When In Rome – A Musing on Gender Dynamics

7 10 2012

I’ve always been an oddly empowered and independent soul. And I have marched to the beat of my own drum, particularly in the realm of relationships.

Case in point: When I was in 8th grade, a boy named Evan asked me out for the very first time. He invited me to see the movie Entrapment (an awesome film!) and his invitation made me excited, flattered, embarrassed and horrified all at the same time. But you see, I didn’t let Evan buy me a movie ticket because – even as an eighth grader – I knew that that would officially make it a date and I didn’t want any of the expectations or unspoken assumptions that went along with dating.

Oh, Junior High...

Oh, Junior High…

Similarly, I used to be very involved in a Jewish youth group called NCSY. We would have weekend retreats called shabbatons and – though the boys always offered to carry my luggage to the home of our Shabbat host – I never let them. I carried it myself.

Lastly, and as time went on, I realized that it was silly for girls to wait around for their crushes to ask them out, so I chose not to be shy about making a first move when I wanted to. Yair knows this as – once we had had more serious conversations about getting married – the two of us played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see who would get to officially propose and I gleefully won.

I Proposed. And We Ate Cake. Sweet.

I Proposed. We Ate Cake. Sweet.

I’ll add one last piece of background: I’ve never been much of a drinker and I was fairly religiously observant as an undergrad. That combination meant that there was little reason for me to find myself in a hub of bars and clubs such as Baltimore’s Fells Point district. In fact, I flat out avoided the area.

Now to the title of this post… Last weekend at the wedding – as Muslim weddings do not serve alcohol – a handful of guests and some members of the wedding party got a bit thirsty and ventured out to Fells Point.  I thought “what the heck?” and decided to join them.

What made this excursion post-worthy was not the bar itself, but the culture that I encountered inside of it. One of the groomsmen came over and asked me what I was drinking. Having already decided to follow the “when in Rome” rule and partake in a drink or two, I told him that I enjoy Baileys and Kahlua on the rocks. (For those with a sweet tooth, this combo tastes kind of like chocolate milk with an extra kick.)

Our gentleman asked the same question of a few of the other women with us, quite casually took out his wallet to pay and… I didn’t stop him.

The Type of Drinking I Can Appreciate - Straight from the Vine  :-)

The Type of Drinking I Can Appreciate – Straight from the Vine 🙂

If this sounds marvelously underwhelming, you have to understand that – not only have I rarely been in club or bar environments – but I have never allowed someone to buy me a drink. This is partially because of the way I see myself as a strong woman and partially because it’s almost never just a drink. Following the purchase, our groomsman chauffeured us through the club, protectively put an arm around us as we made our way toward the dance floor and checked in often to make sure that we were doing okay.

It was an odd and fascinating sociological experiment.

Ultimately I prefer to be an independent woman who makes her own decisions and purchases, but I gotta say that it was nice to have doors opened for me and drinks bought for me, and it was fun to play in other people’s social constructs for a night.

What do you think?

posted by ayo




11 responses

7 10 2012
Pam Leonard

My daughter is a women’s studies major at UWEC and will love this post! You’re not the only one to kick sand in the face of gender dynamics…I met my shy husband in a bar in Canada and when he disappeared minutes later I spent the next day calling every home in the phone book with his last name to find him and ask him out. Most of them were of course his older siblings…their first exposure to their crazy soon-to-be American sister-in-law!

9 10 2012

That’s an AMAZING story. You sure have chutzpah, sister! 🙂

8 10 2012
Rob Bryant

I get that buying a drink implies some thing owed! As we get older that kinda gets lost. We went out for dinner and drinks last week. And even though we had discussed how we would share the bill before we left. One of the couples husbands went to the washroom. When we went to ask for the bill it was all taken care of. It was his way of saying thank u for volunteer work that helped his wife . Very nice! sometimes buying a drink or dinner for a friend is just that. I have always liked to pay or if someone else pays I like to leave a generous tip..
Cheers rob

9 10 2012

That’s really sweet. I think people my age can do that, too.

It’s just when a guy is in a bar and offers to buy a drink for a girl he doesn’t really know that a set of pre-conceived gender stereotypes and assumptions come into play.

