Doing gender in everyday situations


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Doing gender in everyday situations an examination of heterosexual dating
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viii, 154 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Brackett, Kimberly Pettigrew, 1968-
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Sociology thesis, Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- Sociology -- UF
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1996.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 148-153).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Kimberly Pettigrew Brackett.
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General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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aleph - 022853297
oclc - 34944457
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Copyright 1996


Kimberly Pettigrew Brackett


There are many people who have been instrumental in

this project and my graduate school experience who deserve

recognition. Among those worthy of a round of applause are

my friend and committee chair, Connie Shehan. She has been a

source of inspiration and support, and I appreciate her

availability for consultations and her concerns regarding my

professional development. I could not have asked for a more

caring and special person to work with.

Thanks are also directed to my doctoral committee

members who helped my education in many different ways: Jay

Gubrium, Bill Marsiglio, John Scanzoni, and Bob Ziller. An

extra-special thank you goes to these professors for their

many reference letters sent on my behalf.

Additionally, I would like to thank the support

personnel who assisted with this project. Nadine Gillis has

an extensive knowledge of graduate school procedures and I

relied on her quite often. Her assistance was vital in the

preparation of this manuscript. My transcriptionist and

friend Kathleen Conlon devoted numerous hours to an often

tedious task. Her work is much appreciated.

There are 20 university couples very deserving of

thanks. And while their names will remain anonymous, their


insight and comments have added to a better understanding of

the role of dating and gender in 1990s relationships. I wish

to thank these couples for their honesty, openness, and

enjoyable stories.

Acknowledgments would never be complete without

mentioning my most ardent supporters, my mom and dad, Jenny

and Dave Pettigrew, my sister, Amy Pettigrew, and my

wonderful husband, Dave Brackett.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...................................... iii

ABSTRACT ............. ................... ............... vii


ONE INTRODUCTION .................................. 1
The Problem........... ...................... 1
The Purposes ............................... 18
Expectations ............................... 18

TWO REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ...................... 24
Doing Gender ............................... 24
History of Dating .......................... 35
The Courtship System .................... 35
Traditional Dating ...................... 40
Current Dating ........................... 47
Current Dating Behaviors and Attitudes ..... 49
Dating Scripts .......................... 49
Female Date Initiation and
Expense Sharing ....................... 52
Female Sexual Initiation ............... 57

THREE METHODOLOGY ................................... 62
Sample .................................... 62
Data Collection ............................ 65
Data Analysis .............................. 69

FOUR INTERVIEW FINDINGS ............................ 71
Doing Gender in the Dating Arena ........... 71
Traditional Gender Roles ................ 73
Negotiated Gender Roles ................. 89
The Definitions and Language of Dating ..... 103
Doing Relationship ......................... 116

Assessing the Doing Gender Idea ............ 131
Social Construction of Dating .............. 136
Future Research Agendas .................... 138




REFERENCES ............... ........................... 148

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................. 154

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Kimberly Pettigrew Brackett

May 1996

Chairman: Constance L. Shehan, Ph.D.
Major Department: Sociology

This study uses the concept of "doing gender" to better

understand the ways in which dating couples draw on and

modify traditional gender role expectations to shape the

parameters of their developing relationships. In-depth

interviews were conducted with 20 undergraduate heterosexual

couples who were involved in new dating relationships.

Partners were interviewed jointly and individually to

examine the gendered components of their relationships.

This study indicates that couples use culturally

prescribed gender behaviors as a model in establishing their

initial relationships. This is particularly true in regard

to financial responsibility and sexual initiation. However,

as the relationship develops, the partners provide each

other with opportunities to negotiate and practice

nontraditional gender behavior. These nontraditional gender

roles become part of the culture of the relationship itself,

thus altering the prescribed roles and allowing additional

variation. The idea of "doing gender" suggests that this

link between micro- and macrosociological processes not only

recreates the expected gender displays on the level of the

individual, but helps to create new gender expressions at

the societal level.



