Illustration by Shenuka Corea
A fancy restaurant? Check. A heterosexual couple dressed in their best clothes? Check. The said couple splitting the check evenly? Wait — what?
I grew up reading romance novels and watching romantic comedies that often portrayed a handsome and rich man sweeping a beautiful and fragile girl off her feet with sweet words and a full wallet. Engraved in my young, pre-pubescent mind were the scenes of love in which the man worked to woo the girl with his gentlemanly mannerisms such as opening the door for her, taking his coat off and putting it around her bare shoulders when she got cold and paying for her expenses at any restaurant where they ate. Naturally, I accepted those qualities as the norm and looked for them in any relationship as the validating signs of true love. If the male failed to execute any one of them, then was he really fulfilling the role of a caring date or boyfriend? The horror! My 11 year-old self would have shaken my head in disgust at the mere thought.
Even as I first started to encounter notions of feminism and gender equality, I never stopped to take a moment to think about the unfairness — and sometimes even the pure absurdity — of the expectations that women hold for men, especially one concerning the payment of their food. So engraved in my head was the idea that men should, without any questions, pay for their partners’ food. That is why I found myself quite baffled when the idea was brought up as an issue.
My mind was befuddled with questions that I never had to ask myself before: Did our struggle for gender equality mean that women would now have to start paying for their own meals on dates? Would I be succumbing to the patriarchy if I made the conscious decision to make the guy pay for everything? What if my date offered and I chose not to say anything so as to let him pay? Would I then be subverting the patriarchy and getting free food/drinks out of it, or was I feeding into the objectification of women?
What is the right decision to make?
The truth is, if our goal is to establish equality, there must be some traditional norms that we learn to discard and thus, we must make certain sacrifices that affect our lives. A few of those norms include our expectations when it comes to dining out.
Thinking that I want equality, but still want my date to pay for food because I don’t want to waste money and have accepted this tradition as the way things should continue to be, is a problematic way of thinking.
Young girls are taught by mass media that men doing favors for women is considered chivalrous; on the other hand, boys are raised to be gentlemen. However, because these practices are so common, they are seen more as responsibilities and are often taken for granted. Our acceptance of such behavior is problematic because it imposes different kinds of pressures on both genders. Men are forced into spending extra money on things and are seen as selfish and cheap when they choose not to, whereas women are even further categorized into being helpless and needing to be cared for.
Men have traditionally adopted the role as the breadwinner of the family as women were confined to their households and prohibited from entering the workforce. Hence, it is understandable why it was natural for society to expect men to pay for expenses outside of home. But times have changed. Women, at least those of us who are privileged enough to live in certain parts of the world, are no longer prohibited from holding jobs that involve work outside of the confines of domesticity. Now that we are given equal opportunity to earn money, there is no reason for us to expect men to pay for our expenses as well as theirs.
Of course, there are times when the man offers to pay for his date’s food and insists on doing so even after the woman expresses her wish to split the check evenly. Would allowing him to pay feed into the objectification of women and the traditional values that we are striving to shed? My answer to this question is a blatant no. An act of paying for someone’s food can be seen as simply a nice gesture. This act only really becomes a problem when women expect it to happen; going on a date with the presumption that you aren’t going to spend a single penny just because you are a woman is not only selfish but also opportunistic and exploitative.
It is up to us to understand and accept the consequences that come with the implementation of true equality. For us to pick and choose the supposedly good parts of feminism so that it merely benefits women would be to act against the true definition of the movement: the advocacy of equal rights for everyone. That is why it is so important for us to understand the conflicting nature of the issue and to disregard the expectations that the media convinces women to hold for men. By refusing to do so, we risk the danger of reducing our fight for gender equality to one that is merely about convenience in women’s lives.
Cece Kim is Copy Editor. Email her at [email protected]