Arguments with partner
May 12, 2022 11:26 AM   Subscribe

My (female) partner asked me yesterday whether women or men have more difficult lives. I am not great at answering these questions because I think the answers are very complicated and any simple answer is insufficient. I also don't want to answer the question because of how complicated it is (in some ways women have it harder, in other ways men do), do you think I have to answer the question? Is this something a couple can disagree on?

I have a hard time saying things I don't mean, so I can't just go along with something out of ease. She was incredulous that I didn't just say blanketly that women have harder lives than men. She saw it as a huge red flag and anti-feminist, she started getting very mad at me, and was questioning our entire relationship on the basis of being with a man that doesn't share the same immediate opinion. I've tried many times (over several days now) to back away from the conversation and try to leave it as "it's complicated and I don't know enough to say definitively either way," but to no avail. I'm also not sure why it's important, as I think almost everyone has really tough circumstances regardless of gender. It's either I agree with her, or I'm a monster. I have stated repeatedly that I don't want to be having this conversation, but now that I've been seen as disagreeing she won't let it go. This is blowing up our relationship, and the dynamics of these types of arguments don't happen infrequently. I think the world of women, and in all honesty think they should run the world. I'm mostly flummoxed as to whether I'm acting inappropriately and am the problem by not sharing her opinion. I may well be, but I sometimes need outside help to validate whether that's true.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (61 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's not that complicated--on average, women have more difficult lives than men do. There are libraries full of scholarship and history and statistics and feminist theory about it. People have known it for hundreds of years.

That doesn't mean that e.g. one of the lesser Kardashian sisters doesn't have an easier life than e.g. some Dalit man living on the streets of Calcutta, or, for that matter, that your partner has a more difficult life than you.

This is something that a couple can disagree on, and lots of couples do. But a lot of people, and I think your partner may be one of them, would not want to be in a relationship with someone who disagreed with them about it.
posted by box at 11:37 AM on May 12 [55 favorites]

I find this bizarre.

It isn't even meaningful to speak of "men" and "women" as worldwide categories of "who has a harder life." A million factors go into every life. For any two people, sure, you could probably - maybe - if you had allll the info, which you probably couldn't -- make that judgment. And there are some categories which are quantifiable, if one wanted to cite statistics: average poverty levels; average lifespans; most-common causes of death; incidence of being sexually assaulted; things like that. But that's not what she seems to be talking about. (Is it?)

It's not so much that you guys disagree, it's that she thinks this is a meaningful or important question to begin with, and is hanging her hat on it as a way to put you down. Sounds like she likes picking fights with you.

(ETA to add: bearing children is objectively harder than not.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:37 AM on May 12 [9 favorites]

In order for a relationship to work, both parties have to have compatible ideas about how the world works. You both grew up surrounded by patriarchy, breathing patriarchy, doing patriarchy, and having your lives and choices shaped by what the patriarchy allows & doesn't allow, but only one of you seems to be aware of it. That's always going to cause a conflict. What I would advise is that you sit down with your girlfriend and say something like, I am not educated in this area and I would like to learn. Listen to what she says, and believe what she has to say.
posted by bleep at 11:38 AM on May 12 [34 favorites]

On the one hand it is kind of weird to me for a relationship to blow up over what seems to be a general hypothetical/philosophical statement but on the other isn't it obvious that women have more difficult lives than men? (sure specific experiences may vary but overall)

If you're in the US and she had asked if Black people have more difficult lives than White people would your answer have also been that it's complicated?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:39 AM on May 12 [51 favorites]

Women having it harder isn’t an opinion by the way, it’s demonstrably true. So maybe apologize for having privilege blinders.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:45 AM on May 12 [52 favorites]

Also, if you hold your ground on this, realistically you could lose her because she may not feel safe with you. I know seeing the world SO differently would be a relationship deal breaker for me.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:48 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]

Think about why you think women have it easier. And now think about whether an avowed feminist would share that opinion. Therein lies your answer.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:48 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

[Written from a cis-male prespective, just to be clear.]

At a guess I would say there are two possible things going on here,
1) you actually disagree on the facts and have offended her in a political sense. This is an issue people can have pretty firm opinions on.

[Side note, while I think many people would in general agree that women have a harder time than men in most cultures on the planet, there’s more than enough room to debate the issue depending on how you define the terms. Women get paid less and are the victims of sexual offences much more, but men are the victims of violent crime to a much greater extent, are a lot less likely to find a spouse who is willing to work full time and let them raise a family (and whether that is a blessing/curse/choice/forced role can vary a lot from family to family, and get murdered at a much higher rate, although when women get murdered it tends to be by people they know, which somehow feels worse… ‘Scoring’ these issues to find a winner is a semi-pointless excerise.]

2) You’re not actually talking about what you think you’re talking about.

There’s a sterotype that men are bad at listening, because when a women talks about a problem the man jumps right into trying to solve it without realizing what the women wants in that scenario is often (but not always) to just be listened to, and have an oppertunity to express their feelings and talk through an issue. The women gets angry because the man isn’t listenting, and the man gets angry because he’s suggested like 20 ways to deal with the issue but the women just seems to want to keep talking about it and not actually implement any solution.

Stereotypes exist for a reason (this does happen) but it’s also sometimes the case that the women actually phrases her issue in the form of a question, at which point the man might understandably be confused as to why his explict answers are not meeting with appreciation.