The Problem

In many areas of daily life gender roles are changing

to allow for greater flexibility in the lives of men and

women. The portrayal of gender is less rigid than in the

past. One area in which traditional gender roles have

persisted, however, is the arena of heterosexual dating

(Rose and Frieze, 1993). While some recent studies have

suggested that a loosening of gender roles in dating is

taking place insofar as women do seem to be initiating

dates, such studies tend to include couples at all stages of

dating relationships, not just couples in the formation

stage when traditional or expected gender roles are likely

to have their greatest influence (Mongeau et al., 1993).

Research indicates that the longer the association couples

have with each other, the more comfortable they will feel in

violating traditional gender expectations with regard to

dating scripts First dates or even newly formed couples

would be less likely to deviate from the prescribed dating

behaviors than couples who have a considerable history

together. More liberal attitudes toward dating serve as a

marker for changing gender role expectations.

The current study focuses on the gender displays,

attitudes, and behaviors that couples exhibit in dating

relationships. Using a theoretical perspective that looks at

gender as a socially constructed task and product of

interaction, rather than as pre-existing characteristics of

the participants in a dating scenario, the goal of the

present study is to understand the strategies that men and

women use to present an image of themselves that is

appropriate and believable in a dating situation (Berger and

Luchman, 1966; Heritage, 1984; Gubrium, Holstein and

Buckholdt, 1994).

Goffman (1976, p. 77) suggests "any scene, it appears,

can be defined as an occasion for the depiction of gender

differences, and in any scene a resource can be found for

effecting the display" (emphasis in original). The scene for

the current study is dating. Interviews with currently

dating couples provide a social framework in which to

observe the production and reproduction of gender. They

afford an opportunity to examine the gender displays that

characterize individuals as belonging to a particular sex-

class (Goffman, 1976). While dating is a crucial element in

this study and provides the social situation and context for

the research, the relationship between dating and gender

expression or display is what is empirically problematic.

The focus of the analysis is on the interactions that

occur between dating partners. By its nature interaction is

reflexive, negotiable, and changeable. This interactional

approach to the study of dating and gender is different than

other approaches that suggest a unidirectional mechanism of

process. Socialization, adaptation, and oppression as

explanations for the presence of gender in social situations

would suggest that once gender is learned, adjusted to, or

acted out in opposition to a dominant force, gender has been

established (Gerson and Peiss, 1985). The current approach

suggests that gender is a constantly changing, but

omnipresent factor in social interactions. There is not a

point at which the work of gender is complete. There is,

however, a "schedule for the portrayal of gender" (Goffman,

1976, p. 76) and this recurs throughout interactions.

The sociological literature on contemporary dating in

general is fairly limited and no studies take the "doing

gender" approach. Few studies have been conducted since the

early 1980's when Knox and Wilson (1981) reported on the

dating behaviors of students at East Carolina University and

Korman (1980) studied the impact of feminist identity on

dating at the University of Florida. Of the more recent

studies of dating, few look specifically at women's

initiation of dating and sexual relationships, areas in

which the negotiation and work of gender are likely to be

critical due to traditional expectations. When these

questions about nontraditional behaviors are asked, it is

usually among only established dating couples, not those

persons just forming or considering a relationship (Lottes,

1993). A popular way for information about dating to be

presented is in advice format where the expert tries to

answer questions and advise the dater (e.g. Laner, 1992). In

general there are little or no current data about dating.

One explanation for the dearth of dating studies is

that researchers in the 1970's proposed that dating was

becoming obsolete (Murstein, 1980) or was being replaced by

a new way of dating called "getting together" (Libby, 1976).

These researchers felt that dating was declining, moving

away from preparation for marriage toward recreation, and

was no longer an essential research topic. There was an

assumption among these researchers that dating proceeds in a

very orderly and gender specific way and that little or no

deviation occurs. This may have been the case in the 1960s

and 1970s. However, one need only look at the advice columns

in teenage girls' magazines to see that the kinds of dating

advice currently being given do not reflect one single

gender role for women in relationships. Women and men are

defining their dating behaviors in many different ways, e.g.

talking, going out, hanging out, etc., and the literature

has failed to pursue the different ways in which dating

couples see, describe, create and utilize their dating

relationships. Some of these gaps in the sociological

literature may be filled by research from the standpoint of

"doing gender" and "gender display." The current study

argues that one of the essential tasks of dating is the

creation, expression, negotiation, and maintenance of

gender. By understanding more about how couples in newly

forming relationships negotiate gender, the salience of

gender in dating and the dynamics of dating in modern

society are made clearer.

