The definition of feminism has always been widely debated, but the most common argument designed to reach the ears of critics is that feminism is about equality, not supremacy. Finance and family are two of the biggest playing fields that feminism seeks to level. While many of the issues occur in more expansive and measurable aspects of society, such as governmental politics, the consequences of misogyny are most readily felt in the minutiae of most people’s average daily life.
Unlike the heavier debates that often erupt at family Thanksgiving dinners, “Should men pay for dinner on a first date?” is a conversational question that many people are peculiarly outspoken about. Typically, the first topic lands on the idea that chivalry is “dead” in our modern dating scene. The concept originated in medieval times; a courteous behavior intended for a kingdom’s knights. It set a standard for protecting those who were beneath them, ergo women, regardless of their status, by honoring them with respect and benevolence. In today’s world, the cultural connotation of chivalry tends to reflect a more diminutive expression of those values － translating to what are considered “gentlemanly” actions, such as taking care of the bill. Key words: taking care.
Expecting the man to pay for a meal is painfully close to the “Honey, I’m home!” trope — the implication that a woman needs to be “taken care of” financially; a terribly flawed concept that women have spent decades trying to break through. Feminism has fought hard for the rights that the women of this generation are privileged to enjoy. It is no secret that the bedrock of freedom from a life confined to the kitchen is a woman’s financial independence — the ability to “put dinner on the table” without the help of a man being expected.
Feminists’ blood, sweat and tears to empower women with the freedom of choice have barely even dried with the classification of romanticized chivalry in the 21st century acting as blatant disrespect. Ignorance is glaringly evident in the unbelievably casual nature of this dialogue. It never fails to shock me how frequently I witness a woman openly admit that they will go on a date with a man they have no romantic interest in solely to get a free meal out of it. It’s often laughed off as a joke, but to be frank, it’s simply a shallow move. In the several times I’ve called someone out on their dine-n-dash move, the lighthearted mood is killed and hostile voices are quick to rise in what can only be described as a defensive tone.
A common rebuttal I hear is that whoever extends the invitation is obligated to pay; a take that is reasonable on paper. However, this logic’s validity is contingent on reciprocity — an element that is often conveniently overlooked. To put it in perspective, if your friend invites you out to dinner, whether you just met them, or you’ve known them your whole life, do you leave the house with no wallet and simply assume your friend will cover the check? Usually, you go in prepared to spend money on whatever you choose to eat, and if you don’t, you’re something we in the business like to call a “mooch.” That’s a label most people try to avoid, usually by initiating dinner as “their treat” as often as their friend does. So why are the rules any different in a situation where romance is involved?
Our current social norms dictate men to make the first “move” — an eerie echo of the kind of cultural practices that practically scream regressive. It is important to understand how a man’s initiative actions have complex social implications, especially for a woman and her safety. Society has always focused on uplifting men in their careers to acquire more money — a currency that buys a benefit far beyond materialism: power. That power is further amplified in situations that disarm who they control, and in the case of a woman, a bar is the most common environment that lends itself to deal some serious damage. When a man buys a woman a drink, it’s not the only transaction that occurs — with the swipe of a card, a woman’s financial control is also stolen. Now she is in debt, and the biggest bank account wouldn’t help a woman pay it off, making it more likely to resort to a different mode of payment — a return through sexual favors. A woman should never be pressured into being dehumanized just because they decided to have fun and let some guy buy them a drink.
In theory, no interaction with another human being should come with any predetermined expectations, but in reality, these social norms are deeply ingrained within society. The long-term solution to mending and reforming generational misogyny is to build values into education that teach young men what respecting others looks like.
In the meantime, women can get out from under the roof that a man “put over your head” and initiate interactions. Hot take: more should be expected of women. Expressing interest in someone is an action that anyone can take, irrespective of their gender. Feminism generates the power for women to take charge, reverse the roles, seize the upper hand and reap the precious benefits of equality.
This does not mean that men should be absolved of having manners, respect and basic human decency — that’s the bare minimum. But the idea that it’s up to the man to “court” is a social construct that encourages complacency in women who are just as capable of approaching a man with romantic intentions.
The dynamic is objectively “off” if one party is doing more heavy lifting in the financial department than the other. If that’s okay with both parties in the relationship and has been agreed upon, then by all means, split your responsibilities into “you’re adept in financial management, so you handle the bills” and “I’m naturally inclined to maintaining hygiene, so I’ll take care of keeping the house tidy.” But at the end of the day, in the context of hetero-normative gender roles, attaching these kinds of standards to generalized expectations of men and women respectively is not the kind of forward-thinking progressive ideology that matches Stacy’s Facebook bio that reads: “Proud advocate of equality for all: feminism is the future!”
Reciprocation is an unsaid and generally accepted standard to expect from your friends, colleagues, family and so on; so what’s stopping women from active initiation and reciprocating the same kind of effort as is currently expected of a man? Letting men “off the hook” is far from what we should be doing, but still, it is important to evaluate whether women are coming to the table with the same attitudes we expect to see in others. In other words, ask a guy out to dinner some time, and if you can’t afford to, go Dutch, or go home.