The Fellatio Fallacy: Why Do You Work So Hard?
Fuck my boss, I thought. Seriously, fuck that guy. After all I’d done for him over the past two years (two years!), the time had finally come for him to thank me in public — and what had he done?
“Did he forget to mention your name?” my friends gasped.
Well, no, I had to admit. He had thanked me. He’d said some very nice things, in fact.
“But it sounded insincere, because you were paid so little?”
No, that wasn’t it. He’d always paid me well. Overpaid me, even. But…but…
It was hard to explain why I’d found his show of gratitude so unsatisfying. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t mentioned me first, or (better yet) saved me for last. It wasn’t just that he’d neglected to identify my contributions, or that he’d buried my name in a list of lesser names (part-timers, consultants, people who hadn’t devoted two years to this guy). I was angry about these things, but I was crushed about something else, something I couldn’t quite identify.
I wrote to my dad for sympathy. He would understand, right?
“See whether he’d accept a revised and expanded acknowledgment for you,” my dad suggested. “Say, one you drafted yourself.”
No, no, no! Why didn’t anyone get it? It wasn’t about the wording. I didn’t want my boss simply to say he couldn’t live without me; I wanted him to feel it, genuinely and automatically.
My dad wrote again, allowing that, yes, my boss (“like most employers”) was probably a jerk.
But here’s an even more uncomfortable thought: Very possibly, your devotion to him and his projects has been excessive, and you’ve committed the workaholic’s error of believing that outstanding productivity and loyalty will earn praise and gratitude, if not cash and prizes.
I realize now that my thinking was a form of the Fellatio Fallacy: the young woman’s belief that if she only performs enough blowjobs on a guy, he will eventually go down on her in return. If he doesn’t, she blames herself for insufficient blowjobs, and so she gives him even more — always cheerfully, uncomplainingly, since she is so certain that they will ultimately be rewarded. She is Blowjob Cinderella, and some day, she is sure, her prince will (make her) come.
It sounds idiotic, and it is. But even the most intelligent and sophisticated young woman can fall victim to it. In fact, the most intelligent and sophisticated young woman is the most vulnerable, since she is the most convinced that she knows exactly what she’s doing.
“Are you worried about the power imbalance?” she asks him knowingly. He just admitted he wants to sleep with her, but he’s hesitant, and she thinks she knows why. He’s older. He’s in control. Perhaps he’s her boss.
“The what?” He looks blank, and she realizes he doesn’t know what “power imbalance” means. That night, she gives him a blowjob. It’s the first unreciprocated blowjob this intelligent and sophisticated young woman has ever given. It won’t be the last.
The next morning, in bed, he whispers: “Is it okay if we don’t have sex just yet? I don’t want to make things weird between us.”
She laughs. He’s kidding, right?
When it becomes clear that he isn’t, she finds herself asking brightly: “Want another blowjob?”
He does, of course. He always does, and like a blowjob waitress, she is always pushing them. Even once he begins to have sex with her — gingerly, grimly, preferring not to look at her — the unrequited blowjobs continue.
“I wish I could make you come,” he sighs afterward, in the tone of voice with which one might say, “I wish it would stop raining.”
“You already did!” she hears herself lie, brightly as ever. “Didn’t you notice?”
Why won’t she just tell him what she wants? Because — and this is the crux of the Fellatio Fallacy — she doesn’t just want this guy to go down on her. She wants him to want to go down on her. She wants it to be his idea; otherwise, she feels, it won’t count. But surely, after enough blowjobs, he’ll figure it out on his own, right?
The fallacious logic behind her fellatious behavior never occurs to her. She never considers that she is merely conditioning the guy to expect blowjobs, to feel entitled to them — even when it gets to the point that his foreplay routine consists of turning off the lights, disrobing, and wordlessly grabbing her head.
“Is he gay?” her friends ask incredulously. “Is he a virgin?”
“I’m not that into receiving, anyway,” she insists. “I’d rather have no oral than bad oral, you know?”
Her friends are skeptical. So she stops discussing it with them. Who cares what they think, anyway? She gets to go to bed every night with a glamorous older man!
Until he abruptly takes up with another woman. When the girl finds out, she thinks reflexively: I KNEW I should have given him more blowjobs! And then, in the cruel clarity of hindsight, she recognizes the Fellatio Fallacy at last.
When it comes to literal blowjobs, you’re unlikely to fall for the Fellatio Fallacy more than once. But in other, more insidious ways, it can keep us in its chokehold — even the most intelligent and sophisticated among us, as my dad illustrated in his e-mail:
I’ve made the same mistake with every job I’ve had. When I left Chicago, the company I had served was obliged to hire two people to fill the post I’d handled alone — a development that, God help me, still makes me feel proud rather than foolish.
In 1988, I saw a production of Waiting for Godot and was thunderstruck by the scene in which Pozzo enters, leading his slave Lucky by a rope around the slave’s neck. Lucky carries two heavy suitcases. Pozzo tries to engage Vladimir and Estragon in conversation, but they stare in fascination at Lucky, who stands rigidly at attention, holding the luggage. “Why doesn’t he at least put the bags down?” they finally ask. “Oh, him,” says Pozzo. “He’s so vain, he thinks he can exalt himself above all my other slaves with his ridiculously ostentatious servility. But why should I care what he does? I have so many slaves!”
What an epiphany! I was Lucky!
But then, in a larger sense, aren’t we all? Think of the wife who asks her husband, “How was your day?” and then listens intently, nods along, laughs appreciatively at the funny parts, coos with sympathy at the complaints — and all the while seethes and smolders inwardly, silently cursing and loathing her husband for not asking about her day. Why won’t he pick up the hint? What will it take? Besides demanding, “Ask me how my day was,” which she would certainly never do.
Think of the overachieving worker who rises at dawn, who stays past midnight, who comes in on the weekend, who skips lunch, who performs not-in-the-job-description tasks like choosing the boss’s outfits or walking the dog or even, sometimes, giving the blowjobs — not just for the money, not just for her career, but for some ineffable deeper thing that she will probably never receive because she can’t articulate it and it may not exist anyway, whatever it is.
In the end, I never did bring up the acknowledgments issue with my boss. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve learned my lesson, but the truth is, I was just distracted. You see, there’s this boy. Right now I don’t think he even knows I exist, but sooner or later I’m going to make him fall in love with me. I’ve got a plan.
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