This research focuses on a commonplace situation in

which gender is a key factor, where a gender display is work

being done. In heterosexual dating, the production of and

accountability for gendered behavior, language, attitudes,

etc. is of central importance. Because of the nature of

heterosexual dating, interactions between male and female

participants have been governed by expected gender

behaviors. Rose and Frieze (1993) found this to be true when

they asked students about a recent first date. In an

intimate relationship in its early stages, displays of

gender reinforce the societal expectations about appropriate

male and female behaviors. Regardless of their prior

friendship, acquaintanceship, or association, when a couple

enters that point in their relationship where a romantic

interest is perceived as a possibility by both partners,

their association is now of a different type and is likely

to be perceived as different by the participants.

This status change from "friend" to "potential partner"

may be quite difficult because different expectations are

included when the relationship between the actors changes.

The gender rules that govern dating then come into play.

Couples may alter traditional dating gender prescriptions,

but still are constrained by the bounds of tradition and

societal sanction. Any changes that the couple enact will

still be evaluated by conventional and societal norms.

In some instances dating has been characterized as a

game, with participants making carefully planned and

researched strategical moves (Ehrmann, 1964). The male works

to impress the woman and gain sexual favor while the woman

works to limit her sexual favors and maintain her social

position. Using this approach one might take a cynical view

of the participants, try to anticipate the next move, or

focus on the societal norms regarding dating behavior. The

current study approaches dating as a socially constructed

venue in which to study people at work on the production of

gender. Dating is embedded in the framework of partner

selection and teenage ritual, both having gender

imperatives, but it is also a social situation of an

individual nature in which gender may be examined. Dating

is, at once, a personal and societal phenomenon. For the

current study, persons in newly forming dating relationships

will be examined to see how gender is constructed on a

microsocial level, between the partners.

If, as Ehrmann (1964) suggested, dating has a

ritualized game quality, one could consider the changes in

the game on the societal level over time. If the


negotiations of daters in the past were predicated on sexual

favors in exchange for love or marriage, partners today may

still desire these outcomes or may express interest in

different results. Gender displays have always been a key

component in the interactions between dating couples, with

one's gender determining the outcomes of a date that one was

supposed to desire. The process of reaching the desired

outcomes has likely changed as standards regarding

premarital sex and marriage have changed.

Within dating relationships, particularly based on

historical patterns, certain behaviors have typically been

delegated to one sex or the other. These gendered behaviors

become almost ritualized and certainly are common knowledge

among daters. The continual acting out and recreating of

gender differences constitutes "doing gender" and, more

specifically, are a "gender display." Because of their

historical gender limitations, these areas provide key

points to examine in the current research on the production,

maintenance, and accountability of gender in newly

established dating couples. Three key areas in gender

display are date initiation, expense paying, and sexual


Utilizing data from student respondents, the Korman

(1980) and Knox and Wilson (1981) studies provide a

background and impetus for the current study. The concerns

raised by these researchers are still important for


examining the behaviors of today's daters. Knox and Wilson

(1981) administered a questionnaire consisting of 21 closed-

ended questions to 227 female and 107 male undergraduates in

randomly selected classes at a state university in the

Southeast. The response rate was 60%. They asked questions

about how respondents met partners, what activities they

participated in on dates, what they talked about on dates,

what sexual behaviors they engaged in, what values they

endorsed, and the role of parents in dating.

The most frequently cited way to meet dating partners

was through a friend, with one-third of the respondents

selecting this answer. At a party, at work, in class, and

other, representing unique ways to meet a partner, were also

chosen but not as frequently as through a friend. The most

frequent dating activity for the respondents was going out

to eat and going back to one person's residence. Most often

the daters reported that the topic of conversation was their

relationship. Approximately one-third talked about this.

Other conversation topics included school and friends, but

sex was discussed less than 5% of the time. All of these

common dating events provide a ready location in which the

participants do gender.

