How to talk to your boyfriend about feminism

I’ve read almost every ‘how-to’ guide for women about men out there: ”How to get your man to ask you to marry him,” “How to straddle your man like a pro,” “How to get your man to say the ‘L’ word,” or “How to be a woman in the streets and a freak in the sheets;” (yes, all real).

But I have never stumbled upon a how-to guide for us feminists, who need advice on how to talk to our boyfriends about the ‘f’ word. Like any woman, feminists also have expectations for their partner’s that sometimes can be difficult to articulate without the ‘Duh!,’ ‘Why don’t you get it?,’  ‘Common sense,’ face. I struggle with it all the time.

Like any issue you may be passionate about, we should spill our “feminist” beans to our boyfriends, not only so he knows our passion, but also so he can understand the issues.

So here it is, from one feminist to another—how to talk to your boyfriend about feminism, without seeming like a male-hating militant,  because let’s face it, stereotypes are real and he will initially think you are some version of a “he-man woman hater” (only opposite). I talked to three men about feminism—a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend and wise male-feminist friend. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Lead by Example.
    Before you start down this long, egregious path of “You should be a feminist because…” you have to be willing to have a critical and respectful open-discussion. Lay out some ground rules with your boyfriend before you begin the conversation. When my partner and I talk about issues, we commonly use “I” and “We” language—such as, “I feel” or “We can.” Respect and openness are key.
  2. Explain it and relate it.
    Like my wise-feminist boyfriend said: “Be informative; be relatable; give sound examples; and make it connect to things you have going on already. We can’t read your mind. More importantly, we want to be able to understand you, so make it personal and relatable, like you would anything else. And explain what feminism is—that’s important. The rest should flow.”First and foremost, you need to tell him what feminism is or this conversation is going nowhere. Obviously there are many definitions of what feminism is, but in simplest terms, feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men.Moving forward, be honest and genuine about how feminism affects you. Whether it’s because you believe in freedom for women, fundamental women’s rights as human rights or more specific issues, such as women’s reproductive health or sexual liberation—whatever aspect of feminism is important to you, doesn’t matter— what does matter is that you’re able to explain it. If he respects you and your interests, this conversation should flow easily. Use examples from your own life and make them relatable to issues he already knows about.For instance, my partner is aware of my personal experience with sexual assault. Thus, when we had this conversation 3 years ago, I was fully able to express violence against women as an issue that affected me personally. Suitably, he was able to understand where violence as an issue fit in context with my identity and feminism. Simple.

    Don’t info-dump on EVERYTHING. Think concisely. Give concrete examples from your personal life, ideally something he already knows about, so he will be able to easily connect it to as an issue that affects women, and is thus, feminist.

  3.  Breakdown stereotypes.
    My very wise and male-feminist friend explained it like this: “You know I think it’s getting rid of that first stereotype that feminism is about male-bashing. I remember reading that in bell hooks. It’s that somehow feminism is ‘Oh this woman wants to bash my husband.’—No, that’s not true. It’s not about all women hating men. Get rid of that initial stereotype that it’s about male-bashing or he’ll be less of a man because of feminist ideology.”This is an important part of creating ally-ship in your relationship. One of the problems my fellow-feminist friends make when they’re having ‘the talk’ is naively believing everything will be peachy afterwards (“yes, my boyfriend is a feminist!”) Wrong. This will be an ongoing process in which you will have to make him comfortable to ask questions and make mistakes.Like my wise friend also said: “Breaking down some very simple gestures will be helpful. I remember when a staff member told me that she was too aggressive or opinionated. But if I’m, as a male, a leader, I’m a commander. So it’s breaking down those very simple stereotypes.” Your boyfriend’s patriarchy will not be erased overnight. Be forgiving and allow him to clarify. If you want your boyfriend to understand feminism, and be able to articulate it to others, you have to allow him to make mistakes and learn from them.
  4.  Give him space to figure it out.
    It’s like what my boyfriend said: ”Don’t make him feel wrong, he’s not your enemy. He could be your greatest ally.”You like him. He’s your boyfriend. He’s obviously not a dumb ass, or you wouldn’t be dating him (maybe). He’s not the cause of patriarchy but patriarchy is ingrained in him.  Don’t make him feel like he epitomizes patriarchy (unless he really does, and that’s another problem). Don’t take his kindness as victimization, i.e., door opening, etc. He’s still going to do and probably say dumb, sexist shit that will make you mad. Point it out, but in a way that offers support.Ultimately, you want to feel supported, so support him to figure out his own ignorance.He will also criticize the movement. One way to combat this is to point out misogyny and sexism in pop culture without sounding accusatory.We’ve all laughed at sexist, insensitive jokes, and enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight. He’ll mention the other women who say they don’t need feminism—so talk to him in a meaningful, purposeful way where he understands that even those women do, indeed need feminism. He’ll say things like, “Men need maternity leave and childcare too!” (agree with him). Tell him you still want him to pay sometimes or send flowers (if that’s your thing), and you’ll do the same for him. These details are important to define how you will govern your own feminist relationship.

