons, or because they love to engage the battle and it adds some piquance to the relationship for them. I'm very much the opposite, though, and require mutual respect, appreciation, and admiration as an absolute baseline, so what you describe would be lose/lose for me; I could neither respect such a person or suffer their disrespect, so it would be a complete washout. I think it's important to be aware if the paradigm actually pleases you in some way or not. If so, perhaps there is some neutral territory in the relationship wherein you two can agree on boundaries, behavior, limits of discussion, how to reach decisions, etc. If not, it seems like a recipe for frustration and ultimate disappointment.

Personally, I could never trust my emotional welfare to someone like this, because if s/he is honestly convinced of their own inherent superiority over me, then they must view me as something akin to a pet – possibly cherished for being comforting, cute, companionable, and/or useful, but not worthy of equality... and presumably relatively easily replaced. And if s/he is simply trying to insinuate a conceit of superiority because they feel insecure, then I can expect that their own self-doubt will always require me to provide a proving ground (with me as the loser) for their sense of self worth. For myself, I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would want to invest time, effort, trust or faith in either case.
posted by taz at 2:48 AM on October 31, 2012 [13 favorites]

You both seem, on occasion, to agree upon wanting to discuss overarching concepts, positions, rather than real stuff. That makes discussions very difficult in general. Check out the scare quotes on single terms in your question: "feminism", "objective", "moderate" and even "hostile". On the other hand it seems that you don't agree upon when one ought to talk about concepts and not the events themselves.

If, for example, "he thinks I'm reading into everyday life dynamics that aren't there," he actually wants to discourage you from turning some story into a general discourse (about feminism, for example). If, on the other hand, he tries to talk you into that "novels about relationships are not "objective" enough to be true art", he himself is using one single book to initiate a discussion about objectivism, art, and relationship novels (plural) that (apart from being pretty silly) is pretty much at the same level of generalization as the first example (perhaps worse).

In short, I do not believe that the rather charged topics is what makes stuff hard for you guys, but rather the power dynamic: a discussion should be based on a mutual agreement about its general angle. You seem to tend to push topics out of the reach of the other, by shifting focus from macro into micro or the other way round. Can't see from here who of the two does this more, or exactly why, but (thinking feministic) I do have my guesses.

Now, as to "toxic" or not, again this is a generalizing term that doesn't solve much. Look at what you've got at home. Is it manageable to keep having this kind of talks with this guy? Will it likely get any better, ever? Ask yourself that.
posted by Namlit at 3:06 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

What if something happened to you? Would you want something to argue about, or would you want someone that cares? DTMFA
posted by oceanjesse at 3:07 AM on October 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Number one: it sounds like your boyfriend is talking in an unintelligent and bloody-minded way. If nothing else, I think you're too intelligent to be wasting your breath on these conversations.

Number two: Angharad is right, it's a form of contempt.

Number three: talk like this has always come from men who ended up pointedly using their privilege to do me harm (sexually harassing me, tampering with my work/livelihood etc). Because this isn't a theoretical or intellectual issue, and it's not about stuff that only happens to other people. Speficic men had specific male privileges that they specifically used against me, personally. I can't say I wasn't warned.

Now it may be that your guy is one of those who would be all right when the chips were down, and maybe if you were tested in the fire of temptation he would do a better job of standing by you than a PC-talking Liberal Suit Larry. But I wouldn't bet on it, I would bet that the things he says, and the way he says them, are a true indication of his attitude.
posted by tel3path at 3:13 AM on October 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

Does he have your back when sexism-related things happen to you? I mean, when (I'm kind of assuming this is a given, being a woman myself) you've been out alone and come back with a story about Random Catcaller being a pain, does he listen to you, or does it become Another Story To Prove Actually Happened To You Objectively And Not Feministically? Naturally there are other instances too, those depend more on where you work and such, I know one reason I've gone so long without a partner in this part of the world (southeastern France) is that I have yet to meet someone who agrees that "holy crap the new chick has a nice ass" is not a welcoming kind of thing to say around coffee with the other women at the office and often within earshot of the new "one" (you never hear men referred to as "one" like that... but I digress). It would be great to come home to someone who would think that story is eye-rolling, not Why Aren't You Seeing It From The Poor Men's Perspective, They're Just Exercising Free Speech. If that is indeed what your boyfriend's doing – is he only arguing during arguments, or do his beliefs affect how he reacts to your experiences?

