Why Women Should Pay
When women don’t pay their own way it appalls me. And it should – momentary gratuity is too cheap a price for the toll it takes on intra-gender relations and women’s personhood.
This past weekend E and I went out to dinner at a terrace restaurant attached to a club; ran into an American friend of mine from Urumqi days, and her new Peace Corps acquaintance; sat with them and some Kyrgyz friends-of-friends for a while; and then ran into a quartet of E’s [male] Turkish friends and friends of friends while we were on our way out the door. Apart from diners, the club we were at was still dead by the time we finished dinner at ten-thirty, and the Turkish friends suggested we go to Brooklyn, and up-and-coming R&B bar/dance floor that happens to be the favorite of my Urumqi-days American friend. She and the Peace Corps gal had also set their eyes on one of the Turkish guys, so we all piled in cabs and met again across downtown.
Now in Bishkek certain girls don’t pay their way. Professional women do, unless sometimes a group of friends is out and one person (usually male) snatches the receipt and declares the bill is on them. Otherwise, everyone offers up their share, usually without prodding or complaint. Boyfriends will treat their girlfriends, and couples pay together. The single women who don’t pay are usually…the kind of Russian (sometimes Kyrgyz) woman you don’t want to be – cheap, uneducated/un(der)employed, superficial in their choice of dress – basically women who want to go out but don’t want to work, women who will sleep with a man for a nice dinner or night on the town, women who have turned themselves into objects, valued price-stickered commodities, women who wait around to get married after high school or university, never expecting a career or complete responsibility themselves. Women with real jobs (or income from family business) and self-respect rarely expect a ‘free’ ticket. For freedom and self-respect come with a price.
So I was surprised – shocked even – when the bill came at Brooklyn and the two other Americans didn’t offer up a thing – weren’t even to be seen. Instead, Erdem and I footed half the bill as, to be fair, they were originally attached to our party. Later, out by the taxis, I brought up the issue: the bill was such-and-such, there were so many people. And my American friend blurted out, “But we didn’t take any shots!” and abruptly turned her back.
To be fair, men do drink more. But to assume that everything else was…free? The cherry juice, the chips, the whiskey her friend ordered more than once, the khalyan – complimentary? Certainly not reflected on our bill if it was….Or was it to be assumed that because she was female, our enjoyment of her company somehow equaled her portion of the check? For that’s the assumption that’s under not paying: my time and presence are worthy tender. You enjoy being with me so much that you will pick up my tab, that you are willing to pay cash for the pleasure of my company. Which also implies this is a one sided transaction: women’s company has greater value than that of men. Or, men enjoy the company of women, but women aren’t really enjoying this (why else would they be paid?). As you might see, highly problematic if you follow the implications of this line of thought – women who don’t expect to pay are little different that escorts, prostitutes, in their economic approach to fun, regardless of what they might otherwise say.
So here is why women should pay:
Women would have to get jobs; women would cease to be commodities; women’s intentions in giving attention to men would be less in question and men too would be helf to higher standards of conduct.
Let’s start with the first: If the women who go out, but spend all their salaries as shop girls or other marginal jobs on hair and nails and makeup and bling-blingy Russian clothes (I actually saw a pet shop assistant in a leopard print onesie last Friday. It was kin of wonderful) had to actually pay for themselves, they would have to either take their careers seriously or make choices. Either they wouldn’t go out as often, they would spend less on dressing up, or they might aim for jobs that offered better salaries and benefits. Women who expected to at least partially support themselves and therefore took their studies and careers more seriously would also probably place more value on what they spent their money on, and might make less flippant choices. Drink prices would drop. We’d probably still see as much bling.
Second, as outlined above, engaging in an interaction in which women trade their company for material or monetary goods essentially commodifies their time and their person. They become something you can purchase, if only in part. If women pay their own way, this eliminates the transaction. When women who call themselves feminists, or champion the worth of female education and females in professional spheres, expect other people to pay for them – especially when those other people are always male – I just…No.
(Where marriage and partnerships in which one partner doesn’t work falls in this is a little complicated. I certainly wouldn’t agree with the radical feminist pronouncement that “all housewives are whores”; nor do I believe all non-working women are without blame once married. Two years ago living in Guangzhou, where women have great bargaining power just due to demand [in parts of Guangdong Province, the male to female ratio at birth is 160 to 100, and every man is under immense family pressure to marry] I saw plenty of stay-at-home wives who spent all their time at spas, cafes, shops and great gossip sessions, their sole contribution to the partnership being provision of a ‘family unit’ and thus male respectability in the form of a child and reliable arm candy at events. This is an economic exchange – women are kept in return for their necessary role in establishing the family unit, which is a mark men need to fulfill family expectations and gain personal social respect. It doesn’t much matter who these women are or what they do – their mere existence is enough. In other relationships there seems to be less ‘purchasing of position’, with one partner acting as manager or educator or assistant at home. They might not pull in a salary, but they are contributing with far more than their mere presence. And there’s definitely a sliding scale between equal relationships and exchange of commodities for cash, wives who are little more than legal mistresses. So where partnerships stand in this system depends on the individuals involved.)
Third, women not expecting to pay their part isn’t fair to men. Yes, men. And women. For honest intentions become a little unclear when one party is benefiting economically at the other’s expense. Does the woman really like the man and enjoy his company, or is she more attracted by what’s in his pocket? Is he a person, or a piece of prey? And is the man paying because, while he enjoys the woman’s company, she places little value on his. Or rather, what she seeks is not pleasure in his company at all, but rather some subsidy?
This in turn gives men an open door to not cultivate the other parts of their persons. If all that women want is money, then why waste time and effort on other aspects? In China men are often gross in direct proportion to their power and wealth. Men who can attract by wealth have little need in this system to cultivate their characters, to develop manners and interesting ideas and good conversation skills and anything else that might genuinely attract a person. When I was living in Guangzhou I lost count of the number of times I saw lecherous greasy men with awful conduct of person toting around a young pretty thing dangling on their arm. Bought things. It was an economic relation that people expected – men pay and provide materially; women pout and look cute and prove to everyone else how much money this man has by the beauty of the women he can (in essence) buy. If women aren’t paying – then what do they want? Your company or your cash?
This isn’t to say that I’m against people paying for each other, or I believe it’s necessary to go Dutch and all whip out our IPhone calculators at the end of every meal. Treating each other, and being treated once in a while is nice – because it’s that – a treat. But expecting your presence to pay the way on account of your gender (or on account of being foreign – but that’s another essay) – that I cannot respect. So women: do us all a favor, be fair to humanity and expect to pick up your own tab.
To be just, my American friend lived in China a long time, and in China it’s customary for men to pay – but this is also entwined with China’s own set of twisted social values and sex roles, including the warped economics of dating, family and marriage as touched on above. So I’m not sure if that’s really an excuse.