How to detect sexist attitudes earlier
June 29, 2014 12:38 AM   Subscribe

I realized over time that 3 of the men I've known for years have patriarchal beliefs, even though they've always said feminist things. I sometimes remember sexist remarks they've made and then feel worse about myself. What's worked for you in being able to recognize people like this earlier, before you let them into your inner circle?

I'm a woman. Three of the guys I've known for a long time are very vocal about their appreciation for strong women. Not only do they say how much they admire me (as a strong woman), they go to great lengths to keep up our friendship, investing time and effort. However, after years, I've noticed things that disturb me:

- The only body type they deem attractive is the size-0 leggy fashion-model look.

- They say all the time how they want to date a successful woman, but then either keep dating a string of women with no career, or tell their successful girlfriends that they insist she become a stay-at-home mom in the future.

- Two of them make jabs at me, like "You sound like you'd be a difficult girlfriend" or "Let me quiz you at math to see if you really are that smart" or after I said I hope my project wins a prestigious award, "I don't think it will". I'm annoyed that they drive across town to hang out with me, and then proceed to insult me.

If it's relevant, all 3 of these people give off a clear vibe that they just want to be friends, and are not looking for more from me.

Sometimes, days after hanging out with them, I remember their comments and feel less self-assured. When I recall them raving about the hotness of various size-0 women, it makes me feel fat. Also, I think about how they claim that their priority is an ambitious woman, but then they'll quickly reject their ambitious dates in favor of a super-hot non-ambitious date. It makes me feel like all my personality traits are going to matter less than whether my body is the media-endorsed thinness.

My questions:

1. I got fooled for a long time because these guys said the "right things". They give lip service to how much they want an ambitious partner who can be their equal. It was years before I pieced together the above. How can I get faster at spotting guys with patriarchal beliefs who spout feminism? What's worked for you?

2. They spend a lot of effort on being my friend, but then insult me. Am I their "beard", i.e. an accessory so they can keep pretending to be a feminist? Do they get a perverse high out of putting down others, and lording themselves over a "strong woman" feels even better than doing it to a less-strong woman?

Thank you.
posted by cheesecake to Human Relations (45 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
1. I have a fairly informal list of things. A sample: referring to women as 'females', excessive focus on women's fuckability (this is a variable amount depending on context), offers to touch me or other women in some way (massages, obscure techniques for stress relief), insisting on reproduction of patriarchal roles within relationships, confrontational/combative conversation techniques designed as 'gotchas', comparing street harrassment to compliments. They aren't straight up bannable offences, but they make me side-eye the person (goes for women too).

Is there some rate of false positives? Yeah. But life is too short to have people like that polluting my space.

2. They think they've got a free space. They can be dicks around you because telling you that you'd be a difficult girlfriend, and demanding partners become SAHPs, have gone unremarked. So they escalate, because they've had no sign to stop and think, or at least shut up.

(that said, why are you letting them have so much internal space? You're awarding them a lot of attention and a lot of emotional energy, to the point of feeling bad about yourself. They aren't actually your friends, in reality, given that's how you feel after speaking with them.)
posted by geek anachronism at 1:02 AM on June 29, 2014 [16 favorites]

Been there so, so many times. Your alarm bells are going off for good reason - these guys are jerks. I can't tell you their motivation without reading their minds. A wild guess would be that they do get a high off of "controlling" a "difficult" woman. That kind of stuff has happened to me before, and the only real way to resolve it is to cut them off for good without apology once they start making all those nasty comments in hopes of modifying your behavior.

It's pretty simple once you understand that objectification isn't "I'm attracted to x." Objectification sometimes doesn't have attraction as part of it at all. It's saying and doing whatever and expecting/allowing the person subjected to that behavior to only respond in ways that the person doing it finds acceptable. If they are making comments with no regard to your feelings and making you feel like crap - they're objectifying you the same as the women they drool over.

Men can be frenemies as much as women, and frenemies are just there to hold you back from real happiness. Walk away.
posted by medea42 at 1:04 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

1. Well, I don't know how much this will help. But I have noticed that people tend to announce things about themselves that are actually the opposite of what they are. All the men (I am sure this is not only men, but I date men) who have lied to me, have at some point said in conversation "I am very honest"... People who are honest, don't need to tell people they are honest. It is just assumed. Maybe keep your ear out for that.

Also, calling women any of the following: chicks, darling, bird... etc.

People with an abusive attitude to women often use these "terms of endearment" to strip a woman of her name....

2. Who knows. I doubt you are their beard or that this is that Machiavellian... I doubt they put that much thought into this.

As for all the hoo ha about liking skinny girls? Anyone can like whoever they want, and we are all allowed to have our own unique preferences... body type, income, sense of humor.... but WHY are they talking about it all the time?

Its not their preferences that bother me, its the objectification of women that bother me.

Honestly? I would avoid hanging out with these guys anymore.
posted by misspony at 1:06 AM on June 29, 2014 [23 favorites]

Have you ever called them on these comments? The patriarchy is a crappy, subtle thing, and it can influence men and women alike, even if in practice they claim to be feminists. They may not realize that some of their behavior is at severe odds with their claimed views on feminism until someone points it out to them. It's unfair to make that your job, but if you want to continue friendship with them, perhaps it does become worth your while to speak up and point out the hypocrisy you're seeing.

