Friend's blog post leads to relationship strife and ethical debate
May 28, 2014 3:42 AM   Subscribe

I have been dating guy A. for over four months. Yesterday he got upset/short with me for not offering sufficient comfort to him regarding our friend's feminist blog post. I am furious and very upset by his reaction, how do I approach him later on today?

In light of a recent sexual assault case in the local media, a mutual friend wrote a blog post about how too often violence against women is characterized solely as the perpetrator's issue rather than a reflection of the greater fucked up, misogynistic society we live in. She got quite extreme in points and made some comments about the prevalence of misogynistic men in our society, and maybe insinuated that more men than we might think would be willing to commit violence against women.

My boyfriend felt attacked by her comments, and he called me to talk about it. I went a little ways down the notallmen path with him but then also asserted that I agreed with our friend, that we live in a messed up society, that her point was very valid and relevant.

He started going down the 'what about men who are raped'? path, I responded with yes, that's terrible, but we live in a patriarchal society and the way power is structured means that women have less power than men, and rape is a greater threat for women.

He was quite curt with me, sounding annoyed, and cut the conversation short. I texted him later and he wrote back saying that he had called wanting to be comforted because he was feeling vulnerable and hadnt wanted to enter into a discussion about "all the terrible things men do to women." I wrote him back saying I didn't want him to feel vulnerable but that it was a complicated issue that I had strong feelings about, he wrote back again reasserting that he just wanted to be comforted.

I have felt almost uncontrollably furious and upset since. I slept just over three hours last night, alternating between crying and feeling so angry.

The bitter irony in him expecting/feeling entitled to 'comfort' (whatever the fuck that means beyond agreeing with his notallmen rant) at the expense of my own feelings and beliefs is not lost on me.

I haven't been in contact with him since and a part of me wonders if he's waiting for an apology...

I am seeing him later on today, I don't want to start crying/yelling when we meet, how can I approach this in a reasonable, rational way?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (69 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt he wants an apology. This is not academic for him.

He just realized you may be holding the very same attitudes that hurt him when he read the blog. Which, is a pretty raw reality for him considering he is a man, and you are his girlfriend. He is struggling with deciding what to do about the relationship.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:50 AM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

What would you like to have happen here? If you can figure that out, you will be less likely to disappoint or short-circuit yourself with your response. I would give some thought to what a favorable outcome would be and then take steps to get there, as opposed to worrying about controlling your own reactions.

In your shoes, I would probably interpret your boyfriend's actions as picking a fight, whether deliberately or unconsciously. Obviously, I didn't hear the whole conversation, but to me it seems rather contrived to feel personally attacked by a political blog post. People seem to react that way all the time, though, so go figure. But if a guy I was dated called me up to have that kind of conversation, I would be trying to dig into why he did it and what he wanted from me.
posted by BibiRose at 3:52 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Consider that it is now you who needs comforting. If he's a keeper, and you say to him that you're upset and need comfort because the patriarchy has created a rift in your relationship in addition to all the other shit it's done and doing, he'll shift his anger and upset to the world at large and hopefully you can engage in mutual comfort, whatever form that may be. If he insists on still feeling attacked by a blog post that wasn't even about him and refuses to see your hurt, this points to an ideological rift. Sometimes guys will come around if you've given them time to work through the reality women have to live their whole lives. Sometimes they don't.
posted by Mizu at 3:55 AM on May 28, 2014 [22 favorites]

I just went through a similar situation (with a family member, not a partner). I'm sorry your partner let you down like this. You are not wrong to feel upset. If it's not academic for him, it's even less so for you.

I haven't figured out what to do about my family member's idiotic rape culture denial either. I won't cut them out of my life, but I don't have to see them that often either. But if my partner of 4 months pulled something like this, it would be over between us unless he was seriously willing to reexamine his viewpoint.

But I'm assuming you don't want to end the relationship. In that case, try to remember all of the things that you do like about him. Remember that rape culture is not an easy thing to get your head around when you don't have personal experience with it. Offer to send him resources (the #YesAllWomen twitter hashtag would be a good one right now). Since this is something you have strong feelings about, if you feel comfortable doing so, explain why.

If you want to memail me to rant, feel free--that's what I've been doing with my feminist BFF since my family member set me off and it's helped a lot.
posted by chaiminda at 4:03 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This can't be the first or the last time your boyfriend read something inane on the Internet... is he going to get this worked up about it every time it happens in the future?

That's how I would approach it: lots of people have lots of views of varying coherence, getting hung up on others' is a poor use of time.
posted by deadweightloss at 4:05 AM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ugh, how much do you like this guy? We have only heard your side of the story but it's not painting him in a very flattering light. He sounds like he feels entitled to your "comfort" what sounds like he's asking you to push aside your personal beliefs so that he feels better. Honestly to me his behavior sounds very manipulative and controlling. It sounds like he wants to you to agree with him about everything all of the time.

I agree with you it's probably best if when you talk to him you are not emotional and do not yell or cry. I also think you're right and that he is looking to you to apologize to him even though you've done nothing wrong. Up to you if you want to set the precedent in your relationship that he is always right about everything and you are always apologizing.
posted by seesom at 4:06 AM on May 28, 2014 [54 favorites]

I find it kind of bizarre that he thought that you, as a woman, would agree with him that your female friend was all wrong about misogyny and that in fact there's no problem at all with the patriachy and men are raped too so it's all fine (by women? - as an aside if that's what he was arguing then just dump him on the spot).

Honestly, I couldn't date somebody with so little clue about what my day to day life is like, and so little inclination to believe me when I told him. You could try explaining it (explain about catcalling, explain about Schroedinger's rapist, etc) and hope he gets it, but honestly if he's personally offended that women don't like being raped I'm not sure he's going to pay much attention.
posted by tinkletown at 4:08 AM on May 28, 2014 [58 favorites]

My gut reaction is that your boyfriend either (a) is more affected by rape than you may know - perhaps he has been raped, for example - or (b) is somewhat mentally unstable - feeling personally attacked by a political blog post is frankly irrational (even though, yes, many people do feel this way about a variety of blog posts).

If it's option (a) or some variation thereof, and he's a great guy, it may be worth it to engage him in an honest discussion to try and get to the bottom of his reaction. (Of course, I think it's also possible that his reaction was caused by the fact that he has raped in his past, and felt acutely attacked by the blog post for that reason. In that case, see below.)

If it's option (b)...DTMFA.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:09 AM on May 28, 2014 [32 favorites]

I don't think you're at all alone in having a partner who doesn't 'get' feminist/VAW/gender issues like this. I got really stressed out with my partner over his view of allegations against Julian Assange. What is unusual to me in this situation is that he seems to be taking your disagreement with him over it very personally (I guess that's the very definition of 'not all men'..) The phrase 'wanting to be comforted' seems strange to me too. Do you know whether he has past experience of sexual violence in his family? This is the only reason I can see to tread carefully - otherwise I would be righteously angry like you. Maybe talking about patriarchy and misogyny and how they harm both men and women would be a gentle introduction to more radical conversations? Though part of me is thinking 'why the hell should you have to be gentle about this' !
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 4:15 AM on May 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

It's possible he's an active or passive participant in misogynistic culture and the blog post hit him a little hard. That he wants reassurance and comfort that he's not so bad so he can keep on being who he is. But it's also possible that he once said or did something that he's ashamed of and thinks the post is saying (and you are agreeing) that he is a hair away from being a violent, bad person. Or it's possible that he once stood up for someone helpless in some way, and feels like the good in him has gone unrecognized and if you are agreeing with a post saying that all men are capable of this, then you too don't recognize what he's capable of.

