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Ask Surly Amy: How To Fix a Sexist Boyfriend

We get email:

Hello, I was wondering if you could help me out with an issue I’m having with my partner. I’m starting to notice more and more how sexist and misogynistic he is, presumably as he becomes more comfortable I’m seeing the real him. I think its mainly a case of education and up bringing as he went to an all boys school and that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing.

Some examples would be:

When we have a tradesman come to the house to do work he expects me to play the “dumb woman card” to get out of committing to paying for extras. He also genuinely doesn’t trust me to make decisions with these people without checking with him first although I’ve never been incompetent and can’t think what made him feel this way. Its not a 2 way street as he feels free to make plenty of decisions without my input.

He says women cannot make good managers but has yet to give me an actual reason as to why.

He has stopped me from wearing what I want on a night out before as he believed it was too revealing (it was not!) He got so mad about it I now always have it in the back of my mind when deciding on what to wear so’s not to upset him again

I recently found he watches ALOT of porn but he can’t see any issues with that

He gets mad if I drink too much (the only times I have drunk in the past 2 years were at works Christmas party and I was perfectly safe) where as every other weekend he gets drunk to the point he can bearly stand but says that’s fine because he’s a guy

I can’t fart or other do other “unlady like” things around him yet he must do at least 1 room clearer a day. He even has to comment if I sit with my legs apart when its hot!

I could go on and on. Seemingly small things that have started to really grate on me and as other men are starting to really frustrate me with unwelcome comments on my appearance and asking if I’m “OK with that bag?” And so on – it has started to become a bit much for me and I’d really like to put a stop to it!

Do you know of anything good I can get him to watch or read to get him to see, or at least consider my point of view? Show him that it is an issue, im not the only one who feels this isnt acceptable and why its wrong? I’ve tried talking to him about this and he just laughs about my “feminist rubbish” and thinks I’m ridiculous, so I’m clearly not being effective enough!

Thank you!

Dear Reader,

You are not ridiculous. You deserve to be treated with respect. Please don’t blame yourself because your boyfriend has revealed these deeply held misconceptions and false expectations about women. They are his flaws, not yours. And if he won’t even listen to you I’m not sure how a book or video recommendation is going to help at all.

I have to say that the general consensus of Skepchicks behind the scenes who read this message is DTMFA. But I can’t definitively tell you if you should pack up and leave or stick around and try to educate this guy because I don’t actually know you or him. And sometimes these types of obviously unbalanced relationships are much more complicated than, “This guy is sexist pig.” Your personal safety is an important and unknown to me, part of the equation. But I will say the following:

One of the hardest lessons you will ever learn in life is that the only person you can ever change and ultimately make better, is yourself. And trust me, it was a heart wrenching experience for me to learn. I have loved the hell out of people who were terrible for me. The good news is, those experiences taught me valuable lessons about the kind of people that I wanted to surround myself with and what I had to do to find them.

You can set a good example. You can provide a library of reference material. You can offer advice (much like I am doing here.) You can sky-write instructions on how to be a good person, like an instructional map, across a clear blue, summer sky. You can scream and yell and jump up and down and even do an interpretive dance routine. You can recommend this and other feminist blogs. You can make all the sandwiches (in the world) for him and his buddies, every goddamn afternoon, clad in six-inch, ruby-red, stiletto heels while juggling three new-born babies over your fucking head. You can simultaneously do this WHILE also inviting a professor of feminist theory over to lunch with your partner but you can NEVER ever force someone to listen or to change. Ever.

And no matter how much you love someone, it doesn’t mean that they are a good match for you.

It sounds to me like you already realize that you deserve to be treated better and that you want to be with someone who, at the very least has a grasp of the idea that women are people too, and in order to be with someone like that, you might want to consider making yourself available to meet new people. Or consider the possibility that being alone isn’t at all bad and might just be a million times better than being with a guy who can’t even trust you to make your own decisions.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best and I hope you can, at the very least, surround yourself with people who respect you and like you for you.

Black eyed 3 smalls

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. From experience, the controlling behavior will only get worse. I’m just sad it took me 17 years to figure it out. I hope you can work things out the way you want!

    1. “He has stopped me from wearing what I want on a night out before as he believed it was too revealing”

      As soon as I got to this, I started thinking, VERY LOUDLY: “RED FLAG RED FLAG RED FLAG BEEP BEEP BEEP BACK THE FUCK UP!!!!”

      This is bordering on abusive, in my opinion. He is trying to control you. This is not going to get better. He will become more controlling as time goes on.

