As part of her senior thesis research, San Francisco-based dating coach Emyli Lovz went on 101 dates with 52 different guys. Among them, she recalls one date in particular where she got a taste of some subtle sexism.
As she sat chatting with her date, another man stopped at their table to talk business with the guy she was with. “Obviously, I’m an entrepreneur, and every time I tried to interject or share an opinion based on the conversation, I felt as though I was sidelined and treated like a little kid,” Lovz says.
Whether or not her date had 1950s-esque ideas about women and work, the outcome of his actions was the same: Lovz felt like she didn’t have a place at that table (pun intended). It didn’t take long for her to move on to someone new.
“When people hear the word ‘sexist,’ they tend to think of the most offensive thing they can,” says Demetrius Figueroa, creator of A Mighty Love, a podcast focused on dating and relationship advice. “What people may not realize is that they may be engaging in inadvertent sexist behavior without realizing it. It may be something as small as making assumptions based on traditional gender roles or a general disregard of a woman’s career because it’s in a field dominated by women.”
Sexism, which, in the case of romantic relationships, usually impacts heterosexual couples, is broken down into two sub-categories: hostile and benevolent. Hostile sexism is more overt (“Cooking is a woman’s job!”) and what we usually think about when we discuss gender-based prejudices. Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is often subtle (“Let me put air in your car tires so you don’t get your nails dirty”) and affectionate.
Both are harmful to women and can do real damage to our dating dynamics. One study, for example, found that women dating guys with sexist attitudes reported more fights about power dynamics, jealousy, abuse, and cheating, among other things.
To help you recognize some of the ways you may be undermining your dates — whether intentional or not — here are six things to avoid. It’s 2019: We all wear the pants in our relationships.
1. When you say, “I’m looking for a ‘guy’s girl.’”
You want a woman who prefers action flicks over rom-coms and thinks a Saturday night watching college football is the ideal date night — that’s fair. The problem with putting this in your online dating profile, however, is that it suggests things stereotypically considered masculine and associated with men (e.g., James Bond and sports) are cooler than things typically associated with women. Furthermore, it takes those stereotypes as truth.
“Just think about the reverse,” says Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte who studies gender equality. “Do you ever hear women say they want a ‘guy’s woman’ and [to] do ‘women things?’”
2. When you put her on a pedestal
Sometimes, sexism can come across as a friendly gesture. Rushing to open the car door for your date or making sure she gets home OK are a couple of examples. On paper, these types of actions sound nice enough, but there’s a fine line between being a decent human being and treating women as if they need special accommodations (i.e., they need men to lift them up).
Of course, it’s all about perspective. “Focus more on treating [both men and women] with respect instead of thinking that women need protection or are less autonomous,” Yavorksy says. The key, she adds, is to be willing to lend a hand without being patronizing.
3. When you make assumptions about her interests without asking first
The time to let go of traditional gender roles was 50 years ago, yet here we are. Maybe she actually doesn’t like cooking. Maybe she’s also a whiskey connoisseur, a soon-to-be executive, and more interested in being the favorite auntie instead of a mom.
“It’s always better to ask,” Figueroa says. “Throw your gender-based assumptions out the window. Every person should walk into each and every date without assumptions. Take the curiosity you already have and dig deeper.”
4. When you pay for the date without asking her first if that’s cool
It may seem chivalrous to automatically pick up the tab, but think about the underlying message here. Reinforcing the idea that men should financially provide for women may indicate to your date that you believe you should be the breadwinner and decision maker in the relationship. That, in effect, tips the scales of power in your direction and suggests your career and ambitions are more important than hers. Yikes!
5. When you assume she has nothing to contribute to a certain conversation
It’s one thing to lose yourself in a topic you’re passionate about, but to think your date has absolutely nothing to say about politics or the Marvel Universe shows how limited you believe women are. If you think women aren’t capable of discussing certain topics — or that men just know more about them — that’s sexist. Anyone you’re having a conversation with — a date, a friend, a family member, a co-worker — deserves a fair shot to add their opinion to the mix.
6. When you try to impress her by positioning yourself as an authority on well, everything
At its core, equality is about respect — in this case, respecting that your date knows a lot of stuff that you don’t. Find out what she’s an expert on, and ask her questions about it, Yavorsky suggests. Nobody likes a mansplainer.