If you really like / love him and want to stay with him, then I would take this head on. It sounds like he is saying he wants reassurance that he is one of the good guys. That of course you believe in him and know he is one of those special men who stand with women against violence. I think this is an opportunity to create an ally in the fight, rather than a guy looking to have his ego stroked and the patriarchy reaffirmed. I would steer clear of the conversation about the points your friend made that you agree with, and the overall cultural discussion, and focus on him. What you've noticed he does and says that shows you that he is that special, that understanding. And that the future needs more men like him, because the kind of men who are the biggest problems, are also the ones who will only hear it coming from other men.

He's already on your side if he cares about you. And you must believe he's fundamentally a good guy, or you wouldn't be be with him. Feminist men are made, not born. This conversation could potentially be the beginnings of you helping him get there. It just has to come from a place of confidence and reassurance - which I think is what he was asking you for.
posted by Mchelly at 4:16 AM on May 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm reading this SO differently than others who have responded. This blog was written by your friend, so it's not some random Internet thing that's button-pushing.

Your BF read the blog, was upset by it and interpreted it as, "more men than we might think would be willing to commit violence against women," and didn't want to be painted with the same brush. He doesn't think of himself as a man who would commit violence against women, was dismayed at that idea, and wanted to be comforted.

And you two talked a bit, you probably helped comfort him to some extent, "but then also asserted that I agreed with our friend, that we live in a messed up society, that her point was very valid and relevant."

Maybe he became short with you because the blog upset him personally and deeply. He probably can't imagine committing violence against women and I'm sure that's what he needed to hear you say.

But instead you said you agreed with her post.

To me, this smacks of a pretty big screwup in communication. He didn't clearly explain the post was upsetting and what he needed from you, and you, not knowing what he wanted, engaged in an emotional/intellectual conversation about an issue and not his feelings.

I would talk to him in person and find out what he wanted out of that conversation. If he wanted you to comfort him because he felt he was being unfairly attacked just by virtue of being male, that's one thing. Maybe he didn't want to engage in the realities of terrible things that happen to women because he found it all deeply unsettling.

But if I'm reading the whole thing wrong and he was simply denying rape culture, that's something else entirely.

You won't know until you talk to him.
posted by kinetic at 4:16 AM on May 28, 2014 [43 favorites]

My boyfriend felt attacked by her comments, and he called me to talk about it.

This is so weird and obnoxious that I'd be halfway out the door already. He's the one that should be apologizing here.
posted by empath at 4:18 AM on May 28, 2014 [33 favorites]

I'm concerned by the possibility that he's been a victim of sexual assault. Otherwise, the idea of needing 'comfort' seems really weird. I think you need to carry that possibility in the back of your mind, but otherwise, this seems like a call for 'I' statements: you think he's a decent bloke (assuming you do and think this is unexamined privilege, otherwise you should probably just break up) and you know being called out on your privilege can be difficult, but that's hard for you to offer comfort on demand (which is kind of an unrealistic expectation of a partner, though something we probably all do on occasion) because, even though the things he said can feel reasonable on an individual level (e.g. he's not going to rape someone), those are the same things people use to tell women they're mistaken about misogyny. You likely have to drop the words 'privilege' and 'misogyny' from the discussion--if he understood the last sentence, you probably wouldn't be in this situation.
posted by hoyland at 4:23 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tried to work this through giving him the benefit of the doubt and at each step through your points, trying to come up with approaches that worked towards reconciliation, but I gave up and deleted it. Because really, seriously, if he's going to feel distressed and attacked and and vulnerable and in need of TLC because of the way one woman characterised his gender one time, he is entirely missing the point that women live in a world where we are vulnerable and distressed and attacked EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY.

I mean, if you want to work this through with him, I guess you can gently ask why he, personally and individually, feels so attacked. You can acknowledge his feelings, acknowledge that the kind of rage people like your friend express can be hard to face, and that he's not alone in feeling attacked. And then I would have to very delicately leave it there while quietly considering if this person was who I hoped he was.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:34 AM on May 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

Are you okay with linking to the blog post?
posted by kinetic at 4:34 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, if you are still this upset today, I wonder if maybe cancelling on your planned date today may not be the wisest thing: "Hey, boo, I'm still really wound up from our conversation last night - but I don't want to rehash our argument because that wouldn't help anything. So maybe we should take a rain check for a day so we can both talk things over a bit more calmly. I still really wanna talk things out, but this is something that's clearly close to us both so maybe we need to both catch our breath one more day."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

She got quite extreme in points

Can you please clarify what, specifically, you mean by this?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:39 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I'd be furious too. It's hard to hang out on a calm basis with someone, even with someone you love, when you are SO annoyed by something they've said or done. He seems to be implying that his hurt feelings are more important than the psychological trauma routinely inflicted on all women, and the constant accompanying threat of physical danger.

Some people will doubtless say "This guy's shown his true colours as a giant manbaby, you're not compatible, DTMFA." But, like Michelly above, I would view this as a potential teachable moment. The truth hurts him? The truth always hurts. Be gentle, but firm, with that truth.

He's being honest about his feelings, and that is a big thing in a relationship. (And incidentally a thing that feminism has made it much easier for men to do.) Now he needs to learn to think past his feelings to the bigger picture. If you're up for this, it can reward both you and him.

(That said, a cooling off period might not be a bad idea either. If you are still furious at him, maybe cancel or reschedule plans for today, making it clear you're looking forward to seeing him next time.)

When you're ready to talk: first, acknowledge the feelings on both sides. Offer reassurance: I care for you, think you're great-- which is why I'd like us to talk about this.

"I know you're upset. This is an issue that begets a lot of strong feelings, and I feel strongly about it too. I'm asking you not to shy away from those feelings, but think about it for a minute."

"I don't want to hurt you, but I also don't want to lie to you. You may not feel as though you're a part of misogynist culture, but there are real ways in which you benefit from it. The set of social norms that benefit men put women at a disadvantage, and often in danger, every day. If you're upset by that being pointed out, then consider what it feels like to have to live with it."

It isn't irrational or "weird" for either a man or a woman to feel vulnerable and wish to be comforted (even about irrational things). Strong feelings about gender issues are not irrational either. I wish you both luck.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:41 AM on May 28, 2014 [39 favorites]

I would not be able to date someone who didn't consider misogyny to be a very real problem. I can understand why someone would feel attacked by such a blog post, especially coming from a friend, but if he still can't see past "what about the men" once he calms down, that's a red flag.

When you talk to him next, be sympathetic but not apologetic. Tell him it's a serious subject for you, too, and you do sympathize with him but you can't "comfort" him when doing so requires you to ignore or contradict your own thoughts and feelings. Yes, you consider him a good guy and you trust him and care for him, but that doesn't negate anything said in the blog post. Then ask him what he would have liked for you to say to him the other night, i.e. what specific words might have helped him feel better, not just generic "comfort." His response might help you figure out whether this is a path worth pursuing further.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:45 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with kinetic, and I wouldn't immediately take such a harsh view like some of the above posters.

I don't think this is so much about the details of the article that bothered him, but he probably simply wanted reassurance that you don't think he would be capable of something like that, which is naive on his part and misses the whole point of the article, but I think it's still something a partner could be considerate about. Since this is a very serious issue, you probably took the discussion on to a different level, which to his mind, seemed like you were also judging him, just like the blog post, for simply being a man in a patriarchal society. (Assuming he doesn't deny that we live in a patriarchal society).

If you want to talk to him about this, I suggest you separate the two issues. Careful discussion on feminism and misogyny doesn't and shouldn't directly translate to personal attack. Offer him comfort (if you do believe this), that you don't think he is capable of something like this, and that the point of the article/your view point isn't about condemning all men as potential rapists.

However, make it clear that him not being capable of doing this doesn't mean he is not influenced by the patriarchal society and culture discussed in the article. The issue you brought up in the previous conversation was on the societal context of misogyny, and it's important to recognize and be aware of this bigger picture in order to make a difference on a personal level. Tell him this is why it upsets you, since you feel that he isn't trying to acknowledge something bigger, and took it only personally, which is very close minded.