      It is NOT your responsibility to educate or change someone, not this drastically. Back the fuck up, close the front door, and run.

      1. Not borderline. The fact that she’s afraid of upsetting him again tips it into abuse.

  2. My husband went from sexist to feminist, and for the longest time, I thought it was me. But now I know I pretty much had nothing to do with it.

    Thing is, there were no red flags. No abuse. No disrespect. I knew that this guy had the potential, because of who he was, and mostly, because of the way he treated me. I don’t know if a man who disrespects you can ever be a feminist. My own code told me, “if he ever speaks to me with contempt, that’s it. The relationship has jumped the shark.”

    I chose him because of pure gut feeling. And it took me decades, but I’ve learned to trust my gut. I’m so very glad I did.

    1. The guy in this letter seems really disrespectful to me, however. It’s not just a few small misconceptions — it’s out-right controlling behavior. And you know, non-sexist people can be controlling to. It’s not so much that he’s sexist: It’s that he’s trying to control her behavior, even what she wears, *OR HOW SHE SITS*. That’s a huge red flag, and hugely disrespectful. She is not a child; she is a grown ass woman.

  3. “He got so mad about it I now always have it in the back of my mind when deciding on what to wear so’s not to upset him again.”

    Yes. DTMFA. If you’re afraid of him, that relationship is going in a really, really bad direction.

  4. Letter Writer – I’m really sorry you’re going through this. The question you’re really asking is: “How can I get my boyfriend to see me as an actual person?”

    He doesn’t take you seriously. He does not see you as his equal. You are less than a person to him.

    How do you talk someone out of that?

    You are a person worthy of respect and equal treatment from a partner. You have the right to demand that from the universe. You have the right not to settle for something less than that.

  5. What stands out to me is the controlling and ridiculing. Those are big red flags that it will continue to get worse not better.

  6. People can change but you can’t change people.

    He has shown no inclination to even try to learn why what he is doing is wrong so as hard as it may be, cutting your loses now would probably be best. Especially if he gets mad for how you dress, that is a huge red flag right there.

  7. The only thing that doesn’t sound awful is watching lots of porn. All the rest is horrible.

    1. False.

      The vast majority of porn is super misogynistic. Consider how often the guy aims for the woman’s eyes, or promises something he then goes back on (“I won’t put it in the butt.”). There’s even an entire genre of porn (gonzo) dedicated to beating the shit out of the women as they have sex.

      Porn where the woman is not a sentient blow up doll is rare as hen’s teeth.

      1. Gonzo porn is actually not about beating the shit out of people, but rather the STYLE of porn (no real story line, lots of close ups, just basically straight-up fucking).

        That said, what about bdsm porn? Like kink.com stuff? And other fetish stuff? Just because rough sex is involved, up to and including smacking and choking, doesn’t make it misogynistic. I like rough sex…

        1. Okay, my mistake. I’ve never seen gonzo porn that wasn’t uncomfortable-making in its abuse of the actresses, so chalk that up to unfamiliarity.

          1. It’s just a type of style/direction, but I’d say you’re likely to find more of the porn that makes you uncomfortable in gonzo-style, so that isn’t surprising.

      2. although this is totally off topic so probably not appropriate so feel free to ignore :)

      3. Whatever your feelings on porn (I’ve never actually seen a woman being beaten (no closed fists), porn where men get kicked in the testicles is a thing). The problem was that after asking for all of that from her, he doesn’t consider it an issue, even though she obviously has a problem with it. It’s just more selfishness.

        1. Leaving aside the problems with porn specifically, what is it that makes telling someone to dress conservatively controlling but telling them not to watch porn acceptable? Or were you only commenting on the hypocrisy of him expecting to control her behavior but him ignoring her attempts to control his?

          I’ve never really been able to figure out a general rule for which demands are controlling and which demands are setting your boundaries. It seems obvious, for example, that telling your SO what to wear is former, while telling you SO not to kiss other men/women is considered later. Is this just social conventions, or is there some consistent rule? Or is the difference in how we exert control?

