A couple of months ago, I read a story about a woman from Michigan who makes her 6-year-old son take her on a dinner date. The mother described how he earns money doing chores, and he pays to take his mother out once a month. This sweet little boy holds the door for his mom, holds her chair and asks her about her day, per his mother’s instructions. Her reason for doing this, she explains, is so he can learn “how to treat a lady and how to take her out on a proper date.”
I read this story, and it bothered me. It bothered me even more that there were lots of comments from women about how this was such a great idea. Yes, it is a great idea to force your small child to take you to dinner and spend the money he earned without regard to whether there was any other item he would have preferred to save his money for.
I don’t have a problem with this young boy learning about money, tipping and other life skills. Every kid should learn such things, since they will need those skills as adults. Every parent should be teaching their children those concepts. However, this little guy is essentially forced to take his mother out to dinner so he can learn how to treat a lady — never mind that no self-respecting lady ever demands to be taken out anywhere.
What is he actually learning about women here? He is learning that if he wants female companionship, he has to pay.
I am a feminist. I believe women and men are equals and should have the same opportunities and challenges. I remember the time before women began demanding equal rights. I do not want to go back. Yes, it is nice for a man to be polite and hold the door open for a lady, but you know what is even better? Holding the door open for another human being, regardless of their gender. I grew up believing that a woman didn’t need a man to feed or pamper her. A woman can take the initiative and ask a man out on a date herself. And if she does? She pays for the meal, or they split the check. Equality.
When the man always pays, there’s an expectation of some sort of required reciprocation. It may not be intentional, but it is there. Many men think women owe them “something” for buying them dinner — or at least they used to. That expectation is so established in our culture movies and television regularly depict men demanding kisses, or worse, at the end of a date.
Who could blame them for being confused? Men have had transactional relationships with women for centuries. We were seen as property. The entire institution of marriage used to involve a father selling his daughter off to the highest bidder in exchange for a couple cows and three goats. Women who tried to be independent usually ended up disowned by their families, forced to marry or burned at the stake. Thankfully, that is no longer the case, at least not here in the United States.
My son is learning manners. He is learning to be polite to everyone. I want him to treat all people kindly and equally. I want Zane to understand that just because he does something nice for another person doesn’t mean that person “owes” him anything. There is no quid pro quo in friendship. I do not want my child to grow up believing he is obligated to buy a woman anything in order to have a friendship with her.
Many women fought tooth and nail over the years to get us where we are now. We have earned the right to be seen as equals, to pay our own way. So, why would I force my male progeny to use his hard-earned money to reinforce the stereotype that the man is supposed to pay for a meal? If he chooses to buy me lunch, that’s great. I’m always happy to share a meal, but I’m not going to demand such treatment and disguise it as teaching my son “manners.”
Besides, I can buy my own lunch.
More: Why the feminist movement still has a long way to go