Because if he's discounting things you actually experience, and brings up libertarianism, objectivity etc. to essentially say what this dude does (thank you MeFi for bringing that meme to my attention), for instance "stop bringing up your lived experiences – I can only debate you if you're as objective as I am" – then waltz away, dear, waltz away into a fabulous feminist life free of dudes so navel-gazingly patriarchy-inculcated they can't even realize that accepting another's real, actually-lived life could enrich their own. There are men out there who will listen and share, not hear and stonewall. Waltz over to them.
posted by fraula at 3:15 AM on October 31, 2012 [16 favorites]

FWIW I'm a (feminist) guy living happily with a feminist girlfriend, although she'd describe herself as a bad feminist I'd disagree, I've read around the subject a bit and been to a few discussions/debates with her, we don't tend to talk about it a lot and I tend to disagree with/be skeptical of a fair number of things I read on the subject, although skeptical could be described as my default position. A few thoughts:

A debate about if feminism is a moderate or extreme position is bizarre, feminism is a big umbrella and in it there are going to be a range of views, from "women deserve equal pay for an equal job" to separatist feminism via all sorts of other things.

A few people seem to be saying his criticism of your criticism of his rape jokes is some sort of hypocritical stance. People who believe strongly in free speech tend to accept criticism of speech is acceptable but criticism of that criticism is also acceptable, ad nauseam. Nothing hypocritical about that. Hypocritical would be him saying "Your stance is offensive to me, you shouldn't be allowed to say that"

On that subject, you don't get to be the arbiter of what is funny for him, I'm of the opinion that a joke can be funny when done about ANY subject, as long as it's clever and done right, the problem is so few of the jokes about touchy subjects are and just rely on being offensive. That said you'd be well within your rights to ask him to not tell them in your presence, freedom of speech is a right, not an obligation just like (I hope) he doesn't feel the need to talk loudly at the movies.

I think the question you need to ask is how he treats you and how he would treat any potential daughters you'd have, particularly if they wanted to do something less conventional. One of the things that really gets me annoyed is when girls play sport (at school or in tournaments) and at a certain age girls are no longer able to play a particular sport but boys may continue, every so often I hear a story about a girl who loves (for example) football but can't play anymore because the girls group doesn't exist and the boys group will have nothing to do with her, ask him what he thinks about that perhaps?

A lot of your discussions are, I'm guessing, somewhat academic to your day to day life but if really you want to be able to discuss things with him I'd get him an introduction book and ask him to read it, tell him he doesn't have to agree with everything but it's important to you that he reads it with an open mind and is respectful (although that doesn't mean not criticizing). He will never EVER agree with you on everything in this realm and (in my opinion) he doesn't have to refute you to be allowed to disagree, it's much easier to set up a position then knock one down, even if it is flawed. The important thing is an open mind and respectful attitude, if he can't have that after you've asked him then you should only see it as the tip of the iceberg, dump him and dump him fast.
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 3:22 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Otherwise, how else is your boyfriend? Do you seem him as an otherwise loving and responsible partner that you could see yourself with? Couples are bound to find some topic of disagreement, but it's about looking past that. And by disagreement, I don't mean anything trivial, because people don't fight over trivial things. I mean issues of values: political and moral perspectives and the sort.

Echoing 99percentfake, is your boyfriend an otherwise good person of moral values independent of the things he says? Will he be a responsible caretaker? This I submit is the more fundamental question. I've seen moderate men reveal their true colors as irresponsible, and then abusive, caretakers (and later became extremists anyway). Traits that were visible independent of points of disagreement or vocalizations.
posted by SollosQ at 3:52 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this a toxic discussion, or one that is worth having between men and women in a relationship?

Worth having? Yes.

Will you get anywhere with it? No.

I have this - "disagreement", I'll call it - frequently on the Blue. Some of us just don't live in "that" world, where every action, every word, every thought, has centuries of oppressive intent behind it. That applies just as much to gender as to race, religion, economic status, etc. Some people walk down the street and hear catcalls and jeers; some hear only traffic. It sounds like your BF falls squarely into the "traffic" category.

Best outcome? You can probably get him to stop telling off-color jokes around you. If it really matters to you that he "get" it, you should probably move on.
posted by pla at 3:57 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

you got some fantastic feedback above and I completely agree that a lack of respect (and this is very much what this is) is a deal-breaker. I don't believe love can exist without respect.

(Respect does not mean total acceptance of everything your partner believes in. I have a feeling there are people reading this thread who might need that clarification but who won't necessarily comment)

here's my bottom line. I don't want my female daughter to ever meet your boyfriend's male offspring (she happens to be cis) on the offchance that she would be attracted to him and try to stay with him as you are doing here.

