My boyfriend is increasingly saying nasty things about women. What do I have to do with it?

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Hi VICE,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years now and until recently I felt like our relationship was perfect. I met him through-via and I find him very attractive: he is confident, well-groomed and he has life under control. We have many friends in common and enjoy doing things together (we like eating out, going to clubs and going on nice trips), but in some areas we are very different. Our first long conversation culminated in a bizarre discussion about Kim Kardashian. Although he follows her on Instagram, he thinks it’s “fucked up that she’s making money off her body”. He told me he saw it as proof that women have it easier than men because they can use their bodies for money. Of course I disagreed with that statement. “It’s nice of you to bite the bullet like that,” he said at the time, adding with a wink that I “still have a lot to learn about the world.” I thought the opposite: his views will become more nuanced with time.

For a while, that seemed to be the case. But sometimes he still drops really misogynistic stuff – especially when we’re out with his male friends and alcohol is involved. For example, he believes that it is true that men earn more than women because “according to their logic, they are often better employees.” He also once said that we should “really be normal with all that MeToo shit.” Not that he would ever condone rape, but he believes that the line between flirting and transgressive behavior is blurred. In the end, it always comes down to the same thing: he feels that as a man he has it harder than women these days, partly because of the (in his words) “hysterical feminist movement”.

I feel like he often said things to annoy me because he likes to argue. I like that too, so it felt like a game. Such a debate between us could be quite heated, but it never really led to an argument. But in recent months I feel that he has gone more and more into it. For example, he listens to podcasts by Andrew Tate, a misogynist influencer. Sometimes he also puts it on while we eat because I “really need to hear what Andrew is saying.” I’m really getting sick of what I’m hearing.

He increasingly criticizes women: they are gold diggers and they “sometimes ask to be beaten”. He finds it normal that some men like much younger women because it is “natural selection”. It bothers him these days when I talk about my career because he finds it “unattractive”. We don’t live together yet and recently he has been texting me to check on what I’m doing.

It’s not all misery: there are also very beautiful and loving moments between us. I notice he mostly says the weirdest things when he’s feeling down or has had a bad week. But the thing is, he hasn’t been feeling well at all lately. I wish he would get help, but he won’t hear of it.

I’m not quite sure what to do. I am still deeply in love with him and by doing so I feel I could help him. At the same time, I find the way he talks about women downright repulsive. I don’t even dare to talk to my friends about it because if they heard the things he sometimes talks about, they would never have anything to do with him again.

Is this a period in his life that he will come out of? Or are we just fundamentally too different to be together?

Greetings,

m.


Dear M.,

You hear more and more stories about couples with opposing political ideas and ideals, and about the friction that can cause. Out American research of 2020 shows that 43 percent of single Democrats do not want a relationship with a Republican. At the same time, 24 percent of Republicans would not want to date a Democrat. Or think about escalating conflicts in matters of corona measures, such as whether to wear a face mask or not. Recently, actress Julia Fox was accused of not being a feminist because she dated Ye (a man not exactly known for his progressive views by now) for a month. And Reddit is full with questions from distraught women who don’t know what to do with lovers who (like yours truly) listen to self-proclaimed anti-feminist Andrew Tate. On Reddit, the answer is always: dump the misogynist friend, and of course that’s a good solution. But what if you’re not (yet) ready for it?

“There are clearly fundamental differences between you and your partner. It can be annoying and also painful,” says relationship therapist Joey Steur. “I can understand from your letter that you still have feelings of love and that you can also get along well, but that his statements create tension. It is complicated.”

While you still feel love for your partner, you also indicate that you think very differently about the world. In addition, his beliefs are in line with a movement where women – and therefore you too – are seen as inferior. So the question is: how much do these differences weigh on you, and are there any ways to bridge the gap between you and your friend?