Of course, if you call them on the stuff they're doing and saying and they just keep right on going, then fuck 'em.
posted by olinerd at 1:07 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Patriarchal beliefs are part of the patriarchy and the patriarchy affects how all of us, male and female alike interact with the world. These guys very probably do think they're feminists, because they've cleared a very low minimum bar for being thought of as feminist,but the lessons of a lifetime lived in the patriarchy make for some pretty deeply entrenched beliefs and behaviours. I don't personally think that comments about women's bodies that are made in an objectifying way are at all okay, but it's a societal norm that men often engage in this kind of talk. If it makes you uncomfortable, then say so. As long as you don't say anything, you are condoning its reoccurence.

As far as their choices in relationships with women, this is totally not your business nor place to judge. They are free to engage in relationships with whatever consenting adult they wish.

As for these 'insults', I don't think they mean as much as they feel like they do. Guys, again, because, you know, patriarchy, tease their friends like this all the time. I wouldn't take such things too much to heart, they're not meant to hurt. If they really do hurt, then again, say something. Part of patriarchal construction is that women are socialized to think that being direct is not good in social interaction. Be direct, even if it is difficult and remember that no one can lord over you if you don't allow them to.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:16 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

1. I got fooled for a long time because these guys said the "right things".

It's possible they don't know what they want. Or they want contradictory things, or what they want changes all the time. People are like that. Have you ever brought this up to them? It seems they value your friendship and you must at least like them enough to let them hang around all the time so its worth challenging them on this a bit. A big part of most friendships is talking about these kinds of differences and getting other people's input on your life-choices and problems.

You can't really expect them to change who they find attractive though, everyone has a type. You are not interested in these guys and they're not interested in you so its a moot point.

I'm annoyed that they drive across town to hang out with me, and then proceed to insult me.

I have many brothers. This is what guys do. They will drive across town, insult each other for a few minutes, take some food from the fridge then leave without saying good bye and everyone regards that as a success. Decades long friendships ensue. If it annoys you you can tell them and expect them to tone it down in your home.
posted by fshgrl at 1:28 AM on June 29, 2014 [11 favorites]

My most low-barrier thing like this is:

How does this person treat service staff? Do they tip well? Do they vocally say please and thank you? When asking for something complicated (sending a dish back, getting a custom order) do they act angry and blame the service person, or do they calmly make sure there's no subsequent confusion?

Although this is gender neutral, it has vast feminist ramifications. It's about empathy, and also about respect regardless of social standing.

The other quick check I make when judging a new person is actually relevant to the wording of your question. If somebody stresses the need for a woman, or anyone, to be "strong" before they can be respected, I drop them like a hot potato. Having to prove your strength is one of the main ways the patriarchy crushes people who don't fit its mold. It's great that you feel confident and that you have self-defined strength. It's not great when someone needs a person to have gone through that whole process of self-definition and growth before they can treat them like an equal.
posted by Mizu at 1:42 AM on June 29, 2014 [54 favorites]

Speaking as a guy;

It's possible to genuinely think of yourself as a male feminist because you clear the minimum bar of not being a complete arse to women, while only really paying lip service because you've still internalised many of the expected traits of men in the patriarchy. One of which is 'friendly' verbal competition with your equals; putting them down, elevates you. But it's all done in a jokey fashion, and not meant to hurt, per se. Guys do it all the time to each other because that's how we're trained to be.

Their challenging you could be that; just part of their conditioning and they see you as 'one of the guys' in status. Or it could indeed be what they really think, and it is an intentional put down. Difficult to say which. Not that you should have to put up with it either way, of course. It's up to you as to whether it's worth the effort to point out to them they're actually being sexist jerks to you - if you get enough out of the friendships otherwise, and they're worth trying to salvage. If they genuinely think of themselves as feminist allies, it should be enough to make them think about it, and realise what they're doing is not fair, and adjust their behaviour. It's not your job to fix them though of course.

But you shouldn't have to put up with putdowns from friends that hurt; if they refuse to change, or it's not worth the battle to you, then it's time to move on with no regrets.

Speaking personally, it was a long road to feminist ally for me. I never saw or experienced or understood the sheer volume of shit women put up with, so while I naively tried to be a 'white knight' when I was younger, I still had unconciously learned many of the rules of the patriarchy without really examining them, and was still sometimes a jerk, looking back. I hope I'm better at it now, but it's something I'll probably spend a lifetime trying to improve at, and trying to understand better what it's like on the 'other' side.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:13 AM on June 29, 2014 [27 favorites]

With regards to catching them out, maybe mention something that will provoke a strong reaction. For example, say you got catcalled in the street, and see how they react to it. Do they say things like "it was meant as a compliment" and other such bullshit?

If they're actual feminists, they'll have a very different reaction to that sort of thing than someone who is just mouthing platitudes.
posted by Solomon at 2:30 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe apply the "actions speak louder than words" sort of thing? In what way are their actions feminist, calling yourself something means nothing if you can't back it up with what you do.

I'm a guy (male feminist) and I can generally spot if someone is sexist by their general behaviour and sense of humour. Do they make frequent jokes that put people down? Do they make off-the-cuff sexist remarks about women? Do they make 'ironically' sexist statements about women?
posted by fallingleaves at 2:57 AM on June 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Probably due to experiences growing up I (a guy) am always suspicious of anyone of any gender who spends much time categorizing themselves or going on for very long about how they fit into a particular mold, or in general making extensive definite statements about their own character and moral fibre and never saying maybe I'm like this... (I get suspicious not necessarily because of any subterfuge or intentional malice, but because it so frequently seems like such talk is aspirational or even self-deceptive on most peoples' part rather than a genuine attempt to describe themselves or communicate about who they are.)

And yes, the described guys sound like jerks. Perhaps because of naïveté about themselves or the world, but it's not your job to put up with their shit.
posted by XMLicious at 2:59 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

2. They spend a lot of effort on being my friend, but then insult me. Am I their "beard", i.e. an accessory so they can keep pretending to be a feminist? Do they get a perverse high out of putting down others, and lording themselves over a "strong woman" feels even better than doing it to a less-strong woman?

