Feminism is...

If Your Partner Pays for a Date, Can You Still be a Feminist?

Amanda:

I don’t think allowing someone to pay for you makes you any less of a feminist, the same way paying for someone doesn’t make you more of one. The question is problematic in itself because it only takes into account heterosexual interactions. The problem is not one partner paying for the other but the expectation that one should just because of their gender. Or that one shouldn’t accept it just because of their gender, or the gender of the person offering to pay.

Dating, like any other interaction, is a period of getting to know someone, forming a connection and hopefully developing a friendship, independently of what else is going on alongside it. With that in mind, if we don’t flinch when a friend or a colleague offers to pay for our drink or food, why is it a problem in a date? Sometimes a friend/colleague pays for our tea or dinner, and other times I pay and that does not make me less of a feminist. Why, in a dating setting, should it matter? 

Paying for someone else on a date, expecting that it will influence their sexual openness to you, is also very problematic. The act of offering and giving is not genuine, it is coming from a place of focusing on personal gain and manipulating the situation into one that places your date into an “I-owe-you” position. My concern around having a date paying for me, especially earlier on, is not that it makes me less of a feminist, but that it has led to men expecting to get more out of the night just because they paid for our dinner, drink or movie.

If someone offers to pay for something it is their choice to do so, and if someone accepts that offer it is also their choice. Offering to do something for someone while expecting them to decline the offer is a pretty messed up way of thinking, just as much as expecting to get something out of it is. We should all learn to offer what we can give, and want to give, and to accept what we want to accept without expectations or guilt. Respect and consideration for each other, and for oneself, make up the foundation of any healthy interaction.

Alyssa:

The problem with questions like this is how narrow they are.  It’s interesting, to me, that feminism is meant to talk about equality and choice and it should consider the diversity of humanity, especially of women, and appreciate it.  Then, questions like these come up which are often meant to “debunk” feminism, or at least stump us, as if no feminist in history has ever thought of this before.  The question, though, is usually tired and old, and so narrow in scope.

Of course, this question is likely meant to get at  traditional gender roles.  That is, a heterosexual dating relationship in which a man and a woman go out to dinner, and the man pays the bill.  The general perception of feminism, or The Feminist, is the woman who says no to these traditions.  No, I don’t need a man.  No, I can open my own door.  No, I can pay for my own meal.  But feminism isn’t that simple, and neither is the world we live in.  I think true feminism is about equality, yes, but equality is more complex than simply an across-the-board, everyone gives and everyone gets the same all the time, single solution.  In a perfect world, there would be equality, but people’s situations are not equal, our lifestyles are not equal, our needs are not equal, so people may also not be equally able to provide financially.  It’s important to recognize that in an unequal society, feminism must be about choice, and about recognizing each person’s unique needs.  Further, it must be about hearing every voice and an open and honest discourse in all situations.  I think a “feminist” dating relationship involves those important things.  Choice, honesty, and communication.

Relationship, from my own personal feminist perspective, involves mutual respect and understanding.  In some cases, a person may earn significantly more money than their partner and that high-earner may want to take their partner somewhere that he/she cannot afford.  Traditionally, this was usually a man as the breadwinner.  His partner, a woman, wasn’t able to pay for anything.  However, there are certainly cases where a woman earns more than a man.  There are cases where both parties are the same gender.  If a man lets a woman pay for him, or if a woman lets her date pay, but the date is a woman, does this question still apply?  These are all reasons that I feel the question is a narrow-minded attempt to stump feminism.   If all parties agree that they want to go, and that it’s okay for the higher earner to pay, then how can that violate feminism?

Couples (should) do nice things for each other all the time.  That’s how you keep a relationship healthy: you give.  Just because a woman in a heterosexual relationship lets her partner buy her dinner once doesn’t mean their relationship is unequal.  Maybe it was her birthday and that was his gift to her.  Maybe she paid last time.  Maybe she takes care of his dog when he’s away, or surprised him with a gift he loved last week.  There’s more to a relationship than who pays for dinner.

Now, I want to speak a bit from my own personal dating experience as a straight woman.  I think everyone can make their own choices on who they date and how they choose to go about their business, but as a feminist, I can say how I feel.