So take a moment and try to figure out if you’re actually talking about MEN and WOMEN or if you’re talking about YOU and HER. Either is possible but the two should not necessarily be approached the same way.

The part you said that makes me think this is the issue is the comment you made about not wanting to adopt positions you’re not sure of.

If your partner said “don’t you agree that women have it harder then men” but meant “I am having a hard time right now” and you replied with “I’m not sure I necessarily believe that without studying it more”… well I can see that conversation going very badly indeed.

This is NOT to say that women or men are worse at communicating, but rather that sometimes two people have different communications styles and before you answer such a question you should take a moment to make sure you actually understand what they want/expect/need to hear.
posted by tiamat at 11:51 AM on May 12 [8 favorites]

I hope you two can work through this.

From a historical and cultural view, of course it is easier to be a male...women are more vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and unfair treatment. Women have not had autonomy, make less money, have to raise the kids and take care of the elders, and so on. Men have never suffered period- pain, discomfort, or embarrassment, never mind pregnancy and childbirth. Most men have orgasms when they have sex, many women don't .

But sure, a wealthy woman with access to education and health care is probably living an easier life than an incarcerated male.

My spouse has had all sorts of bladder issues which involve pretty painful procedures. Scopes up the penis...catheters, skin lesions, and so on. In this regard, it is not "easier" to be a male, but that doesn't negate the power of patriarchy.
posted by rhonzo at 11:55 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I have a hard time saying things I don't mean, so I can't just go along with something out of ease.

As a Gen-X woman socialized in North America this made me snort, because I was raised specifically to ease men's ways - to consider their feelings, whether I was emasculating them, etc. etc. etc. I've also gone along with men out of fear they would assault or kill me many, many times. I was told not to dress certain ways in case I provoked uncontrollable emotions in them and ruined their lives and so on.

Anyways, I suppose that's a moot point but it might help you to see why your girlfriend isn't able to just walk away from your stance on this. She's saying "I am swimming upstream as a part of a disadvantaged class of human being" and you are saying "well, I don't really want to be made uncomfortable so can we just drop it?"

I think your answer is going to be empathy for her experience and beliefs and to seek to understand. In other words, perhaps you could consider what you could to do ease her needs/wants/desires to talk about patriarchy.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:55 AM on May 12 [121 favorites]

I have a hard time saying things I don't mean, so I can't just go along with something out of ease.

Hey, bro, let me just advise this, and I'm saying it from the place of a person who also lives atop a massive pile of privilege and destroyed (at least) one major relationship because I put my being right over my partner being happy: Get over yourself.

She didn't ask this out of the blue (even though you may well think she did). She asked you this because you make all the appropriate noises of being an Enlightened Ally Dude ("I think the world of women, and in all honesty think they should run the world."), but she knows that you don't really think that, or at least that you don't want to put in the work necessary to prove it.

As for your actual question, here's my rule of thumb: Whenever you make a whole screen worth of explanation of the issue, the thing you say last is how you really feel:
I'm mostly flummoxed as to whether I'm acting inappropriately and am the problem by not sharing her opinion. I may well be
Yes, but not in the way you're asking. It's not that you don't "share her opinion", it's that you refuse to engage with the question. And you refuse to engage with it because you know that men have it easier in virtually every situation, individually and in aggregate, but you don't want to admit it. Maybe you fear that (possibly with justification) she has a further point that she wants to make once you admit it. Maybe you're right. Maybe she's never going to stop pointing out that men have it easier. And if she never stops harping on that, if you two somehow spend the rest of your lives together and she brings it up on a weekly basis for the next 50 years, then that 2500 times you get reminded of this and have to deal with thinking about the unfair way that our society is set up for women is a tiny, tiny fraction of what women actually have to deal with.
posted by Etrigan at 12:00 PM on May 12 [59 favorites]

I don't really like the idea of a someone asking their partner what could be interpreted as a somewhat open-ended question inviting a pretty freewheeling conversation (I think women obviously have it harder than men, but men have to live under the weight of a million expectations of how men are "supposed" to act and feel, and I think that's hard too) but in reality asking a question with a clear (to them) "yes" or "no" answer and getting enraged when you don't respond the right way. That's not asking you what you think, that's you being tested without realizing it.

I wonder if there have been other things going on in your relationship that made her ask this question. It's just very specific, and again, feels more like an excuse to pick a fight than an attempt at having a conversation.
posted by cakelite at 12:01 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]

Who has it easier, the rich or the poor? Who has it easier, Native Americans or white Americans? Who has it easier, janitors or CEOs? Who has it easier, undocumented people or citizens? Who has it easier, trans people or cis people?

You could easily say something like, "well, janitors never have to take long plane trips for work and they don't have take work home with them, so really who can tell who has it harder", but you know that would be bullshit. You could even say, "This CEO's spouse died tragically of cancer and their child turned to drug use to cope, and this janitor has a loving family who are all healthy, so really janitors can have it easier", but you can see why that too would not answer the question.

I think it's important to understand that there are usually multiple factors in someone's identity, so for instance, I as a white trans masc would consider myself to "have it easier" than a Black trans man...but I would not in general feel that trans people have it easier than cis people, or that this is even a question once you start looking at outcomes.

If your partner is trying to translate this into some kind of "Kim Kardashian's suffering is so much greater than yours, so leave me alone while I buy Kardashian-themed merchandise" or if she is trying to use this conversation to put you down personally, then sure, it's pretty reasonable to push back.