Sometimes when people feel insecure or jealous they say mean things. I think if they go to all the trouble of talking to you, hanging out with you, and for the most part seeming to enjoy your friendship....then the Occam's Razor here is that they like you and like hanging out with you, but occasionally they feel jealous or insecure around you because you are so successful. It's entirely possible that those feelings are exacerbated because you're a woman and they're sexist, of course.
posted by Diablevert at 4:20 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

You say it's taken you years to notice the behaviors you list and you want to know how to notice them sooner. Now that you've figured out what the behaviors are, you know what to look for in everybody you meet. You answered your own question.
posted by michaelh at 4:51 AM on June 29, 2014

Nthing the look at what they do, rather than what they say. I too have learnt from experience that people who need to define themselves within any category are rarely in that category. That doesn't only go for "feminist", or "honest", it applies just as much to "sensitive", "intelligent" or "open-minded".
Obviously, there are situations, where you are required to describe yourself, but avoid anyone who is pushing it, and rather than ask - are you feminist? - ask about something unrelated to the person, but where he must demonstrate his true values.
That said - you have to set some boundaries. I have colleagues who are like your friends, and I just tell them to shut up when they start acting out. And they grumble and shut up. I see them as good people with bad manners. Also they are frustrated that the things they took for granted when they were young never appeared. I can't help them with that, and I don't need to listen to the stupid stuff they say.
posted by mumimor at 5:27 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

First of all,

The only body type they deem attractive is the size-0 leggy fashion-model look...Sometimes, days after hanging out with them, I remember their comments and feel less self-assured. When I recall them raving about the hotness of various size-0 women, it makes me feel fat.

is really not sexism, it's just a preference, albeit one that they seem to express insensitively. I mean, I am mostly attracted to tall men with brown hair. Does that make me a misandrist? No. I think it's reasonable to be uncomfortable with objectification of women, and if they're doing that they should be called out. But if some people having a preference for thin women makes you feel fat and insecure, you should seek therapy.

I'll also add that men can be victims of the patriarchy just as much as women. It can be very hard for people to realize that their beliefs and actions are shaped by outdated social norms and expectations; most of us like to think of ourselves as 100% autonomous. This absolutely does not excuse shitty, sexist behavior, but I think it's useful to bear in mind when dialoging with men who sometimes act like misogynists.

As for your questions:

1. I got fooled for a long time because these guys said the "right things". They give lip service to how much they want an ambitious partner who can be their equal. It was years before I pieced together the above. How can I get faster at spotting guys with patriarchal beliefs who spout feminism? What's worked for you?

I always call friends out on sexist beliefs and behaviors. I try to do this calmly and coolly, but I do it right after I hear or see something that makes me uncomfortable. If the friend responds positively - admitting they made a mistake, expressing confusion ("I don't think women are _______, why did I let myself say/do that?"), apologizing, or engaging with me in a discussion about the topic - no harm no foul; people sometimes need to have their flawed thinking pointed out. If they respond negatively - calling me crazy, insisting they "didn't mean it like that," etc. - it's a mark against them. Enough of those marks and we're no longer friends. Of course, enough empty promises to improve, and we're no longer friends either.

2. They spend a lot of effort on being my friend, but then insult me. Am I their "beard", i.e. an accessory so they can keep pretending to be a feminist? Do they get a perverse high out of putting down others, and lording themselves over a "strong woman" feels even better than doing it to a less-strong woman?

I'm not in their heads, so it's impossible for me to say whether or not they see you as an accessory, or if they enjoy lording over you. So I can't answer that and won't try.

As for the insults: some people (and in my experience, many men) like and cultivate friendships that involve ragging on one another. Have you told them that this isn't your jam? If so, see above re: positive v. negative responses.

(Also, please bear in mind that not every insult is sexist. For example, them saying "I don't think it will," after you mention hoping your project will win an award strikes me as unkind, but not sexist, unless there are missing details.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:04 AM on June 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

I think a very small percentage of men are true feminists in actions and beliefs (and plenty of women are not feminists as well), so I'd venture a guess that when you put up your antennae to scan for un-feminist traits, you'll tend to find them. Frankly, I'm convinced many men believe in patriarchy, but political correctness and threat of legal action keeps some of it in check. The culture we live in just isn't there yet. Guys are encouraged to dominate and compete, by the culture. Women can also dominate and compete, but are given more leeway to step back and nurture. We've all been doing this for a very long time. Not saying it's right, just that's what is.

Given that, it may be that you have to adjust your expectations about men, though take a stance where you actively try and encourage men close to you to examine their actions and beliefs a little more closely. I don't think you have to cut these guys off as friends, but you get to decide how you want to be with them - a) status quo, b) speaking up a little more about their inconsistencies, or c) spending less time with them. It's hard to change people, and hard to change ingrained cultural beliefs one isn't even aware of most of the time.
posted by ihavequestions at 6:09 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Men who call adult women "girls" is a shibboleth for me. Obviously this is context dependent and not 100% accurate, but when I heard an oncologist (in a social situation, not MY oncologist) describe his patient as a "25 year old girl facing a mastectomy," I was done with him. Men I have known who are real feminists have been cognizant of the issue and way more likely to say "women" instead of "girls."
posted by telegraph at 6:13 AM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think looking at personal preferences and how much they enjoy stuff like comedy that really doesn't have much content when you take away the jokes that lean on sexism (and other forms of bigotry) can help find these men.

