Sometimes sexism sounds like overt negativity toward women, but other times, it sounds more like concern or even admiration. This form of sexism, known as benevolent sexism, often comes up when you're dating. Addressing it may feel awkward, but there are ways to respond to benevolent sexism on a date without making it a hostile confrontation.
Benevolent sexism can take several different forms. One of them is chivalry — men opening doors, always paying, and taking care of other tasks for women. These behaviors aren't harmful in of themselves; un fact, they can be a good sign if they're simply done with the goal of being nice. But they can also stem from sexist beliefs, like that it's men's "job" to "take care of" women and that women are incapable of everyday tasks themselves. Women who date men may be a target of this form of benevolent sexism disproportionately.
You may also notice benevolent sexism in statements about men and women, like "women are more caring" and "men are total jerks." These might seem like compliments, but they perpetuate gender stereotypes and hold people to expectations they may or may not meet. People of all different genders and sexual orientations express these beliefs.
If you notice any of these behaviors in your date, here are some ways you can respond without causing tension or betraying your values.
1. Return Favors
As I mentioned, holding a door open or footing a bill aren't problems if you're not thinking about them in a gendered way. So, if you're a woman dating a guy and he pays for dinner, offer to cover dessert or drinks afterward. If he holds a car door open for you, unlock his door when you get in. This shows that you value gestures of kindness toward everyone equally and tests whether he does too.
2. Describe Your Own Experiences
If your date makes a generalization about people of a certain gender, you can use your own personal experience to debunk it. If, for example, they say women are more fit for parenting, tell them you personally can't stand kids (if that's true, of course). Don't let them pigeonhole you. When they see that their assumptions are wrong, maybe they'll stop making them.
3. Point Out How Benevolent Sexism Hurts Men
If the person making these statements is a man, show him how they could actually backfire against him. The belief that women are more caring, for example, could be used against men who want to dedicate themselves to parenting.
4. Show Them The Downside To Their Beliefs
Saying that women are gentle and agreeable doesn't seem as nice when you see how this belief leads to backlash toward assertive women. In the same way, praising women for valuing deep connections rather than causal sex ends up justifying slut-shaming. If your date's goal is to support women, they may rethink statements that do the opposite.
5. Probe Their Beliefs
Instead of telling people their beliefs are problematic, let them arrive at that conclusion themselves. Why do they believe women are a certain way? Where did they learn that? What do they think the implications are? People will get less defensive with this approach.
6. Remind Them This Stuff Is Subjective
I've heard a lot of people, particularly those attracted to women, say they simply "like women more" or "find women more attractive," which is fine! But that doesn't reflect an objective truth about people of any gender. Other people are entitled to have different opinions, and nobody's is right or wrong in these cases.
7. Decide How To Proceed Based On Their Response
We all say unintentionally sexist things sometimes, but if we're willing to acknowledge they're sexist and make an effort to avoid them in the future, others should be able to forgive us. If, on the other hand, benevolent sexism is a core part of someone's values, they probably shouldn't be dating a feminist. You're not responsible for changing their mind, so if they don't share your values, feel free to take that as a reason not to see them again. It's better to have these conversations now than to find out your partner's sexist when you're already invested.