Ah, yes. Date etiquette. The debate that launched 1000 tweets.
Cards on the table: I have split the bill on dates before while in a long term relationship. I have paid for dates before while dating women. I have also had my meals paid for by men. I don’t do the bashful ‘oh no, let me. Are you sure?’ dance. I don’t even enter discussion. If a man has asked me on a date, he is paying. Not despite my feminism, but because of it.
I see you, Chad. You’re sat at your desktop computer, slightly foaming at the mouth. You’re going to send this to your bros, Brad and Tad, with some variation of the line ‘These bitches ask for equality and still expect me to buy them dinner’. This is not a new topic for you. You, Brad and Tad have spent many an afternoon in the house that your mother maintains, eating the pizza pockets your mother provides, passing the hours with deep philosophical discussions like ‘If bitches want equality, can I punch women now?’. You think you’re Ben Shapiro. You truly think you have pulled out a ‘gotcha’ of massive proportions. Truly, feminists everywhere are putting on our aprons to return to the kitchen, which is a short walk because we were there already, cleaning up after you. You, Brad and Tad don’t realise how deeply screwed up it is that you are trying to use equality as an excuse to be violent to women, and that actually men hit women so often already that you hardly needed permission anyway. Chad, if you can find it in yourself to stop being an edge-lord for five minutes, stick around, you might learn something about feminism.
Let’s look a little deeper into why it is that men have been paying for dinner in the first place. You see, there was a time when men weren’t buying us dinner at all. Instead, men were asking the people they had enslaved to prepare a fancy banquet for our κύριος (kyrios, or appointed male authority figure), usually a father but sometimes an uncle or brother, and then those men were saying, ‘listen, bro - have some more wine - so I was wondering if I could purchase that woman… well, girl, that you have lying around?’. They would discuss a price and then our κύριος would come home and say ‘get dressed, y/n, I just sold you’ like a slightly more misogynistic One Direction fanfic. We’d be engaged without ever meeting our future husbands.
In Ancient Athens, women didn’t get to go on dates because we didn’t get to choose who we married, and we certainly didn’t have the option to pay for dates because we weren’t allowed to have money.
Of course, that was the olden days. Too long ago to be relevant, surely, so let’s skip forward a couple thousand years. We’ve hit the era of chaperoned dating, or ‘courtship’ . The transactional nature of dating and marriage has been covered up a little bit by the language and affectations of love, but it is all still closely mediated in men’s financial interests. If a man has been deemed by our father to be suitable enough to come near us in the first place, a suitable adult accompanies the dates to ‘protect the investment’, in other words, our virginity, because no man will pay for used goods. After seeking permission, we may be allowed a moment alone so that he can ask to marry us, even though we know that it’s not really our decision. While some respectable women have a small allowance from their father for trivial things like bonnets, the men we are courting not only hold infinitely more resources than us, but are in fact intent on proving that they are ‘good match’ and capable of supporting us. Men paying for dinner in this instance is less a case of wanting us to have a treat and more a case of men showing off their buying power in the hopes that they will one day impregnate us. Romantic indeed.
Of course, that’s still the past. Marriage and dating have been different for hundreds of years, and we certainly don’t participate in such archaic rituals as asking fathers for permission to marry their daughters any more. Look at the ‘empowered’ woman of the 70s or 80s! Surely the big turning point comes when women can actually earn money in their own right, in the same workplaces as men, without being burned at the stake or shunned by society. Except, wait, we are not only underpaid and face poor career advancement but the men dating us still expect us to either give up our income to maintain a home and raise children, or do both jobs at once. At least we don’t have to pay for dinner, right?
It’s only a short jump to nowadays, and we’re still living with the hangover of the archaic, misogynistic dating practices that have roots right back in ancient societies. Surely we have advanced beyond men buying dinner? Well, beyond the obvious fact that men tend to be the ones doing the asking and it’s kind of weird to ask someone out for dinner and then expect them to pick up the cheque, we haven’t yet shrugged off all the other remnants of overt patriarchy. We haven’t broken through the convention of women taking on nearly all of the reproductive labour, from cooking to cleaning to raising children. Men still can’t comprehend that women are not free rehabilitation centers to work through their emotional issues, with the added bonus of free – and rarely reciprocated – oral sex. And, not to put too fine a point on it, women are sending our locations to all of our friends and completing check in calls to try and avoid becoming one of the startlingly high statistics on date rape and murder. Forgive me for thinking that it’s not a huge ask for men to at least pay for my lasagne if I still have to put up with all that.
I know what you might be thinking. Not All Men. Why should you be burdened with paying for food when, unlike those bad men I’ve been talking about, you are a #feminist? You watched The Handmaid’s Tale and liked it. You shared that ‘Every body is a bikini body’ post to all thirty six of your Instagram story viewers. You follow Jameela Jamil on Twitter, for fucks sake. But here’s the thing: we still live in a society coping with the hangover of all the misogyny that has come before us. While women are allowed to own property, we still only own less than 20% of it globally. The entirety of rape culture is propped up by men looking the other way while their friends are being terrible people. Male unconscious bias is responsible for all of the ways we are being disadvantaged. You don’t even need to contribute to the system to be cashing in on the advantages it affords you.
Let me tell you a secret. I don’t actually care that much about paying for dinner. What I care about is rejecting a meaningless version of feminism that actually only gives men any kind of material benefit. I don’t want to give up one of the only perks that a misogynistic culture has ever afforded me while men make no real strides in addressing gender based violence or financial inequality, and I especially don’t want to call that a win for feminism.
Maybe it’s not about dinner. Maybe I am simply sick of men and capitalism trying to declaw feminism until it represents something that cannot even be considered a threat to current systems of power. Maybe I am tired of having the same argument with men who are not actually interested in my liberation when they’re not using it as a stick to beat me with. I will not waste my time and energy on such symbolic gestures as picking up the cheque on a date that you asked me on.
I’ll have the carbonara, thanks.