Do These Traditions Prevent Gender Equality?
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Romantic... Or Sexist?1 of 21
By Natasha Burton
Some of our time-honored relationship traditions have not-so-gender-equal histories. While we might scoff at marriage dowries of the past, many don't bat an eye at the bestowing of a multi-carat engagement ring—or see a connection between the two. So, have we really come a long way, baby? We asked leading relationship experts, historians and psychotherapists to weigh in on five dating, marriage and family customs that may be holding us back.
Why It's Questionable2 of 21
In 2010, Time reported that median full-time salaries of young women were 8 percent higher than those of men in their peer group in 147 of 150 of the United States' biggest cities. Yet paying for the first date—as well as others thereafter—is still seen by many women, and men, as not only a man's responsibility but also his obligation.
Expert Opinion3 of 21
"I've interviewed hundreds of women, and the majority have admitted that they expect a man to offer to pay on a first date, and actually lose interest if they don't," says Andrea Syrtash, author of the upcoming book Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband). "That said, a guy shouldn't feel pressured to wine and dine a woman on a first date or feel like he has to take out a line of credit to treat her."
Expert Opinion4 of 21
"Dating rules divert our attention from the more important issues, such as how we're going to build a caring relationship that meets the needs of both partners" says Mari Ruti, Ph.D., author of The Case for Falling in Love. "In the larger scheme of things, who pays for the first dinner really doesn't matter. Personally, I don't mind a man paying on a date, as long as I know that I can reciprocate in the future. But it would definitely be a red flag if a guy didn't let me pay the next time around."
Expert Opinion5 of 21
"I think we're fooling ourselves if we think that money doesn't come with power," Ruti says. "A lot of women are taught to think that men are supposed to pay for things to show that they value women. But there're also guys who, consciously or unconsciously, use money as a way to gain the upper hand, so that if they pay for everything, you might find it harder to disagree with them or otherwise hold your own. It can be difficult to avoid the feeling that if you're not contributing financially, somehow you're not quite on equal footing."
Why It's Questionable6 of 21
Chivalry is largely associated with the male-dominant culture of the Middle Ages, and more recently of the 1950s, when men had the upper hand in society, notes Scott A. Farrell, chivalry scholar and the founder of ChivalryToday.com. Plus, isn't the concept "dead" today, as many a modern headline has declared?
FIND: The origin of chivalry
Expert Opinion7 of 21
"We expect the social conventions of our grandparents' time, such as opening the door for a lady or standing when she enters a room, to still apply," Farrell says. "That's as mistaken as if we still expected people to drive Model T cars." He says we need to rethink the concept for today, and allow men and women to share equal responsibility. "The basis of chivalry is respect. It's not bringing flowers and it's not paying for the first date. It's being honest with your partner, being respectful, being supportive."
FIND: Is chivalry dead?
Expert Opinion8 of 21
"We have to give guys a break. They've been told that we want to be treated as equals (we do!) but they're sometimes criticized when they don't open doors, pay for the tab or take initiative and 'be a man,'" Syrtash says. "There's a fine line, and it's hard for a guy to know which side he'll fall on. For the most part, though, women want to be pursued and courted, even when it's a little old-fashioned."
Expert Opinion9 of 21
"If a guy holds the door open for me because he gets to it first, that's nice," Ruti says. "But if he makes a big deal out of it, well, then I think it's borderline sexist, as in, 'Look at me, Tarzan, run to the rescue of you, the helpless female.' And it drives me absolutely nuts when a man refuses to go through a door that I'm holding open for him because I got to it first. In those cases, I just want to smack him to the 21st century."
Why It's Questionable10 of 21
While some engagement ring companies have encouraged women who want to pop the question, the practice is still referenced mainly in conjunction with a centuries-old tradition that says women are allowed to propose to men only during a leap year, and on Leap Day specifically. Otherwise, women are usually left to wait expectantly for the guy to make the grand gesture.
