“Choreplay”: Sheryl Sandberg’s creepy new talking point

Those of you who follow this blog know that I find “Lean In” to be an incredibly depressing book because it lays out gender inequality in great detail, only to recommend currying favor with men (e.g. Smile a ton so men will like you!) except where overt sexism is at play so that they let you get to the top, where you can only make very small changes to benefit women, lest you piss off the men. I don’t contest the efficacy of this approach in the professional sphere, as compared with putting men (and other women) on the defensive and demanding they change, but how sad is it that instead of being able to say, “Hey, this is how things are but this is how they should be,” women should have to strive for equality in the workforce as though they were master spies?

Welp, the book’s author, Sheryl Sandberg, has now taken that whole pandering to men thing to the next level with “choreplay.” It is, quite obviously, her word for the phenomenon by which men who help with the chores more often, get laid more often, supported by data that she has collected. I find this correlation probable, although it does cause me to ponder whether it’s messed up that some of these women presumably feel gratitude toward their husbands for doing their part to keep a shared household running (probably), whether the standard of a well-run household is set higher than is justifiable (probably), and, if that standard persists, when we’ll start “blaming” both sexes equally for the “inadequacies” of their home (hmm…). But that’s not the point. The point is, Sandberg is now preaching these stats to men as an incentive to do more housework, which is treating this correlation as causation. In other words, this was not a speech to women about her data showing that men will do housework if motivated by sex, and how the women should consider proposing a romp in the sack as their mutual reward for finishing their chores. By coining “choreplay” and choosing to present about it at a conference on masculinity, Sandberg is essentially brokering a deal on behalf of other women whose consent hasn’t been obtained. It makes my skin crawl.

Other feminists have spent so much time and energy debunking the idea that there is any action a person (usually a man) can take that will cause another person (usually a woman) to owe a debt of sex, excepting, I guess, the actual, voluntary sale of sex by sex workers. (This isn’t to say that partners in most romantic relationships don’t “owe” each other sex as part of their commitment, but that no one, even in a relationship, owes it as part of a transaction unless they’ve agreed to that and remain okay with it when the time comes.) The problem with the idea that a woman can owe you sex is that it perpetuates rape culture. Bought her drinks? She doesn’t owe you sex. (She doesn’t even owe you conversation, although the right thing for her to do if she doesn’t even want to talk to you is probably to turn down that drink. Regardless, you took a risk and you aren’t entitled to a minimum ROI, even if it does totally suck that men are expected to be the ones exposing themselves to rejection more often.) You were nice to her when other guys weren’t? She doesn’t owe you sex. In fact, she especially doesn’t owe you sex for being nice to her because that’s how you should treat other humans.

But along comes Sheryl, heavily implying–if not actually telling–men that their female partners will have more sex with them if they do what they should do and help out around their shared household. How long, in this situation, until a guy doing more housework because he thinks it will get him laid gets fed up and stops? Or gets mad that there hasn’t been more sex than before? What’s the window of time that his out-of-the-loop partner has to make good on Sandberg’s offer before he feels like he’s been lied to, tricked, or cheated out of his dues? Here’s hoping none of her audience at the masculinity conference is prone to anger or violence…

Even if we get past the first level of ickyness, the naked truth is that Sandberg is advocating “[u]sing sex as a tool for gender equality,” which reinforces the rape culture idea that sex is something that women begrudgingly give away, not something they are enthusiastic participants in. To frame women’s relationship to sex in this way confuses the conversation around consent (e.g. “Oh, she just wanted me to think she didn’t want it.”) and female sexual pleasure (because if she’s not having sex because she wants to, why would it matter whether she enjoys it?). It shapes the narrative so that men are all horndogs who want sex all the time and can’t be held accountable for their actions, and women are shrews and teases who are withholding what rightfully belongs to men.

What do you think, Jumpers? Does it matter that she was presenting to men and not women? Am I overreacting about a new name for an old arrangement? Or is this concept actually setting women back a few decades?

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