I realise that makes me an overprotective mother and I would never say this to my daughter, I just spent 22 years helping her see that the world is not exactly set up to cater for her happiness as default so there are things she needs to watch out for. A man like this would be high on that list. But she's now an independant adult out in the wide world and she'll make her own mistakes.

this level of disrespect is a dealbreaker for me. I'm sorry you experience this.
posted by Wilder at 4:14 AM on October 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yo, for serious, even if he says he respects you, he's acting with a huge level of disrespect for you. This is a problem with lots of men: the combination of thinking they're expected to already know the answer to everything and not valuing information if it comes from women creates a vicious cycle of sexist bullshit. You've done your due diligence to try and counteract it. Now it's time to dump this asshole.
posted by Jon_Evil at 5:00 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

has these extreme *libertarian* views that free speech is so important

Haha, hoo boy.

Well, there's good news. He'll probably be fine in five years. He's like a cheese that hasn't finished being eaten by the right molds: he's disgusting now, but he'll be tasty later.

Unfortunately, the process is awful to watch, particularly from up close, and I'm not sure you want to waste five years of your life hoping he ends up as a nice aged gouda instead of a puddle of gross and confused and angry milk who doesn't understand why women hate him.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:02 AM on October 31, 2012 [67 favorites]

Parsing nuances and hypotheticals is one way you spend time with your BF. All relationships have stresses. Is this the one you want in yours? Is it offset by other aspects that aren't so prickly? Is the tradeoff worth it?

If it came right down to it, would BF support you in a truly feminist confrontation with an external agent? If so, maybe he's a keeper. If no, probably not. You are building a tribe. Should he be invited? (Why settle when there are, charitably, millions of better replacements? The fact is, you probably won't make it 10 years, anyway. Do you want to spend the entire time in petty collisions? Imagine a world without them. How does that feel? Better, I am betting.)

There are real world impacts of misogynist attitudes. They will appear in your life. Relationships are the tools you use to protect yourself. You are the one choosing to keep him in your toolbox.
posted by FauxScot at 5:16 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I really get where you're coming from and it sounds really frustrating. It sounds like you just don't enjoy his company that much. Whether or not you don't enjoy his company to the point of being better of without it is up to you.
posted by bleep at 5:18 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you describe sounds unpleasant and disrespectful. I don't think it's necessary to agree on every issue or even on big things, but I think it is vital for both people to feel respected, understood, and supported. In particular, in a society with a history of sexism, I think it is inexcusable when dudes do this intellectual belittling thing with their girlfriends to make them feel dumber and smaller and less confident. That is class A douchebaggery of the first order.

Unless this is like half an hour every six months and he is the best damn boyfriend in the world every minute of every remaining hour, I'd say run don't walk, either away from the whole thing or into some kind of couples counseling with him expressing a genuine commitment to fixing things and making you happy. (Again, to reiterate, I don't think agreement on the issues is mandatory; what is needed in a relationship is an environment of love and respect.)

Sometimes it helps to think about these things at a remove: What would you say to a friend, or your daughter, if she came to you and described her boyfriend treating her like this? Take the advice you would give her, and apply it to yourself.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was in a relationship like this with someone. His views weren't as extreme as your boyfriend's views seem to be, but it was constant belittling of my pointing out sexism (including his), screaming at me, and refusing to engage in any conversation about it. At one point, he had the fucking audacity to say "let's do research about it together". I told him he could either stop being sexist or the relationship would end. He then took a huge interest, started reading up on feminism for himself, and engaging in discussion with me about it, and at one point told me I was "amazing to have changed his way of thinking." He shared housework, chores, and cooking with me in what I think was an equitable division of labour.

Then he dumped me, and said I forced him to agree with me on the feminism issue, and I made him submissive because he cooked sometimes while I was working out.

Make of that story what you will.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 6:01 AM on October 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

I was once like him. Well, *almost* like him, he really sounds worse though. I once had a GF like you. She was lovely and we were in our mid 20s and she was a college liberal who had the world figured out (like we all did at that age). She loved diversity and cities and Cholmsky and her feminist ideals were strong. Good god she was a WOMANS STUDY major! I was just a spoiled suburban dude. We were together a few years and she never gave up her silly ideas that were so different from mine. I think she'd be shocked to learn that while she didn't reach me back then, much of what she said did eventually get to me, and because of her I think of things very very differently than I would've. So maybe, just maybe, you'll have a life changing influence on him, even if you never know it.
posted by Blake at 6:03 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ignoring the subject matter of your fights/discussions, I think that the fact that you're having bad feelings about these interactions is the warning bell going off.

If you don't feel heard and understood, the frustration will eat away at you and I don't think your boyfriend is capable of that kind of comprehention.

Is there ever a time when your boyfriend says, "You know, that's an interesting point, I hadn't considered that before." If not, then I'm thinking that your relationship has run its course.

It's sad, it happens, but some times we outgrow our relationships intellectually before we do emotionally.

You have my permission to break up with him, solely based on the fact that you have incompatible world views.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The first amendment gives the KKK the right to exist and have parades.

It doesn't make the KKK funny.

