Q. I have been with my fiance, “Ben,” for about five years (engaged for one year). Overall, we have a happy relationship, but there’s this recurring issue: He’s low-key sexist, but totally in denial. Example: We saw the newest Marvel movie, “Black Widow.” After, I mentioned how cool it was to see a movie with almost all women. He responded that yes, it was cool, because it didn’t “feel” like a movie about women, because those movies are inherently misandrist, I guess?
I don’t know how to make him see that this is insulting and patronizing. I tried to point out how presumptive he was being with his statements, and he just got angry. This isn’t an issue in practice; I don’t feel that I’m treated as lesser for being a woman. But in principle, this is a tendency that has become upsettingly frequent, and I can’t bring it up without becoming the bad guy. I don’t think this is near enough to call off an upcoming wedding, but it’s so frustrating! Help!
A. I read this letter and called Ty Burr, a longtime film critic, who just left the Globe. (He just started his own newsletter!)
Ty has long been a great supporter of Love Letters — he even appeared on the podcast — so it seemed right to share this problem with him, and to find out how much a person’s opinions about media relate to how they think about people in real life.
I asked Ty if someone’s sexist feedback about a Marvel movie — or any movie, for the matter — represents a greater problem, something that could kill a marriage. His first question, after hearing the issue, was basically, “Um, has this guy seen ‘Little Women’?”
After that, he and I decided together that yes, letter writer, this is a big deal. Not because your fiance thinks “Black Widow” didn’t feel like a movie about women (for those who haven’t seen it, it very much is!), but because of the way he reacts — with anger — when you try to make a point.
Ty and I agreed that it might take some people time to realize why so many films that center on women do make men look bad (it’s not misandry; it’s an acknowledgment of misogyny as a villain in everyone’s daily lives). He suggested that the next time this comes up, you ask him why he feels the way he does. “Why do you think these films portray men as the enemy?” The conversation could be revealing if posed as a question. It’s about unpacking the reasoning — and yours — instead of telling each other what you think is right.
If he can’t have that kind of low-stakes talk and an open mind, it makes me (and Ty) wonder what else this man might refuse to discuss. If the issue is becoming more frequent, this will only get worse.
For the record, Ty does recommend that the two of you watch Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” because it is about sisters, but also about good men.
Good luck — and listen to your gut on this one. You want to be with someone who asks questions and listens.
My husband is by no means a lughead, but just doesn’t notice things that I do, or think about them in the same way. When I explain where I’m coming from, he listens and often says, “I hadn’t thought about it that way but it makes sense.” Maybe try a less confrontational approach and not using buzz words like misandrist. He’s just going to shut down and get defensive.
If you two aren’t able to articulate what you believe and why without getting angry and petulant, regardless of the topic, you’re going to have a really hard time managing a relationship.
I think you have to look at the way he treats the women in his life. If he treats them with respect, let the comments go. If you notice a pattern of disrespect in the way he treats the women in his life, get out now!
^A lot of misogynists are very good to the women in their lives, sometimes excessively so. It’s the other women who are “bad.”
The two of you disagree about how to interpret a movie. Some disagreement can be healthy for a relationship, provided you both address it respectfully. But if you think it’s part of a larger pattern, ask him about the pattern rather than the individual cases. His response will give you a better sense of whether you’ll be comfortable spending the rest of your life with him.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.