Also, calling these dudes out might be a nice thing to do, but it is 100% not your job.
posted by NoraReed at 6:17 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

How can I get faster at spotting guys with patriarchal beliefs who spout feminism?

Have several conversations with them about issues raised on Jezebel. Seriously.

They spend a lot of effort on being my friend, but then insult me. Am I their "beard", i.e. an accessory so they can keep pretending to be a feminist? Do they get a perverse high out of putting down others, and lording themselves over a "strong woman" feels even better than doing it to a less-strong woman?

A lot of times guys rag on each in their friendships, so it could be as simple as that. However your specific examples do sound a bit odd coming from a friend: Two of them make jabs at me, like "You sound like you'd be a difficult girlfriend" or "Let me quiz you at math to see if you really are that smart" or after I said I hope my project wins a prestigious award, "I don't think it will".. But what context were these comments made in and how did you respond them?'

Otherwise, how are they as actual friends?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2014

You wrote: "They say all the time how they want to date a successful woman, but then either keep dating a string of women with no career, or tell their successful girlfriends that they insist she become a stay-at-home mom in the future."

Can you see the internalized sexist attitude that you yourself have just communicated here? You've defined "women with no careers" and "stay-at-home moms" as unsuccessful women. With all due respect, OP, check your own sexism. Feminism is a big enough tent to include women who must work to care for children inside their home, and/or who otherwise don't measure their worth as human beings by the yardstick of paid employment vis-a-vis some putatively white collar "career."

Anyone who dismisses women as "unsuccessful" for doing the work of childcare or for not having a suitable career is exhibiting a sexist attitude, full stop. Furthermore, this attitude displays a naive ignorance of the many structural reasons why women and mothers in particular are often not able to fully participate in public life in a capitalist society (e.g. pregnancy discrimination is still legal, lack of paid leave, health insurance tied to employment, documented preferential treatment in employment for fathers but the exact opposite for mothers, lack of affordable, high-quality and available childcare, lack of sick/vacation time, public school schedules that are stacked against working families, a USian culture of face time, overwork and underpay, ad nauseum). It's judgey, victim-blaming, unfair, and unnecessary.

Maybe you have attracted these 3 secretly sexist male friends because you actually do have more in common with them in terms of your own limited definition of what a so-called "successful woman" acts like than you would perhaps like to admit. I certainly don't mean this to sound harsh. Most of us have our own "isms" to overcome, and I know you probably mean well. What your post makes absolutely clear is that a good first step for you is to start worrying a whole lot more about your own internalized sexism and your own journey on this planet, and a whole lot less about whatever your 3 male friends may or may not be thinking.
posted by hush at 6:47 AM on June 29, 2014 [36 favorites]

You know how many times my (admirably) non-sexist male friends have praised me for being a successful woman, or a smart woman, or a strong woman? Zero. They talk about my various admirable qualities without making any reference to my gender whatsoever. So I think you should add that sort of gender-qualified praise to your list of red flags.
posted by BrashTech at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2014 [23 favorites]

These guys are bullies. They're getting off on the fact that they're belittling a strong woman. They like having you as their strong female friend so they can feel better about themselves. It's like having a token black friend, or Mexican friend - so they can say, "I'm not a racist, I have a friend who is black".

That being said, I don't know why you care that they like size zero women, unless you want them to be attracted to you. There are plenty of strong, intelligent, independent women who are size zero.

Also, what hush said.
posted by Neekee at 7:00 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

How can I get faster at spotting guys with patriarchal beliefs who spout feminism?

This may be a sign:

"...they say how much they admire me (as a strong woman)...".

I've met sexist people proclaiming their admiration of me as a strong woman. Often I am the exception that (to their mind) proves the rule. There are things we all do meriting attention and admiration but beware of people who will lavish praise a little too easily. Especially men who sound a bit surprised they should meet a strong woman and treat you like you're special for being a strong woman.

On preview, what BrashTech and Neekee and also hush said.
posted by mkdirusername at 7:09 AM on June 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

After re-reading your question, I think these three men bother you because you think they ought to be attracted to you, but aren't.

1. They aren't attracted to your body type and you think they should be.
2. They don't date women as ambitious as you ("no career" in your words - I think this is a colored interpretation) and you think they should. (Also, not satisfied that they seem to find both more and less ambition attractive? That's not fair coming right after criticizing them for a narrow preference of body type.)
3. They make teasing comments to you that a long-time friend would make but a boyfriend probably wouldn't.

I'm not saying you think every man you know should want to date you, but based on your question history you care too much about what people say or don't say to you (and that presumably causes you to not handle sarcasm well, something you should point out to them for the sake of the friendship.) You can reject association with men like this, since you can do whatever you want, but you're basically asking how you can only have male friends that would potentially want to date you, and that is really not how friendship should necessarily work!
posted by michaelh at 7:14 AM on June 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

One red flag that's always been pretty informative for me is whether they subscribe to various evo-psych theories. That is, it's not that they prefer thin women, it's that men are biologically programmed to prefer thin women. It's not that they think it's a good idea to have children in one's 20's, it's that biology dictates that 30something women with their shriveled ovaries will make worse mothers or not be able to conceive at all. It's not that they want their future wives to give up their careers, it's that women are hardwired to want to stay home with babies and babies are hardwired to need a full-time stay-at-home mother in a 1950's nuclear family structure. It's not me, it's the science! Biology isn't politically correct!
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:32 AM on June 29, 2014 [20 favorites]

Very vocal about their appreciation for strong women

This always rings as bullshit to me. Someone who genuinely appreciates strong women doesn't go bragging and broadcasting that about themselves. It almost seems condescending to have to bring gender into one's appreciation of a strong person, as if it's special and unusual that one could appreciate strong women.
posted by winterportage at 7:53 AM on June 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

You seem to be asking two different questions: (a) how to detect sexist attitudes in general, and (b) how to avoid people like these 3 particular men. Almost everyone here seems to be responding only to (a) and ignoring (b). A couple of the previous commenters are right that some if not all of the things you've said about these little to nothing you've said about these men indicates they're sexist.