But if your partner is trying to talk about gender and inequality and your response is that well, men face specific problems associated with being men so who can say, that's not a good response.

Where did this conversation come from? Did any particular experience prompt it? Do you feel like you and your partner have more or less the same difficulty settings in life if you average out career, background, chores in daily life, exposure to violence, exposure to harassment, etc? I guess I would wonder what prompted my partner to start this line of conversation.
posted by Frowner at 12:04 PM on May 12 [35 favorites]

My friend, they don't call it The Patriarchy for nothing.

She's not asking you if there are situations in which some men have it harder than some women, she's asking you if overall understand that we live in a society that favours men over women. And yes, there are situations where that favouring of men's interests makes things harder for men (toxic masculinity, hey!) and leaves them with fewer choices (default parents, ahoy!) but in general, this is a society constructed by (white, cis, able-bodied, straight) men for the benefit of such men and everyone else is just trying to cope with that.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:08 PM on May 12 [46 favorites]

Considering the fact that the most powerful western nation on earth is set on destroying women's rights to choose what happens to their own bodies, I'd say that alone should be enough to make the answer obvious.

When a major religion begins forcing men to cover their whole bodies, or when men are banned from getting an education in some countries, or when the top 10 richest people are all women... maybe then the discussion might warrant more nuance.
posted by Pemberly at 12:12 PM on May 12 [43 favorites]

Patriarchy hurts everyone. Women more than men, but it hurts everyone. I can deal with someone who sees the hurt patriarchy causes men, but I don’t know how to deal with someone who doesn’t see the patriarchy at all (surprisingly easy to do as it is the water we all swim in).

I think what you need to find out though is how patriarchy is hurting your partner now. Is it something you can help with? Can you read up on emotional labor so you have a better understanding of what sharing the load means? Can you make time to listen when she complains that the car mechanic treated her like an ignorant child or her boss didn’t listen to her but listened when a man repeated the same exact words? Is she depressed about a bunch of dipshit men deciding what she can do with her own body? Who knows. All of the above or something entirely different. Why don’t you ask her what parts of the patriarchy are causing her a problem now (and what you can do to help)?
posted by nat at 12:18 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

Women have more difficult lives. (I say this a cis het man.) It's both unambiguously, demonstrably true in every contemporary place on the Earth and also the answer that will make you not seem like an asshole. And, as a stranger on the internet who doesn't know you, it sounds like there might be more important things to solve in your relationship than this particular question. Best wishes.
posted by eotvos at 12:25 PM on May 12 [24 favorites]

I agree that the question on its face doesn't have much nuance and is a pretty cut and dry thing, but for some people part of the appeal of an intimate relationship is that you can have a more open and meandering conversation about things and get into some of your more complex (and even problematic) feelings on the issue because you trust one another and listen to each other in good faith. That's a form of intimacy, and it's also a good way to help the other person see your perspective and maybe even come around to the idea that the patriarchy is everywhere and women deal with the brunt of it.
posted by cakelite at 12:28 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

As a white middle class cis heterosexual able-bodied and neurotypical woman in the global north who believes in intersectionality, I acutally find these blanket answers that some reductive category called "women" objectively has harder lives than some reductive category called "men" to be objectively wrong. And I think almost any question or discussion about simplified identity is improved and deepened by understanding the actual complexity of things.
posted by nantucket at 12:35 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]

It's a weird question to ask out of the blue and makes me wonder what you've been doing or saying to lead up to it. The way you're presenting your thought process here makes me suspect you've been dismissive of issues about gender and power and patriarchy before. What you're experiencing as a sudden theoretical question with little relevance to everyday life may be your partner's last straw after a series of events in said everyday life. Or not! But it's worth considering where she got the idea in the first place that she needed to pin you down about this.
posted by Stacey at 12:41 PM on May 12 [24 favorites]

She's saying "I am swimming upstream as a part of a disadvantaged class of human being" and you are saying "well, I don't really want to be made uncomfortable so can we just drop it?"

As a BIPOC woman who also believes in intersectionality, even hearing your "but what if men are the ones who have it harder" makes me tired. Women always have it harder in a comparative issue. White women have it harder than white men; Black women have it harder than Black men; poor women have it harder than poor men. Their identities may make it harder in complex ways, but intersecting oppressions makes life harder not easier.

Can you find some group of men that has it harder than some group of women? Sure, but that's specious reasoning, and honestly, if I weren't married or co-owning property with you, in year 2022 seeing the fucking war on women right now? That would be a dealbreaker for me too and I would absolutely dump your ass because ain't no one got time for that resocialization with their one and precious life and dudes that are like "nuh uh, women have it easier because they don't have to do this thing of male socialization" are not just a red flag in these days of possible Roe v Wade repeal they are a May Day parade full of red flags.
posted by corb at 12:41 PM on May 12 [78 favorites]

An answer can be both true and complex.

Let me tell you why I think NOT seeing things similarly or having empathy for the position of your partner would be detrimental.