Personally, I don’t enjoy letting men pay for me, at least early on in the relationship.  That has somewhat to do with pride, but also because this tradition of the man paying has some negative implications for women.  I worry, when I don’t know my date very well, that by paying for me, he now has some expectation of a return.  Like paying for my date is some unspoken agreement and I now owe him.  I don’t know that most men feel this way, but I’ve known a few who do.  Further, I also don’t tend to date people who are particularly wealthy.  As a person who lives on very little, I know how hard it is to earn money, and I personally just prefer not to cost much to others who work very hard for what little they have.

I’ve dated men who insisted on paying for everything and often expensive outings and gifts which were all his idea, who then grew resentful because I became unwittingly expensive.  I’ve dated a man who refused to buy me anything, so we never went anywhere or did anything, because he wanted to save money.  At most, I went to his house to cook for him or bring him something I made for him.  I found myself, perhaps unfairly, becoming slight resentful in that situation.  I think there must be a healthy in-between, but the key has to be communication.  Agree on how much you each can spend, talk about things you want to do and save up for them together.  A lack of communication is likely where my past experiences have gone wrong.

I do tend to think that it is nice when, unless otherwise specified upfront, the person who invited the other on a date offers to pay.  I have rarely asked people out, but when I do, I ask if they want to go get coffee or boba tea and then go to a park.  I can afford that, and it can be a great way to spend an afternoon with someone you like.

Can you still be feminist if your partner pays for you on a date?  In short, yes, but it’s far more complex than a yes or no question.  I think one final flaw this question has is its failure to recognize that all of us are flawed and make mistakes.  I’m a feminist, but I still hold some traditional views that may even be harmful. It’s a learning process.  Even if there is some straight woman out there who calls herself a feminist, but always expects a man to pay for her, that doesn’t necessarily mean she can’t be a feminist.  She might be a bit of a hypocrite, but feminism is as diverse and flawed as people are.  Feminists include people who say things I don’t agree with.  There are divides within the movement.  But I am not sure if I have any right to call someone else more or less feminist than me based on our dating tendencies, especially given the complexities of the social environment within which our dating relationships exist.


Adiba:

There is something deeply flawed in a world where the concept of feminism immediately brings to mind this question, “how can you be a feminist, if you let your date pay?”

A few months ago, I overheard exactly this happening – and it left me flabbergasted. The idea that well-educated, independent women in Ireland would bring up the subject of feminism and immediately conflate it with individual choices – but not just any choices, specifically the choice to pay for a date.

Feminism – for those unaware – is a political movement that seeks social, political, and economic equality between all genders. And while individual choices are obviously an important facet in making a whole, conflating those with feminism itself is incredibly problematic. It essentially reduces a movement that has paved the way for women in society to individual choices with only personal consequences.

But the question isn’t just a one-off discussion that I was party to. It’s something that seems to concern many people – especially when they want to discredit feminism. “You’re a feminist,” people will scoff. “Well, I guess you pay on a date then.”

There are some deep flaws to this logic:

1) It minimises feminism, everything it has achieved and everything that it still has to achieve. Often, when people bring up this question, I’ll say “No, I don’t – because the wage gap.” I don’t mean it seriously because I am economically independent and choose to pay for myself on most occasions, but it’s my way of addressing that this question brings to light individual choices, while erasing the wider questions at hand. That genders have still not reached economic equality. So why are we asking questions about individual choices that women make?

2) Relationships are complex, and also none of anybody’s business. I would assume that in a loving and healthy relationship there are times when you would want to splurge your partner. Why should this make you any less of a feminist, or them any less of a feminist? People have complex relationships with each other, and how each person chooses to live their life is – again – an individual choice, and not for us to judge, and use to demean the feminist movement.

In Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, she writes:

“I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off.”

When our follow-up question to a woman stating she is a feminist is, “do you pay for your own dates then?” it’s trying to knock women off the feminist pedestal. It is setting up rules for a feminism that simply do not exist. Feminists are human, and their ability to make choices that are important to their livelihoods are not a reflection of the feminist movement itself. More than that, it is not up to us to dictate what personal choices make or do not make someone a feminist – especially when these choices, and their consequences, only exist in their personal lives. It is not up to us to sit in judgement of women and the choices they decide to make for themselves.

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