Would you be able to spot sexist attitudes in the man you’re dating?
Consider that most men are on their best behavior in the early stages of a relationship and are unlikely to express blatantly sexist opinions (although remarkably, many still do). Instead, sexist men often display negative beliefs about women in subtle ways, ones that are easy to miss in the early stages of excitement and romance.
Further complicating matters, some men hold beliefs they don’t even realize are sexist, as do some women. For example, a man who believes a woman should be protected, cared for, and admired might not seem sexist except such men are unlikely to feel comfortable with a woman who significantly out-earns them. Sure, some women might want a partner who protects them, cares for them, and admires them but they would probably also want the option of being successful without it causing him to feel resentment, insecurity, and hostility.
Most women would probably want to know if the man they’re dating is potentially sexist and the following tips should help them do so. However, these signs should only be considered red flags or issues that warrant further attention—not grounds for immediate condemnation. Some men might not have thought through their attitudes sufficiently and others might not be aware their behavior or opinions are problematic. If your date displays any of these signs, it might be a good idea to ask them directly about issues that concern you (e.g., whether they would be comfortable with a women who made more than they did, or whether they think it’s okay for men to participate equally in child-rearing or be primary caretakers).
Five Signs Your Date Might Be Sexist
1. He orders you a drink or dinner without asking want you want.When someone orders for you they’re assuming they know what’s good for you or what you would like. Unless your date is a renowned mind reader with his own Vegas spectacular, he should always check with you first.
It might not be sexist if: He had mentioned his favorite drink/meal earlier and you indicated you would be open to trying it. Even then, he should have checked with you but hopefully his unilateral move is more a reflection of over-enthusiasm than it is sexism.
2. He asks you questions about your child-rearing goals but not your career goals. By doing so he’s assuming you should be more focused on motherhood than on your career.
It might not be sexist if: You had clarified your preference to be a stay-at-home mom previously, if he discussed his role as a father with equal enthusiasm, or if he happily mentioned his company gives paternity leave.
3. He calls you babe, sweetie, toots, or other pet names on a first date. Pet names should reflect feelings of love or affection and as such, they should be earned. If he’s doling out pet names after knowing you for all of two hours, it more likely reflects feelings of superiority on his part.
It might not be sexist if: You called him a pet name first or if he works as a waiter in a greasy diner (“What can I get fer ya, toots?”).
4. He resorts to name calling when referring to a previous girlfriend or ex-wife. Using derogatory terms about another woman when on a date is not just bad judgment but likely a reflection of his feelings about women in general.
It might not be sexist if: He’s getting over a really bad and really recentdivorce in which he sustained significant emotional or financial wounds and you were the one who (unwisely) asked him about his ex. Regardless, he’s definitely not ready for a new relationship, so give this one a pass.
5. He finds it necessary to share his “philosophy of women.” The fact that he even has a philosophy of women is a problem as it assumes all women are alike and want the same things which smacks of sexism even if his “beliefs” sound positive (e.g., I think women should be put on a pedestal!).
It might not be sexist if: You asked him about his views “on women,” offered your own manifesto about your views on men, or criticized an ex for how they viewed women—prompting your date to make the point that he’s not “like that.”
Remember, if the man you’re dating fits any of these criteria it should warrant further discussion not immediate dismissal. It might also be a good idea to think through your own opinions and attitudes about the differences between men and women to assess whether your own beliefs are sexist in some ways. Having sexist beliefs is usually a product of our upbringing and social context so we might have such opinions but our attitudes can and should be updated if we take the time to think things through.
Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker, and author whose books have already been translated into thirteen languages. His most recent book is Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company) was published in January 2011.
Dr. Winch received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association.
In addition to the Blog on this site, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today.com, and blogs for Huffington Post.