• Thu, Jun 23 2011

Is Paying For Dinner A Feminist Issue?

My experiences with sexism are few and far between. Sure, I’ve heard some women-bashing jabs from my brother and my boyfriend’s friends being misogynistic. But they’re (usually) joking and I don’t take their comments to heart. I’m usually fully comfortable with my role as a woman in society and unaffected by the qualms women have when a person of the opposite sex makes a joking comment.

While I would never refer to myself as a militant feminist – I’m sort of in between the two extremes of not shaving my legs and having a cocktail ready before by beau walks through the door. I’m modern. I have the money during the summer, while not at school, to pay for dinners and movies and what-have-you, and am happy to do so. I don’t mind, because to me, sex should not delegate who pays for things, especially if the amount of income the partners gross is equal.

So, this is why, the other night, when my boyfriend and I went out to dinner and I paid by my own accord, I was taken a-back by the obviously oblivious waitress handing us back change and saying “Here you go, sir”. She clearly made the assumption that he had paid for it.

Yes, I’m aware that there is this unwritten patriarchal creed that men always pay for dates. But am I being completely ridiculous and overly-sensitive for becoming offended by her automatic assumption that I wasn’t paying? After all, it was made by someone who I will probably never see again. But I pay for dinner on a regular basis. I have no problem with it. I see the custom of men paying for all dinners as pretty much absurd and outdated in the 21st century, especially on a college student income solely fed by hodgepodge summer jobs at the mall and birthday checks from Grandpa.

So was this waitress brainwashed by this sexist dogma or was it just an absentminded slip? Has it become such an American custom for men to assume monetary authority in a relationship regardless of income? The inevitable predisposition of women to continually perpetuate this old-fashioned “tradition” makes my decision to pay for dates feels almost like I’m cheating on my feminine side. Or maybe I’m just overreacting.

You can reach this post's author, Jillian Lucas, on twitter.
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  • http://couchpotatocritic.wordpress.com Amy

    I understand your feelings, but I have also worked in the food service industry. The rule was that you always handed the check to the oldest male at the table (or the male who appears to be in charge). It involves a certain amount of assumption, of course, but if you don’t just hand over the check and get out of the way, you might get caught in the table’s argument over who’s going to get the check. Some waitstaff will just leave the check on the table, rather than hand it to any person in particular.

  • Jamie Peck

    Yes, it is absolutely a feminist issue. This (among many, MANY other things) is why we still need the movement you are so quick to caricature. You owe a lot of what you have to “militant feminism.” You are absolutely right to see the sexism here. No need to qualify it.

    • Jo

      Word (the atheist’s “amen”).

      Also, I currently work as a hostess. They told me to always give the menus to the women first and give the drink menu to the man at the table. They also keep hassling me to wear makeup (I don’t own any, so I haven’t). I fucking hate it but I haven’t quite figured out how to go about quitting after working for 4 days. I fucking hate sexism, and sexism in the service industry/hospitality industry seems to be particularly prevalent and old school.

    • Catch

      Considering that a large majority of non-feminst women and even a large percentage of women who ID as feminists hypocritically prefer and expect the man to be the one to pay the bill, especially on the first date – it’s not an unreasonable assumption. Bottom line: most of the time, the man IS the one who pays the bill.

  • Eileen

    I don’t blame the waitress – “the man paid” is usually a fairly accurate assumption when a man and a woman are eating together – but rather the fact that we still live in a sexist society that produces these kinds of assumptions.

    Your experiences with sexism probably go beyond misogynistic jokes, though, because sexism is such a fundamental part of our society that it’s almost impossible to escape. There are “women jokes,” which are often more or less harmless, and then there are easy assumptions that even women make on a regular basis – but that clearly discriminate against women.

  • Fabel

    If she didn’t see you slip money into the billfold, I’d say it isn’t THAT big of a deal that she handed the change back to your boyfriend. I feel as if it’s almost generous, in a way, to presume the man at the table is paying? If the woman paid, and the wait staff is so aware of this as to make the fact obvious upon returning change, it could be an embarrassment to the man at the table that everyone (or..just the waitress…) knows he didn’t pick up the check.

    Obviously, the scenario I just outlined implies lots of other bad things–like how society feels the need to cater to the male ego based on outdated assumptions about what they should be financially responsible for–but yeah. Just saying, this could be why the waitress did that.

  • Dawn

    @Amy: I was a server for 4 years (yay, putting myself through university!), and wow, I NEVER handed the cheque to the oldest/most dominant male at the table. If someone asked for the bill, they got it. If no one asked for the bill, it went on the table. Yes, there was the occassional “pleeeease take my money” argument amongst the customers, but that was nothing compared to what would happen were I to try to parse the dynamics of the table every time I printed off a bill. I’ll also note the article was about giving change to someone, on the expectation that they paid.