Do you think that if a woman refuses to date me, a straight man who's less than 6 feet tall, because she only dates men who are well over 6 feet tall, that she hates men? I don't think so. She doesn't hate me because I'm a man; she's rejected me because she's not as physically attracted to me as she is to another man. At worst, you could say she's superficial, but I don't see how she's sexist. So, a man who prefers tall thin women is not therefore sexist. (If you apply a different standard to women than to men, you're the one who's sexist!)

Saying your project isn't likely to win a prize is not sexist. Whether one piece of work of yours is successful does not determine whether society has correct attitudes toward women. Your question implies a misguided sense of entitlement to win prizes and not be exposed to criticism. He may have been completely wrong or completely right. He might have been mean and insensitive, or he might have been appropriately blunt — I can't tell based on the info you've given. (Similarly, saying you sound like a "difficult girlfriend" might be mean or inappropriate, but it isn't necessarily sexist. I'd need to know more about what he meant by that.)

Wanting to be in a relationship with a stay-at-home parent is not sexist. It's a perfectly reasonable arrangement to have one parent in the labor force while another raises kids. If you object to women being stay-at-home moms, you're the one dictating gender roles. As for the fact that they claim to want to date a woman with a career but later date women who don't have careers, that isn't sexist. It happens all the time that people's fantasies about who they're going to date don't neatly match up with reality — that isn't bigoted. That's just life — we're determined to find someone who lives up to all our ideals, but then we settle for someone less than perfect.

So, it seems that it took you years to get to the point of reaching a conclusion that's not actually well-supported (I'm assuming you've given us the strongest evidence). This sounds extraordinarily inefficient. If you want to know about someone's views, why is it necessary to become a detective, instead of simply asking him? Yes, I know: people don't always admit their sexist views. You might never know. But you could at least try to speed up the process by having a straightforward conversation about gender. Another commenter suggested going to a feminist website and getting ideas for conversation starters. Otherwise, you end up dwelling on things that are, at worst, personal insults, and extrapolating that if he's criticizing you, he's criticizing all women. No, that's not necessarily the case.
posted by John Cohen at 8:25 AM on June 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

whether they subscribe to various evo-psych theories

This. So. Hard.

There may be some evolutionary psych that isn't part of building the Great Wall of Patriarchy. (There should be! As a psychologist and someone who loves biological sciences, I yearn for this sociopoliticaly neutral evo psych, but have never found it.) Nevertheless, what there is not in this world, what are rarer than Yeti interviews, are agendaless young men with no particular qualifications or interest in either psychology or biology who talk about, mention or read evolutionary psychology.

I don't know how useful it is on a Red Flag Short List - there are other, more common screeners, all well described above.

But if you see that, head for the hills as fast as your waist to hip ratio allows.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 8:33 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Going back to the question here is my very simple litmus test (for boyfriends... I might be more lenient on male friends) they enjoy strip clubs? That's it! Everyone I've dated who has has eventually been a s exist jerk or went through a painful transformation and at the end no longer liked going. Maybe you're morally ok with strippers and I'm sure some nice guys are but you know what? it correlates in my experience pretty damn well with their views on women as objects or people. (Notice I didn't say men who enjoy women's bodies....of course hetero men do just not in a "you exist for my own sexual gratification only" type of way)

Also I too used to be driven absolutely up the wall by men who stated they wanted a strong successful woman and went for an ego stroking no independent personality type of lady (be careful not to conflate that with stay at home mom's not always) and then I realized 1. It's none of my business and who cares and 2. Many of the time they weren't happy with miss completely dependent on them and spent all their time flirting with "strong" woman but they never formed a relationship with miss independent because many guys like that are very insecure and not ready for relationship with an equal.
posted by Skadi at 8:50 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thirded on the evo-psych theories. I have learned to use this as my One True Screening Tool and it works so well. Anyone who subscribes to cockamamie pseudo-science "Men are biologically programmed to prefer young women/be promiscuous/be violent" and "Women are biologically programmed to nurture/prefer older men/want lots of baybeez/not want a career" makes me nope away SO FAST.

Stuff like treating service people rudely, etc. is a sign of general assholeism rather than sexism specifically, and you don't want to date an asshole either. But evo-psych is a great big red flag with a Jolly Roger on it. Especially because the evo-psych proponents think they are as justified in their sexism by "human nature" as the more conservative religious types are by "God's will."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:57 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Do you think that if a woman refuses to date me, a straight man who's less than 6 feet tall, because she only dates men who are well over 6 feet tall, that she hates men?

No, but if she were to go on and on about how short men were not attractive or worthy, that would be sexist.

I can't really tell for sure from the question whether these guys are doing the equivalent of that, or just expressing their personal preference, but I would assume if it's enough to bother OP that it's insensitive at best.

Similarly, there is nothing sexist about having a preference that your future wife be a SAHM, but if you don't view that as a choice to be negotiated within a partnership, then you are being sexist. OP said these guys were insisting that various girlfriends become SAHMs, like they had no choice in the matter.
posted by Asparagus at 9:13 AM on June 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Whom a man is attracted to is his business - as long as he keeps it is his business.