But a nice story indeed! 🙂

9 10 2012

As someone who goes out often as a shepherd of less socially inclined individuals, I find myself buying them drinks a lot. I find that it loosens them up, even if the drinks are non-alcoholic, from someone initiating a standard social protocol with them. They can then respond by buying the next round for the group, returning the favor or paying it forward to someone else, which induces someone else to follow suit and so on. It’s quite the fascinating domino effect to watch, especially when the people involved are normally very introverted.

This behavior has become somewhat of a reflex for me, and occasionally is misinterpreted when attempted with women. They perceive it as me coming onto them or pressuring them, but their gender is irrelevant to me. The goal is to help them socialize.

9 10 2012

That’s cool of you, Droo. And interesting. I wouldn’t have thought of that strategy / perspective. Hopefully I’m not one of your “less socially inclined friends” (how politically correct!), but let’s grab a drink the next time we’re in the same city. 🙂

9 10 2012
Rachel Furman Stern

The bigger question I am asking myself after reading your post is WHY was this man buying drinks for all the women? Are you sure he was not buying drinks for the men as well? Was Yair with you or were you on your own? All these factor into the situation. I feel like I do not have enough information to accurately draw any conclusion. Were there more women than men at the bar? Would it be that the Muslim law against drinking alcohol really only pertains to men (similar to some of the Jewish laws – men are obligated to time-bound mitzvot whereas women are not — yet many women take those mitzvot on. Could it be that many Muslim women take on the yoke of additional “mitzvot” and do not drink alcohol, thus adding to the perception that all Muslims are to abstain from drinking alcohol? If the answer to any of these is yes, perhaps this man realized that the women who were at the bar were “thirsty” and also felt that since women are not obligated to the abstention it was permissible for him to purchase alcoholic drinks for the women. That he did not buy drinks for any of the men could indicate his belief that men (all men) are obligated to the mitzvah of abstention from alcohol. I write “all men” because Islam is far more aggressive than Christianity with regard to “kiruv”. Christianity’s outreach takes the form of proselytizing, whereas Islam seems to promote a much more aggressive form of outreach – which I will decline to discuss in this post as it is too political a hotbutton.

10 10 2012

Wow, Rachel. Your analysis is fascinating, though I am fairly certain that men and women are equally prohibited from consuming alcohol in Islam. An interesting proposal nevertheless.

Regarding your questions, Yair didn’t join me for the trip. The other guys in the wedding party were still outside and so it was three of us women with the one groomsman, who I imagine was trying to be friendly, generous and perhaps suave – rather than goal oriented – hence my added comfort with this situation.

10 10 2012
David N.

Reading your line “I think of myself as an independent woman,” I think you might find it interesting to explore a distinction between “independence” and “autonomy.” I see the later as a strategy that might or might not work, where the former is a basic human need, fulfilled by many alternatives, including both collaborating with others and working independently. I like the definition of autonomy as “the need to create and define your own dreams and how you might fulfil them.” I might define independent as “I do this myself or something similar.” I offer that marriage can be such a collaboration to support each partner’s autonomy.

10 10 2012
Hannah S.

I love this topic, so I just wanted to chime in to defend the other side — the idea that letting people do things for you doesn’t encroach on your independence. I split a lot of checks with my boyfriend, but sometimes I let him buy, and sometimes I offer to cover it all, because the ability to give someone a gift is a gift in itself, to the giver. I like doing things for other people — buying them coffee to cheer up their day, holding a door or listening to them when they need an ear. I know that doing those things for other people gives me a certain amount of pleasure, so I think it’s another kind of gift to give people the opportunity to do generous things for me, and get that nice feeling too. It doesn’t mean you “owe” them anything — just a thanks. It’s true there are a lot of guys out there who will expect tit for tat, but that doesn’t mean you have to distrust them all, automatically. Instead, the next time a guy in a big party wants to buy everyone drinks, see him as a person, not a predator. I fully sympathize with the fierce need to be independent — but I’ve learned that being independent doesn’t mean you have to refuse the kindness other people offer you — do you always know if they see a female they have to swoop in and protect, or simply a person who could use a hand?

10 10 2012
Talia C.F.

I took that picture!

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