Libertarianism is a stupid shield here.

As a man trying to make a decent world for my daughter to grow up in; this dude is not 'moderate' he is just part of the problem.
posted by French Fry at 6:09 AM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Feminism is simply the understanding that women are socially, politically, and economically equal to men. I personally wouldn't trust anyone who didn't call themselves a feminist, just as I wouldn't trust anyone who didn't espouse belief in the equality of different races. Feminism also recognizes that structural issues in our society have made the claims of feminism remarkable to many, and the material lives of women have been adversely affected by those retrograde ideas. There is some small room for debate about how exactly all of that plays out, but if any of those ideas seem less than obvious to your partner, he's essentially arguing that your very being is less worthy of respect and full equality than his is. I would think that would make it very difficult to have a meaningful relationship with him. As others have pointed out, this is not simply an issue of academic debate, it's a set of discussions about how he views women, and by extension, you. That's true even if he wishes to argue that it is not.
posted by OmieWise at 6:13 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Is this a toxic discussion, or one that is worth having between men and women in a relationship?

Feminism really isn't the issue here.

The issue is that you don't feel as though your SO is taking your point of view or things you do (i.e. the books you read) seriously. That doesn't make for a happy relationship.

Imagine that you loved cooking Mexican food, like it was a passion of yours. You were training to become a Mexican food chef. You cooked Mexican food almost every night and incorporated many of the philosophies of Mexican cooking into your life and dreamed of opening your own Mexican restaurant. What would you do if he kept repeating statements similar to "That's not real food, it's just poor people slapping meat and cheese and bread together"?

Imagine you've loved animals and wanted cat and a dog and parrot. Suppose he thought of them as filthy beasts that just suck up time and money. Ok, so you don't get animals in the house and just volunteer at a shelter. Suppose he made snide remarks about you wasting your time or said "Oh, you're off to look after the filthy beasts"?

Asking whether it's a toxic discussion or why worth having is missing the point, because there's a subject you've studied, believe in and want incorporated throughout your life. And he doesn't believe or respect what you believe and respect.

You're trying to change him and justify your own beliefs at the same time. Is that really how you want to spend time in your relationship?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:13 AM on October 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

But he says things like novels about relationships (like most of the novels I read) are not "objective" enough to be true art. We then begin a 2 hour conversation about what objectivity means.

I picked this in particular because it's emblematic of the entire problem. Your boyfriend has no idea what he means by objectivity. This is because the statement that they're not objective to be true art is a post hoc reason. The other part of the problem is that you have gotten your head so far into this unhealthy dynamic that when he says "Novels about relationships are not objective enough to be true art," your response is to try to seriously engage him in a time-wasting discussion about that point instead of realizing it's insane nonsense.

Your arguments all seem to take the same long circular path and never get anywhere because there is no internal consistency to his arguments. He doesn't like having his privilege or comfortable worldview challenged so what's happening in almost every instance is that he is first deciding that he's right and you're wrong and then calmly scrambling to find reasons why. No matter what you tell him, he will always find a reason that you're wrong, and he'll keep digging for reasons until he finds one you can't refute at that moment.

There's a fundamental disrespect here that I personally would not tolerate in a relationship. It sounds like you already know the dynamic is toxic and you've stayed with him nonetheless, because that is a thing that people do in unhealthy relationships sometimes.

I can't guarantee that he'll never change, but I can guarantee that it's not your job to change him and that the time and energy you'd have to expend would be much better spent on someone who's worth your while and with whom it's not an uphill battle just to get him to agree that he doesn't know more about being a woman than you do.

Drop him and let him become the very best kind of problem: someone else's.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:18 AM on October 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

I dated a guy a few years back who told me that he could say the n-word because it's just a word and words have no real power and also his black friend (in a nearly all white town) in high school didn't mind and thought it was funny.

So I dumped him.

I'm looking to date a fully formed human being. It's not my job to bring people up to speed, it's also extremely patronizing to think that you are the One who will learnened them!

Don't date people hoping they will change and become different people. DTMF already and find someone who is a person you want to date, not just potentially that person.
posted by Dynex at 6:20 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Richard Pryor conversation is telling, because every boy ever in our culture has been taught that hitting a girl is verboten. Your boyfriend is choosing to provoke you and choosing to use you to test pushing social boundaries. These debates can be fun and envigorating, and more so because from his privledged point of view it is all abstract stuff that doesn't really matter in any real, tangible, day-to-day sense (to him). If everybody's enjoying and getting something out of these debates, it's consensual and fun. If he's continuing to push your buttons after you ask him to stop, it's bullying.

Alternately, y'all could choose an appropriate time/venue for these discussions and stick to that.
posted by Skwirl at 6:38 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you have to ask the internet if a recurring relationship dynamic is toxic, it probably is. I see nothing to make me think differently here.