I don't go around proclaiming which body types I think are attractive - what would be the point? It's just rude - potentially hurtful to someone without that body type and much less flattering to someone with that body type than sincere (and appropriate!) *personal* appreciation would be. If a person can't tell when shallow discussion of attractiveness is fun and appropriate (generally in a single sex group of people who feel free to tell you you're full of shit because obviously *their* type is the hottest), they are just not properly socialized human beings and can't be trusted to be kind or considerate. Similarly to a woman going on and on about how much she ate and how fat and disgusting she feels - in the company of another woman who is twice her size. Decent people just don't do that. Men feeling like their opinions and judgments of women's bodies is always appropriate is a symptom of sexism and in the context you describe, probably also homosocial status seeking (for every man who is genuinely attracted to the size zero body type that, oh what a coincidence, happens to be the most culturally celebrated and associated with the highest status trophy women, there are at least three who would feel completely viscerally thrilled with a different, or at least broader, range of body types but who want the social affirmation of being seen with a thin woman or the sexist satisfaction of feeling like some kind of objective/important judge of women's sexual desirability - including women he will never actually talk to or meet).

Basically I'm saying that that these guys are rude and mean and act as though all women everywhere are a beauty pageant for their judgment. It's gross.

But on some level it comes down to the golden rule. Do you really think they are treating women how they would want to be treated? I mean, do you think try are even making a good faith effort? It seems to me that they are stumbling over 'the radical notion that women are people.'

I suggest that you expect more from men. Don't just expect them to be men, expect them to be good human beings, capable of empathy and kindness, consideration and respect, and don't put up with any more mean girl bullshit from a man than you would from a woman.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:37 AM on June 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

For me, the big tell is them thinking I'm special, like I'm their token woman friend, telling me I'm not like other women.

I don't really think of it as a deal-killer, though, because I like to argue with my friends. So I just do that, and I always win! (It helps that I keep the score.)

And maybe that's the thing. I'm OK with and appreciate having friends I can argue with sometimes and even have serious disagreements with, as long as we're mutually respectful. That's my personal deal killer, sexism or no. Does this person behave as though they actually respect and care about me? Mostly, though, it comes down to whether I like hanging out with them or not.

Do I have fun hanging out with someone? Do I look forward to it, and look back fondly on times I did?

So your friends have some unexamined sexism. So do mine. So do I. I think most people do. In fact, I can gender swap your problems with them and name about a dozen women I know who exhibit the same attitudes. Media-influenced notions about what's attractive. (In totally inexcusably heteronormative terms, women have media influenced notions of what's attractive in men, and sick damaging internalized ones about what's attractive in women too.) A desire to be a SAHM. Snarky, passive aggressive or just overly competitive attitudes.

These things can exist in a person who describes herself as a feminist. They're not even all necessarily incompatible. I think most people understand that. You don't just eliminate all vestiges of the patriarchy in yourself the moment you acknowledge it exists. It is really hard work examining and modifying your own behaviors and attitudes, and personally, I don't think anyone ever finishes that job.

Sometimes, I think we hold men to higher standards then women in some ways. We're more likely to excuse a woman who is holding onto internalized misogyny than we are a man. Granted, it's often in men's self interests to do that, but ultimately, it's the same thing. It's social conditioning vs. critical analysis. And sometimes, I think we *do* treat men as though they're more rational and logical than women. I mean, feminists do that. We understand how women would have a hard time with self-control and critical analysis, but we expect men to just do it.

But they can't. Men are every bit as flawed and emotional and irrational as we normal humans are.

Which is NOT to say that it's your job to hold their hands and fix them. It's not. That's sexist bullshit too. You pick your friends according to your own needs, and don't apologize for that. But I don't think you're going to find anyone out there, male or female, who isn't hanging onto some little scraps of patriarchy here and there. You are the only one who can decide what your deal killers are.

I think if I have a sexism related deal killer, it's probably as simple as not even trying. It's the people who are purely in patriarchy defense mode, who aren't willing to analyze or acknowledge their sexist assumptions and attitudes at all. If someone's actually trying and is willing to think about these things, I would like to drink beer with them and do it together.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:42 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is admittedly more for dating purposes, since my friends tend to come pre-vetted from other sources, but I have a few litmus tests.

1. I listen for the way he talks about his exes. Is he respectful? If all his exes are "crazy" or otherwise negative, then he almost certainly thinks that women, as some weird monolithic institution, are crazy. I don't need that douche in my life.

2. Women "are like/do/think/xxxx ______________". Again, if you're thinking of women as a monolithic subspecies and not, y'know, fellow human beings, each as individual as a snowflake, then I'm about to nope the fuck out of there.

3. I SAY NO. Sometimes I will do it intentionally about a thing that I don't even feel that strongly about saying no to. It can be trivial, but it does have to be something he kind of wants. Doesn't have to be right away on the first date (or, in your case, when you're getting to know someone), but how does this person react to a no? Do they say, "Oh, okay, we won't do that then, sorry?" or do they try to argue the point with you? Do they try to get you to change your mind when you've already put a boundary in place? This, to me, is a great douche-detector for men, because you very quickly learn who has been taught to respect women's own opinions about what they want and who has not. It's also an excellent safety thing. I feel much safer with a man who respects my "no"s.

4. I also feel better about men who have lots of female friends, whom they have never dated and have no interest in dating. This isn't absolute, since there are lots of scenarios where it doesn't play out (a new person just moved to town, for instance), but if you are a man with good solid relationships with women who are genuinely just friends and always will be, it shows that you are interested in meaningful relationships with women outside of sexual politicking. And that's a good sign.