It does seem like your boyfriend is a little naive, and haven't thought enough about this subject, but I think it is possible for you to be empathetic of him being afraid of being judged so harshly for being a man. This is a simplistic understanding of feminism, which hopefully he will get over eventually, but in order to get over it, he probably needs reassurance that this is not indeed what the article is saying. It's up to you whether you want to support him through this though. I would finally caution that often times, we tend to disregard other people's emotions when we believe we are in the right, but in order to communicate that idea effectively, you always have to consider the other person's feelings.
posted by snufkin5 at 4:46 AM on May 28, 2014

We don't know what the blog post said, we don't know your boyfriend's history, we don't know what upset him. We can't adjudicate your argument. Maybe he's the grand wizard of the local MRA clan, or maybe he's a victim of sexual assault, or maybe your friend's blog post said something truly offensive. We don't know.

I will say, only since you said you "don't totally get it", that it can absolutely be upsetting to be going about your life thinking you're a good person who stands up for women (perhaps, even, to think of oneself as a feminist) and then to be told that someone has classified you as a potential rapist (or whatever your friend's blog post said). I understand Schroedinger's Rapist and power differentials and I'm *not* trying to dispute any of that. (The proper response to "oh no women might think I'm a potential rapist when I walk behind them at night" realization is basically, "yeah, it sucks for everyone, but probably more for them than for you.") I'm just saying that if your friend "got quite extreme in points", maybe your boyfriend was hurt. Whether or not you think his feelings are valid, one thing people do when they are hurt is they talk to their friends and partners.

You can try to bury this and move forward--"Look, I know things got heated before and I'm sorry about all that, but let's just put it behind us"--or you can try to hash it out. It sounds like trying to argue it out will be difficult for both of you. He's upset at something (rightfully or wrongfully), you're upset because he's upset, and both of you want the other to acknowledge that. That might be the tack to take: "I understand you're upset because [maximally generous description of his position]. I'm upset too because I feel strongly about this topic and I felt you were trying to get me to say something I don't believe. Can we both agree to apologize to each other?"
posted by daveliepmann at 4:48 AM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

[Pre-emptive "abundance of caution" note on the off chance the link somehow turns up anyway: within the context of this thread I'd kindly suggest giving the blog post a pass altogether. I don't doubt anyone's good faith here but the fact of the matter is MeFi's past experiences with "off-site drama" have rarely been positive; more concretely, the content of the blog post is really outside the scope of the question at hand. Hope you understand, thanks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:49 AM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I just kind of want to check in here to say hey, you're not crazy, and this kind of thing is replicating itself in households across America (and definitely on Metafilter) right now.

My own husband and I pretty much replicated this situation, except it was my blog post. I think part of what hurts is that we are looking to our partners to support us in this, and it's an unpleasant and startling surprise when they exhibit pieces of that same awfulness in their own thinking.

I would try showing him a few links by people who are not your friend, who may explain this stuff more clearly and impartially. If your friend was talking about Elliot Rogers, I suggest Misogyny is Poison, and You're Drinking It.
posted by corb at 4:49 AM on May 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

The internal syllogism runs something like:

* Someone says "men do horrible thing X."
* Male reader thinks "I have never done X, nor would I ever do such a thing, yet I am a man."
* Male reader is left with a pile of negative feelings that they don't know what to do with.

As others have said, none of the points made sound particularly unreasonable, but if you haven't heard them before they can sound very jarring, especially if you're completely unaware of the whole 'schrödinger's rapist' thing (ie, the fact that for many women, all men are a potentially threat even if most men are good because it's impossible to tell the difference partially because the majority of men willingly or unwillingly give aid and comfort to the abusers amongst them.)

It's really, *really* tempting to want to put your hand up and say "But *I* wouldn't do these things, *I* am not a bad person even though you're saying I am when you accuse men in this way". I know - I've had those feelings myself. I don't think it's helpful to deny them, regardless of whether someone 'deserves' to feel them - they're an emotional response to feeling attacked more than they are a rational one & the emotional need to push back is entirely understandable, no matter whether it's reasonable or not.

You can empathise with him & acknowledge his feelings about it being difficult to hear these kind of statements about men in general without it feeling like a personal attack, whilst at the same time emphasising that these statements represent reality for a lot of women. It's not an easy path to tread though: much depends on how willing he is to simply listen to you.
posted by pharm at 4:53 AM on May 28, 2014 [35 favorites]

Whatever whoever believes, your boyfriend felt personally attacked by whatever your friend wrote and in his mind, you not only did not have his back, but renewed the attack. Now, he is reassessing whether or not he can continue with you. I don't know about what was said between you, but it appears he feels betrayed by you. If you want to continue in the relationship what you say should address any feelings of betrayal he might have.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:00 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

He sounds like he has no understanding of feminism, even the fact that he expects you to "comfort" him about this seems tinged with sexism.

If he's taking this as a personal attack, it means he has zero feminist consciousness. Unless you're really willing to teach him everything (and... big IF... IF he is willing to listen) I'm not sure this guy is worth your time.
posted by winterportage at 5:17 AM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

[A couple of answers deleted. I'm going to be a stickler for protocol here and draw a firm "no debate" line. Ask is not a place for back-and-forths between users and/or OP, contributions need to be able to stand on their own as answers to the question as it was posted. I honestly appreciate how this topic can invite discussion -- but not having that discussion in AskMe is one of the few things we're Rather Stern about. Hope you understand, thanks everyone.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:17 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like he saw the Margaret Atwood quote -- "Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." -- and decided to act it out in a bizarrely personal way. Your friend is expressing her fear of male violence and that hurts his feelings ... and then he gets mad at you that you are also afraid of male violence instead reassuring him that, no no, his feelings are totally more valid than her fear. I ... also wouldn't know what to do with that.

I suppose I would make a calm statement to him that I was very upset with him, and we didn't have to dwell on it or fight about it right now, but that this was an important and visceral issue to me, while it was largely academic for him, and that I was sorry it hurt his feelings, but that he really needed to consider the context of his hurt feelings versus women's fears.

It reminds me a little bit of a touchy situation I had at work not long ago, where one of the white participants got really upset over the possibility that he might be called a racist and how easily the word racist could be used as a weapon. And I was like, you know, that's true, and being called a racist is really terrible -- but not as terrible as the things racists actually do to black people. Being labeled a racist or a misogynist IS bad, especially if it's a wrongful label. But it's nowhere near as bad as the physical violence or system social impediments racists and misogynists inflict on their victims. Maybe that framing will help him see your point of view, and that the real issue that needs to be addressed is the racists and misogynists and their social structures, not the women or minorities pointing out the violence and systemic oppressions.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:25 AM on May 28, 2014 [82 favorites]

Many good points above about the underlying issue, but on the surface, your boyfriend needs to ask himself every now and then, "Is being right more important than my significant other's happiness?" The answer doesn't always have to be Yes, but it's always a good question to ask oneself.
posted by Etrigan at 5:27 AM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't know what to tell you about the comfort thing, except to perhaps come up together with something you can agree on for future arguments - something like "I understand this is an important topic and I want to discuss it with you, but right now I'm feeling really raw and upset. Can we table this for sometime when I'm feeling a bit steadier?" Which is to say I think he's really asking too much for you to 'comfort him', but it might not be asking to much to say 'I can't have this conversation at this exact moment.' Now, if you can't have that conversation at all, ever, that's a bigger deal and I'd be questioning whether this is someone who can be a good partner to me.

