Is It Sexist for Boyfriends to Be Protective?

“Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from,” — Mae West

I’m not gonna tell men not to be protective, because lovers should be protective of each other, regardless of gender. It’s just that the way men have been taught to be protective is infantilising and can go against women’s actual interests. Too often, it presumes what is best for women without asking them, or by openly going against their requests. Too often, protection looks either like control or a technique of imposing guilt on women so that they control themselves.

Because while love is supposed to be a safe space, a space where you are away from the brutality of the world outside, and instead heterosexual relationships often feel like the most direct place in which we face gender stereotypes, the weight of the patriarchy condensed into a wrestling match which we have to pretend is just a passionate embrace.

If you wanna protect me, protect me by not making our relationship a microcosm of the world outside.

Protect me by not disregarding me, as I am so often disregarded elsewhere in my life.

Protect me by acknowledging that I know best what I want.

Protect me by giving my orgasms as much importance as I give yours.

Protect me by sharing the emotional labour of our relationship and our sex lives.

Protect me by not laughing at your friends’ sexist jokes, even if I am not there.

Protect me by calling them out on it, so that, hopefully, next time, I won’t have to face their microaggressions, nor be the one that has to educate them.

Protect me by speaking up if you realise you earn more than a female colleague with the same qualifications and responsibilities.

Protect me by becoming a feminist ally.

Protect me by leaving me space in my own fight, and by making it possible for me and other women to defend our rights.

Protect me, not by beating up any guy who disrespects me, not by teaching them that I should only be respected because I am attached to a man, but by supporting my efforts to stand up to oppressors.

Protect me from your unsolicited advice on where to go and when.

Protect me from feeling guilty, from feeling like my behavior is what needs to change, just because the world is dangerous for me.

Above all else, protect me from you.

Protect me by respecting my agency and not violating my consent.

Protect me from being pushed or pressured or guilted into doing things I don’t want to do.

Protect me by realizing that you, too, can be a bad man, can be sexist, can be a rapist.

Protect me by changing your own behavior when needed, because for that, I definitely need you.

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