          1. She doesn’t seem to have told him not to watch porn, based on the what we’ve got from the email…
            But there are four fairly clear lines that distinguish his watching porn being a problem from her not dressing right as different kinds of attitude.
            Firstly, watching porn is, essentially, using a person, or several people, other than your partner for sexual gratification which, depending on your relationship, can be seen as unfaithfulness. If she dresses in a way that he considers too revealing, she is not using another person for sexual gratification, nor does it imply that she intends to do so. Maybe someone might look at the way she’s dressed and find her attractive, but that doesn’t mean she’ll cheat.
            Secondly, he’s clearly hidden it from her, as she’s only just found out about it, but it’s unlikely that she hides the way she dresses from him. It’s fine to have private things, but with issues like that, you should really be open. I mean, if I was polyamorous, and my partner was monogamous, it could very well be alright for me to have other partners beside her *if* she knew about it and didn’t object, but if I hide it, I’m a unfaithful bastard.
            Third, it’s completely arbitrary to say she’s dressing wrong, as “too revealing” can mean essentially anything, but when you’re watching enough porn for it to be classified as “A LOT” you’re basically sending your partner a message – “you’re not enough for me” – and doing it behind her back adds – “and I don’t respect you.”
            Fourth, he’s holding her to standards that he’s not willing to meet. He doesn’t want her to wear revealing clothes, likely because he doesn’t want her to be attractive to anyone else – he doesn’t want anyone else looking at his girlfriend, and probably doesn’t want her looking at anyone else, but he’s perfectly happy to stare at other women naked.

            When you add to that the fact that all of his rules seem to be this way in more obvious ways, it’s clearly uneven: She can’t drink, he can; she can’t make decisions without his input, but he can make them without hers; she’s not allowed to have a noticeable digestive system, but he has no obligation to control his own at all. He’s holding her to standards that are unreasonable, and which he clearly feels no need to live up to himself, nor does he feel the need to live up to the standards she wants from him.

          2. Yeah, we don’t know if she’s told him to cut down on the porn.

            I am a woman that enjoys porn, and I’ve even purchased some HD scenes I really enjoy. I like porn.

            But I’ve been with men who watch too much porn, where sex for them isn’t sex unless it’s LIKE the porn they watch, where you come home and it’s clear they’ve been wacking off to porn all day and THAT is why they aren’t interested in you…

            “seems obvious, for example, that telling your SO what to wear is former, while telling you SO not to kiss other men/women is considered later.”

            Why are you comparing these two? If you’re in an agreed upon 100% monogamous relationship, then don’t kiss other people. Not all couples have this rule, however. Are you aware of that?

            Telling your partner what to wear, and restricting their clothing choices, is not the same thing as expecting your partner to hold to the monogamous rules of the relationship.

          3. The problem is, it’s obviously not a negotiation or agreement, it’s boundaries and expectations dictated by one partner.
            If my partner wanted me to wear blue striped sweaters on Tuesday afternoons, he would bring it up and we would have a conversation to figure out where we’re both at regarding the issue of weekday sweater wearing. That’s not what’s happening here.

  8. Another vote for run- don’t walk. He doesn’t see you as an equal person. The longer you stay the more he will feel you are his possession (the ‘too revealing’ comment suggests possessiveness – it’s really none of his business what you wear), and the more likely he will be to resist you escaping. The longer you stay, the more dangerous it can get.

  9. I had the word “controlling” ringing in my head throughout as well. This is not just ignorant sexist attitudes. This is trouble.

  10. As with others, this jumped out at me:

    I now always have it in the back of my mind when deciding on what to wear so’s not to upset him again”

    You can’t actually control his feelings. People who engage in abusive behavior (which this is; make no mistake) will put it onto the victim to manage their feelings for them. You want to keep your boyfriend from becoming upset, but that’s an impossible thing for you. His feelings exist and are outside of your control. The only one who can exert any control of them is him. Give up any illusions you might hold to the contrary. You cannot manage his feelings for him.

    Once you’ve recognized this, how do you feel about this guy? Knowing that he is becoming upset at you over lots and lots of things, and you can’t control that at all? That you can’t stop him from becoming upset at you, over something or nothing, ever? That he’s going to keep getting upset at you over something or nothing, forever, and you cant do nothing about that?

    I am on the DTMFA boat. I don’t think this guy is salvageable. You indicate that you think he is, and that you just need to educate him into being not a dick to you anymore. I am inclined to say that he knows perfectly well what he’s doing (the manipulation he wants to exert on tradespeople who are in your house is not beginner-level) and chooses to do it because he is rewarded for it and there are little to no negative consequences.

    But if you really want to try to salvage the relationship, have a conversation in which you say, “I need for you to stop trying to control my clothing and every move. I am a human being and I have the right to have some beers without you haranguing me. I have a body and my body has functions, and I need you to stop trying to control my bodily functions.” I doubt you will get far with that. Probably he will try to gaslight you, and try to Spock-logic you into agreeing with him that there is an asymmetrical farting rule. In that case, you have good information and should probably plan your breakup around the assumption that he is going to try to Spock-logic you out of breaking up with him and/or do super unsafe things to coerce you into not breaking up.