To your second question, though, about him feeling personally attacked, here's something I have had some success with. Might not work for you unless you and your partner are both white, but maybe there's some similar analogy you can use. In one semi-recent conversation, my partner was heading a bit toward the 'I feel personally attacked and feel bad about myself when I see the 'all men' stuff and you can't understand what that feels like' road. I likened it to some of the feelings I had as a white feminist when I first started to do more reading about race and feminism. A lot of what I was reading was painful, and felt very personal, and there was some instinct to go BUT WAIT NO I AM NOT LIKE THAT! But I kept reading and listening and figured out, or at least am starting to figure out, that my worldview needed that painful expansion. And the stuff I'm reading sometimes IS about me and ultimately I need to own that, or maybe some of it really isn't - but then it's probably about someone I know or something I observe every day, so I still need to listen and learn about it, if I want to be a good ally. And I do want to be a good ally to people of color, just as I trust that my partner wants to be a good ally to women even if he fumbles that sometimes just as much as I fumble being a white feminist.

That analogy seemed to go a way toward bridging the gap, so it became less of "I am right and you are wrong" than "I get what you're feeling, I have felt the same way too in this other area, and it sucks and is hard, but this is something really important to me and I need you to push through that initial reaction and listen to what I'm saying here."

That tactic does require a certain base level of willingness and desire to be a good ally and a good partner to you, though. If that base isn't there, then your issue really goes past this specific issue and into a more general one of compatibility.
posted by Stacey at 5:29 AM on May 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

And maybe if I'm being totally honest, there's also some remnants of a long talk we had a few weeks ago,

If you decide to stay with him, you will likely be having a lot of talks, again and again, where you have to explain patriarchy 101 to him. If this does not sound appealing, you may want to look for someone for whom you will not have to do this. If that's a burden you're willing to shoulder, you may have to be prepared to stress to him, repeatedly, that he is lacking a full lifetime of lived experience as a woman, and that that lack skews his perspective.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:31 AM on May 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

I've been living with the notion of the deep seated misogyny infused into our various cultures for many years now and I don't feel personally threatened by it. I did at first though. It was very confronting to accept the idea that I actually might have some collective responsibility for the sins of my fathers and brothers. Reading/hearing/talking about this kind of stuff used to feel like my integrity and honour were being impugned and that feeling was painful.

I don't feel that now, but I can understand how others might and that if this is just a first step for the OP's boyfriend on some kind of path of understanding, then maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing to give him a pass. Maybe him wanting to feel comforted was not some attempt at denial or manipulation, but just a "wow, this is really hard to read". If that's maybe somewhere near where he was coming from, then hoping he'd get some support and understanding from his girlfriend doesn't seem to be a totally unreasonable thing. Naive maybe; impractical; unlikely given how emotional an issue it can be for everyone. Sure. But not terrible.

Thing is, I have no idea. He might be just an arsehole who's always going to carry on like a little boy every time he feels threatened. The OP is in the best place to judge that I'd guess. I would at least consider the other possibilities though.
posted by mewsic at 5:36 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, I would feel furious and betrayed in your shoes, too. I'm really put off at the idea that it's your job in this situation to handle him gently and make him feel better about this, reassure him that he's a good guy, or whatever - I think such an approach reproduces rather patriarchal patterns. The only way I can see this as you doing something wrong is if I think of the end goal as "peace at all costs," not as a relationship where two people share and respect each other's viewpoints.

I like the idea of asking him what, specifically, he wanted you to say/do and using that to inform your decision as to whether or not this person is worth staying with, but I also like the idea of using this as a teachable moment, with the caveat that it's absolutely not your responsibility to teach this guy everything he ought to understand about feminism. I wish I knew of resources to help you navigate such a discussion (on preview, Eyebrows McGee and Stacey make some great points for this), but failing that, I would agree with the folks suggesting that you cancel your plans with him today to get a little distance and perhaps think through how you would like things to proceed. Based on your knowledge of him, is there a way of approaching this that you think he'll understand? If he gives you a "yes, but" apology, what will you do? Do you want to continue with this relationship, and if so, how would you like it to look moving forward?
posted by DingoMutt at 5:39 AM on May 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

The topic of the debate aside (misogyny), most people don't take well to being invalidated. By your description it sounds like your guy felt invalidated and responded by sulking. Not a sterling trait but not everything we have is golden.

Is this your first fight? Dating 4 months is about right for the first fight. I would ask myself how much I love this person & want to build a relationship with them and let that guide my actions. You don't want to be forever holding him with "kid gloves" but resolving a fight takes two.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:43 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

he just wanted to be comforted. (And reaffirm his place in the patriarchy?)

Honestly, you've answered your own question here. He wants you to make him feel better rather than working with you to make things substantively better. If you are cool with that, then great, but I predict that this pattern of reifying his existing gender status will be repeated for the entirety of your relationship.

That's not a relationship (or even a conversation) I'd be interested in, but I'm not you and only you know all of the complexities of the situation.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Trying to respond factually to an emotion-based request is doomed to failure. This is the kind of arguments my bf often has with a woman friend of his.

The friend: The crime rate has skyrocketed.

My boyfriend: Statistically, that's not true. Crime is down in our area.

The friend: I see the news reports. It's really scary.

My boyfriend: *That's NOT TRUE.*

Cue sounds of two people yelling over each other with mutual unhappiness at the end.

While my boyfriend is technically right (based on statistics), his friend is actually trying to have a conversation about her feelings but is not very skilled at that. She feels afraid of crime. She is worried she will be a victim. But he doesn't hear that. He hears a fact that is wrong and he must correct her because, you know, she's wrong.

I can't speak to what the actual exchange was between you and your boyfriend. But I can understand that he was disappointed to ask for comfort and then not feel comforted. I mean, that's one of the top duties of my partner--to love and comfort me. And I do the same for him. Isn't that still part of the whole romantic partner deal?

The responses about him seem harsh. Since when is a man not allowed to ask for comfort? Since when are we the comfort police, deciding which issues/topics/postings are okay to trigger upset for individuals and, thus, requests for comfort, and which are not?

Someone who is feeling emotional is not going to be able to hear rational nor logical arguments because that person wants his or her emotional feeling and needs to be recognised first.

It's like the two of you were speaking different languages. That doesn't make him a bad and inappropriate boyfriend. It makes him human and, for me at least, appealingly so because I like it when my friends and loved ones can just tell me directly that they are upset and need comfort.

You can comfort a person in the moment without agreeing with any given position. You can validate his/her feelings by saying, "You sound really upset. That must have been hard for you to read." or whatever. (Obviously, if my bf had just thrown someone off a bridge, I wouldn't stand there comforting him, but you get the drift.)

Then later, in person, when s/he's calmed down (another day, say), you can ask exactly what it was that was so upsetting and try to understand her/his perspective before you talk about your perspective. The friend who pointed me to MetaFiler, a guy, said it took many threads on MeFi about white male privilege before he finally got it. It's a process.

Assume good will unless you have evidence to the contrary. That he is hurt that you did not comfort him is not evidence of bad will. It is evidence that he is hurt.

FYI, my hubby and I spent 90% of our marital argument time arguing because we had actually misunderstood one or the other's comment about something and only figured out, usually, at the end, that we'd had nothing to argue about. At all. One of us had just had jumped to some kind of assumption based on incomplete info and started arguing from there.

This is common among couples but not much fun. Best of luck in sorting this out.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:46 AM on May 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

So, Ocellar asked How can I approach this in a reasonable, rational way?

I just thought I'd add that your boyfriend is *not* being rational - it's an emotional response that he was looking for in the first place and didn't get. Whatever approach you decide to take will have to work at the emotional level for the pair of you.

In an ideal world, you'd get to a place where you had acknowledged the reality of his feelings & he'd accepted that denying the reality of the misogynistic elements of western society is hurtful to you & that he has something to learn about in that area.

