Is Paying 50/50 Doing What We Think it is for Feminism? An Opinion Piece

By Tesni Jones Edwards

The idea that splitting the bill paves a way to equality has been a topic of conversation in feminist circles for many years. But how much truth to this is there?

Some women believe that going fifty-fifty on anything in a relationship only sets us back in terms of equality. Especially when considering factors such as the gender wage gap as well as the unpaid work women do. Included in this side of the debate is Kiera Breaugh, who sparked debate and controversy in a TikTok video (@kierabreaugh) where she labelled women paying fifty-fifty as ‘One of the most insidious and ridiculous effects of the patriarchy’. On the flip side of this debate are the women who believe that not paying equally leads to relationships of a transactional nature where gender roles and patriarchal ideals are upheld. 

Is paying fifty-fifty truly a show of feminism and equality or is it simply another idea that is detrimental to the equality we wish to achieve? Let’s talk about it.

Men and women going fifty-fifty in a relationship is an act that relies heavily on the idea that women are equal in the eyes of society. But because of the patriarchy, this simply isn’t true. Not only does this not take into consideration how there is still a gender pay gap in 2022, with the gap being 7% in 2021 for women in full time employment, but it also ignores the unpaid labour that most women do – specifically housework and childcare. More women are working than ever with over 72% being employed in the UK compared to just over 78% of men and yet women still do most of the domestic duties. In a study conducted by University College London (2019), it was found that in 93% of heterosexual households, women are the main contributors in duties such as chores and childcare.

Think about it, when a woman cooks, cleans, and takes the kids to school she is doing her so-called societal duty. She isn’t labelled as a super mum because she is doing exactly what society expects her to do. Now when a man does it, he automatically assumes the role of an amazing father, often having heaps of praise thrown his way. Séamus O’Reilly, a writer for the guardian, wrote an article that centered around his own experience with what he deems to be ‘dad-praise’. In it he expresses the random acts of praise he has had thrown his way for the most mundane dad duties – ‘My wife has never had someone reach across a bus seat to say how wonderful she is for looking after our son, whereas it’s happened to me twice.’ We praise fathers for doing the bare minimum and we shouldn’t as this only encourages sexist gender dynamics within heterosexual families and where is the equality in that?  

This, of course, comes from the outdated expectation that women should be housewives whilst their husbands go out to work. Today we have moved further away from this idea that men are the only breadwinners in the family. And yet, women are still expected to do the bulk of the housework and childcare. On top of that, more and more women are paying fifty-fifty financially, especially when it comes to dates with a 2019 study by Badoo finding that over 60% of women prefer to pay when on a date. This, therefore, does hold a sense of inequality and places women in a position where they are expected to work, look after children, keep a tidy home, and contribute financially. In comparison to men who are primarily expected to financially contribute.

Thus, the expectation to pay fifty-fifty for everything – whether it be the rent, a dinner date, or the food shop – seems absurd. In a world where women do not get fifty per cent of anything, why should we have to contribute fifty-fifty financially?

Now, despite this, there is definitely some merit as to why paying fifty-fifty in relationships is crucial to dismantling the patriarchy. Some feminists believe that not paying fifty-fifty leads to a transactional relationship where stereotypical gender roles are reinforced, and patriarchy prevails.

The very nature of transactional relationships stem from patriarchal ideals and outdated stereotypes of heterosexual relationships. In these types of relationships women are seen as prizes to be won and claimed.  If men can provide, whether by paying for the dinner on the first date or the monthly rent in a relationship, then they are displaying their ability to look after the woman. This, at one point in time, would have been a deciding factor when considering a potential partner. But now? Not so much. The very idea revolves around the stereotype of women being unable to provide for themselves – and instead, they are seen as in need of a man to do it for them. We, of course, know this is not true, especially today where more women are working and putting their careers before relationships. So, in a way, not contributing fifty-fifty financially reinforces patriarchal stereotypes and only harms the equality we all wish to achieve.

The importance of being financially independent when in a relationship is also something to consider. Because of the transactional nature of most relationships in previous generations, there is this long-held ideology of expectation – if the man takes a woman on a date and pays for said date then he will either expect sex or more opportunities to date the woman. In the 2010 study ‘You Owe Me’ participants were given hypothetical situations where rape occurred after a date and were then asked to rate the characters’ sexual expectations, blame, responsibility, and rape justifiability – although rape is never justifiable in any circumstance, but for the sake of the study they were assessing whether the participants found the rape more ‘justifiable’ in some circumstances. It was found that men agreed more than women that both parties should have sexual expectations of the other when the date was expensive, and the men were the ones to pay and assigned more blame on the woman for the rape that occurred. This expectation, although it may be a subconscious one, then places women in a precarious situation when dating. It also highlights the possible importance of splitting the bill on dates in the name of safety since if there is no expectation on the man to pay, they will be less likely to expect anything else. In turn this then creates a safer environment for women to date in.

So, both sides are, ironically, rooted in both feminism and patriarchy. Maybe the answer is not one or the other. Maybe the best decision in terms of financial equality is to base financial decisions off income-based percentages that consider the number of domestic duties that either partner commits their time to doing. At the end of the day, it is work, it just so happens to be unpaid work. It doesn’t make any sense for the partner that does the brunt of the chores to also then be expected to contribute the same financially.

Ultimately, neither side is correct as both have their upsides and their downsides in terms of feminism and the fight for equality. Whether you choose to go fifty-fifty or not should always be entirely up to you and your partner. Feminism, above all, is about the ability to choose what you believe is best and can be what you make it.

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