“New norms about gender equality and women’s autonomy now compete with more traditional dating norms, creating a contradiction for women as they seek to reconcile conflicting sets of behavioral rules,” explains Lamont, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Sociology. “It is clear that notions of gender equality need to be extended to courtship in order to ensure they are instilled in marriage and other areas of life.”
Her findings, which appear in the journal Gender & Society, are based on interviews with 38 female college graduates. The average age of the respondents was 31.
The women in the study indicated that practicing gender differences in their dating lives did not influence their egalitarian ideals. Many participants believed that when it comes to dating, men are responsible for asking women out, paying for dates, determining when the relationship will shift from casual to committed, and proposing marriage.
The survey yielded other insights, such as why they followed dating traditions despite egalitarian ideals:
- The women in the study communicated the belief that men are “naturally” hesitant to make a commitment in a relationship. In this case, the women did not want to put men off by explicitly proposing marriage or a committed relationship.
- Women feared rejection from men if they initiated a date, or other courtship activities.
- Some of the participants expressed their preference for being pursued and desired, rather than being the one who initiates.
But they also revealed expectations that suggest gender equity:
- The women in the research openly described their ideal relationship to be one in which partners equally shared economic, housework, and child care responsibilities.
- Three quarters of those surveyed who had or wanted children had not interrupted or would choose not to interrupt their careers.
However, despite these views, respondents indicated they suppressed some views in order to conform to traditional dating norms. While the women interviewed were mostly successful in getting what they wanted in their relationships, they felt the need to disguise nontraditional behavior due to social pressures. For example, to ensure men desired commitment, some women concealed their own desires for commitment.
New York University.