We all know I’m kind of a feminist, even though I’m as reluctant to admit that as I am to admit that I kind of love ABC’s latest well-produced skim-latte froth of rhinestone twangin’ television, GCB. So it’s hardly a surprise that Kat and I have had an ongoing discussion about a classic topic of feminist whinging for about a month now: the eternal conundrum of men buying you stuff.
The discussion pivots on two particular conversations. The first occurred when I mentioned that I’d met a guy I was, in the parlance of our times, hollerin’ at. “Make sure you get him to buy you dinner first!” Kat warned. The second occurred when I mentioned I was looking forward to getting drunk that night, because it was a day ending in y. “What you need to do is get guys to buy you drinks,” Kat said. I know Kat means well, and she was only trying to help me have fun and drink cheap. But in the pursuit of making girls and guys treat each other with a little less awfulness, I’m curious about the effect of these default assumptions.
Our first conversation negotiated the assumption that a guy should buy a girl dinner before trying to get her out of her sparkly tissue of a dress. Kat probably meant that a girl should get to know a guy better — by eating a meal with him, perhaps — before taking him home with her. The idea that a dude should plonk down some cash before leaning in and puckering up is hardly uncommon. It’s present in the second situation that triggered our debate: implying that I should use a man’s generosity to chase a buzz when I can very well buy my own drinks reinforces the assumption that guys should buy pretty girls things, basically for no reason.
By implying a guy should buy you dinner before going in for a kiss frames a really backward kind of transaction in regards to women and their ability to want sex and choose it rationally. You are never obligated to sleep with anyone in any situation you don’t clearly, distinctly want. And okay, maybe a guy is trying to get you to like him by being nice and buying you a drink. But by subscribing to the idea that he is obligated to buy you something before you can be expected to kiss him back is kind of like him thinking he shouldn’t have to marry you unless you have a dowry of silver spoons and blanket chests to bring with you into the marriage.
The problem here is not magnanimous guys who buy a round for the table, or non-sexual or non-romantic relationships. Buying drinks for each other is awesome! But a woman should be able to want sex, say it, and get it without the man buying her anything — or her friends telling her she’s easy because she didn’t get a $12 salad in addition to the main course (if you know what I mean). If you are interested in the guy, you shouldn’t manipulate him into buying you things just because it’s in your arsenal of feminine whiles. If you aren’t interested in a guy and you let him buy you a drink, you are reinforcing the idea that women are conniving, unkind, and only want sex if it’s about something else.
The assumption goes that girls can only want sex if it will make a guy date them, or if it will make a guy tell them they are pretty, or if it will make a guy buy them shit. One of the most important tasks of feminism is to challenge the idea that sex for women is always about something other than sex. It’s a pervasive assumption — one that is, stated frankly, demeaning and backward and wrong. A man does not need to buy you a drink before you can want him. In addition to making sex a capitalist transaction, it also robs a woman of her ability to want sex without everyone thinking she really wants love/validation/a free salad.