1. Id assume you would take a man’s word over mine because you can “see” where he’s coming from more clearly than seeing my perspective
2. Id worry about coming to you for help with harassment or worse, assault - I would assume that since you don’t know how scary and pervasive public harassment (even groping) of women is, you might say it’s my fault or not believe me entirely.
3. I wouldn’t trust you to believe my experience period - and I’d feel exhausted knowing I’d have to have my experience litigated by my partner who has no idea and cannot see from my perspective
4. I’d assume if we had kids, you’d try to enforce a false dichotomy regarding how boys and girls are treated by society, to their detriment

That’s just off the top of my head. It’s not a small deal. We really do need allies.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:43 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]

Did you ask your partner *why* she asked this question? My guess is there is something deeper there where she feels like perhaps you don't have perspective or compassion for the challenges women face in society. I'd dig in on that part vs arguing the macro point.
posted by amycup at 12:58 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]

That question was a trap and her asking it is red flag on its own.


There are statistics on how women are disadvantaged in society. Statistically lower rates of pay, statistically higher victimization. Child bearing/rearing.

But every single individual carries only their own trauma and experiences. Everyone feels their own emotions and pains and struggles with various aspects of existing.

An intimate romantic relationship is inherently a place of emotion and individuality, and the broadness of the question about who has harder lives is just bonkers to me in that context.

Bring human is hard. We don’t get to choose what gender we’re born or socialized as. Nobody consented to any of this “life” business, so trying to argue about it in a hetero relationship is just… dumb.

(I’m transmasc/non-binary, so might have a specific chip on my shoulder about rhetoric around the “divinity” of women. I’m not transmasc because my life as a woman was too difficult/dangerous, I’m trans because being a woman didn’t feel right for me. My trans friends who went the other way didn’t do it because life felt too easy and wanted more of a challenge. They travel that path to pursue the self and expression that felt right to them. Life is hard! Period!)
posted by itesser at 1:12 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]

I think it is both a complex complicated question and that the answer is women. The way I would answer it knowing your gf reactions so far is to think of it as if someone had a gun to your head and said you had to choose one or the other, no "its complicated". If you don't see that that answer is women, then you two are not compatible.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:13 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]

What if your partner rephrased the question this way:

Do you think male privilege exists?

If a man refuses to answer that question because he think everyone has it equally hard, he's not an ally. This isn't just a political difference either - it's personal. It means he doesn't believe that male privilege has had any effect on my life, which, uh.

You don't need a complicated answer to the question of whether or not male privilege exists, so refusal to answer it based on "it's complicated" seems like a cop-out. There are many other types of privilege, as well as things like luck, but that's a "yes, and"; you can still answer the question. It's going to be read as a red flag by many if you refuse. It would make me wonder what you think makes you a feminist, because this -

I think the world of women, and in all honesty think they should run the world

- isn't it.

To be honest, the way that you describe the discussion is is pretty vague and makes me think you might not have much experience discussing these types of issues, because you aren't really able to clarify exactly what you think she meant by the question. So maybe this interpretation of the question didn't occur to you. Maybe you really thought she was asking if every woman has it harder than every man.

Hell, maybe my interpretation of the question is wrong- I'm only suggesting it because in my experience, it's what most women mean when they ask something like this.

Refusing to talk about it is definitely not going to clear up the miscommunication if that's the case, though. This is probably going to fester if you can't have an honest conversation about it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:28 PM on May 12 [18 favorites]

I think your partner is being toxic in this situation.

You're not saying that men DO have it tougher. You're not even saying that women DON'T have it tougher. You're just saying you don't know. It's a BIG question being asked. Semantically (or philosophically) what does it mean to say women have it tougher if in specific individual circumstances a man has had it tougher than a woman. What about if you live in a matriarchal society and not a patriarchal one? What if you're not one for abstract thinking and so don't know how to answer such a large and abstract question and you're just one for going about living your life trying to be kind to everyone?

If you're kind to women, kind to your partner, don't say or do anything that is misogynistic or harmful or unequal or whatever, it seems insane and toxic to me for your partner to question y'all's entire relationship on the basis of this isolated question. You know what a non-toxic response would be if she cared enough about you and your response? To sit down with you and explain why the answer is what it is, rather than to ignore any concrete evidence that you're a good person who doesn't do or say harmful things to others.
posted by TheLinenLenin at 1:29 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

If your opinion on this isn't "yes" then I presume to your partner it's "no." And "it's complicated" is a way to try to get around telling her that you, at your core, disagree. For you, it's not "yes." Regardless of the statistical and lived reality of many people, you don't seem convinced. Your partner sees this as a deep intrinsic world view. If you don't agree, then she may not feel safe and secure in how you both view the world, relationships, etc. I too wonder what prompted this, and I have a feeling it may be discussion or viewpoints around current world events that have brought this up. There are genuinely terrifying things occurring around the world right now for women and non cismen.

FWIW, my life has been demonstrably harder than men around me. As a disabled women, the medical bias is so bad all you can do sometimes is laugh. My spouse and father would also agree that on a whole, women get the shit end of the deal, even though each have experienced bias and hardship, sometimes in fact based on their gender.

To be blunt, to get over this argument you either need to
1) do deep self examination and research, genuinely listening to women and people and come to a conclusion that you deeply feel that is compatible with your partner (Not just to please them, but a true compatible view.)
2) Be honest that you don't agree with her, and be able to accept this may mean you are no longer a couple. And do so without anger or making her feel unsafe to leave.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:42 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

I find it revealing some have interpreted the question itself as a red flag or toxic. It really makes me feel, as a woman, that even our feelings about this, based on our experience, are too scary and taboo for well meaning sexist men to consider. That in itself leads me to believe I have to hedge my language to make men (apparently even trans men?) comfortable.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:43 PM on May 12 [40 favorites]

You can't be confused as to why this has come up NOW.

