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Blog, Bucknell, Social Science

Are women incapable or do men just thrive on control?


For the post this week, rather than offer a particular personal experience tied to gender or race in America, I decided to talk about certain aspects of gender roles that have always bothered me.  To be blunt, I don’t like the idea of men doing stuff for women.  And while I will be the first to recognize that it is changing somewhat with our generation when you compare it to the extremes of the past, I still believe that there remain unresolved issues.  For more on changing gender roles, click here!

First, I don’t like the concept that the man is supposed to pay the bill when on a date.  Why can’t you split it or each pay for your own meal? (This is actually referred to as “go Dutch”.)  Second, I don’t like the notion that men are supposed to drive women places.  Let me guess…you’ve never thought about it, right?  You see females driving cars all the time.  But, how often do you see a man (of legal driving age) in a car that a woman is driving?  I don’t understand why women have to be driven around.  What’s the big deal?  And finally, I disagree with the practice of men opening and holding doors (cars included) for women.  While I will admit that it’s nice to have someone open the door for you and many women will view such an act as very “gentlemanly”, I believe that the underlying message is inherently wrong. 

Ok, so these three ideas only begin to scratch the surface of the phenomenon of gender roles.  As I said before, I am most disturbed by the fact that these scenarios represent man doing things for women.  Now, I pose the questions: Do men engage in these activities because they view women as incapable or not able to support/provide for themselves?  Or, is it that men want to control the situation?

As for the first one (i.e., paying the bill), I can see how in the past this practice man have served as most women did not have jobs or income.  In this way, women had to be dependent on men’s money.  However, today that reality is changing; there are women all over the workforce.  Furthermore, these women have successful careers that allow them to be financially independent.

With respect to men’s driving women around, I would argue that it is more of a control issue.  I think that men like to be in the driver’s seat (multiple meanings here…).  They want to exert their masculine domination by administrating when and in what direction the car goes and at what speed.   Also, I think that men are afraid of seeming “weak”, if you will, when a female is driving them.  If women drove men around then it could almost be interpreted as a submissive behavior on the man’s part.  He is allowing a woman to control him by transporting him to a destination.

Lastly, I just don’t see why it really matters for a man to open and hold the door for a woman.  In fact, isn’t it just common courtesy to hold doors (for whomever) anyway?  If there is a door that I need to pass through, I can very well open it as pass through it without assistance.  Better yet, I can even hold it for the man behind me!

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Discussion

11 thoughts on “Are women incapable or do men just thrive on control?

  1. My boyfriend actually does all of the above for me, minus meals (we always take turns or split). When we first started dating I had the same attitude – “I can get the door for myself” type of reaction. This frustrated him and he proceeded to continue the behavior, under the presumption it was courteous and his father taught him manners. He acknowledges that I am capable of doing these things, but he feels they are the right things to do since he’s the man and I’m the lady. I actually consider myself lucky to have a man with ‘gentlemen’ qualities: opening the car door for me to get in, holding the door open for me when we go somewhere, and will carry my bags if he sees they’re heavy. I appreciate it. Your blog post really interests me. I feel that these are traditional notions that men have been expected to do for generations. Though, I will agree these “old school” practices of courting a lady are not as heavily prevalent today, the perceptions you have surrounding these are different than say, a few decades ago. I feel like this ideology of “manliness” has cascaded through decades of learned behaviors. I don’t have the same perception of these actions as I would have say, when men were expected to do these things for women. I would say this is not the norm now, and it isn’t as widely seen for men to open car doors and such for women. This does drive home the question of gender roles and the equality between men and women. Women continually strive to prove themselves equal to men, and are perfectly capable and can be in control of our own actions and lives. So, I agree that there remain unsolved issues, as you’ve pointed out, but am I continuing to spin the wheel by allowing my boyfriend to “take care” of me?

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | February 27, 2012, 10:21 pm
  2. Upon reading your post, I began to think about my own relationship and your three irks of men controlling women. I always offer to pay for dinner, sometimes I am successful sometimes I’m not. But I am adamant about offering to pay. If he does not let me pay for dinner, I make sure that if we order in food or if we are having dessert afterwards that I pay. With opening doors, I feel like it goes both ways… it all predicates on who walks to the door first. But the most curious one is the driving scenario… he always drives. I really think I am going to start offering to drive more! Ill let you know how that turns out!

    Posted by Dana Silverstein | February 27, 2012, 11:02 pm
  3. I agree with Danielle, in the fact that in the most recent relationship I was in, my boyfriend did all of those things for me. I really did appreciate it, and I think there is something to say about a man that will act as such a gentleman. On the other side, however, I realize how this may get annoying at times. I know that I was annoyed when he actually would not allow me to pay for something. It almost made the relationship unequal, because he was putting everything in and all I was doing was taking. Therefore, I do think that (especially with the driving example) there should be more equality in a relationship. I think that if women are able to pay more frequently and are not constantly doted on by their boyfriend, the relationship turns out better in the end. You raised a lot of interesting questions, this is something interesting to think about in our society.

