Help: My Boyfriend Doesn't "Get" Feminism

Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Welcome to Unprofessional Advice. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I'll take on your issues with compassion and humour (and I'll keep it anonymous). Got a question for the column? Email me.

Dear Kelsey,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for five months, and I’m very much in love with him. But, of course, we’ve had our falling-out moments, and have had to re-evaluate if this was the right time for us. One conflict, which almost forced us to break up, is our differing values when it comes to social and political issues. The most significant topic — on which he has made an effort to hear me out — is women's issues, rights, and equality. I often clash with him on this, since he can be old-school sometimes, when it comes to his thoughts on women. I have been repulsed by how ignorant he is of the woman's struggle within the dynamics of media, culture, ethnic prejudices, cultivation theory, etc.

I can't blame him for not knowing about these things, because most people I know don't even take them into consideration. These aren’t issues you typically learn about in school or see discussed on TV. It’s not a passion for most people, so it doesn’t interest them enough to research the topic further. But advocating for women’s rights and equality is a big part of my life, and it’s something I plan to pursue professionally. But I'm afraid my boyfriend is resistant to learning about any of this. His indifference or apathy toward the subject has challenged our relationship already, and I'm afraid it will come back up, and inevitably break us up in the end.

We have talked about this many times, and I'm lucky that he is open to discussing this. But I don't know if he cares enough to support me in this movement. What do you think would be the best approach to this?

Sincerely,

Conflicted Feminist
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Dear Conflicted Feminist,

Years ago, a cousin of mine (and a good gal pal) started dating a guy who was iffy on abortion rights. He described himself as an out-and-proud liberal, and totally pro-choice. It was just that, when it came to things like late-term abortion — what he then called “partial birth” — he just felt kinda weird about it. Maybe there should be some restrictions, or something. It just made him a little confused and uncomfortable.

When she told me this, I basically screamed at her to, “Dump him! Dump him now! No, wait, I will dump him for you, just give me his number.” Though my response was, perhaps, a little knee-jerk, it also made a certain sense. We’re women, and we live in a culture which, at best, is confused and uncomfortable with women’s equality in general. Anyone who doesn’t see that, and recognise it as a huge, urgent problem, has no place in our lives, and certainly not in our hearts.

But I was wrong. This guy was actually a good guy, and because she didn’t take my screechy advice and dump him, he became an even better one. They stayed together and got closer and had all sorts of talks about the things that mattered to them, including this very issue. They educated each other on all kinds of things, and today, he is an A+ boyfriend and an actively woke dude who stands up, speaks out, and volunteers. I was right about the principle, but wrong about the person. I’m so glad she didn’t listen to me.

Your guy may have the same potential. I’d like to say we should give everyone a shot to have their mind cracked open and to re-examine all the faulty wiring they may have been living with. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Your guy may be un-wake-able. And sometimes, it’s not worth the effort. You’re not responsible for teaching this guy — and I’m gritting my teeth as I type this — that women’s equality is a thing. You have a choice. And yes, I do see the irony in that sentence.
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca
Option A) Dump him, cry, and never look back. You don’t need this casual, lazy misogyny.

Option B) Keep him around, and keep him talking.

These are both totally valid choices, and both will be difficult. But please note there is no Option C. I won’t tell you what to do, but I will implore, urge, and perhaps even screech at you to please, please, do not stay in this relationship and just learn to be cool with him not giving a shit. It’s bad enough that, as a human, he doesn’t seem to care about the problems facing his fellow female humans. But it’s even worse that he claims to love you, a woman, and still doesn’t care. It’s double-plus-bonus worse that you plan to make a career out of advocating for women’s issues and you’re with someone so aggressively apathetic. I’ll tell you that much for damn sure.

And I’ll tell you another thing: You need a wake-up call, too. Look at the way you’re coddling this guy, even in your letter. You say he’s “old-school” and that you’re “lucky that he is open to discussing this.” Woman, come on. Being open to discussing the things that matter to you is not some premium perk in a relationship. It’s a given. He doesn’t get extra points for that. And, I’m sorry, but, “old-school?” Oh yeah, I’m sure it was super nice for women back in the old days when men always held the door open and paid for dinner. That really softened the blow of not having the legal right to vote.

I get it. You love him. Life is complicated. If you stay in this relationship — or any relationship — you will have to compromise, and so will your partner. Even A+ boyfriends will never be perfect, and guess what? Neither will you. But some things, you don’t concede, because to do so would compromise your very sense of self. That’s not okay. And no one who actually loves you would want you to do that.

This is a conflict, but it shouldn’t be a fight. People learn by listening, and it’s hard to listen when you’re on the defense. So, no matter what you decide, try to make this a good, heartfelt talk. If you go, let him know exactly why you’re going. If you stay, tell him what you need to change. Infuriating though it may be, it’s much easier to brush aside issues when they’re just “politics.” But this is personal, and he needs to understand that. Then he will have a choice to make, too: Will he stay and start really engaging with you on this, not just because it’s important in the big picture, but important to you? Or is this something he just can’t get on board with?

Either way, you will have done something good. You will have encouraged him to consider this, finally, for real. You may not get the answer you want. But you will know that, at long last, you’ve made him start questioning.

Sincerely,
Kelsey
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