I would bet money that you have said something or done something in the last few days you don't even realize you've said or done that has signalled to her that you are not the ally she thought. You are the Citibank-sponsored float at the Pride parade and you don't understand that.

She's trying to get at the heart of it: If men cared, they could make this stop. What are you doing to actively protect your GF's bodily autonomy? I'll bet you she can answer that.

Perhaps it would be good to consider how you have benefited from white patriarchy. If what you say to or tolerate from your male friends is not the same as what you say to or tolerate from women all around you, then you are part of the problem. In other words, how do you protect women in groups of men?
posted by archimago at 1:43 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]

I think she is trying to figure out if you share an important value. It's not like having a difference of opinion on just any topic. Being on the same page as one's partner about sexism and related topics can be essential for safety and for living one's own values authentically. Not having to explain and persuade someone on pre-101 feminism basics is a pretty reasonable expectation and should be a low bar to cross. Not avoiding important conversations because it's uncomfortable is another important must-have in a long-term partner.
posted by lampoil at 1:45 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]

Imo you trying to not answer the question is probably a big part of the red flag your partner is seeing. For questions with this much weight, an evasion can be way worse than a “wrong” answer — a wrong answer can be discussed, pushed back on, and the various sides can grow and learn. If you’re trying really hard to not answer the question the signal says “you won’t like my answer”, which is like being “wrong” but with no actual possibility of connection, growth or change.

“Can we just go back to when we didn’t talk about this issue that is very important to you” is not the basis of a successful long term relationship.

If you’d rather not think about this, or about gender at all, you should probably find a partner who doesn’t want to talk about it either.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:46 PM on May 12 [25 favorites]

(I’m transmasc/non-binary, so might have a specific chip on my shoulder about rhetoric around the “divinity” of women.

Wait who said women were divine? Why are you even bringing this up? This is frankly an offensive take.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:47 PM on May 12 [15 favorites]

So, it's an odd question to ask out the blue, which makes me suspect it *isn't* just an isolated question. It's the sort of question somebody would ask if they suspect you don't believe that being a woman makes your life harder. That being a woman gives you an inherent disadvantage in a whole lot of ways compared to being a man. That male privilege does exist, even if any individual man may have an incredibly difficult life.

So she thinks, maybe, that you don't believe all of the above, and your answer to the bare bones question (although poorly phrased imo) is to avoid it and refuse to discuss it. That would be a deal breaker for me too, to be honest, because I need to be with somebody who Gets It and also somebody who can talk important shit out. It's clearly important to her, this is not an argument about loading the dishwasher, this is a thing that affects her life in a hundred different ways.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:52 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]

Well, the US doesn't have a draft right now, but I've seen footage of Ukrainian women and children being evacuated while men stay behind to fight the Russians. So there are some traditional shitty things about being male that haven't completely gone by the wayside. But even for day to day life in the US, class and race might be more important than gender (Which is harder - being a black male or a white female? Remember the birdwatcher in Central Park?). For me, the answer would also be that it's complicated. But I also feel like I can sort of get away with saying that because I'm a woman.

However, your partner didn't ask this because she wanted to have a philosophical discussion about gender dynamics. It might have been a test or a trap. It might have been just her effort to see whether you share an important part of her worldview. You say that these kinds of discussions are not infrequent. Do you feel like she's testing you a lot? Or does she suspect there are important issues where you don't see eye to eye?

I would be pretty disturbed if I felt that my partner was testing me to see if I had the "right" opinions. I can't say for sure that's what's going on here, but I find her behavior not great.
posted by FencingGal at 2:00 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]

I think you re asking the wrong question, here.

the dynamics of these types of arguments don't happen infrequently

Your problem is not actually this question, it's your relationship dynamic.

do you think I have to answer the question? Is this something a couple can disagree on?
I'm of the opinion that there are some things that a healthy, functioning couple needs to agree on, but in this case you neither agree nor did you really answer the question -- because you knew you didn't agree -- again, see above about your relationship dynamic being a problem.
posted by sm1tten at 2:07 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

> Wait who said women were divine? Why are you even bringing this up?

I'm not the person who said that, but it's how I read the "I think the world of women, and in all honesty think they should run the world" comment. It's still not seeing women as people.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:10 PM on May 12 [22 favorites]

The answers are kind of demonstrating that we'd need a LOT more context to give input on what is specifically going on between you two as specific human beings. With that said, I think it's reasonable that a woman would want to know whether their partner is willing to unequivocally state that privilege and oppression are real and women face institutional oppression that men do not, even if some men face other oppressions. Now she might be asking in an off-putting way, but... it's not unreasonable as a necessary shared value in a relationship.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:18 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

My (female) partner asked me yesterday whether women or men have more difficult lives. I am not great at answering these questions...

Giving you some benefit of the doubt, I wonder if part of what happened here is that you misunderstood her question, which was, "Do you think on average, women have it harder than men." As many have stated upthread, this is not a nuanced question, and frankly, I'd be disturbed if someone I was dating didn't agree with this.

But what you seemed to hear, perhaps, is "Do all women have it harder in all ways in life" which is a very different question! Of course there are ways that men have it worse! And of course, a rich white woman is going to, overall, have an easier time than a poor Black man. But all of that doesn't negate the overall disadvantage of being a woman.