Research by the British organization HOPE not Hate showed that half of the 2076 young men interviewed in 2020 believed that “feminism has gone too far, making it increasingly difficult for men to succeed in life”. Sarah Bracke, professor of sociology in the domain of gender and sexuality at the University of Amsterdam, said the following in a previous interview: “The feeling that you are losing your position in society because of feminism, for example, can make you insecure. Society is changing. Feminism and LGBT rights have made significant progress, and transgender people are also becoming more visible. And yes, this means that the classic form of masculinity is under attack. It also means that as a young man who is still looking for his place in society, he can become insecure. Giving up privilege or status is rarely an easy thing to do: you can get angry, feel like a failure, or feel like there’s no prospect for men like you.” Men like Andrew Tate are taking advantage – transforming these feelings of insecurity to confident rage against a common enemy: women.

“In my consultation room, I see many men who no longer know what their role is in society,” says Steur. According to her, it also makes them feel insecure in a relationship: they fear that they cannot really offer their partner anything in the new reality and that they may lose the relationship as a result. In a conservative role division, the division of tasks is clearer: as a man, for example, you earn a living. According to Steur, it is important that we acknowledge this confusion and uncertainty. “As a therapist, I want to validate these feelings,” she says. “I want to say that you are not alone in feeling this, and it is okay to talk about this. It is interesting to dissect your partner’s ideology layer by layer. You can only take steps in your relationship if he gains insight into his own behavior and the feelings that underlie it. From that point on, you may meet each other.”

Couple therapy, where you have this conversation with the help of a third person, can therefore be clearly recommended. But if not, is there anything you can do yourself? “You notice that your partner seems stuck in his thoughts,” says Steur. “There is a little movement in his way of thinking and in his behavior. He says things that touch you and you respond to him based on that feeling. As a result, you are now in a state of conflict: the distance between you increases. But you write that you still feel love and will make an effort to understand him. Based on that feeling, space can be created to get closer together again.”

You can try to look at the problems he raises from a distance. His distaste for your career and views on MeToo feel very personal to you because it is inevitably about your experiences as well. But according to Steur, one must remember that such drastic statements mainly stem from uncertainty. “It may help to ask him again in a quiet moment, when there is no conflict, why he says such a thing. Ask him how his ideas came about and if he discusses this with his friends, for example. As hard as it is, try to create a safe space where he can share what is behind his ideas without being judged.” Be aware that his way of thinking has more to do with himself than with you, adds Steur – if only to protect yourself.

“Many couples quickly go on the defensive in such a conflict, so the conversation becomes hostile and you don’t actually get to the heart of the problem. You also often see that partners turn away from each other instead of getting closer,” she says.

“A deep-seated conflict does not always mean that love is over immediately. Perhaps little by little he will begin to understand and work on the emotional reasons for his thinking. When he gets to that point, he may move slightly back towards you. And then you can state what his statements do to you and how they affect you.” According to Steur, you have to take into account that it can also happen that he does not open up, can cause some pain and can also cause further cracks in your relationship.

Even though you clearly love your partner and his opinions may not be a direct reflection of how he sees you, it can still hurt to hear how he feels about women. How do you guard your border? And how do you make sure your mental health doesn’t suffer because of your need to help him?

It is very important that you think about what is acceptable to you. Listen carefully to your own feelings and dare to draw a line. There’s a chance that you two won’t make it and it’s better to let each other go. “Also talk about this with other people if you feel the need,” advises Steur. And according to Steur, it is also important to keep a close eye on whether you can still keep talking to him. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s also okay to decide that the relationship just isn’t working. “You’ve done your best and you can’t really do more than that,” she says.

It is of course common for partners to disagree on important issues such as raising children or handling money. But some differences are so fundamental that it can feel like an attack on who you are as a person. “In my profession, we call this a difference in ‘your core,’ something that feels so important to you that you cannot compromise,” says Steur. So it’s now up to you to decide if these differences between you and your partner are too great, or if you still see room to accommodate each other.

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