Thank you for the kind response. While I don't feel entirely compelled by the framework that would characterize it as internalized sexism, I think the way you put it really helps in viewing the situation differently and emphatically, ie, making an effort in understanding that I'd be stopping a female training partner from improving as much as any other person in the gym by letting my own discomfort get the best of me. You're right, they're there for that specific reason, and everyone can voice their disatisfaction with someone who's going harder than they should. As simple as it is, it can be ignored due to the violent nature of it all and not wanting to deal with those irrational feelings of having done something culturally taboo. I do think that the process of adapting to this understanding may be a slow one for men with this cultural conditioning, but that's when talking about it helps so much. The feeling that you did something that goes against your upbringing (punching or kicking the opposite sex in the face) leaves a foul state in your mouth regardless of any rationalization, but I'm sure that it can be dealt with progressively by knowing how the consequences of this attitude are so frustrating for female martial artists and how unbalanced it ends up being for everyone involved. Both parties need to understand the other's position and needs, and work together to even things out. That is to say, just asking to hit harder might not be enough to really ingrain the idea and erase the discomfort in some men, but it should at least be the start of a conversation that solves the problem.
What would be good etiquette if, as a man, the reason for this attitude during sparring (or any other sort of intense pair training) is mental discomfort with the idea of throwing even mid-level strikes with women? I've found myself paired with girls and it is quite uncomfortable to try and disregard this cultural norm. I did that exact thing described of just using defence and letting the girls work their offence during these routine 'colosseum' exercises (I forget the English term for it) at a gym I trained at, where the instructor would make one of us (sometimes a woman) do rounds with almost everyone at a time. It wasn't supposed to be sparring, but eventually the one doing the rounds would get tired and more desperate, so they'd put more behind their strikes and, between men at least, you'd end up reciprocating with similar intensity. I use this example because, even if you oppose to being a sparring partner for a female (if your instructor lets you, that is), you might find yourself in a situation where you'll basically be doing light sparring with them, and might adjust your power a bit too low for those that want to be treated equally. Sorry if this is a bit of a convoluted question, but basically I wanted to take the chance (and please do excuse me if I'm unknowingly derailing the topic of conversation) to ask what you think would be the right procedure for males that just feel uncomfortable hitting females but nonetheless get thrown in situations where you have to be available for them and actually want to help them improve their skills in any other way you can (as you would with any other training partner, since that's obviously the idea- to get better together). Thanks!