I’m actually asking this for a (former) friend with benefits. This is the question I imagine he would ask you: “I’m getting the message from a friend (with benefits) that I’m kind of sexist as a lover. Could this be true? Or is it because she’s been dating women for the past two decades and just doesn’t understand things between men and women? She said I implied that going down on a woman was asking more than going down on a man. She also felt that our conversations focused much more on my problems and interests than hers. Eventually I stopped sleeping with her, because I could tell she thought I was deficient in so many areas! Could you make a quiz that I could use to objectively judge whether I am or am not sexist in my interactions with the women I date?”
Thanks for channeling your FFWB’s question, Unfriender. This would be my response:
Dear Benighted Male,
Your former friend has some life experience—shared by this columnist—that helps her to notice sexist male dickishness and distinguish it from universal inhumanity (which is, of course, also widespread). Here’s a quiz, as requested, to help you do the same:
1. When women speak, do you listen, or are you just waiting for your turn to talk? I ask this because it sounds to me as if listening to this woman might have saved your friendship—along with the benefits. Please read Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, a wry and funny account of the difficulty some men have in doing this. Failing to listen is not only rude; it also impoverishes you intellectually, because many women are really quite interesting.
2. Relatedly, do you ever ask her about her work or life? I mention this because nattering on about your life without asking about hers replicates tired and ancient hierarchies. Capitalism values women’s labor outside the home far less than men’s, while patriarchy (an old-fashioned-sounding word if you skipped women’s studies in college, but bear with me) teaches us that women exist to provide company for men. That’s the context of your one-sided conversations, but you can change this.
3. Does your FWB have to travel farther, and more often, than you to enjoy these benefits? If so, then expecting her to do this communicates that you think your time is worth more than hers. There’s a social context for that (see previous question). Gallingly, though, between working and taking care of kids, many women have less spare time than men do.
4. Do you suggest—through your words or behavior—that it’s somehow asking more for you to give oral sex to her than vice versa? If so, keep in mind that she deserves pleasure as much as you. And if you don’t eat pussy, Benighted Male, you and she are missing out on the supreme potential of the world’s best body part.
5. Do you always pick up the check? Trick question! If you do, this is not sexist. If she assumes you will simply because you’re a man, that is (mildly) sexist. But with women making 77 cents on the dollar, your picking up the check is often redistributive.
As a black woman with radical politics, I feel like I’m torn between two outcomes for my life: one in which I stay faithful to my politics and end up alone, and one in which I actively seek a partner but end up betraying my politics in some way. My life growing up in a first-gen immigrant family imposed a lot of expectations on me to be docile and acquiescent to all authority figures, so a lot of the ways that I’m trying to be in the world now actively resist that socialization.