Why I'm Done Laughing Off Casual Sexism On A Date
According to a guy I once went on a date with, girls lie "all the time" about being raped. My date was in a frat in college, and because a couple of his bros were falsely accused of rape (so he says, at least — I'm always hesitant to believe a guy when he swears up and down that his friend did not rape a girl, as he was not in the room when it happened and sexual assault is extremely complex, but anyway...), that meant girls lie "all the time."
Many well-meaning men believe this false narrative about sexual assault, but it still deeply offends me every time I hear it. Regardless, I downplayed the comment and continued our date with a smile on my face. Perhaps he wasn't as educated as I am on the issue, so I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, throughout his life, he's felt the need to conform to a certain level of sexism in order to fit in with his male friends, and nobody's ever thought to call him out for it. Fine.
Honestly, though? I'm an adult, and it's about time I stop tolerating this sh*t.
I'm done trying to protect a man's ego by laughing off his offensive beliefs so that he doesn't feel uncomfortable by my real feelings about them. I'm done trying to figure out why he thinks it's OK to say something ignorant and sexist, as though it is my job, not his as a grown man, to give him a crash course in being a decent person. It's exhausting.
I've been on dates with guys who casually call girls "sluts" and "crazy," tell me fat women are criticized so much because they normalize unhealthiness, say they're not feminists because they "don't believe in labels." One guy wrote off the importance of my job as a writer and editor because my audience is young women and not him. Yet another guy told me a joke about women where the punch line was "battered." Each time one of these comments is made, I enter emotional damage control mode. First, I try to sympathize with him to control the intensity of my gut reaction: He's not on the internet as much I am, so he's not as acutely aware of social justice issues, I think to myself. He doesn't have the opportunities to have these kinds of conversations at his finance job. Men have been socialized to believe that to be masculine means to be vaguely sexist. It's not his fault!
Then, I do my best to smooth over the comment. I say something non-committal, like "I guess." Or, in my weakest moments, I laugh. And then, I sigh, defeated, feeling like I just gave him a pass to continue being his awful self to the next woman, or to me when I inevitably continue dating him. (Trust me, if I made a vow to write off every man who said something sexist, I would be single forever.)
Unfortunately, I haven't felt like I've had any other choice but to smooth the comment over. There's so much pressure to remain cool or laugh it off when a guy you're on a date with says something that offends you. If you call him out for his sexism, you risk being branded as difficult or a buzzkill, neither of which are very appealing on a date.
Women are all too familiar with the feeling of needing to make everyone around us comfortable at the expense of our own discomfort. Jill Filipovic, writer and author of The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit Of Happiness, said that there's a "cultural expectation" that women will think of others' needs all the time while ignoring their own. "Women are pushed into putting others before themselves, in terms of their sex lives, in terms of their relationships ... it's just ingrained in us," she told The Huffington Post.
We sacrifice so much in the name of making sure others are comfortable and don't feel threatened by our behavior. The most glaring examples come through in the workplace: We hesitate to express anger in a frustrating situation because we are perceived as unlikable if we do. (Meanwhile, men are given higher status for expressing anger.) We even sacrifice financial success by not asking for raises at work, because if we do, we are perceived as too demanding and are met with resistance.
But by laughing off a guy's offensive comments on a date because we don't want to scold him or make him feel awkward, we send a message that says his sexism is OK.
One time on a date, a guy made so many offensive comments and was so clueless to how I really felt about them that he actually asked me out for a second time. At first, I was stunned at his audacity. But could I really blame him? I expertly brushed off every single sexist thing he said. He had no idea that I was basically seething every time he opened his mouth.
The ideal solution would be not to care what my date thinks of me and just speak up. But as much as I don't care about being desirable to men, I'm also a human being living in a messed up society, and sometimes, I care. Sometimes, I just want to be a woman on a date with a man, not a sociology professor in a study session with a student.
Guys don't think twice about the sexist comments they make because they'll never have to suffer the consequences of them. As a woman, not only do I suffer the consequences, but I risk being seen as a feminazi if I speak up. But if the people who are actually affected by sexism are pressured to keep quiet or laugh off offensive comments made by people who are not affected by it, what hope is there for sexism to end? The guy who speaks so confidently about how girls lie "all the time" about being raped will never be told that he "asked for it" if he were ever to be sexually assaulted. How will he realize how much damage his comments do if we keep giving him a pass?
I'm not recommending that we spark heated debates every time a guy makes an offensive comment. I'm realistic about how challenging dating is already, and I don't want the added pressure of teaching a sociology course over drinks. But let's start making these guys as uncomfortable as they make us feel. Glare at him. Leave the date early. (I never do that, but I vow to start.) Keep a mental note of how many times he's said something casually sexist, and really consider if he's worth keeping around. (Hint: He's definitely not.)
You should also allow yourself to voice your authentic feelings about his comment if it's really bothering you. If it turns into a heated debate, so be it, because at least you can feel proud knowing you stood up for yourself. And if you're feeling particularly angry one day, by all means, become the triggered feminazi of his nightmares. Because the truth is, I've also gone on dates with guys who say they are feminists because "the alternative is asshole," who order fruity pink cocktails at the bar because they like the taste and DGAF if it's "girly," and who believe that a woman having as much sex as she wants is empowering.
These guys are out there. They have real conversations with women about their life experiences. They are not threatened by the color pink. They don't slut-shame. They've weathered the storm of their bros thinking they're pussies for standing up for women. And they're worth looking for.