I'm also not sure why it's important

Have you asked her? As others have suggested, there is probably a reason she brought this up. If you're in the US, it may have less to do with you than the recent news cycle. I'd lead with this "Hey [partner's name], I feel awful about our fighting lately, and would like to know more about why this question is important to you. I promise to shut up and listen."
posted by coffeecat at 2:18 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

it's not just that you don't share her opinion. you also ( you say) don't think you should have to tell her what your opinion even is, and you think "this conversation" (regarding the specific sufferings and relative social positions of the two genders to which you respectively belong) is one which would ideally be out of bounds (forever?) in this relationship. which relationship is, I repeat to be sure I fully understand your position, one between a man and a woman.

you don't seem to want her to just let you silently disagree and be done with it, is the thing. you seem to also want her to pretend that being a woman in a relationship with a man is not both a danger in the abstract and a painful problem in the particular, in a way that is not the same for a man in a relationship with a woman. but she is not willing to tell this lie just to go along and get along. you claim to share this trait with her, this insistence on the principle of honesty without regard for social consequences, so you presumably understand exactly how how she feels.

also if you want to get out of the relationship as quickly as possible, just say to her "I think the world of women, and in all honesty think they should run the world" verbatim. there's a break-up-on-impact statement if I ever heard one
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:54 PM on May 12 [16 favorites]

It sounds to me like this is just something you haven't thought much about and probably don't really care about. And maybe she does. If this and similar arguments are "blowing up your relationship," you two may not be in a healthy relationship.
posted by wondermouse at 2:54 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

You ask if this is something a couple can disagree on. I don't think it is. You can choose to ignore statistical reality if you wish. You can choose to not believe her lived experience if you wish. You can be wrong if you wish. People ask this question because the answer matters to them, and invariably a woman that asks this question is expecting the answer to be yes, because they do not want a partner who prioritises privilege and comfort over seeing the world as it really is.

It can be the start of an interesting conversation about the ways in which that plays out in society. It can also be an interesting conversation about whether the same thing is true in your relationship - it's impossible to say whether you have a more difficult life than your partner. In my own relationship, my male partner has a more difficult life than me, and that's not something I would ever describe as 'complicated' despite the fact that my life has been difficult in ways that they have not experienced.
posted by plonkee at 2:54 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]

The actual question here is probably something like, “If I need an abortion, can I trust you to help me? To not turn me or any of my friends who need to terminate a pregnancy to the State of Texas for a cash bounty, to support me and other women in having access to medical care and birth control? Will you try to force me to keep a pregnancy or can I trust you to have my back when my rights to bodily autonomy evaporate in a few months?”

My mom came of age when abortion was not legal. In the sex ed talk I got as a teenager, she told me that if I ever became pregnant, that was my business and mine alone— I didn’t have to tell her, I didn’t have to tell my father, and I didn’t have to tell the person who had gotten me pregnant. It isn’t hard to imagine the circumstances that led to that advice, and while it seemed shocking to me in the 00s, it’s about to become very, painfully relevant. When any demographic suddenly finds themselves at a massive legal advantage over their partners— when the laws tell you that you rightfully have ownership of some part of your partner’s life and body— there are a lot of people who get seduced by the power and decide that they’re going to take that ownership, that it’s something rightfully owed to them. I expect a lot of these kinds of betrayals to happen in heterosexual relationships when Roe falls, and I would expect a lot of them to happen in interracial relationships (including from white women) if something like Jim Crown or codified slavery returned, too. Your girlfriend is probably not asking you about the intersectional analysis of black men born below the poverty line vs white upper class women, she is asking you questions to try to get a read on your values, to predict whether or not you are going to betray her in this way.

Generally speaking, I don’t think testing your significant others like this is great behavior within a relationship, that it can be deeply toxic, and that the answer to which gender broadly has it hardest is complex in the ways people upthread are getting into. But these aren’t normal times. I don’t think your girlfriend is actually asking a broad philosophical question about all women and all men, and I think your directness and literal interpretation of what she’s asking are hurting both of you here.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:15 PM on May 12 [28 favorites]

This question is the equivalent of ‘can men deadlift more than women’, so obviously something weird is going on. Why did SHE feel the need to ask the question? Why did YOU have trouble giving the obviously true answer?
posted by bq at 4:34 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

This is one of those ones where there just isn't an answer unless I know you and your partner and have observed your behavior. This could be anything from your partner feeling terribly unhappy about politics and oppression and wanting reassurance that yes, you understand her feelings and support her to a toxic relationship where your partner constantly brings up questions that she then disagrees with on principle to throw you off balance. Or it could be both! But I don't know you and can't judge!

If you want an actual answer to your question and not a lot of projection, you're going to need a couple's therapist.
posted by kingdead at 4:50 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]

I filtered for this when dating my now spouse. I asked him if he was a feminist and to define feminism. It has mattered in our relationship.

She's asking you to recognize your male privilege. It will matter in your relationship in many, many ways. If you cannot do it, she might stay with you but she definitely won't be as happy or healthy.