    In this case, there’s not really enough info to make an educated guess on what was going through the server’s head. I am particularly not comfortable with ascribing this server status of tool of the patriarchy given what we know, or saying this is a prime example of why feminism is still relevant. Glad that it got the author thinking about gender roles and societal expectations about heterosexual relationships…now let’s go a bit deeper into these issues, maybe a bit bigger.

    And yeah, I’d never call myself a militant anything. I’m a feminist – no need to add an adjective before (unless you want to get into your philosophical orientations, i.e. liberal, radical, etc.), or to try to minimize or explain what that means afterwards. I’m a feminist. Full stop.

  • nicole

    Interesting take… it’s funny how modern women, even the ones who’ve perhaps never experienced overt and obvious sexism, still experiences the covert, sinister kind, and I think this is an example of that bubbling to the surface. Yes it was sexist, and I see it connected to covert sexism because of the way servers are conditioned to give the bill to the “head of the table”, on top of the pressure female servers get to establish a connection to male customers for better tips. A lot of women I know think of sexism as the 1950′s boss refusing to give you a raise. But if you haven’t experienced that, that doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t exist covertly, and it doesn’t mean that is hasn’t affected us in sinister ways.

  • eelizg23

    The author may think her experience with sexism are few and far between, but there are probably similar subtly sexist things that happen to her on a daily or near-daily basis without her even recognizing it as so precisely because it is so pervasive!

    Paying for dinner is definitely a feminist issue. I like to pay for myself on dates. I definitely consider myself a feminist, and this is just one way that I put that out on the table (no pun intended) from the beginning, so I don’t waste my time with a man who can’t handle it. A lot a lot of my friends will take the free meal. I can’t say I blame them. It’s a personal choice, and there’s no such thing as a perfect feminist, so I’m not going to judge.

    • Catch

      A true feminist doesn’t accept inequality just because it benefits her. So, she will pay her own way, open 50% of the doors, carry half the grocery bags, etc.

  • Alex

    Good article: well-written, and on a matter i feel similarly about. I’ve always said (to anyone that will listen) that chivalry is dead and that feminism killed it. You want an egalitarian society? Sure, just don’t be upset when we don’t foot the dinner bill every time. Of course, this isn’t to say that I won’t hold the door for a lady friend from time to time. However, i’ll only pay them the respect they merit from their actions, not their naughty parts

    • Elle

      Chivalry is dead and we are all better off for it. You should hold the door open for everyone, man or woman, because it’s the polite thing to do. Not because you want to bone them.

    • Sensei Devi

      Feminism created chivalry. Look up Lady Aquitaine. It was a stepping stone for better treatment of women, not an end in itself. Besides why would women need chivalry they can take care of themselves. If a man opens a door for another man is this chivalry or just basic human decency which is what we should be striving for.

  • Papa Geek

    I can see this as sexist from the stance that it’s offensive to assume that the man is the one paying, but I don’t know that it’s safe to assume the waitress handed it to him because he was the man?

    There are many visual cues that servers can pick up on, like eye contact, nods, hands out, more vocal, etc. I constantly get handed the bill when I go out with my parents, despite the fact that I’m not the patriarch at the table.

    It depends a lot on the restaurant too. If you’re at a swanky place, then the higher paid waitstaff absolutely should pay attention to who is paying, and be respectful toward dates splitting the bill or women picking up the tab. But if you’re at a cheap greasy spoon place at 4 AM after a night of clubbing, odds are your server just wants you to pay up and get out so they can move the next person in.

    Oh, and the best way to make a change is to let someone know they screwed up, so a quick call to the restaurant the next day could help save a misinformed waitress from making the same mistake twice! :)

  • jo jo

    i don’t understand

  • ess

    It wasn’t just you. I’ve been a server and I always make a point to put the check *in the middle* because I’ve been a customer too! I know how irritating, possible offensive it is to pay for yourself and a male companion and have the server ignore you and say thanks to the guy! I also make a point to thank both for coming but end with eye contact to the paying party (only takes a second to notice the name on the card). Yeesh.

    Jeez, there should be a server 101 on this faux pas! (And you’d think servers of our generation would be more sensitive? Nope.)

    • ess

      Sorry for the bad grammar. I was typing in a fury and normally balk at such typos. Fired up, needless to say.