How easy it is to get to that point depends on his emotional maturity & willingness to accept some painful concepts. You don't have to be the one to drag him through feminism 101 if you don't want to, nor do you have to stay with him if he's unwilling to grow and learn. Is he worth the effort? Only you can say...
posted by pharm at 5:47 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

#1 I would ask him if there is any reason he felt unexpectedly vulnerable about this. Has he been affected by sexual violence in the past? Is he feeling erased? Is he angry about being called a "bad man"?

#2 Ask him what he means by comfort. Does he want to hear that he's not a bad guy because he doesn't attack women? OK, great. Does he want to hear that he's not part of the patriarchy? Too bad because EVERYONE IS. He can literally google "feminism 101" or "patriarchy 101" and learn great stuff about this in the first 3 links. I mean, I would tell him "I can say that you individually are not bad in that you don't do xyz to women, but I would be lying if I said you, me, and everyone else were not part of a culture that promotes misogyny, and it's very important to me to be cognizant of how those forces play out".

#3 Point out that feeling "vulnerable" was likely the force behind your friend's post, and in fact is a huge factor in many women's lives, feeling vulnerable EVERY SINGLE DAY to sexual harassment or violence. The way he reacted to the blog and the way your friend reacted by writing a blog are just different ways of coping with vulnerability.

The bitter irony in him expecting/feeling entitled to 'comfort' (whatever the fuck that means beyond agreeing with his notallmen rant) at the expense of my own feelings and beliefs is not lost on me.

TELL HIM THIS. Towards the end of your conversation. And hopefully nudge him towards thinking that this is one of the ways men can and do subtly assert power over women, even in intimate relationships, and he wasn't trying to be a jerk and he's not a "bad man" but doing this to you is the product of our culture telling him subliminally since childhood that MEN'S FEELINGS MATTER.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:50 AM on May 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

I also had a work situation recently that was quite similar.

Young person I work with: [starts telling incredibly gruesome story]
Me: Please don't tell that kind of story in front of me. I don't like it.
Young person: You hurt my feelings when you tell me you don't want to hear my story.
Me: Okay, I'm sorry your feelings are hurt, but I don't want to hear that kind of story.
Young person: But you hurt my feelings.

We went on like this for quite some time.

Your right to be comforted ends when you are refusing to acknowledge someone else's hurt.
posted by chaiminda at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

I am seeing him later on today, I don't want to start crying/yelling when we meet, how can I approach this in a reasonable, rational way?

So, first, I'd have a shouty imaginary conversation with him. Probably in the shower. So that I got most of my adrenaline and some of my anger out. Like really go for it. Then I'd feel a bit better having vented some of that off, but it would leave me fairly clear-eyed, still mad, and ready for a serious conversation with the real person.

In that conversation I would play for results. What would I want from him? I'd want him to not be a big fucking entitled selfish baby, for starters. Expressing how to get there is hard.

One way to do that is to say "Hey, lemme explain what this was like from my experience, and I understand that you might find this off-putting or distressing, but you can just listen and then we can talk about it."

He may or may not be able to do that. In which case... you guys have trouble.

I would also be providing him with a rather extensive reading list. One thing that's annoying about this situation is that now you're supposed to give your own boyfriend Feminist 101? Ugh, hell no. That's for him to go off and do. Also he really needs to read about NOT ALL MEN.

I feel a little bad for him, is that weird? Like, I think he is cluelessly working out something that he has not examined yet and that's incredibly irritating, but also... he is without clue.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:08 AM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

P.S. Apologies to the OP. Just reread the original Q. What I should have written was "Assume good will unless you have evidence to the contrary. That he is hurt because he did not feel as comforted as he wanted to feel is not evidence of bad will. It is evidence that he is hurt.

Thanks for allowing me this correction. :-)
posted by Bella Donna at 6:09 AM on May 28, 2014

Nthing that your first step in approaching this should be to ask why sexual violence is such a trigger for him. If he has been affected by it then the conversation you outline could feasbily be placed in the context of him wanting to talk about issues in his past with you, with this blog post as an inroad, but making a right hash of it.

It may well not be the case, but it would significantly change the tone in which you should continue the subsequent discussion if so.
posted by protorp at 6:23 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

He started going down the 'what about men who are raped'? path, I responded with yes, that's terrible, but we live in a patriarchal society and the way power is structured means that women have less power than men, and rape is a greater threat for women.

The bitter irony in him expecting/feeling entitled to 'comfort' (whatever the fuck that means beyond agreeing with his notallmen rant) at the expense of my own feelings and beliefs is not lost on me.
IMHO, it's better for all parties involved to take people at their word when they tell you they feel a certain way rather than instantly doubt or dismiss their feelings, and nobody is being "entitled" for wishing to have those feelings validated, least of all by your S.O. This kind of sardonic language in your post makes me think that this conflict has almost nothing to do with feminism and almost everything to do with your relationship with this man.

It's possible that your boyfriend is a douche who just wanted to argue with you until you agreed with him. I cannot dismiss that possibility. Lord knows there are plenty of guys who do that.

But what if your boyfriend has been sexually assaulted in the past? That is a thing that happens, you know. You can throw out all the statistics you want, but if this man has been sexually assaulted, then talk of rape and sexual assault could be a trigger for him, as it often is for women who have experienced similar abuse. You're talking about an observation about society at large, but obviously your boyfriend sees this as a personal issue.

If you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, if you care about continuing this relationship, you need to listen to him before arguing back, to figure out why he felt upset. It's completely plausible your boyfriend was personally offended and upset by something your friend wrote. It's hard to know why, exactly, without having a real, honest, in-person conversation with him about it, and I think you dropped the ball in a major way by not listening to what he had to say and trying to figure out why he felt that way – i.e., "comforting" him. That is, if you care about continuing this relationship at all.

So I would advise that you get that anger out of your system, cool down, then have a real, in-the-flesh conversation with your boyfriend, no phone involved. Seriously, so much about this conflict is being made worse by the fact that you did all of this through phone/text. Explain why you got upset. Listen to his side of the story. Try to keep the rhetorical stuff to a minimum, to avoid getting into a big ideological flame war. (Some aspects of second-wave feminism, I have learned, are new and shocking to a lot of men who haven't been exposed to them before.) Lay out why you feel strongly in support of this point, acknowledge you boyfriend's feelings, and he'll do the same for you, and if everything works out you'll both understand each other a little better.

Or maybe he's a dick and you should just break up with him. Who knows.
posted by deathpanels at 6:28 AM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

i find that when it comes to feminist discussions a lot of non-feminist men get immediately defensive (like, they're on the ready with some sort of radar or something) and that isn't really helped when we are dismissive and say it's not my place to educate you. true, but when/where are they going to learn? sure, it's not worth it to educate some random bozo on the street and it is EXHAUSTING to be on education duty at all times, but i think when it comes to someone you're close with then this would be a case where it might be worth the time and effort. i heartily agree with what Bella Donna stated, "it's a process" and as Mchelly said, "Feminist men are made, not born."

yes, you are angry. boy do i know that it's hard to go into any discussion angry, but try to keep your cool for now. you two need to figure out where the breakdown in communication occurred. explain what you need to, accept and verbalize that yes you see his feelings were hurt for not immediately jumping to comfort him. say that you do support him, but in this case you believe differently than he and that is what prevented you from doing so. then gradually bring him round to the idea that it is it important for him to stop and listen to the bigger picture. this is not just about his feelings! after he understands where you are coming from then you can rewind to address YOUR reaction. state where you are coming from, that you got angry as well. you want him to support and comfort you too but his reactions to things that you believe in strongly are contradicting that! make sure he knows that it's a big part of your belief system that isn't going to go away and that you really hope he can work to be on board with you on this issue.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 6:33 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are having two different conversations, and each getting frustrated with the other. He is having a personal discussion; you are having a political discussion. Your signals are getting crossed here.