Male Privilege Checklist
posted by spicytunaroll at 4:51 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

I'm in my 60s, have experienced gender discrimination in business, getting credit, hiring and work. I have been sexually harassed more than once. Every day, everything I do takes into account that my options are still affected and that my physical safety must always be considered. If you genuinely don't recognize that gender discrimination. The literal bodily autonomy of women is at grave risk. When I was young, pregnant girls went to New York State for an abortion or went away and gave up a baby, and they usually experienced trauma over giving up a baby. A few girls had babies while in high school and their lives were very circumscribed. If you are white and male, there are a world of difficulties that just didn't exist for you.

If you don't understand this, start reading, take a class. it is not on your partner's shoulders to teach you.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on May 12 [13 favorites]

This is blowing up our relationship, and the dynamics of these types of arguments don't happen infrequently.

Does this mean your partner often asks you questions on this type of issue, which you refuse to answer, or you sort of suggest you disagree with her but refuse to discuss it? That sounds awful.

I don't think getting a verdict from outsiders about who is "the problem"-- as you suggest at the end of your question-- is really going to represent progress. You are allowed to decide how you want to engage with these questions, and she is allowed to decide you're not engaging sufficiently and, yes, it sounds like this difference you have will likely end your relationship, and maybe that is what you both want.
posted by BibiRose at 6:09 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

Ok there are a lot of things going on here. The first is the content of the question: do women or men have more difficult lives. The fact that you're being very cagey with your answer means to me you don't really understand patriarchy and how it affects both men and women.

The second is your whole relationship dynamic. I too also wonder where this question is coming from and why your gf is asking it, and what preceded it. I understand that your gf is having a BIG reaction, and that makes it hard to have a productive discussion about it rather than just agreeing with her.

>I don't know enough to say definitively either way

C'mon OP. Think about this for 5 minutes and you'll know enough. Think about the societal expectations placed on women and men. Think about the everyday sexism that women have to face - in the workplace especially, on the street, in their families, that men don't. Think about the gender wage gap. Think about gender-based violence. Think about who gets away with violence. Think about mothers and how much criticism they get, especially single moms. Think about who has to do most of the emotional labour in a relationship, and housework. And I haven't even talked about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding yet.

>I'm mostly flummoxed as to whether I'm acting inappropriately and am the problem by not sharing her opinion.

The problem is not that you don't automatically agree with her 100%. It's that you haven't thought about this much. Sit her down and tell her - honestly - what you think about the plight of women - and men - in this world. This is important to her. Maybe it's not important to you. So have an honest discussion about it. Let her get angry. Disagree with her if you want. But don't not have the conversation, because that's stonewalling (one of the four horsemen of relationships, according to John Gottman). Tell her if she doesn't like your position, then you two can break up. Tell her whether or not you're willing to learn.

Others have commented on the "I think the world of women" line so I won't belabour that point.
posted by foxjacket at 10:57 PM on May 12 [16 favorites]

If she dropped this as an important yet abstract question apropos of absolutely nothing, that could be odd. Is that how it seems to you? Is that how it seems to her? If your takes are different, do you see why?

My guess is this has context, which you have not seen, which you have not trained your skills to see. I could be wrong, but your wife would know.

I'm also not sure why it's important

This right here is the real heart of the relationship question you didn't exactly ask. If your partner is wanting something from you and you're not sure about it and you don't know why it's important to them, that unawareness is your target. Head directly towards it and listen.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:08 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

Yes, you have to answer this question. Your actions specifically will determine whether she specifically lives a harder life or an easier one. She needs to know that you will believe her and take her side when she tells you she was harassed at work, you will defend her when someone aggresses her ontl the street, you will share your resources freely to compensate for all of the handicaps she faves that you don't face, that you will prioritize her i dependence instead of trying to force her i to gender roles at home, you will take on the appropriate share of emotional labor and housework instead of forcing her to pick up after you.... The personal is political.

Put another way imagine a person of color opening a topic about racism and how they are discrimiinated against and their white partner hemming and hawing and saying tis complicated and they don't want to talk about it. Imagine a Ukrainian saying to a Russian hey you are killing me and my people and the Russian saying the topic made them uncomfortable and it's complicated and could they just drop it please.

Final way to look at this -- she a woman is telling you that she and people like her face obstacles that you don't face. You actually don't have the right to silence her and say 'jts complicated'. Any more than if someone harassed and bullied you and then said 'irs complicated' when you tried to speak out about it. She is the authority on women's experience. If you think you know better than her, which is exactly what you are saying here, then it shows you think your own halfbaked muddled ideas of a confused topic and your own discomfort are more important than her lived reality. On other words you are being the Patriarchy right here and right now. This is how women are oppressed, one woman oppressed and silenced by one man at a time.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:57 AM on May 13 [16 favorites]

I mean, my instinctive reaction is that obviously it is easier to be a man than a woman. I'm a man, and I've never thought my life would be easier as a woman and I doubt there are many women who haven't thought the contrary.

On the other hand, exceptionally negative life outcomes - early violent death at one's own hands or that of another, prison, living on the streets are all very dominated by men.

The thing thing is though, that those negative outcomes are exceptionally concentrated. So to be the median man is better than to be the median woman in almost every way, even if life outcomes for the worst few percentiles of men are worse. Once you take away the likely determinants of those severely negative outcomes - and if you're on metafilter you're not likely to have them - I think it would be hard to argue that things aren't better as a man.

