Jan/Feb 2023  •   Fiction

The Male Feminist

by Oline Eaton

Photo courtesy of NASA's image library

Photo courtesy of NASA's image library

It hurt, what he was doing with his hand. So she'd say, "Let's take a break," and he'd lay back in his twin bed from Ikea, exhale, and observe: "You're not as horny as I am. I'm insatiable." Like this was both an established fact and a contest he'd just won.

He'd recently read a book about the importance of centering women's pleasure in sex and called her from an airport bathroom stall, crying, because he felt oppressed by the author's claim that "the male ego is fragile."

Recalling this, instinctively, she knew what could and could not be said in these moments, when it was essential the pain he was causing be stopped without any pain to him. To that end, she'd confess a half-truth, say sometimes during sex she'd get all up in her head and needed to reset, reboot, needed a break to get out of her thoughts and back into her body. And after all, wasn't it so erotic to lie around naked and just talk?

And the tears would well in his blue blue eyes, and he'd look deeply into her green ones and say, "Isn't it so lovely we have this freedom to be so honest, so equal?"

He felt it was wrong that men shouldn't be allowed to show emotion; she agreed. On their first date, he wept. Quite soon after, she suggested they go on a second.

It all seemed so new and exciting. It wasn't until later, after an evening when he'd asked for her advice about a student, asked to borrow language from her syllabus, asked her to make him dinner, and then cried copiously while breaking up with her because he was ready to get serious with someone else—only then she saw how, beneath the new masculinity he so proudly wore like his pair of ill-fitting purple python boots, was really just the same old tired, repackaged business. Only then she noticed the lack of emotional oxygen in any room he was in.

He'd let her care for him, let her cook, let her listen, let her wipe his tears, let her paint his nails, let her stay the night, and then made her breakfast. He'd let her think and speak and learned a great deal from her about clothes and style and sex and makeup. But, when he admired her body, it was only ever in relation to how it made him feel in his. And, while inside her, he only ever talked about himself.

That night, in her building's lobby, wiping the tears from his own eyes—after asking why she wasn't sadder, why she wasn't crying, was she really so cold and unfeeling— he kissed her on the forehead, swore they would remain friends forever, promised to call her with his STD test results when he got them, and walked out into the moonlight, never to be heard from again.