On his end: I mean, it's being covered over and over in this thread, but he's acting like he's sort of ignorant of the greater context of the topic being talked about. But he's also not really talking about the greater context - he's talking about how he was personally impacted by someone's words. But again, it sounds like he just plain doesn't see how context changes what he's talking about. And he probably should know more about feminism and schrodinger's rapist and all that good stuff. This part's gonna be kind of short because other people are covering it more than adequately here.

On your end: If you spend a lot of time in social-justice circles, there's an occasional danger of forgetting what it's like for people outside that bubble; not necessarily MRAs, but people who just don't have the same background and haven't read the same things.

And it can be easy to forget that a lot of higher-level stuff - or even stuff that seems like it's simple 101 crap to you and to me - can be confusing and apparently contradictory (and even sometimes hostile) to the uninitiated. I've lost count of how many times an anonymous question has been posted on tumblr, saying something to the effect of, "Hey, in your blog, you say white people are all terrible - that seems racist to me," and no matter how politely phrased it is, the answer is always, "Ha! It's impossible to be racist against white people, you fool!" It's something that is taken as gospel and offerred with no explanation. So no one explains that terms like racism and sexism are used in feminist discussion as specific terms with a slightly different meaning than they would have to the layman; no one explains that men and white people can absolutely experience prejudice on the basis of their gender or race, respectively, and that this is indeed sexism or racism by a dictionary definition. The terms exist outside that sphere but also have particular meanings inside of it, like how good hair just sounds like a compliment, with no other meaning, to white people.

Of course, no one wants to provide a 101 education to every man Jack that comes down the pike, and it gets frustrating to deal with that shit on a regular basis. So I get it, and I'm not saying that that approach is bad or wrong when blogging or commenting online. It's an excellent way to dunk on fools. But it ain't so handy in the flesh.

It's easy to internalize talking points and whatnot, but sometimes this leads to what I've come to refer to as call-center conversation. It's like when you call someplace for tech support, and the person on the other end of the line is just reading off a script, and if something you say seems like something in the script, they'll proceed to that answer.

Again, this can be a real time-saver when dealing with unending legions of fedora-tipping dopes, but it really doesn't scale when talking to friends, or to people you actually care about.

In this case, his concerns were that he felt that some uncharitable generalizations were being made about a set of people that includes him. And that can be upsetting. It can be a shitty feeling, especially if you don't keep up with current events in the feminist sphere. Especially reading something like this:

and maybe insinuated that more men than we might think would be willing to commit violence against women.

I mean, did she maybe insinuate this, or did she say it? How did she say it? You don't have to answer that here - just think a little about how it would read to the uninitiated.

Anyway. So he got to a point where he felt that horrible things were being said about a set of people including him. He felt like the enemy. And he doesn't want to be the enemy, and he probably doesn't feel like he's done much of anything to be labeled the enemy.

So he came to you and said that this blog post felt like an attack. He did not (as far as I can tell) attempt to bring the fight to your friend. He did not try to derail her discussion. Instead, he called you to talk about his feelings. This was where the call-center response kicked in and you responded out of the playbook. I do understand why this reaction happened and I think it makes a lot of sense that right now you'd be pretty het up about the issue because there's a lot of dire shit happening out there right now.

He wasn't talking about not all men. He was talking about not this man. Again, two different conversations. You're both right. You just need to start actually talking to each other.

You asked how to approach this in a reasonable, rational way.So check it out.

First, try to understand that this can be a very difficult and uncomfortable process for men. The status quo favors them and they never have to think about it. If you read that and then you think, "Oh, boo hoo! So what if they're uncomfortable, given what women have to put up with?" then you need to cut that out because it's not helping. In the big-picture sense, you're right. But this isn't the big picture; this is an individual you care about. Just be aware that he doesn't have the knowledge or experience in this arena that you might.

Second, try framing the argument differently. Blog posts about misogyny don't tend to include disclaimers, because no one's really interested in stopping every couple of minutes to say,"By the way, we're not talking about all men." So one way you might explain it to him is this: "Since these discussions are not really written with the uninitiated in mind, there are concepts we take for granted. It's absolutely true that not all men are rapists or misogynists or want to kill women. But if a woman talks about her experience online or even gently disagrees with the status quo in any way, she will immediately get a torrent of rape threats, death threats, threats to out her to people or get her fired from her job or whatever. If a woman is approached on the bus by someone trying to fuck her, and she's not interested, there's a seriously good chance that person will follow her for several blocks once she gets off the bus, yelling and screaming about what a whore she is, and she has no idea if that person is going to assault her or not. And the people who do that, who send those threats and scream at uninterested women - pretty much all of them are men."

If I've ever found any one idea which helps the dawn break a little, it's that. It's putting it in context and explaining: Not all men are violent misogynists, but (more or less) all violent misogynists are men.

Third: He wanted comfort. So comfort him. He wanted to hear that you don't believe he's a violent misogynist. So (provided you don't, in fact, believe that), tell him that. Society does not really prepare dudes to ask to have their feelings validated - they're generally encouraged to just assume. So he asked! That's good. Go with that.

Finally, please just try to keep a level head and do your own part to avoid letting the conversation go off the rails. Even if he says things that sound a little like the usual MRA talking points, give him the benefit of the doubt, at least at first. Try to look past your own anger and hear what he's actually saying. If he does turn out to have loathsome opinions, that sucks, but you can say you did everything you could.

The two of you should have a conversation about his hurt feelings as a result of the blog post. The two of you should also have a conversation about how feminist issues, and their societal context, are important to you. But you should not be trying to have those two conversations at the same time.

Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:01 AM on May 28, 2014 [29 favorites]

To build on the point of maybe he was assaulted--there's another possibility--he may have been punished a lot or yelled at for things he did not do by one or both parents. When that happens, things that are extreme, like how you described your friend wrote her posts, can be a real trigger for him, without him even knowing it. And if that happened, you arguing with him may have inadvertently triggered him again.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:08 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

All people of all genders have issues and events that can, well, trigger emotional responses disproportionate to the actual event. A lot of people call these 'hot buttons' while my personal term is 'land mine'. When these get set off, usually completely accidentally, it often sets off the other partners land mines too. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to cool things down, relax a little, and reassure the partner that they are valued, they can and do have valid opinions, and we can meet in the middle. Compromising or agreeing to disagree on strongly held issues is very hard, but something I believe needs to be done in long term relationships. After all, isn't the relationship worth preserving, even if they believe X weird thing?

(granted, this is FAR from a blanket-blank check to be a terrible human being. Common sense, yes please)

So, when you asked about "his expectation that I will comfort him (regardless of my personal values on the topic/how I am feeling)"

...Kinda, yeah, he does likely deserve this. As do you. You don't have to set aside your values, or compromise them, but sometimes, fighting over that hill (or ultra important issue) just isn't worth it. Not the right time, not the right place, not the right way to fight or argue.

Sometimes being in a relationship, does in fact involve giving up Being Right. If he is saying he needed comfort, I'd listen. Maybe even apologize, empathize, something. You were there, I wasn't. Is he worth comforting? Then you should.
posted by Jacen at 7:54 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I (a woman) have wanted to maintain a good relationship with a man who is having trouble confronting his male privilege, what I've done is change the subject to look at ways in which we are both similarly privileged, and similarly disadvantaged. For example, it hurts to see that our t-shirts and iPhones etc. are made by very poor people in terrible working conditions. I'm not personally committing violence against individual people in China (for example), but I have to admit I am on the advantaged side in an unbalanced, violent system. And it hurts to look at one-percenters who only know in theory and never spend much time thinking about it and will never truly understand how precarious our lives are, worried about healthcare and paying the mortgage if there is a layoff. No rich person is personally attacking me by being wealthy, but the fact is they are on the advantaged side in an unbalanced, violent system.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:03 AM on May 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

This piece by Laurie Penny might help him understand your point of view as well. In it she discusses how men responding with "but not all men" is a means of silencing the anger and helplessness of women. It's asking women to think of men and their feelings first, and to put their energy into soothing and calming them rather than being supported in the fact that there is mysogny, it sucks and we want to do something about it. It might help him understand where you and your friend are coming from.

