As far as feminism has come in the last few decades, we've got a long way to go, and examples of behaviors rooted in sexism are still all around us — even within our own relationships. Whether we realize it or not, there are so many ways that antiquated gender norms continue to influence our expectations and behavior in heterosexual relationships. The tricky part? Not all sexism is overt and intentional, and it can be difficult to recognize and then call out sexism that is subtle (and perhaps unintentional), especially when it's coming from someone you care about.
"Even the most well-meaning partner can engage in sexist behaviors in a relationship, regardless of their gender," Demetrius Figueroa, Dating/Relationship Expert and founder of Tao of Indifference, tells Bustle. "What might seem innocent and harmless behavior can be rooted in sexism. I find that subtle sexism can become part of relationships due to either expectations rooted in gender roles, or expectations that come from a place of inequality."
First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge that it's not just women who are the victims of subtle sexism in relationships: there are plenty of ways that gender norms affect how men are treated by their female partners, too. Take, for example, the expectation that men should always pay the tab, or that they shouldn't be as open with their feelings as women are. That being said, there are also a ton of subtle sexist behaviors that women might encounter in a relationship — here are seven examples to watch out for in your own relationship.
1Your Partner Expects You To Do More Housework
Barring special circumstances — like one partner working full-time and the other staying at home — the division of household duties should be split pretty evenly. If your partner seems to just expect you to carry more of the chores burden because of your gender, that's an example of sexist behavior.
"It should not be expected for the female to do 'domestic' duties anymore," Kali Rogers, Relationship Expert and Founder of Blush Online Life Coaching, tells Bustle. "Women are just as educated and capable of contributing to any relationship in the same ways as men, so the antiquated division of household duties in modern relationships is obsolete. This assumption is sexist and misguided."
2Your Partner Makes "Executive Decisions"
In an equal partnership, both people value the other's opinion, no matter the subject. If your partner has a tendency to override your input and make "executive decisions" without you — whether it's about something as major as signing a lease or as minor as picking a restaurant — that's a red flag.
"There are a lot of smaller ways that subtle sexism can infect a relationship, like] the expectation that your opinions matter more than your partner’s because of your gender," Figueroa says.
3Your Partner Doesn't Take Your Career Seriously
It should go without saying at this point in time, but women are just as capable of having a successful, fulfilling career as men are — and if your partner makes jokes or offhand comments that subtly demean your career, that's not something you should tolerate.
"Women have every capability to be just as high of income earners as men, and even if their income isn't as high as their partner — that still doesn't mean their career isn't worth pursuing," Rogers says. "A woman does not have to have a high powered job in order to not stay home with the kids — and same goes for a man. Child rearing should be a decision based upon the unique dynamics of the family, not on a blanket assumption according to gender."
4Your Partner Asks You To Change Your Appearance
There's a huge difference between your partner expressing an opinion about your appearance — 'I love your hair that color!' — and making suggestions that you change the way you look in order to be more attractive to him. Even if your partner doesn't "demand" anything, it can be extremely damaging to your self-esteem if he continues to subtly hint that you'd look better if you wore more makeup, waxed your eyebrows or got new clothes etc.
Bottom line? How you present yourself to the world is your choice, and a partner who tries to neg you into changing yourself to suit your partner is not a healthy partner to have.
5Your Partner Speaks To His Male Friends Differently
In a healthy relationship, you should feel free to be your authentic, genuine self around your partner at all times — meaning that you wouldn't speak or act any differently around your friends than you would with your partner.
"There should be no reason to censor your language around a woman anymore," Rogers says. "Women do not need to be sheltered or protected. But the idea that things are not 'proper' to say around women or that a woman shouldn't simply be hearing some of the things a partner is saying is a red flag for sexism. If you shouldn't say it around a female, then you probably shouldn't be saying it at all."
6Your Partner Prioritizes His Pleasure
The orgasm gap — aka the disparity between how often straight men orgasm compared to straight women — is unfortunately a very real phenomenon, and it's a major example of how sexism can subtly infiltrate a relationship.
"The expectation that your gender means that your pleasure should be prioritized [is rooted in sexism]," Figueroa says. Even if your partner isn't doing it intentionally, focusing more (or only) on his own pleasure is a red flag that he assumes his orgasm is more important than yours.
7Your Partner Compares You To Other Women
In a relationship, it's important to frequently compliment your partner, but there's one style of complimenting that's seriously sexist: comparing you to other women in a misguided attempt to make you feel good. Instead of saying 'You're so much hotter than Lisa', your partner should feel comfortable giving you genuine compliments that point out your good qualities *without* bringing other women down.
(And of course, it's sexist and rude if your partner compares you to other women as an attempt to lower your self-esteem instead of boost it.)
How To Address Sexism With Your Partner
Obviously, there are plenty of other, little ways that sexism sneaks into our relationships. No one is perfect, and sexist slip-ups don't always come from a place of malicious intent — but that doesn't mean that we should ignore sexism that comes from our partners... or from ourselves.
"It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting subtle sexism become a part of your relationship," Figueroa says. "It can happen to the most well-intentioned person. We’re all a product of the world around us, and society often shows us couples whose relationships are fraught with subtle and overt sexism — which is why you should call it out in your own relationship. You don’t need to say 'This is sexist, please stop doing it,' but you should call out sexism in your relationship, even if it’s subtle. The longer you let subtle sexism persist, the more likely it is to become a lasting part of your relationship."
It might be awkward at first, but if you and your partner truly have a strong, equal partnership, you should both feel comfortable calling each other out, because ridding your relationship of even the subtlest forms of sexism will ultimately make it stronger. So how can you call your partner out without damaging your relationship?
"If you feel like you’re experiencing subtle sexism in your own relationships, you need to call your partner out to create a dialogue," Figueroa advises. "Have conversations so that expectations rooted in gender roles and finances don’t become part of your relationship. Have conversations about splitting chores that are rooted in equality, not antiquated gender roles. Wherever you feel like expectations based on gender prevail in your relationship, challenge these expectations. Call your partner out if you feel like they believe that inequality in certain parts of your relationship are to be expected because of your gender. A partner worth staying with is likely to have been engaging in subtly sexist behavior inadvertently, and will recognize how valuable your constructive criticism truly is."
Ultimately, how your partner reacts to these kinds of important discussions will reveal a lot about their character — and if you're able to come to a place of mutual respect and understanding, then your relationship will be better off for it.