In the areas of sexual behaviors there were noticeable

gender differences. Most respondents indicated that kissing

was appropriate within a short time of knowing the partner;

70% of the men compared to 50% of the women felt this was


appropriate on the first date. By the fourth date, all of

the men and all but 3% of the women felt kissing was

appropriate. Petting, which the researchers defined as

"hands anywhere," showed quite a gender difference. Only

one-third of the men, compared to over three-fourths of the

women felt petting should be postponed until after the

fourth date. One-half of the men and 25% of the women felt

that intercourse was appropriate by the fifth date. These

data lend support to the notion that a relationship context

is important for women's expression of their sexuality.

Additionally, they indicate the traditional notions of

masculine and feminine behaviors were being reinforced in

the sexual aspects of the couple's relationship.

Knox and Wilson (1981) also asked about encouraging and

discouraging sexual intimacy. One-fourth of the men and one-

third of the women encouraged intimacy by being "open about

sex desires and expectations." Other techniques used by

respondents included setting the mood, moving toward the

partner, hinting about interest, and expressing love. When

it came time to discourage intimacy, one-half of the women

and one-third of the men told the partner to stop. Other

techniques included ignoring sexual advances and keeping

one's distance.

The "doing gender" idea argues that different

techniques for encouraging or discouraging intimacy should

be expected. While women and men are involved in the

production of gender, they are also accountable to society

for the gender that they do. Some actions are within the

behavioral repertoire of men, others in the repertoire of

women. When an unexpected strategy is used, there may be a

question about the masculinity or femininity of the actor.

While focusing on gender in dating, the current study

suggests differing expectations and influences for women and

men in the dating arena. This accountability limits or

expands the gendered behaviors that can be expected of

dating persons in interaction by making their behavior

available for societal scrutiny.

The Korman study (1980; 1983) was grounded in an

exchange perspective suggesting that "feminists engage in

nontraditional behaviors more than nonfeminists in order to

equalize the bargaining element in dating relations." Her

respondents, 400 unmarried, undergraduate women at another

state university in the Southeast, were asked to complete

questionnaires about their dating behaviors, attitudes

toward feminism, and experiences with date rape. She then

compared the responses of feminist and nonfeminist women to

ascertain the impact of a feminist orientation on dating. To

more sharply contrast feminist and nonfeminist women,

respondents in the middle range were dropped from further

analysis, yielding a total of 258 respondents. Respondents

classified as feminist were far more likely to initiate and

pay for dates than the nonfeminist women. Seventy percent of

feminist women had paid for dates compared to 40% of the

nonfeminists. Feminists had initiated an average of 5.3

dates and shared expenses on these female initiated dates

71% of the time. Nonfeminists had initiated 2.2 dates, on

average, and shared expenses for the female initiated dates

only 46% of the time. An interesting finding of this study

was that both groups of women reported that they believed

men wanted more sexual activity on the dates than they did

when the men paid. The traditional notion of exchanging

money for sex was evident in this study.

In the Korman (1983) study even traditional women were

asking men out and participating in nontraditional

behaviors. Traditional dates are what the public most often

pictures a date to be. Gender roles form the basis of

interaction for the couple. These behaviors are presented

through cultural scripts, societal guidelines for how

interaction between actors should appropriately proceed. In

terms of dating, these scripts have gender as a central

component. Gender divides the duties of a date into "his"

and "hers". In traditional dating the roles of men and women

are separate and clearly defined.

For men, the traditional date involves asking the woman

out, planning the activities for the date, driving, and

paying. In some scripts it may be appropriate for the man to

make sexual advances (LaManna and Riedmann, 1994). For a

woman, the traditional date situation requires that she

accept or decline (by letting him down easy), look nice, be

typically feminine, and rebuff, at least in a token way, the

sexual advances of her partner (Allgeier and McCormick,

1982). Women are to be demure and passive in a dating

situation by allowing men to ask, plan, drive, and pay.

Additional "helpless" behaviors, (e.g. waiting for him to

open doors, having him order food for her) help to secure

her position in the dating scenario (Larkin, 1979).

