etween the 5th-15th of every month, bloggers from around the world are open to write about rights and issues concerning women. First started by Shine and Marie, we’re hoping to bring a variety of women’s issues to the forefront to make people aware of what’s going on. For the month of December, we’ve chosen to write about Female Empowerment & Relationships. Please join us in telling us your stories, thoughts, and ideas on a monthly basis. To read previous installments, click here. To read the stimulus article for this piece, click here.
Really, read the article, it’s not long, it’s from the NY Times, it’ll take you ‘some seconds’. Not long.
So. Gender roles. I am constantly thinking and rethinking this one. One the one hand I have been out with guys who liked to insist on paying for a ridiculously large share of mutual expenses – dinner, drinks, and all the rest of it – whilst also being seemingly quite happy to drive millions of miles out of their way to get me to and from things. I would like to state right now that this behaviour, in P, pleased and flattered me hugely. After all, those sort of basic monetary gestures are a pretty clear sign of liking someone quite a lot (or being scared of them) – I certainly felt valued, and in a very positive sense.
On the other hand, I have been on dates with guys who wanted to take me out and pay for everything and all the rest of it and it seemed hugely out of place and obsequious and cloying because I sensed that they were doing it simply to get my approval, and I didn’t like that at all. I think it partly depends on (yet again) confidence; and ability to pay. As a spectacularly impoverished and notoriously Micawberish student, it is perfectly true that there have also been times in my life when pretty much everyone I knew was richer than me, and, bluntly, if I hadn’t been going out with someone who was happy to pay for all my drinks and food and to drive me about, I wouldn’t have been able to get to places and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything, eat anything or drink anything even if I got to said places. Therefore whether this chivalry was principle or just well-disguised tact on the part of the Monied Male I shall never know, and for the sake of my own dignity I don’t plan on asking. Said Monied Male would never allow me to pay for anything for him, and very little for myself. He also lent me vast sums of money when things got really bad, so I think that’s part-proof, there. Or perhaps he felt that allowing me to pay for his drinks on occasion was somewhat like taking sweets from a small child.
But dates with Unmonied Males, who wish to seem rather richer than they are, have been deeply uncomfortable simply due to my own awareness of our similarly straitened capabilities. And I can’t stand that. I’m not a thing to be bought. As students, by and large, we’re none of us terribly rich. So for one it seems deeply unfair to ask someone who is as poor as I am to make me feel special by delving into his overdraft for my glass of wine.
Furthermore I have been out with men who wouldn’t even dream of paying my way as well as theirs, not out of churlishness or personal poverty but simply because it wouldn’t strike them as right. I’m not some kind of cosseted princess, I know the value of money, and why on earth should I be treated as though I am somehow above money? And this attitude, too, makes me feel good about myself. I pay for one round, you pay for the next, I pay for the next…and you pay for our taxi home. We have both treated each other, and we both feel good, and I feel like an independent, interesting woman, and not some kind of trophy.
Now that I do have a little more money, by and large, and orders of magnitude more self-respect than I used to have, I’m not sure that I’d be happy about regularly having everything paid for for me by the man that I was with. As I believe Shine once suggested, I think the best solution is that, on a date, whoever did the asking does the paying. After all, settling up after dinner is about the least romantic thing in the world.
There’s very little I can say with respect to what it’s like out in the real world – dating as someone who has a salary and is therefore likely to have noticeably more or less money than her partner. But I do wonder if we, the younger generation, are quite lucky in that I think by and large our expectations and opinions on the subject of female earnings as compared to male earnings are significantly different to the attitudes held by many in our parents’ generations. There’s a small but loudly optimistic part of me that thinks that, because we’re all still young and we’ve been brought up in a society where ‘we must all be equal’ is at least the public face of What Is Thought on this front (does that make sense?), by the time I’m actually out in the world of work, and actually considering settling down, none of these things are going to be problems any more. I’m moving into a world of work in which it is at least assumed that women ought to be as good at any given job as men are, and that there is no reason a man should be any better than a woman at being This, That or The Other. And since my peers are also moving into the same world of work, and making the same assumptions, they will surely also be aware of the fact that their partners may earn more or less than them and either way that’s OK.
On the other hand it’s worth wondering if, now that Mr Cameron is in power, we’re in very great danger of heading backwards. Social attitudes may influence the society that holds them, but they are also formed by the structure of that society. As it stands, more women work in the public sector than work in the private sector. And as it stands, there are huge cuts heading, year on year, for the public sector. Which means that women are therefore more likely than men to be losing work and losing money, and therefore we are more likely to be earning less or working part time or becoming housewives simply because we’re not given the choice. And if that becomes the status quo, then the likelihood is that attitudes will follow, and once again it’ll be expected that women stay in the home and bring up the children – and that women therefore earn less and do work that is less important than that their partners do.
We can only wait and see.