Having your Cake and Eating It Too: Gender Equality and Financial Dating Norms

by Tavis Cote

Illustrated by Erik VonSosen

A guy and a girl go out to lunch on a first date. They have a great time. Who pays at the end of the meal?

The obvious answer is the guy pays. Of course he should pay, right? Tradition and chivalry make at least assertively offering to cover the tab the default course of action. Some of girls I’ve talked to love the fact that guys are expected to pay for things, although most of them sheepishly admit the equation is somewhat imbalanced in their favor. And it is. From a feminist perspective assuming a guy will pay, or even allowing a guy to pay, is the exact opposite of a healthy relational precedent.

First, let’s look at the arguments in favor of men consistently paying for a first date. Arguments such as, “that’s just the way it works” or “that’s how it’s always been done” are rooted in resistance to change. Essentially, change is perceived negatively. This argument from a gender equality perspective is actually fairly harmless. Resistance to change, while far from progressive, at least is a blanket, non-prejudiced rejection of the status quo. However, simply saying that guys should pay because change is bad doesn’t make a lot of sense. As such, this argument is fairly innocuous. Harmless even. It’s the next argument that causes problems.

Men should pay on the first date because the action of paying for a woman is a logical extension of what it means to be a man, and consistent with the appropriate relationship dynamic between a man and a woman. In other words, men should pay because they are, by virtue of their gender, supposed to pay.

Let’s break that down into formal logic.

  1. Men and women have different expectations when it comes to dating.
  2. One of these expectations is that men should fit, to some degree, the role of the provider.
  3. Paying for a meal is a method of demonstrating a man’s ability to provide.
  4. Therefore, the guy needs to pay for the meal.

This is not the problem. While I think that the stereotype of a man as a provider is the exact opposite of progressive, having the ability and willingness to pay for a meal suggests the guy has his shit together enough to cover dinner. Offering to do so demonstrates an awareness of social norms, as well as enough selflessness to voluntarily assume somebody else’s financial obligation, whatever the size. A guy should definitely volunteer to pay. But we’re not done with the list. We’ve only talked about why the guy should pay- why doesn’t the woman?

  1. A woman is not expected or assumed to play the role of the provider.
  2. A woman is not obligated or assumed to demonstrate self-reliance via her checkbook.
  3. A woman makes up for her lack of contribution in other ways.

Point seven. There’s our problem. Saying a man is obligated to do some things for a woman because he is a man breeds the implication that a woman is expected to do some things for a man because she is a woman. We all know the sexism inherent in that- guys expect sex, or cooking, or housework, or whatever horrible task you want to pluck from an episode of Mad Men. To expect a woman to do something for a man simply because she is a woman is to label her inferior. The prejudice in that is not difficult to understand. It makes sense. Yet it’s the same the other way around. If a man, because of his gender, has to do things for women (currently socially acceptable) but a woman, because of her gender, doesn’t have to do anything for anyone (feminism), then that places women above men. That’s still gender inequality. And being expected to pay for a meal, based on nothing but gender, is the poster child for that inequality. On both sides, sexism breeds sexism.

Why is it so hard to stomach the other way around?

One could argue a whole host of cultural points: women control the sexual narrative, women choose their mate because they hold the keys to reproductive selectivity, women have been historically repressed and therefore deserve a form of monetary affirmative action, etc. But those all boil down to one of two scenarios- either women make up for it in other ways (blatantly sexist) or women, relationally, are given greater power than men (also blatantly sexist).

I think the simple truth is, girls like a free meal. Who wouldn’t? And yet it comes at the cost of inequality. You can’t have your cake and eat it too- at least, not if one gender is expected to pay for the cake. Later on, if a man wants to pay for things because he feels monetary support is a healthy and freeing way to express affection and masculinity, that’s wonderful. That’s a conversation. That’s growth. But that’s not first date stuff.

So, what’s the solution?

The best way to establish a precedent of gender equality…… is to be equal. Split the bill the first time. No expectations. No sexism. Just two checks and a second date. It’s simple.

Come on people. Ten bucks is a small price to pay for gender equality.