November 14, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
I think it is safe to say that dating norms aren’t what they used to be. We are long past the days of “traditional courtship” where a man would ask a woman out on a date several days to a week in advance, show up to the woman’s home in an ironed shirt and slacks, and take her out to a nice romantic restaurant where he would open the door for her on the way in and out and always pay for the meal. These days, it seems like text messaging and instant messaging are the typical ways to ask someone out on a date, if you are even so bold as to call it a formal date instead of “hanging out.” And it can be the man or the woman to initiate. Sometimes the man will offer to pay, but the woman may find that insulting, as if he thinks that she can’t take care of herself. Some would say that this is a sign of progress towards gender equality, while others may argue that we’ve lost something important in the process.
Over the past several years I’ve struggled with my feelings toward the current feminist movement in the United States, a cause with great roots in fighting for political equality under leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Lucrettia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but one that has changed its focus many times over the past 100 years.
Throughout my time in college, I was surrounded by people who thought that feminism could do no wrong, and that not being a feminist meant you hated women. So, as someone who loved women, I of course considered myself to be one and supported many of their viewpoints.
And I did see a lot of good things that came from it. I completely agreed that women deserved to have the same political rights that men do, to be paid the same for the same amount of work, and to be given the same respect that men have. And I still think that our society hasn’t gotten there yet and has a lot of work to still do in a lot of ways. I also think that once married, a couple should decide together who wants which roles in the family. If a man likes cooking and cleaning, or even wants to stay at home and raise the kids, he ought to be able to do that. And if a woman is really career-driven, there’s no reason she can’t be the breadwinner for the family if that’s really a desire of her heart and her husband is supportive of that.
But after I left my semi-blissful days of college and dove face first into the real world, I started encountering more and more people, mostly women, who thought modern feminism was one of the most harmful ideologies that one could have. Their argument was that it was teaching women that they could only be truly happy once they became exactly like men. It hurt relations between men and women by telling women that they shouldn’t let men buy them meals, open doors for them, or be a leader in a relationship, because that meant that he was acting in a superior, dominant role.
Instead of trying to become men, they argued, women should celebrate what makes women awesome and enjoy being treated nicely from time to time. Additionally, they felt like feminism had permanently damaged how men and women relate to each other. Women had spent so much time telling men to treat them like men, that men either no longer knew how to treat them like women, or they knew how women should be respected, but were too afraid to act on it because they would appear sexist. Chivalry was dead, they said, and this wasn’t a good thing, as much as feminists tried to convince them that it was necessary for the advancement of women.
The more time I spend dating, the more I find myself agreeing with them. I read an article in the New York Times about the end of courtship not too long ago and, after spending 30 minutes getting over how depressed it made me, I found that it fit well with both my experiences and the trends that all of these women were complaining about. And this trend is frustrating for both women, who feel like they aren’t treated with the type of respect that they deserve, and for men, who feel like they can’t act chivalrously for fear of seeming like they view women as inferior or needing additional protection and care. Suddenly “gender roles,” a term which, during my time in college, had always been preceded with words like “outdated” or “repressive” or both, seemed to be something our society was desperately in need of. I realized that it was time to admit that being equal in value or worth is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings. As Suzanne Venker wrote in a piece earlier this year abouthow making men and women out to be identical has made us all less happy, “It’s time to say what no one else will: Feminism didn’t result in equality between the sexes – it resulted in mass confusion. Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.”
Because of all of this confusion that infects the dating scene, I was relieved earlier this year when I briefly dated a girl who told me early on that she wanted the man in any potential relationship to take charge and be the pursuer in the relationship. I felt like it removed so much of the ambiguity that comes with the first few dates in any new relationship. I no longer had to worry about how she would react if I offered to pay for dinner, to open the door for her, or to make all of the plans for when and where we should spend time together. It was also a huge confidence boost for me knowing that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Although we agreed that our relationship lacked some of the other things we were looking for in a potential spouse after about a month of seeing each other, it was still incredibly refreshing to be in a relationship where I didn’t have to wonder whether I should treat the girl I was dating like a woman, a man, or something in between.
I’ve been spending a lot of time dancing over the past couple weeks (well, and over the past 6 years if I’m totally honest), and have noticed that there are a lot of similarities between social dancing and dating.
1. In both, you need a leader and a follower. If both people are trying to lead, they’ll crash into each other. And if both people are trying to follow, nothing will ever happen.
2. One person needs to be the initiator, and the other needs to be the receiver. No one will dance if everyone is wandering around the dance hall asking people to dance with them, and no one is accepting the invitations being extended.
3. Dancing works best when the guy is really good at leading and the gal is really good at following. Likewise, men need to know how to treat women with dignity, and women need to know how to graciously accept acts of kindness. Think back to the sinking of the Titanic. An estimated 1500 people died, but only about 109 of them were women because the men on the ship offered the life rafts to the women and children. This seems like a pretty good deal for everyone, as the men get to satisfy our natural desire to provide and protect, while women are able to continue to nurture any children that they have, and get to, you know, stay alive.
I’m horrified by thinking of what would happen if a similar thing happened today, which I can see going one of two directions. Either some men on board would offer life boats to women, and the women would then refuse them because they abhor being treated differently than men, and then everyone sinks together while confusion breaks out about who should get which rafts. Or we get something similar to what happened earlier this year on the Costa Concordia, where the captain chose to abandon ship and save himself rather than do what he could to save the women and children on board. In either situation, all parties are worse off, with the possible exception of the selfish captain, who, while successfully making it out alive, is still facing criminal charges for his actions.
However, this is not to say that women can never make their own decisions, or that men should never listen to what women want to do. After a couple has been dancing or dating for a while, they become more familiar and comfortable with each other’s personality, likes and dislikes, habits, and how they think and move. After that point, there is a lot more room for feedback and suggestions. I love it when a lady tells me to stop leading so many spins because it is making her dizzy, or when she offers to teach me a new move that she learned in a class one time that I’ve never seen before. Even after those suggestions, I’m still responsible for leading, but hopefully now the dancing will be even more enjoyable for both of us.
Through the combination of dancing and studying Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (which you should start reading, oh, about 5 minutes ago if you haven’t already. Start with this, then read this, and then you’ll be ready for this), I’ve begun to understand in a deeper way why the Bible makes distinctions between men and women from Creation all the way through the New Testament. The differences extend to how we think, how we analyze situations, what needs we have that need to be satisfied, how we give and receive love, and why we do the things we do. In my opinion, anyone who says that the only difference between men and women is their private parts has not spent enough time with people of both genders. If you look at young boys and girls and observe how they interact with each other, what their interests are, and what sorts of games they play, you can clearly see that they are wired differently from a very young age. These complementary differences are why God created both men and women in His image, because they capture two awesome, different, but equal aspects of who God is.
In dance, we can see the union of two persons moving as one, each one equal but distinct, creating something beautiful. It is the exact same dynamic that dating and marriage is designed to create as well. So if you want to see gender roles being used to create something logical, beautiful, and a little bit magical, go spend some time dancing and experience for yourself the joy of moving in union with another person who was created by God specifically to complement you.