Expert Opinion11 of 21
According to a 2003 survey performed by Korbel Champagne, 31 percent of Americans know a woman who proposed to a man. However, we were hard-pressed to find a trustworthy statistic on how many engagements, or marriages, began this way. "I think it'd be fine—and great—if women proposed to men more often," says Mara Altman, who extensively researched the history of engagement for her acclaimed e-book Sparkle. "I hate to say this, because it'd be so lovely if all seemed more equal, but I think there is a reason it has not caught on."
Expert Opinion12 of 21
"I know couples in which both people decided, mutually, to tie the knot. Power to them!" Syrtash says. "But in my research, the majority of women would like to be proposed to, and most men would like to ask for a woman's hand in marriage. In fact, I've heard some men say that it's emasculating to take that role away from them."
Expert Opinion13 of 21
"In a perfect world, it wouldn't matter if the man asks you to marry him," says Michael Batshaw, LCSW, author of Before Saying I Do: The Essential Guide to a Successful Marriage. However, he says, many equate a man not proposing with his having commitment issues, and a woman should address that concern rather than popping the question herself. "If a couple is on the same page and he doesn't have an issue, given our cultural norms, he should propose."
SEARCH: Signs he's about to propose
Why It's Questionable14 of 21
According to Altman, this tradition's roots are irrelevant today. "When women were expected not to have sex before marriage, the engagement ring sometimes served as a motivation and sense of security for her to feel comfortable losing her virginity," she says. "Men did not, in the same sense, need an expensive trinket in order to be motivated to have premarital sex." But given that, even today, only women wear rings in the engagement period, is this tradition outdated?
FIND: Shop engagement rings
Expert Opinion15 of 21
"Some anthropologists posit that because a woman takes care of her offspring for so long, she needs a sign that her mate will be in it for the long haul," Altman says. "Coren Apicella, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, calls this an honest signal: 'Engagement is cheap talk unless you have something to back it up.' This might be why we've adopted the two to three-month salary rule. The ring has to show more than that the man can provide—it has to show that he is planning to stay."
Expert Opinion16 of 21
"I've always thought that the ring represented the man marking his territory, kind of like how a dog pisses all over its yard" Altman says. "Of course, once I was proposed to, I realized that the ring is not just for you and your fiance. It is an object that other people tend to look at as a representation of your couplehood, not to mention your positioning on the social hierarchy. Though I found the practice disagreeable on many levels, one being the inequality it seems to represent, I still found myself happily gazing at my ring."
Expert Opinion17 of 21
"Although there are various ideas around the origin of the engagement ring, it is my sense that the reason the woman wears the ring comes from chauvinistic practices of ownership of women: If a woman is wearing an engagement ring, it is a sign that she is taken and the property of another man," Batshaw says. "It would be nice if we could move past chauvinistic cultural norms so that both sexes could wear engagement rings as a symbol of love and commitment to each other."
Why It's Questionable18 of 21
In July, morning show host Kelly Ripa declared, "We give birth. You pick up the check." Her statement sparked debate on both family and feminist-minded websites, yet the idea of monetarily rewarding women for giving birth is indeed a growing trend. According to a survey by BabyCenter.com, 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their partner after birthing their child and 55 percent of pregnant women thought they deserved one, The New York Times reported.
FIND: More about Kelly Ripa
Expert Opinion19 of 21
BabyCenter's executive editor, Linda Murray, told the Times that "push presents" are "more and more of an expectation of moms these days, that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body. The guilt really gets piled on."
SEARCH: Top push presents
Expert Opinion20 of 21
"Any excuse for a couple to do a nice gesture for each other is great in my book," Syrtash says. "Couples who take opportunities to honor each other and acknowledge their love and appreciation on a consistent basis are able to weather conflicts in their relationship a little better. Giving birth is a milestone, and couples should celebrate each other's milestones thoughtfully."
Expert Opinion21 of 21
"Giving birth is an extraordinary thing; I understand the impulse to reward it," says Ruti. "But [if the gift emphasizes] that this is the only accomplishment women are capable of, it runs the risk of reducing them to just one facet of their being. One-sided generosity—that is, financial generosity flowing from men to women, exclusively—is one step away from sexism. But even here, there're qualifications. If he makes a six-figure salary and you're dirt poor, well, that complicates things, doesn't it?"
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