Tokenizing ('You're not like other girls'), insisting on 'strong women' bullshit (because it implies that women who don't fit their mold of success aren't strong), evo-psych (God it is the WORST), and how they treat the waitstaff. For male friends, it's particularly useful to see how they treat the female waitstaff. I'm not interested in being friends with anyone who's overly flirtatious with a woman who can't say an outright no or tell them to back off without losing the much-needed economic benefit of the interaction. Any decent feminist man should be able to do the math on that one, and leave women servers alone while they're working.

Also, please ignore the posters who are making excuses for these men. You do not owe people who do not respect your entire gender your friendship or a second chance or even the time of day. If they can't respect you, then you walk. And if they're very lucky, maybe you'll find the generousity in your heart to toss a, "Hey, think really hard about the way you talk about women, assholes, because you sure as hell don't treat them like people," over your sholder as you go. But your self-protection should come first. You say it right in your question-- these men are tearing you down and making you feel bad about yourself because of the way they conceptualize and treat women. You don't owe them a damn thing.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:16 AM on June 29, 2014 [21 favorites]

Thank you for the suggestions on how you personally have spotted sexism. Ralston McTodd's evo-psych theories and winterportage's "doth protest too much" suggestions are especially helpful.

Also thank you to the commenters who demonstrated how to call out sexism by doing it to my post.

re: hush. The operative difference was them insisting that the woman become a SAHM. It's great when a guy honors his wife's choice to stay at home, and gives her respect for it. It's different when the guy insists that his future wife must stay at home, because he thinks one of them must give up their career and it must be her, never him. These guys say they heard that it's biologically better for the kid, though they didn't research whether this is true. They also said they assume they'll make more money than whoever they date in the future.

Regarding body type, the preference for a body type bothers me when it's extreme (must be size 0; size 6 would be too fat). One of the guys dated a woman who seemed like a normal weight to me, probably size 8. He kept complaining to friends about her weight, and wished that she were much thinner, like 20 pounds thinner. He didn't complain to the woman directly, though he was really happy when she finally started dieting.

I feel like there's already media pressure to be very thin, and also pressure that being very thin is more important than personality or other attributes. So when I saw it happen in front of me, it seems sexist to me.

re: michaelh. I want these men to be attracted to women like me, but not specifically me. It's like watching a movie and wanting the hero to choose the ambitious woman and become a power couple with her, rather than saying he wants that but then choosing the hot woman and recreating a 1950s family structure.

Regarding put-downs, it's true that I am assigning a sexist motive to the insulting comments, when those might just be guys being accustomed to making fun of each other, or could just be these people being frenemies. Point taken. I acknowledge that was probably not related to sexism.

WidgetAlley's comment is also really helpful. I am learning a lot from these suggestions -- thanks everyone!
posted by cheesecake at 10:51 AM on June 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

1. I think enjoying strip clubs is a good tell as well as having a porn "collection." Other good tells for me are:

-Describing oneself as "deeply religious" since it makes me think they ascribe to a particular set of rules without much thought. On the other hand, people describing themselves as "spiritual" or something similar don't make me wary.
-Being overly impressed with women who are strong, career driven, athletic, etc simply for the fact that it is a woman who is doing these things.
-When a woman is upset, blaming it on PMS
-Referring to a fight between two women as a cat fight

2. I'm not sure about these guys in particular. It sounds like they are basically calling you fat by saying they will only date super thin women. It's insulting and rude. They can't help being attracted to thin women, but making a big deal about it in front of a woman who is not thin, is simply rude. I would never discuss that I prefer average size men with my overweight guy friends since I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings. It's possible the guys you are hanging out with lack empathy more than anything else.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:25 AM on June 29, 2014

Having a preference for very thin women is one thing; declaring loudly how women above size zero are unfuckable is another thing. Also, complaining to the "bros" that one's girlfriend is too fat sounds like a mega-douche. That's completely disrepectful and sounds like high school dating behaviour.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:29 AM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think the fact that these men make generalized statements about women is a good clue. Saying "I like strong women" is silly; it implies that strong women are alike.

It sounds like you think that what's making you feel bad is the anti-feminist beliefs. That's part of it, but actually they aren't acting like the kind of friends you want. Insulting you...maybe it's "all in good fun," but it's not your idea of fun. You want a friend who supports you and congratulates you on your successes, not someone who sees them as opportunities to point out that you're not perfect.

I've seen my brother and his friends insulting each other for fun. I had two male friends who did that with me because I "wasn't like other girls who couldn't take it." I had to tell them that it's not a girl thing -- that I like to have an actual conversation and the jokes and insults made that impossible. Their attitude that "girls are a certain way" was completely sexist, and telling me that I was "kind of like a guy" was ridiculous and insulting. Those friendships didn't last because they didn't want to act like real friends.

Forget about wanting to be treated with respect because you're a woman and women should be treated with respect. Focus on the particular individual, and whether he's treating you as you want to be treated -- actually, as you yourself would treat a friend.

You absolutely do need to straighten someone out when they say things that make you feel bad. Make it about you and them, not about men and women. Ask for what you do want, because it works better than telling them what you don't want. It would be very effective to say calmly, "Why do you think I wouldn't win the award?" and wait for an answer. Ask again if he dodges. It'll probably get awkward for him, but all you've done is taken what he said at face value and asked him about it. You can also be clear that "I'm looking for some enthusiasm and support." If they're going to learn, someone's got to show them how to do it.

Asking "What do you mean?" is a great way to make someone aware that what they just said could be interpreted in different ways. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being more abrupt and direct, and telling someone you don't appreciate their statement -- but if that's not your style, it won't work for you.