And, yeah, you can't reason with crazy. He's not coming to your conversations from a reasonable, open-minded place.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:40 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, we've asked nicely, do not make this question about the larger issues and arguing with other commenters. Answer the OPs question and direct answers towards the OP. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:08 AM on October 31, 2012

I don't really even understand what's meant by NOT being a feminist. I find the idea so confusing that I went to Wikipedia to check whether I even understand what a feminist is. Wikipedia says a feminist is, "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women."

Why are you in a relationship with someone who explicitly wants to identify himself as Not A Feminist? What do non-feminists believe? That women are already equal or close enough, and they're just being hysterical? All snarkiness aside, I have real difficulty translating this into a position that's okay at all. It's not "moderate". It wouldn't be acceptable to me.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:10 AM on October 31, 2012 [12 favorites]

OP, to the extent that the Richard Pryor story is the only example of your boyfriend's allegedly bad behavior, I don't see it. In that discussion, you just retorted, "I just don't like the story." That's fine, but simply stating a preference or emotional reaction is not a logical argument. Thus, his conclusion that your proclamation makes no sense is accurate. Your question is largely about him allegedly not engaging you, but in the one example you provided, you refused to engage him.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:11 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

The issue here doesn't seem to be that you don't share the same philosophy, but that he doesn't show respect for your opinions and experience.

In my mid-twenties, my boyfriend at the time and I used to argue all the time about politics and worldview (he was a post Marxist, I was an anarchafeminist) (ha!). The difference between that and what you are describing, is that we both enjoyed the arguing. We'd kick the stuffing out of each other's worldviews, grudgingly admit the things they held in common, and rehash the topic over and over. But we still had a fundamental love and respect for each other and each other's lived experiences. We also took the time to listen and read and know enough about the other's opinion to be able to have a sustained conversation about it.

The thing about feminism is that for most women, it's not (just) some theoretical, philosophical system of inquiry. It's about real, lived experiences, some of which are invisible to a lot of men. For me, someone using their politics to deny my lived experience would be a deal breaker.
posted by looli at 7:29 AM on October 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with sinkorswim and that was my initial reaction too- 'what is NOT a feminist?'. Someone who doesn't believe in equal rights? Um...
Also, there has to be a middle ground between deconstructing feminist literature and watching Tosh 2.O. Those shows make me feel ill because they are insulting intellectually to BOTH sexes. Also Richard Pryor was a cocaine addict (admittedly sometimes funny) from the 70s...surely we've moved on. This guy sounds like a waste of time..no offense to him as a human being but I think he is a waste of YOUR time. Those 2 hour conversations could be time better spent.it's not your job to spend your free? Romantic? Time on someone willfully ignorant. If you don't want to.
posted by bquarters at 7:30 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately, the process is awful to watch, particularly from up close, and I'm not sure you want to waste five years of your life hoping he ends up as a nice aged gouda instead of a puddle of gross and confused and angry milk who doesn't understand why women hate him.

Yes, there's no guarantee he'll come out the other end ok.

He kind of reminds me of this guy from a previous AskMe. Having a larger perspective of how the world works and learning to empathize with people not from your background and own experience is a long, long process that takes people a while to grow into. And they may never grow into it (your previous AskMes about your boyfriend, if this is the same person, indicate someone who's not that mature).

I mean, when (I'm kind of assuming this is a given, being a woman myself) you've been out alone and come back with a story about Random Catcaller being a pain, does he listen to you, or does it become Another Story To Prove Actually Happened To You Objectively And Not Feministically?

Because kettleoffish is his girlfriend, he likely would regard catcallers as violating his boundaries, not hers.
posted by deanc at 7:38 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of discussions about women, men, gender and gender politics with my SO. We have been together a long time, so I don't think you always stop having these discussions (especially when the culture keeps throwing them into your face). But I'm 100% confident that he's coming from a fair, empathetic, and basically egalitarian/feminist position in that he does not want to intentionally embrace for any structures -social, cultural, political - which undermine the idea that women are equal in value to men. We might disagree about which structures are doing the undermining, but never about where they are coming from. We can have these discussions in a way that's completely comfortable even when we don't see each situation in exactly the same way.

Your guy's views, and continued resistance to moving forward on them, would be a total dealbreaker for me.

Also, it wouldn't just be about me, but do I want to be with someone who treats and views other women like that? My mother? Sister? Eventual daughters? Co-workers? Strangers? No.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

How do you feel during these conversations? Do you enjoy them, or enjoy them up to a point?