Nontraditional dating, in contrast, puts less pressure

on either partner to play a specified role. Ideally the

situation involves relaxed attitudes about appropriate male

and female behavior and a more androgynous set of

expectations. This script is characterized by egalitarian

gender roles, mutuality, and sharing. The research on dating

most often characterizes nontraditional dating as "getting

together". "Getting together" (Libby, 1976) involves group

dating, less formal activities, either partner paying,

meeting the partner at a convenient location, and less

emphasis on marriage. For the purposes of the current study,

nontraditional dating refers to any situation, behavior, or

activity that is contrary to the standardized norms of

traditional dating. While "getting together" has

traditionally meant a group focus in dating, the present

study deals with persons in one-on-one interactions with

their dating partners.


An understanding of gender displays and actions in

dating behaviors has practical significance as well. One

area of the dating literature that has proliferated over the

last decade pertains to date rape. The expectations that

both men and women have regarding dates and their respective

roles on those dates has been found to be an essential

variable in the explanation of date rape prevalence

(Muehlenhard and Linton, 1987; Stets and Pirog-Good, 1989).

Historically, there has been an expectation that women will

be passive, particularly in the area of sexuality and will

provide "token" resistance. These are gender displays that

women have been expected to present to appear "womanly."

When the displays are not made, they may receive a sanction,

such as the label of tramp. Even when the resistance is not

a "token" men may interpret this behavior as "no means yes."

When women and men do not agree on the roles, research

indicates that men may use sexual force to gain the upper

hand in the relationship. If gender roles in the area of

dating are indeed changing, the more active role that women

today may be permitted to take could lessen their chances of

becoming the victims of unwanted sexual advances by a dating

partner. By asserting themselves through asking for the date

or displaying gender that may not fit the societal norm,

women may be indicating to their partners that they expect

treatment as equals and will share the power in the

relationship with men, even in the sexual arena.


Another area of practical significance in dating

pertains to the use of contraception. When a woman initiates

a date, she may be more likely to plan for any sexual

activity that may occur and would, therefore, be prepared

when it does occur. If she initiated the date, she may have

more power in decisions regarding contraception.

Negotiations about contraception indicate an aspect of

dating in which the production of gender will occur. Based

on biology and the possibility of pregnancy, women should

have more concerns than men about the choice of

contraception. Gerrard et al. (1990) found that women,

regardless of their dominance or submission had a fair

amount of influence in decisions about contraception because

they generally knew more about contraception than their male

partners and had a greater interest in preventing pregnancy.

The authors suggested that since this was a task that could

be considered "feminine", the female had more influence. The

study did not distinguish between different methods of

contraception, however. The researchers were more concerned

with the bargaining process of the couple and whose opinion

had more influence. It may be the case that with condoms, a

"male" method, the male has more influence in the use of the

contraception. Doing gender would suggest that the couple

has negotiated condoms to be in the domain of men and

therefore, a "manly" contraceptive. For a woman to use or

suggest this method, she will act in a "male" manner. For


women in a dating relationship this may be extremely

important because condoms are the best protection against

sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. A woman who

initiates the date, already contradicting expected gender

roles, may be more likely to influence her partner to wear a


If, as many researchers have proposed, dating is seen

as a rehearsal for marriage, date initiation and other

decisions made frequently among dating couples are

important. A relationship in which the woman has the freedom

to initiate dating and sexual contact may indicate that the

partners expect to have a more egalitarian orientation

toward gender in a subsequent marriage. One could argue that

the gender roles and skills negotiated during a dating

relationship provide the foundation for the roles and skills

that will be employed in the marriage. Cate and Lloyd (1985)

have argued that the first stage in the family life cycle is

courtship. Consequently one's dating behaviors and attitudes

are important for one's future marital relationship.

For teachers of family sociology, the information

available about dating is either historical or out-of-date,

representing the traditional patterns of the 1950's and

1960's. When an instructor talks to students about dating,

those students are interested in data on what their peers

are doing, as well as what their parents did. Unfortunately,

the studies of dating that are being presented in textbooks

still adhere to a fairly traditional orientation. Those

nontraditional studies that are presented focus on the "new

technologies" in dating such as singles' advertisements,

video dating, and computer matching services (Ahuvia and

Adelman, 1992). New information on the behaviors of dating

couples, particularly their negotiation of gender and

subsequent display, would help family sociologists in the

classroom as well as in their own research.