About feeling "fat" when someone admires a skinny woman: please examine your feelings and where they come from. Weight is an important feminist issue. If you (like me) tend to think that attractiveness exists in direct proportion to how little space you take up, it's a good idea to work on that. I just try to be aware and remind myself that it's not true....that I need to treat myself better than that.
posted by wryly at 11:37 AM on June 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Geez, with friends like these, who needs frenemies? I have platonic guy friends that consider me a sister, and they don't treat me that way. They're supportive of my projects and rarely comment on the attractiveness of other women in front of me.

The guys who have treated me in the past as you describe your "friends" treating you were guys who were attracted to me, and resentful about being "friend-zoned." Or we were in a weird semi-FWB situation and they were trying to keep some sort of distance by being mean. Neither situation was healthy. Are you sure these guys just see you as a friend?
posted by xenophile at 11:56 AM on June 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

How can I get faster at spotting guys with patriarchal beliefs who spout feminism?

I'm a strongly feminist woman, and I've been fooled by this too. In my political circles, there are many men who talk the talk but don't walk the walk. Two anecdotes:

1. There's a guy in my larger circle who appears to be a mildly genderqueer artsy flyer of the freak flag. And of course he loves strong women and their strong bodies, blah blah blah. A skirt-wearing man is bound to be enlightened, right? Maybe not: I've heard stories from multiple women that this man is ...let's say, somewhat consent-impaired.

2. I was at a barbecue where the host asked everyone to help clean up. (It was completely dark and a lot of food needed to be brought inside.) So there was a constant stream of people bringing food and dishes to the kitchen ...where three manarchists were standing around drinking and talking about smashing the state. But they couldn't be bothered to do any dishes.

The men I know who really are feminists do many of these things:

-Pitch in with dishes and housework without thinking about it or congratulating themselves for it.

-Don't dominate conversation, especially conversation with women.

-Don't belittle people for not knowing something.

-Are prepared to put a partner's career before their own.

-Respect "no"...but also wait for "yes."

In short, you have to look at a person's actions (and maybe get the scoop from people you trust). Feminism is everyday behavior, not rhetoric.
posted by the_blizz at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

Nthing "evopsych". And comments emphasizing inherent differences between genders. And unprovoked evaluation of a woman's desirability, or entitlement to a world full of women that fit his evaluation.

(Also a caveat about statements above normalizing "insulting banter" between men, in male friendships. I'm male, and none of my male friendships involve that; I'd quickly end any that did.)
posted by ead at 12:57 PM on June 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think the weight thing that you have described probably goes much deeper than "he feels that way because he is sexist"... Due to my own unfortunate experience living with a man who had that kind of extremely specific preference, and who was very unnerved and vigilant about my weight, despite the fact my body was already very slim and attractive... I know that it has no logic. But I know that he was extremely concerned with his own weight and body, and I feel that some very weird psychological shit was going on inside his head- like he was trying to vicariously live out his own eating disorder through me. He was also concerned with his male sons diet... I really wouldn't be surprised if your friend had deeper issues about control of his own body. It might seem sexist in the surface, but only because it happens in the vocabulary of attraction and what he finds feminine.... But the subject is probably actually himself.
posted by misspony at 2:27 PM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of things have been said already. A lot of them will root out the more "obvious" misogynists. Here are a few that can help detect them in the liberal, feminist-adjacent crowd.

* An excessive focus on how terrible men are, how awful men are, etc. This can take many forms: the patronizing "I just want to warn you about us guys" up to self-loathing Internet-style misandry. The key here is that they say little about feminism proper, except that men are terrible, and sometimes about terrible men that they know and want to witch-hunt. At a certain point this becomes projection, and then it becomes implied permission to behave badly, because that's just how men are, right?

* Men who profess to find all kinds of people beautiful but exclusively date young/white/thin/wealthy/etc. girls. Actions speak louder than words. Again, there are many forms of this: guys who only surround themselves with said women, or on the other end of the spectrum guys who have an entire class of friends they mentally relegate to the "unfuckable" category.

* Men who complain about "social justice warriors" or anything along those lines.

* Mansplaining. The term's overused nowadays, but it is still most definitely a thing. Talking down to you, basically; talking to you about things you know a lot about while assuming you're just a simple lady who's pretending. Implicit "tests" of your expertise, and making fun of you if you fail the tests. (Think nerdy guys who try to root out "fake geek girls," or music bros who will endlessly quiz you on your taste.)

* Excessive making fun of "girly" things and the girls who like them. Spiffed-up "men are from Mars," basically.

* This one is still a neutral tell, unfortunately, but on online dating sites, making entire lists of movies, books and music without a woman among them.

* Extra-real edition: For the younger crowd, tweets sent on weekends after 11 p.m. or during sporting events. In vino veritas, etc. I know of at least two or three professed male feminists who regularly show their true colors then (and then quickly delete the evidence).
posted by dekathelon at 9:33 PM on June 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Two of them make jabs at me, like "You sound like you'd be a difficult girlfriend" or "Let me quiz you at math to see if you really are that smart" or after I said I hope my project wins a prestigious award, "I don't think it will". I'm annoyed that they drive across town to hang out with me, and then proceed to insult me.


What's worked for you in being able to recognize people like this earlier, before you let them into your inner circle?

Well, one thing you can do is drop any friend or potential friend who habitually insults you. This isn't even a sexism thing -- you just shouldn't waste your time with people who try to make you feel badly about yourself, regardless of what's driving their behavior.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:53 PM on June 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

The origin of the word sarcasm is 'words that tear the flesh'. Don't be friends with people who say mean, hurtful things, coated in sarcasm or not.
posted by Neekee at 12:57 PM on July 13, 2014

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