This sounds like a relationship I had. As it happened, I met the guy at a function where we mock-debated on opposite sides. We would get into these long arguments that were always both about the ostensible issue and about our relationship. Looking back, I can't believe the amount of time and energy I wasted on this stuff. I think for him, the argument in itself was satisfying and he just enjoyed the time spent that way, but for me it was exhausting and ultimately fruitless. But only you can judge this, I think in the context of your relationship. My current partner and I argue about issues, but it doesn't have the sort of weird subtext it did with the other guy. And he has listened to my requests not to use forms of argument that drive me crazy.
posted by BibiRose at 8:15 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, it isn't actually about the starting point of both your views, so much, but how he listens and accepts your points. If you are continually having theoretical conversations about things like rape jokes, he is clearly not internalizing anything your saying enough to know you even feel strongly about it and do a little research on his own or even extrapolate any of your previously expressed beliefs into other debates before he starts them.

In a relationship you're not going to find a guy who is 100% privilege-blindness free in the world, but you will find a guy who is empathetic when you make a point and listens. I wouldn't stick around hoping this guy becomes that guy. You want a clear rock, and your trying to turn coal into a diamond with your bare hands while there are great lab techs chilling about half a mile away looking for a buddy to help make some moissanite.

Also, and this is harsh harsh harsh, but self-professed libertarian 20-something male who doesn't actually understand the definition of free speech? That's a classic idiot archetype. Those turn into Archie Bunker as they age, and I don't think you have any interest in making sandwiches for a casual racist curmudgeon in your forties. You deserve your very own Coach Taylor/Marshall Erickson type.
posted by itsonreserve at 8:24 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's fine, but simply stating a preference or emotional reaction is not a logical argument. Thus, his conclusion that your proclamation makes no sense is accurate.

Logical discourse is immensely valuable, and being able to understand and participate in it is crucial to being a knowledgeable and wise adult. However, it can be incredibly frustrating to engage in casual or friendly conversation with someone who operates on logic to the exclusion of empathy. It can put you on guard, knowing you could be roped into debate class at any moment. It can make you feel stupid, or like your opinions are "wrong," if you're not as stubborn or quick on your feet. Woe betide you if you're ever upset by a Logic Person's opinion, because not only do you have to explain exactly why, to their satisfaction, but you're also now "emotional" and at a disadvantage. This dynamic is a lousy foundation for a relationship; at its most extreme, it can be a form of gaslighting.

Kettleoffish, I wonder if your boyfriend is an all-logic-no-empathy person? If you're upset by something, especially something he says, do you feel like you have to defend yourself? Does he try to understand where you're coming from, or does he place the burden on you to make him understand? This can go outside the realm of feminism - say, if you're grossed out by spiders or there's a restaurant he wants to go to that you hate for reasons you can't quite articulate.

It is not your duty to outargue or educate your partner. If he's always putting you on the defensive and ignoring your feelings in the name of discourse, that's just as much of a warning sign as the misogyny.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:32 AM on October 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

What would bother me, if I were in your relationship, is the reliance on "objectivity" or "logic" as some sort of rational/clear minded/superior form of thought, when -- as many above have pointed out -- it's often just the mindset of people who haven't examined their own motivations and prejudices very hard. It's often the kind of language used by people who are afraid of/unwilling to explore why they think what they think.

"In masculine hands logic is a kind of violence, a sly kind of tyranny." -- Simone de Beauvoir

(No disrespect meant to "masculine hands" in general. It is so rad and relaxing and fun and sexy to have a feminist boyfriend. It makes everything from arguments to cooking dinner more pleasant. Why waste your valuable time on any other kind?)
posted by staboo at 8:45 AM on October 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

Do you feel listened to? Are his "Libertarian" views consistent, or do his views on "free speech" mostly apply to women/ Jews/ non-whites/ people w/ disabilities/ old people/ etc.? Does he feel listened to? Does he treat you with genuine respect - intellectual, physical, personal, etc.? There can be a big gap in what people state about their beliefs, and how they behave. It's important to listen to both the words and the actions. I think you really know he's quite sexist, but other benefits of the relationship are of value. It's okay to date someone like that. Don't marry/ have a long-term relationship with someone like that.
posted by theora55 at 8:58 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

OP, to the extent that the Richard Pryor story is the only example of your boyfriend's allegedly bad behavior, I don't see it. In that discussion, you just retorted, "I just don't like the story." That's fine, but simply stating a preference or emotional reaction is not a logical argument. Thus, his conclusion that your proclamation makes no sense is accurate. Your question is largely about him allegedly not engaging you, but in the one example you provided, you refused to engage him.

There's nothing logical about joyously recounting a story of Richard Pryor beating up a woman as a source of great amusement, either. In fact, it is highly disturbing. The appropriate response to such stories is, "Dude, not cool" and shame the storyteller into silence. Obviously, kettle's bf didn't go through that conditioning.

