I Don't Want You To Be No Slave    


The other day, a female friend posted a link on her Facebook wall to the Amazon page for some book about being a bitch.  By the time I saw the status, there were already several comments by other women familiar with the book, talking about how much it had helped them.  I thought it was going to be some corny, sensational femme-domme thing, so I read up on the book and what women were saying about it.  And here’s the weird part:  as far as I could tell, the book wasn’t about being a “bitch” at all — it was about being… well, normal.

Normal being the best word I could come up with for “saying out loud what it is you would like to do or what would make you happy, ever.”  As far as I knew, every human being on earth was already in the habit of doing this.  Since I am in no position to overrule their memories of their own experiences, I must now admit that, apparently, many women are not in this habit, and need a book — a book about “how to be a bitch,” mind you — to get them into it.  Granted, the term in the context of the book is ironic.  But still.  No man would ever think of saying out loud what restaurant he feels like eating at or what what movie he feels like seeing as him “being an asshole.”  That wouldn’t even be ironic — it would just make no sense, because men are already used to saying what we want out loud.  It doesn't occur to us that anyone ever wouldn't.

I have had a few temp jobs where I was the only, or one of the only, males working in some office.  Almost invariably, it was the case that I was treated with bizarre deference by my female co-workers, especially the older ones.  I would walk into the break room to eat a sandwich and, if there were women in there, they would start clearing off the table or moving chairs around or switching stations on the TV or just rearranging things for the sake of rearranging things and saying “Oh, here, you probably want X, Y, and Z.”  But I don’t.  And even if I did, they don’t have to do it for me.  Usually I react to stuff like this by getting embarrassed, muttering thanks, and sitting down in what seems like the least obtrusive place possible.

And yet, whenever I would overhear conversations among these same women in these same offices, they were usually about men, and usually angry — often, they were about how of course they had to do this and of course they had to do that because of some man.  Eventually, I started to wonder:  did they really have to — or did they just imagine they had to?  And the fact that, based on my experiences around them, they were presumably including me among the men for whom they "have to" do things made it all the more awkward and disturbing.  It is, after all, a waste of everyone's time — but especially your own — to complain about how someone has no right to give you orders if you're only imagining that he ever did.


I’m certainly not saying there are no sexist men left in the country who expect women to act a certain way that they should not have to act.  What I’m saying is that there are almost certainly way, way fewer of those men than many women — especially women born before the mid ’70s or so — appear to think there are.  I am not one, and neither is any man I have ever been friends with.

On more than one occasion, I have walked into a bar during some slow hour where only female staff and patrons were present, one of whom would immediately look at me, say “Oh, you probably want to watch the game, huh?” and change the TV station to sports instead of what the women — who were there first and outnumbered me — were already in the middle of watching.  The irony is that I don’t even like sports, but of course this would still be unfair even if I did.  Sometimes I try to explain that I don’t care about sports and that they can change the station back, and usually they don’t believe me and leave the sports on.  

The sports that no-one in the room wants to watch.

I’m sure that, once I leave, this deference gives way to complaining about how they “had to” change the station because a man came in.  But here’s the thing:  no, they didn’t.  I didn’t ask them to, I didn’t even want them to, and the odds are I got embarrassed and left in a hurry because they did.  And even if I — or some other man — had asked them to, they could easily have said no.  What is this, fifty years ago?  I have never even been alive during a time when it would have been socially expected that a bunch of women who were there first would change a TV station out of deference to a lone man.  At least, not expected by men — though apparently, bizarrely, it is still expected by women.


Sure, there are situations where people are expected to defer to some important man — but this includes other men, as well as women.  Years ago, I was spending Thanksgiving with a girlfriend and her family for the first time.  After dinner, we all moved into the TV room and my girlfriend’s father started flipping channels.  Eventually, he seemingly disinterestedly remarked “Oh, it looks like such-and-such is on.  Does anyone feel like watching that?”  Thinking I was genuinely being asked for my opinion, I said “not really.”

My girlfriend and her mom and siblings nearly shit themselves and fainted.

What I was supposed to understand, as my horrified girlfriend later explained to me, was that when my girlfriend’s father mentioned anything, in however unenthusiastic a manner, this meant that it was what he wanted to do, and everyone was obliged to agree.  I thought this was stupid then, and I still do.  As a rule, I don’t like secret social codes, and I don’t see why it would have been so much trouble for my then-girlfriend’s father to phrase what he felt like watching as a declarative statement instead of a phony question.

But now that I look back on it, maybe he was genuinely asking a question, and the women in the family just thought it was an order.

In short, I guess what I’m saying is:  women, when and if a man asks you to do something you shouldn’t have to do just because he’s a man and you’re a woman, say no.  And more importantly, don’t even bother thinking about things like this until such time — and that time may never come — as a man actually comes right out and explicitly says something to this effect aloud.  I bet it never even happens.

Unless you live in Alabama or something.  And if you live in Alabama or something, move.

If you want to, that is.

read more awesome 1585 essays.

like and follow The 1585 on Facebook.

blog comments powered by Disqus