The interview on NPR was pretty good too
posted by goggie at 8:06 AM on May 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

One thing I'd point out that tends to get buried in discussion of this topic, but that might help to provide context to a male person who is upset by the material thus revealed: Good-but-naive men don't tend to see these sort of things.

Which seems like a really odd thing to say, and it's not strictly always true, but it's a real thing. The deal is, predators, abusers, and other bad actors usually act in a canny fashion, whether deliberately or instinctively. They often refrain from doing the voodoo that they do so well when there's someone around who might prove inconvenient, and for a variety of reasons a person who they read as a) male b) not in on the game is way up there on the "might prove inconvenient" list. So the only things that someone who reads like that are likely to see are mistakes -- where they weren't seen to be around, which is less common -- or subtle things that they're not likely to pick up on unless they're clued in, and it's hard to get clued in without seeing the overt version.

If the guy's a good guy who's finding the new information disturbing -- and if he's not, there's not much point in discussing him -- then contemplating that point might help to provide some perspective.
posted by sparktinker at 8:21 AM on May 28, 2014

It's hard to say much about this without making a lot of assumptions, most particularly about the nature and content of your friend's blog post. Is it possible that your boyfriend might have some reason to feel personally attacked by it? This is a complete strawman, since I haven't seen the blog post, but to make an example, let's say your friend wrote something like "all men have rape somewhere in their nature and view women on some fundamental level as potential targets for sexual violence, and this is reflected in a society that (etc.)." If I were your boyfriend, I would likely take extreme exception to this statement, and one of the things I would want to hear out of you is, "I don't think this statement is true for all men because I know it isn't true about you." If I don't hear that, it says something not so great about how you think about me, which would be upsetting. I think it's possible to give the kind of comfort that reassures your boyfriend you don't think he's a potential rapist and agree with your friend's larger point that societal misogyny is a real problem that contributes to rape culture. That said, however good your friend's core point about society may be, it's worth considering whether a situation in which your boyfriend seems to feel attacked is the best time to advocate on behalf of your friend's view. It seems to be a fact of human nature that when we feel attacked it is often hard to see beyond that, and so any advocacy on the part of your friend's core point before the smoke clears may be received as joining in the attack. The point is often overlooked in the attack, which is why it is rarely useful to use extreme and attacking rhetoric. Now, as I said, my example was a complete strawman because I haven't read the blog post and I don't know either of you. But it certainly can lead to difficult relationship times when a person advocates a position that strongly implicates and/or disparages a cohort to which their relationship partner belongs, unless they have a way of carving out some kind of exception. Of course, I could be far off the mark here given the lack of underlying knowledge about the situation and the players.
posted by slkinsey at 8:26 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

your boyfriend is awfully needy. someone you know wrote a feminist blog post saying that sexual assault is partially a cultural problem, not just an individual problem, and he responded by asking you for comfort, and criticizing you for not providing enough comfort? if he wants comfort in these matters, he should call his mommy instead. grownups don't get too worked up over other people's blog posts.
posted by bruce at 8:52 AM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sexual assault against males absolutely happens. But it's not feminism that downplays it. It's the existing patriarchal system that has always assumed that men need to always maintain masculinity, never be hurt. It's the patriarchal system that blames victims in general, but in particular that makes it out like the male victims of sexual assault by women are provided with the revolting expectation that they must have liked it because guys aren't allowed to have feelings that don't revolve around their desire for sex. Women didn't create that. Other men did. How do we know this? Because they insult men who don't fit that model with feminine terms. They refer to them by the words for female anatomy. They tell a man "don't be such a girl", and that, right there, is in the plainest possible way misogyny.

It cuts down the ones who don't conform, and then creates a poisonous expectation that these attitudes be perpetuated for the sake of social conformity even if the individual doesn't want to hate women at all. At that point, the individual has some choice about whether to accept that status quo or reject it, but there are certainly still social penalties for rejecting it.

Talking about the terrible things that misogyny does to women does not preclude the fact that there are also terrible things that misogyny does to men, so long as one isn't derailing the former conversation. All men and all women are impacted by sexism. Women have reason to be afraid of men, generally, because they have no way of knowing which ones are dangerous, where the poison is. If he helps to counteract these attitudes, he will be making you safer, and himself, and men are in a better position to reach men.

This is totally a conversation I think it's worthwhile to have with a man you care about. Once. It should not take more than once.
posted by Sequence at 9:04 AM on May 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

Six people are dead and nineteen others wounded because of violent misogyny, and your boyfriend thinks he is the one who deserves comforting.

He's being self-centered. Even if he was sexually assaulted in the past. Male sexual assault victims don't somehow get a free pass when they support patriarchal BS.

It is not your job to make him feel better about misogyny; doing so reinforces the patriarchy and puts his feelings ahead of yours and all other women's. And so I would tell him, "It is not my job to make you feel better about misogyny; doing so reinforces the patriarchy and puts your feelings ahead of mine and all other women's." His hurt feelings are not more important than people being murdered and raped. And so I would tell him, "Your hurt feelings are not more important than people being murdered and raped." His prioritizing his hurt feelings over other people's murder makes him part of the problem, even if he has not raped or murdered anyone, and 'Good guys' are those who actually prioritize people being murdered and raped over their own hurt feelings. So I would tell him that, too.

And then I would pretty much give him a lot of time on his own to figure out whether he's going to continue to prioritize his feelings over other people's survival, and I would think very carefully about whether I wanted to continue having a relationship with him.
posted by jaguar at 9:07 AM on May 28, 2014 [18 favorites]

I'm not even going to read the other comments. Your boyfriend wanted to hear that you don't think of him like that. That's what he meant by wanting to be comforted. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, that is probably all that's going on here. Since you didn't assure him (to his satisfaction, if at all) that you don't think he's like the men in the blog post, he's probably feeling pretty crappy about himself (and about how he thinks you perceive him) right now.
posted by the webmistress at 9:09 AM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Personally, this sounds to me like he's totally misdirecting his anger at your friend (and himself, possibly) onto you. This is pretty immature and signals, to me, a lack of self-awareness. Red flag.

If you and your cohort are feminist, vocal about it, and have strong feelings about and interest in these very real issues, you will quickly become exhausted with a partner who needs constant reassurance and ego-stroking when his worldview is challenged.

For my money, EyebrowsMcGee's practical suggestions for an actual conversation about this sound really good but if I were in your shoes, I'd think carefully about how hard I want to have to work this early on in the relationship to reach baseline understanding with a potential partner.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:40 AM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Seriously, is a four month relationship worth this drama? If he's all NOT ALL MEN tell him you're going to go find one who's not.
posted by spunweb at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The guys who get upset about being lumped into the patriarchy tend to be the ones that make an effort to treat women well. The douchebags just laugh and stop reading the blog post after a couple paragraphs and think "I wonder what this author is like in bed" and then goes to look at her photos.

When the guy gets upset, it is sometimes because he feels like he has already tried to treat women well. He has done his best but still feels like it is not good enough. He feels that he is paying for the sins of other men that he has no control over.

I think you should figure out how he is outside of this event. Does he treat women as equals? Does he listen and honor their advice? Does he help them toward their goals?