Most studies of dating have utilized an exchange

perspective arguing that equity in relationships and a

perceived fairness of exchange predict a successful coupling

that results in marriage. Other approaches, however, might

also provide insight into changing gender roles and the

acceptability of these changes. In an effort to examine the

challenges of dating from a gender perspective, this study

examines the expression and accountability of gender as it

is displayed in a dating situation. Rooted in ethno-

methodology, this study utilizes the concept of "doing

gender" (West and Zimmerman, 1991) which conceives of gender

as an "emergent feature of social situations" (p.14). In

this approach gender is the way in which one portrays the

normative attitudes and activities dictated by one's sex

category, male or female. Actors are held accountable for

how successful they are in doing gender to present the

appropriate qualities for their assigned sex category.


The current study focuses on heterosexual dating, but

in a different way than have prior dating studies. Utilizing

the theoretical concept of "doing gender" (West and

Zimmerman, 1991), dating is seen as one venue in which to

study the work of maintaining, creating, and expressing

gender. Dating is an arena for gender display. Taking this

approach, then, makes gender, rather than dating, the key

research element. Questions revolve around the expression

and creation of gender rather than what dating is, who is

dating, how often, etc. A specific definition of dating is

not important for answering these research questions. A

socially known and constructed everyday use of the term

dating that has a common sense understanding by both

researcher and participant is sufficient to ensure that they

are communicating about a particular social situation. For

those persons concerned with partner selection and social

activities, date is a widely accepted term to indicate the

social association between potential partners. As a social

situation for studying gender, dating provides much

information about one's gender role orientation and

attitudes. Additionally, dating provides a unique

opportunity in which couples can negotiate gender. It is a

romantic context, unlike the peer group, and in the initial

stages of dating, issues of permanence and commitment may

not have arisen.


The Purposes

The global purpose of this study is to explore dating

as an example of the theoretical concept "doing gender."

The focus is on gender role-related behaviors in dating.

The display of these gender images occurs in everyday

situations. By examining how persons make claims regarding

gender, the researcher will be able to examine the creation

and maintenance of gender on a microsocial level. While

gender is done on multiple social levels, both micro and

macro, this initial analysis will form the foundation for an

actual and theoretically driven link between the expression

of gender on a micro level and the expression of gender on

an institutional level. This research project will look at a

familiar social situation, dating, in a new light and will

illustrate the concepts of doing gender and gender display.

In the research literature, the notion of "doing gender" has

only been applied to the arena of employment. Primarily the

focus has been on how women create male or female roles and

actions in the work sphere (e.g. Fenstermaker, 1991; Hall,

1993; Hochschild, 1983). The present study extends "doing

gender" into another arena where gender is an essential

task, personal relationships.


Based on the literature and applying the concept of

"doing gender," which draws from ethonomethodological and


constructionist perspectives (West and Zimmerman, 1991),

several expectations have arisen. As a social situation,

dating provides a useful arena in which to examine people at

work in the production of gender because one of the goals of

dating is interaction with a partner. In the early stages of

dating, one makes claims about masculinity and femininity.

Early dating relationships are likely characterized by high

gender role adherence and partner expectation. In this

manner, the behaviors that couples exhibit with each other

are likely to follow traditional gender expectations so that

claims of masculinity and femininity are supported easily.

The areas of female date initiation, female expense

sharing, and female sexual initiation will most likely

require more negotiation and different strategies than when

these acts are initiated by men. Since gender displays are

held accountable, when one violates that expected gender

display, such as a woman asking to pay for date expenses,

accountability issues become important. It is expected that

women use different strategies in asking so that these

traditionally male tasks are not necessarily interpreted by

either the man or woman as a violation of "womanly"

behavior. Mongeau and colleagues suggest that "the female

initiation of a date is a relatively common experience"

(1991, p. 52). Given the likelihood that women will ask men

out, exploring the strategies that women use to maintain

their impression of femaleness is a useful endeavor.