Ultimately though, this isn't really a factual question, is it? There isn't a canonical definition of "hardest" that everyone has to agree on, so someone could conceivably take the data and say, actually the outcomes at the bottom matter more and therefore if you take "men" and "women" as categories then it's ambiguous who has it worse. I don't really hold with that, I think the median/typical is the more justifiable view but someone could conceivably make it in good faith. None of that matters. As others have pointed out, if a woman in the US asks that question at this point in time, they aren't really looking to engage in a academic debate about how to evaluate utility! They're looking for a statement of acknowledgement that Seriously Bad Shit is going down for women and expecting their partner to have their back.

Honestly dude, the advice here is simple: Acknowledge to her that, obviously women have it harder than men. Please feel free not to bring up any subtleties about how in some circumstances that may not be true and let it be implicit that, yes, it's hard for everyone to be human and sometimes things are complicated - that isn't what's called for here and you can save that one for the seminar room.
posted by atrazine at 3:01 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]

For her this is not the abstract/theoretical/hypothetical question you seem to take it for. For her, it’s actual lived experience and you’re invalidating it with your hemming and hawing and desire to not even talk about it.
posted by meijusa at 4:36 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]

The question is a red herring and a red flag. It's showing both of you gaps in your relationship* that are far more important to address if you are going to stay together.

* Gaps are normal mismatches in how two people handle themselves in terms of communication style, conflict resolution, goodwill/assumption of good intent, repair, and compassion. These aspects of the interactions between the two of you create a pattern of ongoing dynamics that I hope both of you will address with accountability and honesty in order to save yourselves a bunch of future difficulties.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:38 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

I had to come in to say that I don't think asking a question is manipulative, toxic, a test ... it's not underhanded, it's getting it in the open. That's actual up-front communication that you should be able to discuss with the person closest to you. It's not a trick.
posted by Occula at 1:00 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]

" It's either I agree with her, or I'm a monster. I have stated repeatedly that I don't want to be having this conversation, but now that I've been seen as disagreeing she won't let it go. "

Remove the subject matter of the question (which you'll never get an answer to particularly here), and ask yourself whether this attitude is one you can live with. Maybe you can, maybe you can't. What if it were about politics, or religion, or some other deep seated subject?
posted by tillsbury at 2:02 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

The original question is poorly phrased, but your refusal to engage with it is a red flag.
posted by airmail at 11:05 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

"What if it were about politics, or religion, or some other deep seated subject?"

It is about politics, and religion. And it is a deep-seated subject. And answering "it's complicated" when what you actually mean is "no" then complaining that she thinks less of you for either of those answers means that, yeah, your relationship is in jeopardy over this.
posted by harriet vane at 5:27 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]

After reading all this, I got up and went ahead and asked my husband this same question (against my better judgement because I have severe PMS right now and reading your question did not help my mood, I'll leave it at that).

Without hesitation, he said that of course women have it harder than men! And went on to say how it is, historically, and at work place, and in modern health care system, plus periods, plus having to deal with so much bullshit men cause them, etc. He then started to talk about the current war on women's rights to their own bodies in the USA, and that got him so worked up that he had to get up and started pacing. He said he has a hard time with things like this still happening in 2022, etc.

And the thing is, I don't think of him as a feminist, and I don't think he does either. To me, a feminist is someone who not only sees these things as problems but also acts to remedy them, and I think we both fall short here, in terms of acting. But what he is to me is an open-minded and compassionate person.

Then I told him about this thread as the reason that I asked him this question right now. And he said that I did ask him this or a very similar question early on, when we were dating. And at that time he thought that this question was some sort of test perhaps, but answered it truthfully, and apparently well, because we're married now. And you know what, I feel like I *had to* ask these questions while dating, and I encourage other women to do the same, to test for basic suitability as a life partner - kinda important to know!?

Reading your question got me feeling very uncomfortable, and sad for your girlfriend.
posted by LakeDream at 7:25 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]

Honestly, I am a woman and get why someone who isn't sexist and who gets the concept of privilege and so on would still respond to this question with an "it's complicated."

Like if the question is, "All other things being equal, do women have it harder than men?" the answer is obviously yes. I wouldn't want to date someone who thought this was somehow an arguable point or refused to acknowledge the many advantages men have.

But if the question is just, "Do men or women have more difficult lives?" I kind of have a similar reaction to OP. Life is just enormously complicated and there are so many factors that go in to how difficult someone's life is. It just feels reductive and I reflexively balk at hat. Like being a woman is the key thing that determines your life trajectory. (It can be in some terrible places, but was the OP's partner referring to the plight of women in Afghanistan, or her own society? I'd guess the latter.)

Like if I'm in the United States and pulled a random man and a random woman off the street, I don't think gender would be a useful predictor of the relative difficulty of their lives. So many things go into that; it's not some weird outlier scenario where the man has to have extreme disadvantages to have a more difficult life than the woman. So many things affect the quality of my life and the lives of the people I know. Level of adverse childhood experiences or supportive families, disabilities, financial and educational resources, race, culture, where is your brain on the scale of predisposed to severe mental illness to good mental health, physical disabilities, intellectual capabilities, access to good health insurance, whether you're stuck in a shitty job, etc, etc, etc.
posted by picardythird at 10:29 AM on May 15

Thought of this question again this week as I deal with menstruation and realized that and childbirth are a big factor for cisgender women….there’s a reason Eve got blamed for getting us kicked out of Eden….nobody had to make up a story to explain why it sucks so much to be male lol.
posted by bq at 10:03 PM on May 16

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