The continuous debate over whether or not a man should pay for the first date has become increasingly relevant with the rise of fourth wave feminism, and while not all dates are between heterosexual couples, they are the most relevant for this discussion.
Many men feel women “owe” them sexually if they pay for drinks or food on a first date, and accept the norm on those grounds. Others view the practice as outdated and anti-feminist, claiming if we want to reach full equality, practices like these should be thrown out the door. In an ideal world, men and women could pay for each others’ meals without a second thought.
The issue, however, lies in this: as the United States is ranked 38th in the world for gender equality, misogyny is still an extremely prevalent issue. The implications of how women should act, such as softer, more feminine, kinder and even more helpless, are well intertwined into dating and romantic culture, in a much more detrimental way to their overall well-being than the cost of dinner. So to people who find themselves so distraught over the expectation that men pay for the first date, I ask you this: why are you focused on relieving the lighter burden men carry in dating before addressing the significant burden women face in their everyday romantic lives?
The financial costs women often feel they must bear when going on a date are connected to the same outdated gender norms that imply a man should foot the bill: centered around the idea that men “provide” and women “look nice and provide companionship.” Female products are, on average, more expensive than men’s products (a concept called the pink tax).
Approximately 73% of women between 18 and 29 years old wear makeup at least once a week; while it would be shortsighted to assume all women who wear makeup wear it for the sake of men, it’s important to consider the pressure women are under to be aware of and improve their appearance — particularly on dates. Factoring in other common, expected or preferred practices, such as waxing, nail upkeep, hair styling and more, the standard expectation of date etiquette actually ends up costing women at least as much, if not more.
Saying that women aren’t forced to do these things is technically true, but tricky. First, men aren’t forced to pay the bill either, so neither situation is one motivated by necessity. Additionally, these sexual expectations are often imposed by men. On average, men value physical attractiveness more than women, and do not value a woman’s intelligence or ambition when it exceeds their own. This emphasis on physical appearance has more than just financial implications; it also leads women to more self-objectification, a cost in and of itself.
Aside from the literal costs of dating as a woman, there is an even bigger cost to a woman going on her date: her safety. One in four women experience sexual violence in their lifetime, and almost 99% of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Seventeen percent of sexual assaults with female victims were by strangers, and and at least three-quarters of women who have been sexually assaulted were assaulted by acquaintances, both very common demographics for a first date. Additionally, college is a time in one’s life where both assaults and dating are very prevalent, and one in five women in college experience sexual assault.
This situation is not improving either. The number of sexual assault cases grew from 93,000 in 2006 to 140,000 in 2019, showing that sexual assault isn’t decreasing, and women’s faith in the justice system supporting them isn’t increasing. So to claim that misogyny has been diminished enough in our country to start focusing our energy on some of the less harmful double standards for men is to overlook the reality of women’s safety in this country.
This is not to say that men’s issues are not important or do not deserve attention. Men’s mental health, experiences with mental disorders, lack of emotional support and more are all severely underrepresented yet important topics. What I take issue with, however, is using the issues men experience as a comparison or rebuttal to discussing women’s issues, or as an attempt to minimize women’s experiences. To say that “men’s mental health should be discussed and prioritized more” is an effective and important way to raise awareness of men’s issues. On the contrary, statements along the lines of, “It’s so unfair that women can be open about their mental health and men can’t” tear down women and diminish their issues without leaving room to further a productive conversation about the topic at hand.
When it comes to dating in heterosexual relationships, women typically face more hardships than men, as I’ve discussed. This is why in dating, women are the ones getting the short end of the stick, and why men should pay the bill.
This isn’t really just about a $50 bill at the end of dinner. It’s about men’s ideas that the expectations and sacrifices they experience in the romantic world are generally comparable to those women experience. Notions such as “equal rights, equal fights” completely disregard the reality of the way women live in America. If women get to reap a few benefits, such as not paying the bill, not being expected to make the first move, being excluded from the draft or not participating in normalized fistfights with men (if we can even call that a benefit), then so be it. If your greater concern is with the way that men get the short end of the stick specifically through comparison with women, then maybe it’s time to examine your privileges, belief systems and views of inequities in the world.
Opinion Columnist Claudia Flynn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.