Since this study focuses on newly established dating

relationships, the expense sharing behaviors are expected to

be a prominent part of dating experiences. Lottes (1993) has

suggested that women contribute more financially when they

are in a steady relationship with only one partner than when

they are dating several men at once. Doing gender would

suggest that in the early stages of a relationship the

gender displays that the partners present would be very

important. Following traditional gender roles makes it easy

to relate to the partner and present the socially expected

image. When there are questions over the behavior that

should be exhibited, there is a tendency to follow the

normative standards of the society. When women pay for dates

there is a risk that they will be perceived as less feminine

and the partner, as well as friends, may question the

authenticity of their gender display. To maintain an

authentic and believable gender display, a woman will have

to approach the issue of her financial contribution in a

different way than her male partner. He does not have to

negotiate the right or opportunity to pay; it is expected

that he will do so. She, however, may have to negotiate the

conditions under which her paying is permissible and does

not challenge either his or her gender presentation.

Because first dates tend to be far more scripted than

interactions that occur once a relationship has been

established (Rose and Frieze, 1993), and this study deals

with newly formed relationships, it is expected that the

participants in this study will cite traditional activities

as part of their dating experiences. This is again a way in

which the partners are displaying gender. In traditional

settings it is likely that traditional gender roles are

expected and expressed. After a few dates, however, these

daters may introduce their partners into the activities of

their group of associates. At this point accountability is

on a wider range. More persons are involved in evaluating

one's gender performance and work.

Given the traditional gender role perception regarding

sexuality with which all daters are familiar, the

expectation is that men initiate all sexual contact. It is a

manly activity. Women risk the appearance of forwardness or

promiscuity when they initiate sexual contact, not the kind

of gender display that is the norm of female behavior.

Initiating a dating relationship does not automatically

suggest, however, that a woman will initiate sexual contact

in that relationship. While studies have indicated that

women may be viewed as more willing to have sex when they

initiate the date (Muehlenhard and Scardino, 1985), there

are no data to suggest that these women actually initiate

sexual contact as well, nor how they are likely to go about

the initiation. In a study of nontraditional gender roles

among college students, Lottes (1993) reported that while

74% of the 237 women in her sample had asked a man on a


date, only 38% of the sample had initiated that first sexual

involvement with a new partner. While 78% of these women

felt that men and women equally should be able to initiate a

sexual relationship, their reported behaviors indicated that

men were more likely to be the sexual initiators. One factor

that may influence women to initiate sexual relationships is

having asked a number of men out on dates. If women are

willing to repeatedly violate the cultural script of dating

initiation, they may be more willing to violate the cultural

expectations of male initiation of sexual contact.

In addition, those women who are more sexually

experienced may be more confident of and comfortable with

their sexuality and may be more willing to assert themselves

in a new sexual situation (Macklin, 1983). A key issue to

keep in mind is the way in which women are initiating the

sexual contact. It is expected, based on traditional dating

scripts, that women will demonstrate more hinting behaviors

than open requests for sex from their male partners. Hinting

is doing "female', thus her claims to the sex category

female will usually not be questioned. Females likely

maintain their "female status" by staying away from

aggressive means to achieve sexual intimacy and utilizing

more subtle hinting behaviors.

The link between date initiation, date expense sharing,

and sexual initiation is no doubt a complex one. A key

element, however, is that these behaviors and the attitudes


surrounding them are mediated by gender. The creation and

maintenance of gender goes on in these key parts of the

dating experience. Observations of and interviews with

dating couples will likely demonstrate that gender

construction is a large part of the work that couples do in

interaction, particularly in a relationship context.

The expression of gender between partners has always

been an element of key importance in dating. Today, from

casual observation, it may appear that partners behave in

less gendered ways. This change suggests an interesting

point of sociological significance. For persons interested

in understanding dating a key question may be to ask if

there has been a real change in the expression of gender,

and does this indicate a change in how dates proceed, the

expected outcomes for daters, and possibly a change in what

constitutes a date.