You don't have to "logically" explaing why battered wife jokes aren't appropriate, either.
posted by deanc at 9:01 AM on October 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

I get that relationships are hard work, but this is the kind of question that makes it sound like just getting through a normal conversation is hard work, and I'm never sure why that sounds like fun to anyone.

This just seems like such a fundamental disconnect as far as your worldviews -- I mean, I've known a TON of people who think like you, and a TON of people who think like him, and I just cannot imagine why those people would want to hang out with each other every day all day long, or get married, or have families together, you know? They can both be good people, but would they want to spend all their time in close quarters? I don't think so.

You're asking the question, "Are these discussions worth having?" And it's like ... well, yes, if we take it as an absolute given that this is your partner and will remain your partner, then I suspect it's better to have these discussions than not have them, since I don't think you'd be happy sitting there silently with nobody to engage on matters that are so important to you. But no, they're not worth having, to me, in the sense that you're never going to change each other's feelings, based on your description of the discussions. It just seems like this is ... this is so fundamental. It's hard to answer a question about the conversations when it seems like the conversations are designed to bring about an outcome -- greater understanding/agreement between you -- that will never happen.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:08 AM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a longtime friend who's a good, loyal, generous guy. But he's very "Bring me peer-reviewed evidence of the patriarchy!" Of course, even if I were to do that, I know he wouldn't review it. In his case I think that because he vocally prefers intelligent female partners and lives in an urban bubble of privilege, where most of the women he knows are hyperambitious and supersmart anyway, he just doesn't see that 1) the whole world doesn't value smart women the way he does, or thinks he does and 2) women presenting with multiple letters after their names and super energetic can-do exteriors might have overcome obstacles he can't know about. I suppose it's feminist in a roundabout way - he thinks women are completely capable, sowhatstheproblem?

Still, it exhausts me merely to recollect the conversations where our very different worldviews emerged, and I wouldn't be able to date the guy or otherwise discuss the subject with him on a regular basis. And he was way too smart to say something like "you can't object to rape jokes without opposing free speech" (the fuck?)
posted by ziggly at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've found that sharing the same political/social views and values is essential in my romantic relationships. This isn't true for everybody: Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat James Carville are famously married and operating on different ends of the political spectrum. Their secret is that they don't talk politics at home. I also read an interesting piece the other day about the close friendship between Mary Matalin and Donna Brazile, a prominent Democratic strategist like Matalin's husband. Their secret? They usually don't talk about politics. But when they do, they come at it from a place of respect and love for the other person. Based on what you've described, that doesn't sound like where you and your boyfriend are at.

For me, not talking politics at home is not an option. (I'm using the term politics loosely here to include gender and social issues like the ones you describe above.) It's something that is very important to me and something I'm really passionate about. I have been in relationships like yours. And I cannot tell you how REFRESHING it is to be having a discussion with my current SO and know that he respects me and is interested in hearing what I have to say, even if he ultimately disagrees with it. We're pretty close on the political spectrum and we share important values, which is why I think the discussions are so enjoyable. Nobody is trying to persuade the other to abandon something that is near and dear to their hearts--we're usually discussing different ways to achieve something that we both think is valuable.

Please don't feel like a bad person, or a bad girlfriend, or someone who is close-minded if you don't want to spend your time defending your fundamental values to the person you love. I've been there too, and it is exhausting. Seconding what someone upthread said: why spend your precious time in a relationship that you feel is toxic?
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your description contains what is perhaps one of the most predictive 'bad things' I see in people. IMO.

**When someone explains to you why a book you've read, that they haven't read, is stupid or dumb or pointless... it is a critical red flag.**

I cannot count how many times female friends have described this exact conversation to me. It is a one way ticket to breakup, divorce, crippling unhappiness.

It is vital indicator that points to so many other failings: The belief that the explain-er is special or better than ordinary people. The idea that they could have insight without context or specific knowledge. The believe that other people can't make valid decisions or think critically even when armed with superior understand. The list goes on and on.

Is this the same guy who had no motivation to finish his college work? Is this the same guy you just stopped having sex with for several months, because you were 'tired'? Is this the same guy who told you he was 'objectively' more attractive than you?

Because if it is... you've been apologizing on his behalf for months on AskMetafilter and finding was to minimize what dozens of people are saying are red-flags or deal-breakers.

Why are you doing that? What are you getting out of this?
posted by French Fry at 9:38 AM on October 31, 2012 [43 favorites]

For what it's worth, some folks just like arguing. Some folks think debating/arguing is kind of sexy. And can do this in a way that's mutually respectful, and that both parties find enjoyable.

Which is different from pushing your partner's buttons to get a reaction. Or arguing/"debating" to prove that you're smarter, or more correct, or whatever. Which some people also get off on.

