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Splitting Bills: A Feminist Trap or a Fair Deal?

Splitting Bills: A Feminist Trap or a Fair Deal?

Feminist writer Susan Bordo argues that true equality comes not just from splitting the bill but from a more equitable distribution of labor and childcare responsibilities within a relationship.
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The concept of splitting bills on dates and in relationships has become a hot-button topic. Knowing that I’m a firm believer in societal fairness, a male friend once asked me my thoughts about splitting bills on dates or relationships, and I straight out told him that it’s absolutely the choice of the individuals involved.

This is one of the hottest topics on social media and feminism, a movement advocating for women’s equality, is often brought into the discussion, leaving one to wonder if splitting is a feminist ideal or a potential pitfall. 

In this article, we’ll explore the complexities surrounding the topic, its historical context, economic realities, and evolving social norms to answer the question: Is splitting bills a feminist trap or a fair deal?

Historical Context: The Gendered Pay Gap and Financial Independence

Historically, women were expected to be financially dependent on men. The gender pay gap, which persists today, further cemented this dynamic. Women often earned less, if at all, while men were the primary breadwinners. This made separate finances and men paying for dates a norm.

The feminist movement challenged this power imbalance, advocating for economic independence for women. This financial empowerment allows women more control over their lives and choices and splitting bills can be seen as an extension of this principle, symbolizing equality in financial contribution.

However, we must note that the fight for equality doesn’t stop at income. Unpaid domestic labor, primarily performed by women, is also a significant factor.  Studies show that women spend more time on housework and childcare, which impacts their earning potential and career advancement. This “second shift” contributes to the financial burden, even if bills are split equally.

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The Economic Realities: Different Earning Power and Financial Burdens

The concept of fairness in splitting bills is further complicated by differing earning power within couples or on dates. For instance, someone who earns significantly more might feel a flat 50/50 split is unfair.  

Additionally, financial obligations outside the relationship can create an imbalance. Someone with outstanding debt or a supporting family might struggle to keep up with a partner with fewer financial burdens.

I believe that if the concept of splitting bills will work, then open communication is a must. Discussing financial situations upfront and coming to an agreement that feels fair for both parties is key. 

The Evolving Social Norms: Chivalry, Tradition, and Modern Expectations

Traditionally, men were expected to pay for dates as a display of chivalry. This practice reinforces gender roles and creates power dynamics where men initiate dates and potentially control how much is spent. 

However, social norms around dating are constantly evolving. Some women still prefer the traditional approach, valuing the gesture behind a man paying while others prefer a fair percentage split.

A friend of mine by the name Emmanuel believes that it’s his duty as a bona fide African man to pay for dates. In his words, “I don’t believe in that crap. I cannot ask a woman out on a date and split the bills with her. It’s my responsibility to ensure she is comfortable while I take care of the bills.”

A Twitter user, @proudnursemj, believes that the man is the head and remains the head. She states that it’s important for intending couples to have a very important conversation on the topic at the early stage of dating.

In her words, “I personally I’m 100% against any woman splitting bills with any man! I don’t care the percentage! It will never make sense to me…Yes, it’s reasonable to support the family where necessary! But splitting bills? like giving me a percentage to cover is BS! & I’m 100% not doing that!”

Reacting to her tweet, @sisicyber said, “Even if I’m the richest woman on earth, the man should still provide. It’s the little things that counts. A woman who knows that her man is the provider, however little, will step in and “cover” support her man.”

@teletrumpies believes that “if you ask someone out and it’s your idea, you should be paying.” As a woman, she affirms that she would happily cover bills on a date if she were to ask the man out.

Another user, @Mrkabati14, noted that it’s the default instinct of a man to provide. However, if both are cordial friends or initially established the rule of splitting bills, then it can work.

@Shadaya_Knight sees the idea as a very risky one. He believes that splitting bills with a woman makes her feel entitled. In his words, “equal responsibilities = equal privileges.”

Reacting from a different perspective, @4low_Ke said, ” The one who calls for a date pays. If it’s in a relationship, splitting bills should be it. Let everyone invest & spend in the relationship.”

Feminist perspectives argue that splitting fosters a more balanced dynamic where both partners contribute and the focus shifts from “who pays” to enjoying each other’s company.

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Feminist Perspectives: Beyond the Split

While financial independence is a key feminist goal, some argue that solely focusing on splitting bills misses the bigger picture.  

Feminism advocates for dismantling social and economic structures that disadvantage women. This includes addressing the gender pay gap, promoting equal opportunity in the workplace, and valuing unpaid domestic labor.

Splitting bills can be a step toward equity, but it shouldn’t overshadow the larger fight for economic justice. Feminist writer Susan Bordo argues that true equality comes not just from splitting the bill but from a more equitable distribution of labor and childcare responsibilities within a relationship.

Finding a Fair Solution: Communication and Openness

As we’ve observed individuals’ reactions and perspectives, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of splitting bills. The most important aspect is open and honest communication about finances and expectations. 

As mentioned earlier, it’s important that intending couples have this conversation to understand their stand and avoid future relationship hurdles.

 Here are some tips for navigating the conversation:

  • Be upfront about your financial situation. Discuss income, debts, and financial priorities.

  • Decide on a system that feels fair to both parties. Consider proportional splits, alternating who pays, or factoring in external financial burdens.

  • Revisit the conversation as circumstances change. Salaries might increase, or one partner might take on childcare responsibilities.

  • Focus on the experience. Dates and shared experiences should be enjoyable for both partners, regardless of who pays.

In Conclusion,

I believe that when it comes to bills and financial decisions in a relationship, it is solely the decision of the parties involved. If they agree that splitting bills is ideal for the thriving of their relationship, that is great….if they agree otherwise, that is equally great.

It might seem that splitting bills from the feminist perspective is a symbol of financial independence and equal partnership within a relationship. However, a truly feminist approach recognizes the broader gendered economic realities and advocates for long-term solutions beyond a single bill.

The age-old tactic of “playing hard to get” is a strategy that involves a person feigning disinterest or unavailability to create a perception of being in high demand

Read this article to explore when it might be a game and when it’s not.

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