How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Every Thursday night, the team responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’ve recently become “official” with a guy I’ve been with for a few months (hetero, in our 20s). He’s a little bro-y, you could say—he was in a frat, his friends are mostly loud men, he likes beer and football on the weekends, and so on. Not my usual type, but he’s quite sweet and attentive to me behind closed doors, especially in bed. However, there’s one thing that keeps getting to me: He often says things about other women that are crude at best and misogynistic at worst. He’s made comments about an overweight woman eating fries at a bar; he called a friend of mine a slut (a word she’d happily use for herself, but he did not say it that way); he made a weird joke speculating about how two lesbians we know have sex. Every time he does this, I shut it down and tell him that’s an unacceptable way to talk about women, and he always seems genuinely surprised, agrees with me, and apologizes. I think part of it is just the social environment he’s used to, where this kind of talk is apparently common. But I wonder if I’m too easy on him because I want to be with him and he doesn’t treat me this way. What do you think? Typing this out, I know he sounds awful, but these comments are not an everyday occurrence, and I think his willingness to acknowledge his mistakes is a good sign.
Stoya: So, I mostly just feel for this woman.
Rich: Do you think she deserves better and can’t acknowledge it?
Stoya: I mean, maybe. I was stuck on the drive to educate. Because, really, environment can preclude a person—especially a straight man—from learning how to speak to, and about, people appropriately. And we all know you don’t fix problems by walking away from them.
Rich: There’s a rich cultural history, still playing out, of straight men just saying whatever with impunity. I like that she shuts him down every time, though. It’s just a few months into their relationship, and it says a lot about her character that she’s comfortable enough to not take his shit.
Stoya: Absolutely. I’d like to dig into your point about what she deserves, though. Because clearly she’s a progressive, strong woman, which means it seems like she’d deserve someone more well-rounded and mature.
Rich: I have a sneaking suspicion that physical attraction is superseding politics here.
Stoya: It seems easy for a man to be sweet and attentive when it serves him. And it can also be easy to be distracted by good sex.
Rich: A hundred percent. Whenever I’ve dated someone, I have kind of held my breath waiting for their biases and prejudices to show themselves. This is especially true with white guys. There’s a real exhale moment in the event that you realize, “Oh, you’re not a dogged white supremacist.”
Stoya: I take a more “let’s enjoy this for now in case something egregious appears” approach, but I think it’s similar in spirit.
I have a bad feeling about this guy because the lessons aren’t taking. She has to tell him that his comments about the eating habits of larger people aren’t OK. Then she has to tell him not to call people sluts. Then she has to tell him not to make weird jokes about lesbians. You’d think at some point he’d get the bigger picture and change his way of speaking to or about people—if he’s actually surprised, really agrees, and means it when he apologizes. Also, I want to know who he apologizes to.
Rich: Right. I think it’s encouraging that he doesn’t resist or attempt to justify this stuff, but that’s cold comfort in the bigger picture. Ever since I read this question in my inbox a few days ago, that song “Something There” from Beauty and the Beast has been in my head: “There’s something sweet and almost kind/ But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined/ And now he’s dear, and so I’m sure/ I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.”
Stoya: Ugh. She’s got the Disney Disease?
Rich: It’s kind of depressing that the Beast was so much better of a learner than this bro. Also, the Beast, as far as we know, didn’t criticize Mrs. Potts’ waistline or gay-bash Cogsworth.
Stoya: Yeah. Although the Beast did have a century or so to work out his issues before he met Belle.
Rich: A new motto for this guy: Be Beast. Talk about low bars.
Stoya: I’m not much of a Disney fan, but if I recall correctly, most of the male leads are kind of, um, less than charming.
Rich: Most of the time, they are at best blank and propped up, filled in, or otherwise idealized by the women who love them. Women’s emotional duty knows no bounds—it bleeds into the world of animation.
Stoya: Where does this leave us with our bro?
Rich: Well, here is what I think: The guy is a misogynist, yes. People do change, sure. I have seen myself evolve when it comes to compassion for other people. I was a lot less sensitive a few years ago, and I’m sure I’ll look back on now and see how I could have been more sensitive. And society changes too. All that aside, I wonder if the biggest problem here is the brofriend’s elitism. Some women are pigs, sluts, gross dykes. Of course, his woman isn’t. At least, not at the moment. In some ways, the elitism is the scariest thing here? Exposure can help wring the bigotry out of people, but I have no idea what the treatment is for elitism.
Stoya: If narcissism is involved, they have therapy for it. But suggesting a personality disorder diagnosis is way out of the scope of this column. Otherwise, yeah, I don’t know what would tackle that kind of thinking. I think this guy’s willingness to acknowledge his mistakes was a good sign, but you need more than one of those in this kind of situation, and he’s failing to produce the second good sign of knocking that stuff off in multiple contexts.
Rich: If she sticks with it, I don’t see how this process of a-woke-ning him doesn’t become a major focus of the relationship. And look, every couple needs things to talk about, so perhaps this is a good activity for them. But it sounds awfully exhausting to me.
Stoya: Our writer needs to ask herself whether she wants a partner or a project.
More How to Do It
I am a 35-year-old woman in a hetero marriage and could use some help figuring out how to communicate with my husband about foreplay. Once we get to the sex itself, he’s an attentive lover, happy to go down on me and make sure I come. However, he usually initiates sex by asking if I want to suck his penis, or telling me I want to suck his penis and just taking it out and shaking it at me. He also focuses on my breasts and vagina to the exclusion of the rest of my body. Sometimes I feel like I’m just the sum of my parts! Also, he is my boss, so if he’s gotten mad at me for something work-related, it can feel like my personhood gets shuffled aside. I am attracted to him, but I don’t always want to feel like a bird eager to swallow a fat worm. He has no problem telling me I’ve hurt his feelings if I don’t immediately glom onto his penis. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.