We're some random folks on the internet, who aren't actually overhearing your conversations. But some thoughts I've had are that:

1. How do these conversations usually end? In his favor? Or with him dismissing your views? Or does he concede/see value in the points you've raised?

2. Do you enjoy debating these topics? Or, say, do you normally enjoy debating these topics but not with him? Or do you not like these sorts of arguments at all?

3. Does he acknowledge any sort of privilege he may have/lack of experience he may have?

4. Does he actually consider the things you say/change his views in any ways when you raise serious concerns, or do you find him conceding points in today's arguments, only to return to the exact same starting point in tomorrow's argument?

5. Is your SO arguing that these jokes are legal speech, or that they're funny? Do you trust him not just to not say something potentially triggering in front of friends, family members, and coworkers who may be victims of sexual assault/harassment or domestic abuse, but to be genuinely supportive?

... Are you able to give answers to these questions that paint a flattering (or unflattering) portrait of your SO?

Even if you're able to paint a flattering picture of your SO in answering these questions, you are perfectly reasonable, rational, and emotionally responsible if you decide that arguing-as-fun isn't something you enjoy, and you'd rather not do it. And that you'd rather not be with someone who thinks that arguing is funtimes. It doesn't make him better, or smarter, or more 'right' than you are. Just like some folks hate cats, and some want 17. (or just one or two, even).
posted by Cracky at 10:04 AM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I, too, dated a guy like this once. And then we broke up, and instead I married a man who identified as a feminist before I did and calls out other guys on their bullshit to make sure they hear that men can and should object to misogyny too, &c &c &c.

You can't avoid talking about feminism - gendered power structures are in the air we breathe. I stand by the old line about how feminism is nothing more or less than the radical notion that women are people. Funny how that tends to come up most days!

It's not an inherently toxic discussion - in fact, I think it's a necessary one in order for guys to learn. As Brian Christian put it in 'The Most Human Human':

"There's a Sting lyric in 'All This Time' that's always broken my heart: 'Men go crazy in congregations / They only get better one by one.' ...The disease scales; the cure does not."

But even so, I can't imagine being okay with having that conversation again and again in the context of a relationship, with someone you're supposed to be able to love and trust and respect and feel safe with. I've done it, and it was awful. Better to only date people who really have your back in this fight.

The question comes down to this - when you come home at night, do you want to come home to just another guy, or do you want to come home to an ally who really sees you as a person and an equal?
posted by 168 at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I completely agree with Forktine, Ruthless Bunny, and others who are saying that it's really a respect issue. As an example, my partner has some views that I strongly disagree with, to the point of finding them somewhat offensive, but he's done his research on the topic(s) and acknowledges my perspective as valid. Agreeing to disagree can work, but not if one party feels dismissed and disrespected.
posted by Carmelita Spats at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

* You both need to realize that you don't always have to win. Sometimes it's OK to just accept the other person's opinion, rather than going on for two hours about it.
* HOWEVER, there's not being a feminist, and there is just being a dick. In my view, whatever happened with Richard Pryor and that woman, it wasn't fine. Everyone lost. I can laugh at some dark stuff, but it's the jokes that are funny, not the real situation.
* Free speech has to do with the government regulating speech. Free speech doesn't make absolutely everything you say OK all of the time. Go read this Scalzi piece on free speech and disgusting Reddit moderator ViolentAcrez. Just because you can say it doesn't mean you should.

This sounds like obstinance closely bordering disrespect.
posted by cnc at 11:42 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is not 'specialized knowledge' that our current society marginalizes women.

It is not 'specialized knowledge' that women are routinely the victims of gendered violence who have little recourse when that violence is inflicted upon them.

Everyone has this knowledge: most simply deny to themselves the knowledge is real.
posted by enkiwa at 1:34 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are many different "brands" of feminism and some of them are pretty extreme. So framing this as "your boyfriend is not a feminist" is, in my opinion, the wrong way to portray this, because it implies that you are correct and that he is in the wrong. The correct way to phrase this would be "My boyfriend does not share opinions that I believe in strongly. Is this bad for our relationship?"

To my mind, the only way to determine that is to ask yourself how you are each trying to convince the other person of the rightness of your beliefs. If you're both making rational arguments for your case, listening to the other person's counterpoints and addressing them (and vice versa), then it sounds like you're both doing everything right - and this is a healthy level of debate. On the other hand, if one person's arguments take the relationship hostage - ie, "I'm not sure I can be in a relationship with somebody who holds opinions X, Y, and Z" then that's very unhealthy.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:57 AM on November 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:44 PM on November 23, 2012

« Older Looking to ship a couch across the Juan de Fuca...   |   Sleepy Koala asking "what the hell is wrong with... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.