    Posted by alyssakinell | February 28, 2012, 12:10 pm
  4. Upon first reading your post, I couldn’t help but be defensive in my actions to act in a “gentlemanly” way in any relationship that I am in. I always try to open the door for women, I offer to drive whenever possible, and I always offer to pay the check if it was my idea to eat out. These behaviors of mine are in no way associated with the two options you gave for causing my behavior. They are simply me attempting to help somebody else out in a way that promotes genuine kindness and friendliness. I tend to find that holding a door for someone, offering to carry somebody’s books, and the like promote positive emotions and make both myself and the other individual feel good. In accordance with this belief of mine, I try to go out of my way to selfishly make myself feel better by making others feel better. This is in no way implying to them that they are inferior, incapable, or not in control, but simply about aiding one another. I would imagine that your boyfriend is trying to do the same, and I would bet that such behaviors signal to you that he will be there in other ways to support you whether emotionally or physical as any great boyfriend or girlfriend should. However, if you do take offense to such actions, it is most definitely worth it to say something to your significant other, for I would bet money that he has no idea you are feeling that way (that happened to me when my girlfriend asked if I was trying to “one up” her by buying dinners — I have since stopped insisting).

    Posted by Derek | February 28, 2012, 8:37 pm
  5. I like having guys do everything that you oppose, but I also know that I like having men appear masculine and act so. I do completely understand where you are coming from and there are probably quite a few people that hold the same opinions, but I think that it can be very situational. Obviously there are some men who perform these actions for the reason of control, but there are others like the people described above that do it out of being supporting and caring. While many men do still hold women as inferior, these actions shouldn’t be generalized to say that any man who acts as a gentleman has those sentiments.

    Posted by Catherine Gibbons | February 28, 2012, 9:12 pm
  6. I do understand where you’re coming from Lauren! I consider myself to be very independent when it comes to relationships, and yet I do not mind when men pick up the tab for dinner. I always offer, but when my boyfriend gets the bill, I usually see it as a sign of respect/niceness rather than him doing it because I’m a girl and he’s a man. The same goes for when I pick up the tab. I’m not trying to assert my independence, I’m doing it because I want to treat someone I care about. I know that’s not how everyone views it, but that’s how I see it. With respect to opening doors, I open doors for men and women alike, and I know many of my friends who do the same. And with respect to men driving women, I am always the only one to drive my car, regardless of the genders of my passengers – I’ll let a man drive me so I don’t have to pay for gas! I guess it all comes down to how you view the actions of others. Is the action is founded in gender stereotypes, or in showing respect or affection? Interesting ways to think about it, and certainly good grounds for discussion in relationships.

    Posted by Caitlin H. | February 28, 2012, 11:17 pm
  7. I too understand where you are coming from Lauren, but my boyfriend has done all of those things and I really appreciate it. I think it is because he is trying to be genuinely nice rather than controlling. He drove whenever we took car trips because to be honest, I like napping and changing the music and eating in the passenger seat haha. When I told him I’d pick him up in my car for a date or dinner, he never protested. When we started dating, he did insist on paying for meals but soon we turned to just switching off….we never really split bills thinking it would all even out eventually. I also appreciate anyone holding the door for me whether it is a girl or a boy. To be honest, I get annoyed at boys here at Bucknell who let the door slam in my face just as much as a girl. I also try to hold the door open for others. I guess it just depends on the girl and if the boy appears to be controlling.

    Posted by Lauren Daley | February 29, 2012, 12:04 am
  8. 1) I think men paying for women is the worst as it is probably tied somehow to women and control of property and money historically. As in, women couldn’t legally or socially actually own property. Moreover, a man paying for a date seems tied to marriage being a property exchange between two patriarchal families. The history of love-based relations and marriage is a more recent development. Honestly, in today’s context, with much more widespread and normalized sexuality, the hold over from property-oriented relations in the practices of paying for meals or other social activities may even bleed into various “exchanges” of wealth for intimacy or sexual acts.

    For example, poking around about this, it came up more under date rape. But here is a snippet from a reference book:
    Rape supportive attitudes further serve to justify forced sex. Among college students date rape was considered “justifiable” under certain circumstances (e.g., if the couple went to a man’s apartment, if the man paid for the date) (Muehlenhard, 297-310). Even many high school students endorsed these beliefs. In one study 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males said that forced sex was acceptable if a boy spent a lot of money on a girl or if the girl was drunk. (Giarrusso).. Source. You need to be logged in to BU to see.

    2) My wife drives us around about half the time. I like it. I can control the radio. In big cities I drive because I am more comfortable (and kind of like) the chaos. My father in law freaks out if he is not driving. But he is very type A.

    3) I agree with you. Hold the door open for anyone.

    Posted by Jordi | February 29, 2012, 8:00 pm

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