“The times they are a-changing” or so goes the saying in the Bob Dylan classic. And never has this been truer than in the arena of sexual politics. Men and women, are as different as they have always been, find themselves struggling to relate to one another in a rampant, digital age of online information. We are surrounded by media imagery and conflicting ideas telling us who were are, and what we want.
Today, we are seeing growing numbers of campaigning organisations like Object, The Everyday Sexism Project and The Body Is Not An Apology challenge how today’s media society objectifies and culturally subjugates women, and this is making single men extremely unsure of themselves. Women are beginning to object to how they are portrayed online and by the media. One only has to look to the backlash caused by Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video to see that today women are increasingly aware of how culture portrays them as passive, sexualised playthings for men. But where does this leave men and women in the online dating community? Can you call yourself a feminist and expect your date to pick up the dinner tab? How can you be sure that pulling out a chair for a dinner date will be received as a gentlemanly act and not an act of patriarchal oppression? How do we navigate this minefield, further complicated by the digital age?
Before the days of digital, women have been subject to limiting prescriptions of what it means to be a woman. Female identity has loosely been based on notions of ‘wife’ or ‘mother’. Whichever side of the ‘madonna/whore’ binary, it always sits in relation to a fixed and ‘neutral’ identity of man. So what this means is that being a man never gets questioned. It is a given. Men are ‘men’, unless they are in the company of women and then they are ‘gentlemen’. Perhaps this used to be good enough, but now public consciousness is shifting, and being a ‘gentleman’ is problematic as it assumes women as inherently more fragile than men. It’s infantilising. As such, men have not really until now had to think about how well-meaning first date manners could go potentially blow up in their faces.
So how can we minimise this risk? The answer is subtle, but relatively simple. It is about self-awareness. It is thinking about and taking responsibility for your own privilege. Before you offer to make a concession for your female date, ask yourself why are you are doing it. If you’re reasons are sound, be aware of creating other opportunities for her to reciprocate, knowing that often the playing field is not from the beginning, level. Often it is the motivation behind committing an act that can determine its meaning and not just the act itself, so question what your underlying assumptions are.
I know what you are thinking: surely manners are manners, right? Holding a door open or offering to pick up the bill is a nice thing to do for anyone, regardless of their gender. This is true, but I hear men all the time complain that with so called ‘third wave’ feminism they don’t know how to act around women on dates anymore. This is simply because it is distressing to have to think about your own privilege if you know that others have suffered so you can prosper. Often those in power often are unconscious to it for that reason. They have never had cause to think about what they have, because they have never lost it, so they take their position for granted.
So are women sensitive to being patronised, infantilised and sexualised? Yes. Does that mean it is good enough to wheel out the same old used airs and graces, then put it down to paranoia and let yourself off the hook? No, nt it doesn’t.