    Ask him if he believes women should have the right to drive, vote, have sex, be educated, get paid as much as men, not have to live in fear of violence, marry whomever they want—and explain how we’re still fighting for those things.  Remember, again, be genuine and purposeful.

  5. Don’t talk about [it] everyday.
    So even though you might talk about it every day, if this is the first time he’s hearing about feminism, don’t, I repeat, don’t talk to him about [it] every day. Take heed of my ex-boyfriend’s advice: “Do it in doses. Nobody wants to talk about feminism two to three hours a day. Make it casual, make it natural. Make it relatable to his life. If you over saturate it, it’s not going to get digested.” Again, this has to deal with allowing him to work out his feelings about patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. I’m not saying don’t point it out when it happens, but do it in a supportive way. So don’t talk about it every day.
  6. Follow-up
    Now that he knows how important feminism is to you, he’s probably feeling overwhelmed about all the little shit he might do that may be patronizing, misogynistic, and sexist. My wise friend agreed: “I think it’s a lot to digest for a lot of men because it’s one of those things you have to realize that we will all slip back into patriarchal roles without even noticing. Your spouse or significant other may feel overwhelmed or think we’re saying something wrong.”REMEMBER: He does not have to deal with sexism every single day — the catcalling, harassment,  fear of violence, or being paid less than his colleagues—so he’s not going to just “get it” at the snap of a finger. Make sure to follow-up with him with your experience dealing with these common issues or any examples he might see in his daily life. This will allow him to rally support for you and other women.
  7. What if he doesn’t bite?
    Fuck him. Just kidding…maybe. It will be difficult to fathom why your boyfriend or partner doesn’t get the feminism bug…but it’s really not that outlandish considering how patriarchy runs our world. In this case, continuously exposing him to issues of feminism and simple gestures are important. Whether he agrees with the actual concepts and chooses not to identify at this point is irrelevant. While we do need more male-allyship in the feminist community, what’s more important at this stage is to evaluate whether you’re willing to be in a relationship with someone who is unyielding in his biases.Remember: exposing your boyfriend to feminism doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll bite or embrace it.
  8.  What if he does bite?
    Now that your boyfriend is a die-hard feminist, he’s probably wondering how he can help you and the movement. He wants you to feel empowered and you want to show him how he can get involved.Research local organizations that deal with women’s issues that he can volunteer with. Ask him to join you at a protest, rally, or another volunteer opportunity. Send him articles and blog posts about current issues related to feminism, especially those written by men, like the ones my boyfriend sent me here and here. Give him books that will help him continue his ally-quest, such as Men and Feminism or The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. Connect him with national organizations for men, such as Men Can Stop Rape and the National Organization for Men against Sexism. Show him this ridiculously awesome Ted-Talk from a man about feminism.
  9. Commend his feminist
    If you succeed in getting your boyfriend or partner to understand his own feminism and how he can be an ally, tell him. Let him know how he’s changed and how empowered you feel. Support him and thank him for being open to the idea of feminism.
  10.  Congratulations
    You’ve just talked to your boyfriend about feminism. Now rant and rave and brag to all your friends, like I do. Oh and tweet your ass off about how your boyfriend is ridiculously awesome and feminist.


Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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