Column

‘Am I the Asshole?’ Reveals America’s Sexist Underbelly

One of the most thorough looks at gender inequality can be found on a Reddit forum

Photo: Francesco Carta/fotografo

If you want to know about the gendered domestic divide in American households, there are plenty of books to read, studies to peruse, and women’s stories — exponentially more of them since the pandemic started — to hear out. But the most fascinating look at inequality at home, and within heterosexual relationships more broadly, doesn’t come from traditional sources; it’s hiding in plain sight, on a Reddit forum called “Am I The Asshole.”

AITA, as it’s also known, is a place where people post about a particular conflict and ask readers for an objective opinion on whether or not they’re, well, an asshole. The situations are usually benign: someone wanting reassurance that they’re not wrong to cut off a toxic relative, or seeking validation after taking a mistreated animal away from a friend.

When it comes to relationships, however, and the way that men treat the women in their lives, things get pretty toxic. It’s a microcosm of gendered entitlement — the story of American sexism, told post by post. There’s the guy furious with his girlfriend for dressing up for a work Zoom (because how dare she look nice for anyone but him); the husband who wants to forbid his wife from breastfeeding in public; the man who is mad that his wife who has just given birth doesn’t “dress sexy” anymore; and of course the one who feels betrayed that his wife keeps her own savings account.

The list goes on: There’s the man who needs “complete silence” from his stay-at-home wife and two toddlers while he works from home, because “it’s her job to be silent and shut the kids up”; the husband who refuses to do any domestic work at all because his wife isn’t asking nicely enough (he also seems to think his wife has a natural predilection for thankless activity: “She doesn’t really rest,” he wrote, “that’s not her thing”); the guy who wants his girlfriend to sell her house because she bought it with money she earned while stripping; and the man who walked out (literally) on his wife when she got an ovarian cancer diagnosis (“I had begged her to have kids since we were 26, but she refused for her career,” he wrote as a justification for storming out of the doctor’s office).

It’s not just the stories themselves — and how obviously awful they are — that stand out. What makes AITA such a special look into gender dynamics is that the men who describe awful scenarios truly don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong. Sexism has fully lulled them into a sense of moral superiority that blinds them to their own explicitly terrible behavior.

Why else would they believe that a forum full of strangers would somehow validate them for telling their girlfriend that she’s not allowed to talk when they arrive home tired from work, or assure them that it’s fine to constantly diminish their partner’s hobbies as silly and childish?

Of course, they reason, women should be doing more housework, or agree to change outfits on demand. That’s just the way things are; how could they possibly be at fault? And that’s the rub for so much of American sexism: It’s not just that it’s pervasive, it’s that some of its worst perpetrators refuse to believe that they might be the asshole.

Part of what’s on display at AITA is entitled ignorance; some men brought up in a sexist world really do believe that there is a natural gendered order that they just happen to benefit from. But the other piece is the anger that so many of these men have when they’re taken to task — first by the girlfriend or wife who inspired them to take to the forum, and then by the forum itself, which lets them know exactly what a jerk they are. The responses to the AITA “verdict” is usually shocked fury, and denial — the original poster will write update after update about how commenters aren’t really understanding what he means. Did you read the part about how she doesn’t really like to rest?

So if you want a peek into the truth of everyday sexism, just listen to men themselves and you’ll find living in an imaginary world where they are the good guy and women are the problem. You don’t need to break your back doing research on inequality when assholes admit to it daily.

Written by

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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