I strongly believe that people of different genders are more similar than they are different, and we're all capable of understanding one another. But that doesn't mean we're treated the same way or have the same experiences. In particular, there are things women deal with in relationships that men have no idea about. Gender may be a social construct, but it's one that greatly affects our daily lives and interactions.
Even when our partners treat us as equals and full human beings, internalized misogyny plays a major role in our relationships. For instance, I've dated people who appreciate a strong, independent woman and still felt afraid of coming off "too easy" or aggressive. Throughout our lives, after all, we're taught that the way to be desirable is to act "feminine" and make our partners feel "masculine" (because it's also falsely presumed that all women are looking to date men). This sexist dating advice is hard to forget completely, even if we're ardent feminists, and it ends up shaping our relationships.
Then, of course, there's the sexism that comes from the outside. While it's true that "not all men" or all women have sexist expectations of their partners, enough do that women and gender minorities experience sexism in their relationships and very reasonably worry about experiencing more.
Here are some things women deal with in relationships that men may not understand.
Gaslighting means telling people that they're not really thinking, feeling, or perceiving what they are. It's very often used toward women due to the assumption that women are too sensitive and that especially when we call out sexism, we're overreacting. In relationships, it can come up in the form of partners and friends making sexist jokes and criticizing us for having no sense of humor if we don't appreciate them. It can also come up when our partners tell us we're being too demanding by taking issue with their behavior. This serves to invalidate our perspectives and make us feel we don't have the right to speak up if something bothers us.
(This isn't to say, by the way, that men or anyone of any gender can't be victims of gaslighting; it frequently affects women, however, and often disproportionately.)
2Fear Of Being "Needy"
Another stereotype associated with women and other feminine-presenting people is that we're emotionally and financially needy. We're constantly battling people's perception that we're out to "tie down" our partners too soon, "whip" them, or be "gold diggers." And we risk accusations of being needy for needing very basic things, like responses to texts or validation of our feelings. This can lead us to suppress our needs to avoid confirming a stereotype or upsetting our partners.
3Pressure To Get Married And Have Kids
Weeks into dating someone, we're asked if it's going to become serious, as if that's what all women want. Months in, we're asked if they could be "the one" — AKA, the one we're going to marry, because again, everyone assumes we want that. "Do you think he'll put a ring on it?" is another question used to impose expectations of marriage on women. Then, when we are married, we get warned about our "biological clocks" and badgered about when we're having kids. Men may experience this, too, but they may not quite understand how premature and constant the questioning is for women.
4Sexist Assumptions About Our Role In The Relationship
Just as men are assumed to play a stereotypically masculine role, women in relationships with more masculine-presenting people are assumed to play the "feminine" role — i.e., to be submissive, dependent, more emotional, and naggy. Our partners' friends may joke about how they're going to be "in trouble" with us for staying out late, and servers will often hand the bill to our partners. These behaviors project assumptions onto people rather than letting them go about their relationships their own way, and many are insulting to women.
5Dismissal Of Our Feelings
Common stereotype goes that women jump in quickly while men are slow to commit or say "I love you," even though men are more often the first to say those words, according to a study in The Journal of Social Psychology. So, our feelings for our partners are often dismissed as signs of girlish infatuation. This assumption is especially directed toward LGBTQ women, who are supposedly just "going through a phase" or "putting on a show." Over time, this leads us to discount our own feelings in relationships and the desires they lead to.
Rape culture is all around us. In addition to our treatment of actual sexual assault victims, it's in the language we use and the way we're viewed in relationships. In particular, women are viewed as if we acquiesce to sex as a favor rather than enjoying it. People may ask our partners if they're going to "get some" or "get it in," and in the worst cases, our partners may pressure us into sex. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that more than half of women who had been raped were in relationships with their perpetrators.
7Fear Of Being "Too Masculine"
As I mentioned, the popular ideal of female attractiveness is tied up with being "ladylike" — i.e., submissive and small, physically and emotionally. So, if we act strong, assertive, or confident, we risk being deemed too masculine to be desirable. This is a shame because those qualities should be desirable in a partner, and they should be desirable to cultivate for our own sake. A healthy relationship is one where both people can be as masculine or feminine as they want, regardless of their gender.