  11. I believe that Maya Angelou’s wisdom is appropriate here..
    “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”

    Your boyfriend has shown you, repeatedly, that he is a controlling person who thinks of you as one of his belongings. He has also shown you that he is willing to use his anger– or the threat of his anger, actual or implied– to get you to comply with his will when you have a difference of opinion on even issues as headdeskingly simple as “Does LW have the right to decide what clothing she is going to put on her own body?”

    This is not behavior, nor personality characteristics, that you can love away, that you can argue him out of, that you can persuade him to change on your behalf. The path that you are on right now in this very moment is the path that every single abused woman has been on early in their own relationships, including myself, including my sister, including my mom. Do you stay on this path, believing that you will succeed in doing the impossible where they have failed, or do you, in as safe a manner as you feel you can, begin to form a plan to get away?

      1. It’s right at the top of my list, for sure. :) So much wisdom contained in so few words.

  12. Yes, dump, immediately. Ask friends to help you relocate if needed. This guy is toxic. You might want to consider just what you thought you saw in him to begin with. Every indication is of controlling, possessive, dehumanizing behavior and character.

    If any of this registered as ‘confident’ or ‘manly’ to you. You need to examine your own standards.

  13. I honestly think that asking what you can do to change him is the wrong question (for the reasons laid out various times above). The important question, is “can I live with it if he never changes?”
    He might change, it’s possible, but it’s also possible that he never will, or that he’ll change for the worse. You need to decide if he’s worth it based on how he is now. If the two of you are still together in 20 years, and his treatment of you never improves, will you be ok with that?
    Personally, I don’t think anybody who has you worrying about how you dress for fear of upsetting them, who holds you to standards that they refuse to live up to, and who dismisses your concerns out of hand is worth your love. Having been in a similar relationship myself, I don’t think the few positive moments are worth the stress or scarring and, honestly, I’m not sure they’re really positive, except by contrast.

  14. TBH, the porn thing doesn’t seem that bad. Now the rest of it, any one of those things is a HUGE red flag of a potentially abusive boyfriend, and my feeling of dread just got worse. DTMFA, get friends to help you relocate if need be, if he ever shows up again, consider a restraining order.

    A general rule, if you actually fear your boyfriend, the relationship needs to be terminated right away.

  15. I’m not sure if I can weigh in on this, but I was similarly blinkered myself in the past. Yes it’s something the dude is going to have to figure out for himself, but I think it never hurts to throw such people a few pointers. A majority of the issues brought up would maybe not be a problem in a relationship (“minor” issues), if they weren’t something he does because you’re a woman. He is setting up a double standard – where he gets to decide all the rules (although he probably considers these rules to be inherant in what it means to be a man or a woman).

    The first thing to realise is that part of the problem will be that he (rightly) considers many of these opinions and behaviours to be part of his identity. People can change their behaviour, but not “who they are”. Of course some parts of us we can’t change voluntarily, but some we can.

    So my recommendation would be to sit down and say: “either you’re going to take these issues seriously and read something about feminism, here are some books, or it’s over between us.” Yes, reading is I think about the only thing that can change a person – because it shows one the perspective of other people.


    Seriously, this isn’t your responsibility to fix. It’s your responsibility to look after yourself first, and that means getting out of a relationship where your partner clearly has no respect for you and is already starting to be controlling.

  17. I too had a boyfriend who was handsome, charming and funny and then became controlling, verbally abusive and eventually physically abusive. It happened very slowly. First he controlled my behavior (talking to other men), then my decision making (I was younger than him and he was wiser), then with my choice of friends, and so on. I too thought he would change and he did, he became even worse. The problem was that I was so slow in recognizing what was happening that by the time I realized that this relationship was killing me, I had lost my self confidence, my self esteem, and worse I had been isolated from everyone who could help me. It will be hard to leave him if you love him, but you must. Once you are out and away from his influence, you will look back and be horrified at his behavior and of your willingness to endure it. Trust all of us who are trying to advise you – RUN.

  18. Dump him. But when doing so she should make it very clear to him why she is doing so, at the very least show him this blog entry. Perhaps it will give him pause for some self-reflection and he might learn something about himself. Maybe he’ll treat the next girlfriend a little better.

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