If he does all these things, then perhaps your anger is better directed toward the enormous legions of assholes who don't do any of these things. Be angry at the idiots who think that of course his job is more important than hers, or who only date women less smart than themselves, or who expect their partner to look hot while they look like a slob. Don't give those guys a free pass while directing all your anger on someone who is trying their best (if indeed your boyfriend is).
posted by cheesecake at 9:50 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

i find that when it comes to feminist discussions a lot of non-feminist men get immediately defensive (like, they're on the ready with some sort of radar or something) and that isn't really helped when we are dismissive and say it's not my place to educate you. true, but when/where are they going to learn? sure, it's not worth it to educate some random bozo on the street and it is EXHAUSTING to be on education duty at all times, but i think when it comes to someone you're close with then this would be a case where it might be worth the time and effort. i heartily agree with what Bella Donna stated, "it's a process" and as Mchelly said, "Feminist men are made, not born."
I don't think anyone is ever going to respond positively to being forcibly "educated". I mean, if somebody told me, "You don't believe in X? Let me educate you about it until you agree with me!" I'm pretty sure my reaction would be some version of "fuck off", even if I would have agreed with you, thereby defeating whatever good intentions you had. That's not really how learning works, anyway. You can't, like, shove some knowledge into somebody's head. I've always believed education is all about figuring out not what everybody needs to learn, but rather how to explain it to this person in a way that will make sense and help them see why this is an important lesson.

That entails a lot more listening and a lot less talking. It is hard. And I really don't feel like, based on the OP's own writing, that the OP and the man in question are capable of communicating about this kind of sensitive issue yet. I also don't find any evidence that this guy is a rabid anti-feminist or men's rights activist or whatever. I think this are largely inferences being made based on a relatively short conversation that happened during a fight when tensions were high and everyone was upset.

So deal with the emotional aspect of this before you start trying to change this guy's opinion on anything. You really have no way of moving forward until you have a real, no-shit conversation about your feelings first. Sorry, I know that sucks, but it doesn't make you wrong or him right to acknowledge that you both have had your feelings hurt.
posted by deathpanels at 10:01 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The short version: Ask him to clarify what kind of comfort he's looking for.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:09 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I don't know what to tell you, babe. You gotta start jumping all over those men who are giving men a bad name. It feels terrible to be lumped together with assholes and stereotyped that way. I feel the same way about 'bad women drivers' jokes and the word 'cunt.'"

Mr. Vitabellosi and I talked about a lot of this last night. We were listening to seventies music and I realized how fucked up the lyrics to "My Eyes Adored You" are ...."though I never laid a hand on you, my eyes adored you."

Basically, "unlike other men I didn't go ahead and physically assault you, even though I could, but I'm a nice guy...

And then we talked about the intractability of patriarchy -- men end up getting bonus points for being just a little bit less shitty than misogynists. Some of them have a whole strategy for picking up women this way. "I'm sorry my friend is such a douche. Do you want to get away from him for awhile...let's go to my room."

There is a segment of men who rely on the comparisons to assholes to get them laid. I'm super-annoyed by men who employ being a "feminist" in an effort to get laid, too.

I'm not at all saying your guy is either of these types, and I do think it's worth asking him "what was really on your mind?"

And your question for him, in talking about the blog post, might be: why don't guys shut down assholes more often? Who's your most assholish friend when it comes to women? How do you handle that?

I don't know. I feel like this would be similar to me going to my black friends and asking them to verify that I'm not racist.

But he's clearly having some feelings. And those are worth exploring. I'd be tempted to start with "I'm sorry. I wasn't taking it seriously because it seemed like you went to an almost random blog, read something you didn't like, took it personally, and I don't know what to tell you! Don't read Stacy's blog! Yes, friends can be misguided in their life philosophies and be really disappointing!"
posted by vitabellosi at 10:22 AM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

So, there are a lot of times when I stumble into a part of the internet full of political stuff -- on my own general side -- I deeply disagree with. I find that my reaction to this stuff is basically to wildly and hysterically DISAGREEE SOOOOOO MUCHHHHHHH for a short time, and then gradually become more able to approach these ideas from a more rational place. Sometimes I even change my mind! A few times I have realized I was being a huge asshole during the "Disagree With All The Things" phase of my reaction.

It sounds like this is where your boyfriend is at in the process of coming to see the existence of rape culture. Except it's even harder, because this isn't some stranger on the internet spouting off a bunch of stuff he disagrees with. And because the person he most wants as an ally to process all of his feelings about it, to get from "NOPE" to "Oh, OK, that makes sense" can't fill that role because she agrees with the thing that has him so worked up.

It's a tough situation. A less charitable part of me would say that he wants you to be his Magical Lady Spirit Guide and give him permission to keep not seeing it. "Yeah, I know, right? So crazy. I mean, patriarchy? Misogyny? Come ON." But you can't fill that role. And nor should you.

I think this might be a situation that comes under the fact that romantic partners can't really be all things to each other. He should find someone else to work through all this stuff with him. Maybe a guy? Do you have a mutual male friend who is more progressive about women's issues than he is, who you could bring into the conversation?

Or, if that's not an option, maybe bring the conversation back to more 101 level things, or less personal things (a close friend's angry post), where you two could start finding middle ground? I feel like you would be less worried if you could see that he's not a total misogyinst, and he would be less worried if he could see that you're not personally blaming him for all the terrible things women face in this world. Let him work through feminism in a more organic way. Dial back the extent to which this is personal between the two of you.

And then, maybe, like I have on many occasions, he'll come around. Or, I don't know, maybe he's an unredeemable woman hater and you have to cut him loose. But either way, you need a little bit of air.
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 AM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think he's on the precipice of confronting just how much privilege men receive in a misogynist culture, and the more complex feelings this may be bringing up (shock, guilt, etc.) are being rapidly overtaken by anger and defensiveness. (Anger and defensiveness are frequently the emotions that rush in to cover up other emotions that may feel too overwhelming to face, such as fear, grief, and humiliation.) If you think he's open to reading something else, ask him to read and really take some time by himself to think about this article from Arthur Chu. (Even though Chu is taking aim at misogyny in nerd culture, it really is relevant more generally.)
I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder. I’ve heard it from acquaintances, I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness. [...]

We are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people’s entitlement. We’re not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes. [...]

Other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not. We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.
posted by scody at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Honestly, I don't even care if the blog post was about how people with black hair hate kittens and he has black hair and loves kittens. Unless your friend called him out specifically by name in the blog post, the fact that he deserves an apology or comfort from you because of what she wrote is just bizarre. I would take a step back and see if there are any other warning flags that he might be either too immature or self-centered to be good boyfriend material at this point.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

I found this excellent article on the "not all men" thing, including this list of 5 stages of "an individual man growing a social conscience". I append it here in case it's of help:
1. Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists

2. Sexism happens, but the effect of “reverse sexism” on men is as bad or worse

3. Sexism happens, but the important part is that I personally am not sexist

4. Sexism happens, and I benefit from that whether or not I personally am sexist

5. Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:36 PM on May 28, 2014 [29 favorites]

Instead of relegating discussions of feminism to the trope ‘not all men’ I instead urge you to say to each other “don’t be that guy”.
posted by jaguar at 10:01 PM on May 28, 2014

how can I approach this in a reasonable, rational way

Hand him a copy of Brownmiller and tell him you'll resume the conversation after he's finished it.
posted by ead at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2014

Here's another article, this one by Andrew O'Hehir, that may help him confront and start pushing through his defensiveness regarding male privilege and the ways women feel threatened by men: Hey, guys: Elliot Rodger is our problem
posted by scody at 10:51 AM on May 31, 2014

There's a huge difference between publicly derailing women's conversations about misogyny with "Not all men..." and "But I'm not..." vs. privately asking one's girlfriend, "Hey, do you trust me?" Is it possible the second question is what he's really asking?

I don't think the latter question necessarily implies a lack of concern about misogyny or an unwillingness to listen to women's stories.
posted by straight at 3:35 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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