Women have been socialized to put up with toxic relationships
There’s a good chance that at some point you’ve looked at one of your close female friends — someone you love and respect deeply — and thought, “What. Is. She. Thinking.”
Too many of us have watched great women make terrible decisions when it comes to relationships. It's easy to get frustrated with our friends — and with ourselves — for putting up with behavior we don't deserve. But before jumping to judgment, there’s an important factor you need to remember: women are socialized to put up with this bad behavior. And it’s bullshit.
The truth is, women are taught both to underestimate how well they should be treated and when they're met with behavior that is clearly unacceptable, they're often told they should accept it or ignore it. It’s not OK. Not only is it sexist crap, but it also leads to women putting themselves into inappropriate and even dangerous situations when it comes to their relationships.
Here’s how women are socialized to put up with toxic behavior — and how to stop accepting it.
The standard for male behavior is worryingly low
This one is for hetero relationships, but it's so important. Have you ever seen a man be complimented for being emotionally intelligent — or a dad being praised for spending time with his own children? That’s because, in some senses, the standard for male behavior is incredibly low. Sure, society has high standards for men in some departments — like being strong, resilient, and making money. But when it comes to how they treat other people, we act as though men just aren’t capable of emotional intelligence.
Not only is that total, patronizing nonsense, it also means that we often have such low standards for them that it ultimately keeps their behavior from improving. This means that women experience what should be considered basic decency — like remembering what you talk about, asking about your day, being sentimental or thoughtful — as somehow going above and beyond. With how low society sets the bar, it's easy to learn to eat up the little scraps of good behavior and lose our self-worth in the process.
Women are taught not to make a fuss — and often punished if they do
Although the low expectations of male behavior affect only hetero relationships, queer and straight women alike are affected by the societal pressure on women not to be too demanding. While a man who expects to be treated a certain way might be considered “formidable” or “assertive”, women are often seen as “uppity” or “problematic” for expecting to be treated well. Because women are often written off or even punished for having a totally normal sense of self-respect, it slowly encourages them to put up with toxic behavior. And the more you put up with it, the more normal it becomes. It’s a horrific race to the bottom and women pay the price.
That’s why rhetoric like “boys will be boys” is so damaging, it tells women that they need to let other people off of the hook. Women become scared that they’ll be dumped if they call their partner out on bad behavior — rather than looking at why they’re OK with a toxic relationship in the first place.
Women are taught to be emotional caretakers
Emotional labor is finally starting to get the recognition that it deserves — and with good reason. Women do a disproportionate amount of emotional labor in many of their relationships, not just the romantic ones. That means thinking about how other people will respond to different situations, helping your partner manage their emotions, and putting your feelings to one side. It's effing exhausting. There’s this myth that women are naturally amazing at emotional labor and men are terrible at it — and that allows inequitable relationships to form.
Hold your relationship to your own standards — not society’s
That’s why it’s so crucial that you follow your own moral compass- not anybody else’s. While society may pressure women to put up with toxic relationships, many women rightfully have way more self-respect than that. If your mother or your friend tells you that your partner’s inappropriate or disrespectful behavior is OK, trust your own moral compass instead. That knot in your stomach doesn't like it, so don’t ignore it. If you're not happy, if it doesn’t feel fair, then it shouldn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
If you have trouble sticking up for yourself — or even recognizing when you're being treated badly — pretend that someone else is in your shoes, someone who you care about. If you wouldn’t want your best friend, your mom, or your brother to be treated in the way you’re being treated or to be in the kind of relationship that you’re putting up with, it’s time to think about why you’re OK letting it happen to yourself.
There are so many ways women are socialized to put up with toxic relationships. Some of them involve expecting women to put up with the unacceptable, some of them are patronizing men with laughably low standards, but they all end up with women bearing the brunt. So we need to stop normalizing toxic relationships and encouraging women to suffer through their partner’s bad behavior. Relationships require a team, and if you don’t feel supported, recognized and cared for, then you need to find a new teammate. Or be on your own for a while. It's so much healthier.