My White Cis Brother Asked Me: If You’re a Feminist, Why Do You Allow Men To Pay On Dates?

Alana Barlia, LMHC

No, I did not charge him for the emotional labor of answering his questions about feminism. It is my personal belief that should it not feel overwhelming, it is more important for my loved ones to learn from me what they can about systemic patriarchy and the oppression of women, so as to avoid burdening others with their unawareness. That being said, should his fraternity brothers have started interjecting, you better believe I would have been Venmo requesting.

The issue of paying on dates is an age-old debate, beginning formally in the 1920’s. Fueled in large part to suffrage, first wave feminism, and industrialism, the dating system was formed. Prior to the 1920’s, potential lovers met via “The Calling System” or Courtship, whereby fathers would invite potential suitors for their daughters’ to their homes, and thus pay for the gathering. In the early 20th century, when transportation boomed and more women found themselves in working spaces and large cities,  “dating” became the new means of meeting potential suitors. Now men were “hosting” women in public places, thus giving birth to the ritual of men paying on dates.

Over the decades, and through progression of women’s rights in society, the issue of burden of pay has continued to be a debate, and is multifaceted in my opinion.

Why women allow men to pay:

  1. Firstly, women are not exempt when it comes to patriarchal social norms. That’s right, women play a role in sexism. Patriarchy is not men versus women, it is people versus systemic oppression of women. Let us not forget that the person who wrote the abortion bill into existence in Alabama… is a woman. Patriarchy is primarily exacerbated by men for men, but women need to hold themselves accountable for their perpetuation of social norms that hold women down as well. It serves women to have conversations with friends, daughters, lovers, and family about self-perpetuated societal norms that oppress women into the same small boxes we’ve been kept in for centuries. So, talk to your friends, ask them what they think about paying on dates.  

  2. That being said, there is a reason why women continue to perpetuate the norm of men paying on the first date, and it is two-fold:

    The pay gap, or gorge, if you will. Not only do women occupy less high paying industries, being far outnumbered by men in the big money-bag jobs, but the female-dominated industries that women do occupy tend to pay less than male dominated industries (teaching, nursing, childcare, social services). Further, education and stigmatization of women’s intelligence has not done its part in mending the future generations of wage gap. So, men will NOT. Not not not run companies and full industries where they pay women 81c to the dollar (WOC closer to 61c) and then draw equity boundaries where it serves them. I am a white cis woman, so on average I am paid 81c/$1 to the men I have chosen to date. So, should I pay .8 of what he pays on the date? Or should I just not pay at all?

The amount of money American women spend yearly on cosmetics, beauty products, nail care, hair care, skin care, shaving/lasering/waxing, etc to meet societal standards set by patriarichal values is astronomical, a quarter mill a lifetime to be exact. So, you think as a man, you will show up in a Gap button down and sneakers and question my feminist values by requiring an equal split bill because that is ‘equality’? Equality would be men having the same oppressive, toxic beauty standards as women, spending a cool quarter mill on average in their lifetime on beauty care like women do. Or better yet, women not be pigeon-holed and valued by society based solely on their appearance.

Now to contradict myself, I split the bill on dates. I split payment on dates, and I will tell you why. Although I would love to think that I am dating feminist men out here in NYC, I’m not. I’m dating woke misogynists at the very best. And although I would also love to believe they have sifted through their own male guilt and taken a gander at a few research articles on gender norms and systemic oppression of women, I’m going to vouch for ‘probably not’. Thus, if am not to pay on a date, it would most likely be assumed that I am down with the patriarchal views that women need men to care for them financially. And this becomes a scenario where, with a guy I met over tacos once, I would have to explain and explore the various above stated reasons why I believe it would be a form of equality for him to pay for the date. Often I find that I do not have the bandwidth for the emotional labor of explaining why I have chosen not to pay due to women’s rights, not despite. So, for today, I split - but don’t worry ladies, it doesn’t mean they’ve won.