I’m Sexist, Too

A couple of days ago, I asked one of my female friends for some dating advice. To be exact, I texted her, “Let me know when you have a free minute, I have some questions about females.”

At the time, I thought this was a pretty innocuous statement. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I had general dating questions, I tend to phrase things awkwardly, and I’m embarrassingly immature.

My friend’s response surprised me. She explained (I’m paraphrasing) that she didn’t want to be one of those girl friends who helps me get laid by being sneaky towards other women. She considered me a friend, a real one, and wasn’t comfortable playing into the “just-one-of-the-guys trope” to help me mislead women.

I immediately got defensive. I’m not one of those guys. I don’t need help getting laid. My friend had me all wrong. I’m one of the good ones. I even sent her at least three follow-up texts, trying to clarify what my intentions were. Then, while I was composing an email to her about what a great guy I am, it hit me. Well, a lot of things did.

Why had I gotten so defensive? Why did I feel the need to excuse my behavior repeatedly? Why had I responded to my friend telling me I made her uncomfortable by trying to argue that she misunderstood?

She didn’t misunderstand anything. I did.

For as long as I can remember being attracted to women, I’ve been asking my lady friends what the hell I’m supposed to do around them. I never once challenged this belief I’ve held since middle school — that women should be treated differently, that I have to pretend to be someone else just to trick them into liking me.

There are lies I’ve always known are wrong. I’d never tell a girl I loved her to try to get her into bed or pretend to be a doctor so she thinks I have financial security. But there are lies that I didn’t see in the same way, trying to present myself cooler, better, even as someone different, because I thought that’s what girls wanted. I didn’t realize doing that was a way of lying.

All my life I’ve contributed to the culture of treating other men the way I’d want to be treated, but treating women the way I think they want to be treated.

By pretending to be what I thought women wanted, I was both playing a game and objectifying an entire gender. I tried to make my friend complicit in that, but instead she stood up and said “Hell no!” She refused to let me use her so that I could then, in turn, use someone else.

I was approaching women as something to be won, as opposed to people that I should meet and get to know honestly, even when my self-esteem might tell me that “honestly me” wasn’t good enough.

I need to specifically emphasize how badass, strong, and principled my friend is. She could have easily told me she was busy, ignored me entirely, or written me off as yet another classless dude trying to find some shortcut to getting laid. Instead she stood up to me, educated me, challenged me, and opened my eyes in a way I desperately needed.

My friend didn’t just open my eyes about one specific issue, she opened my eyes to the fact that I am sexist, that I have and continue to contribute to suppressing and sexualizing women.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of men asking how they can be better allies to women. I don’t know much, but I’ve learned that it starts with listening. You can’t stop at listening, though. That’s just where you start.

Be open to criticism. Try to realize when you’re being defensive. Ask yourself why.

I used to believe that I already was an ally to women. Now, I’m not sure that’s a responsible thing to say. It suggests your work is done, you’ve accomplished “ally” status, maybe even platinum-level. I think it’s much more responsible to say “I’m learning every day how to be a better ally to women.” Sure, it doesn’t roll off the tongue particularly well, but it’s what I’m comfortable saying.