On January 11, the New York Times published an article by Alex Williams entitled "The end of courtship." The article attempts to examine the new "hookup culture" which Williams claims has replaced traditional dates. According to Williams, men now take women along to less traditional activities like concerts as opposed to taking them out on dates. He adds that technology has reduced the amount of courage needed to begin this courting process.
Williams seems to place the blame for this phenomenon (as he portrays it in a negative light) almost solely on the backs of male twenty-somethings. As someone who is approaching the demographic Williams focuses his ire on, I do not wish to defend myself by claiming that I am an exception to Williams' argument. Instead, I'd like to point out that while the changes Williams notes seem to be very real, the similarities between my generation and the past, which he implicitly upholds, are far more troubling.
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Men may take women out on different sorts of dates than they previously did, but the expectation that men be the ones to do this largely remains. Williams illustrates this as he states "Dinner at a romantic new bistro? Forget it. Women in their 20s these days are lucky to get a last-minute text to tag along." The idea of men being solely responsible for leading or initiating the dating process renders women as passive spectators whose job it is to merely decide if they like the men who approach them enough to sleep with them. Those who dare initiate the process might be mocked or labelled as sluts. This norm does not deserve to continue to be celebrated.
Additionally, Williams notes that a "changing economic power dynamic between the genders" has "complicated" the old dating world. This dynamic, if it exists at all, should not be over emphasized. Men still earn overwhelmingly more than women, both in general, and for similar jobs. They also still benefit from deeply patriarchal institutions and cultural practices.
Yet if this supposed economic shift does complicate the dating world, it is a much needed complication. Slowly (far too slowly, and in nowhere near enough cases) the socially constructed elements of gender roles, which were once deemed natural, have begun to be peeled away. Yet when it comes to dating, many men are expected to pay for dates, both by some women, and more commonly, by themselves.
Men paying for women on dates because they enjoy their company, and view it as a kind gesture, is not an issue. The issue is that some men still pay for women simply because they are women, and the men would feel emasculated if they did not. If gender roles are to be truly erased, these kind of complications, which Williams notes, should be embraced. Perhaps these complications imply that old roles are being abandoned, while new, more egalitarian ones, are slowly being formed.
Overall, Williams' article fits into a broader narrative which seeks to mourn the supposed death of traditional relationship structures (think marriage, monogamy, etc) in Western society. These fossils of romance do not deserve to be romanticized. Therefore, while all change is not necessarily progress, the shift away from older structures should be happily embraced if it can manage to solve the serious power imbalances of its predecessors.