  • B

    Honestly, I dont care who the waiter/waitress hands the bill too! My husband pays because my husband is the one that normally has cash… or just cause he likes to pay. Call it sexist if you want, it just a dinner bill! If you didn’t like it, you could have said “Thats for me”… I believe in women’s rights, I believe there is work to be done still. But a dinner bill? Really? Chivalry is NOT a bad thing, it is something that used to be more common and because of rediculous arguements like this, is becoming almost non existant. I LIKE that my husband opens doors for me and pays for dinner. He does it because he cares, he wants to show me he cares and because he enjoys it. I don’t understand why some feminists feel that in order to be equal we have to squalsh the natural actions of the male population. Next thing you know it will be a feminist issue when a man stands up for a womans defence because someone stole her purse. Silly man assuming she is helpless, she probably took self defence classes!

    • Sensei Devi

      Ha, look around the world, the natural action of men based off of common treatments of women is to put them down (basing off of your own standard). Also if you look at chivalry it was created by Lady Aquitaine-a woman- to get men to treat women better than they had been treating them. To treat women good was a sign of class, good breeding and status.

    • Jake Seeley

      Actually you’re a convenient feminist in that case. But wait, he’s your husband, so you have joint payments right?.. Well if he was your boyfriend and you had separate finances, you’d be a user/gold digger to expect him to pay.

  • icanhascute

    This drives me nuts! Just because of how our finances break down, I almost always foot the bill when my boyfriend and I go out to dinner, but I hardly ever get the check.

    When I pay, I make a point of leaving the check holder on my side of the table… but on more than one occasion, the receipt and (my) credit card have been returned to my boyfriend. Maybe they’re just not paying attention? Grrr…

  • Abigail

    It definitely annoys me that waitresses assume the man will be paying, especially since I often pay when my husband and I go out. It’s not that our money is “not together”, but I work, and so does he, and sometimes one of us pays and other times the other pays. When I was a waitress, I would simply set the check down on the middle of the table and say, “When you’re all set, I can take this. No hurry.” And when I came back with change, I set it right back in the middle of the table. Unless of course someone reached for it, in which case I would hand it to them. Now, like the author, I don’t consider myself an over the top feminist, but I think that for as far as we’ve come in the last hundred years as women, we haven’t come very far.

  • Nikki

    I totally agree with being annoyed at having the check given to the guy you’re with, because it’s assumed that he paid. 9 times out of 10, I pay for everything with the guys I’m with. But speak up against misogynistic jokes too! It’s more often you’ll hear that than having the check delivered to the wrong person, and that’s a big factor in why misogyny is still viewed as a societally normal thing. Comedy propels norms. It’s like saying “I’m not racist BUT [a racist joke here].” Just because it’s being masked under the guise of a joke that everyone is assumed to understand it as doesn’t make it okay! It just allows for that kind of behavior to keep on keeping on.

  • Tristan

    here is a funny joke I saw about bartering and paying for dinner, http://ponderingstuff.com/2011/07/03/bartering-as-the-new-method-of-exchange-for-goods-and-services/

  • V Thrash

    I wait tables myself, and I will always place the cheque in the middle on the table, or wait till someone reaches for it/asks for a pen to sign.

    If people come up to the till to pay directly, whoever gets there first wins (or, well, loses, depending on how you look at it). No bickering, if your card is in my hot lil hand before your dining partner/s get there, you’re paying.

  • Catch

    Feminists should absolutely go dutch or pay at least half the time. To do otherwise is extremely anti-feminist. However, most women aren’t feminists. Thankfully.

  • moro

    Thanks god! women like you represent the hope and evolution.
    I’m always disappointed when i read those nonsense ideas like by b.

    Your husband pay for all your fun and you don’t really know why but you assuming he enjoy it.
    The truth is that you guys do it because you don’t really know why.

    The excuse of chivalry….

    This girl that wrote the article is an absolute pure soul. She has integrity and respect for her and her partner. She is question what is right and what wrong for all…both side men and women.

    This is a good message for the future.
    Hopefully the contemporary chivalry will disappear soon because create lots of damage and unsatisfaction confusing people in what make them be in a relationship.

    By b if you love your husband because he support you. Then you don’t love him.

  • Jay Dee

    where can I find a real woman like this?

  • Jay Dee

    I don’t even care about the money, its the principle that the man is EXPECTED to pay and therefore when we do pay we don’t feel as if we are truly giving because of the expectation. Imagine giving a diamond necklace to you girlfriend at christmas that you picked out. Now imagine that she chose it out of a magazine and told you to buy for her for christmas. Which situation would you feel like you were truly giving in? Same applies to societal expectations of men on dates. Feminism has barely scratched the surface of this issue other than defend women getting free stuff. This is why I rarely ask women out, and alimony is why I will never marry a woman. Some of these benefits women have acquired has only gone to hurt them. No one wants to get married these days, no one sane anyways, and no one wants to go on traditional dates except old fashioned losers who need to pay to get into panties.