This chapter will review the literature in the major

areas relevant to this study. There are three main areas of

concern. The first section discusses the theoretical

orientations of the study. In this section the concepts of

gender display and doing gender are presented. Since the

social situation in which the production of gender will be

examined is dating, a history of dating, focusing on gender,

is discussed. Finally, because there are areas in dating

that have recently become "gender battlegrounds," research

that considers violations of traditionally expected gender

behaviors will also be considered. This last section is

called current dating behaviors and attitudes.

Doing Gender

The theoretical standpoint that underlies this research

is rooted in ethnomethodology and makes use of the concept

of "doing gender" (West and Zimmerman, 1991). In this

approach, which seeks to demonstrate the omnipresence of

gender in the lives of men and women, different levels of

society can be examined and found to be involved in the work

of gender. From the sociological standpoint of "doing

gender" then, gender is a "routine, methodical, and

recurring accomplishment" (West and Zimmerman, 1991, p.13);

it is achieved rather than ascribed. This accomplishment,

occurring through interaction, is on both the

microsociological and macrosociological levels. For example,

women's inequality is not only perpetuated by the system of

employment that separates men and women into different jobs,

but is also recreated within individual companies, offices,

and interactions that employees experience on a daily basis

(Fenstermaker et al., 1991).

Prior to a discussion of the literature about doing

gender, a discussion of gender display (Goffman, 1976)

provides an informing perspective. Gender display refers to

conventionalizedd portrayals of these [culturally

established] correlates" of sex that are by definition

gender (p.69). The expression of gender displays varies by

the situation and the actor's role within that situation.

Displays are almost ritual-like in that they tend to follow

rules of presentation regardless of the social situation in

which they are appropriate. Displays (1) contain a

statement-reply interaction such that a display from one

elicits a display from another; (2) are most prominent at

beginnings and endings of activities, but also continue

throughout an activity without altering that activity; (3)

need identification of the social position of the person

performing the display to be successful; (4) may contain


multiple pieces of social information; (5) vary greatly in

their formality; (6) are optional; (7) provide broad

information about social relationships, but generally are

not about one specific social relationship (Goffman provides

the example of social relationships that involve kissing and

the different "meanings" of the kiss.); (8) are always

within human awareness with regard to when it is safe to

perform a certain display. Thus they choose when, where, and

in whose company, to enact a particular display.

When gender displays are being considered, the

expression of one's gender based on biological criteria is

important. Society suggests it is a moral imperative to act

as one's biological sex dictates. As Goffman (1976, p.75)

indicates, "one of the most deeply seated traits of man, it

is felt, is gender; femininity and masculinity are in a

sense the prototypes of essential expression-something that

can be conveyed fleetingly in any social situation and yet

something that strikes at the most basic characterization of

the individual." The display of these "taken-as-essential"

expressions is scheduled such that the appropriate gender

display is presented. The content or nature of the display,

i.e. what behaviors are presented, varies for men and women,

but that is the only distinction. Goffman focuses on the

willingness of actors to follow a schedule for the portrayal

of gender. This provides continuity in one's behavior. As a

result, the competence and willingness of persons to present


the appropriate gender displays links them to the particular

sex-class for which the displays are appropriate. Goffman

concludes that while gender expressions and displays are in

essence a show, "a considerable amount of the substance of

society is enrolled in the staging of it' (1976, p.76).

For couples in the social situation of dating, where

Goffman would suggest mutual monitoring is occurring, there

are expected displays that reinforce the gender alliances of

the participants. Following the notion of display, one could

argue that the tendency for women to be late for a date,

while real or mythical, is a display that links her with the

sex-class of female. It is "like a woman" to be late for a

date. This tardiness also occurs at the beginning of the

activity, a time when Goffman suggests ritual gender

displays would be most prominent.

Like Goffman's conception of gender display as

expression and his discussion of the arrangement between the

sexes (1976, 1977), the doing gender approach uses the term

gender in a unique way. Gender is "the activity of managing

situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of

attitudes and activities appropriate for one's sex category"

(West and Zimmerman, 1991, p. 14). As Gerson and Peiss

(1985) suggest, "gender is defined by socially constructed

relationships between women and men, among women, and among

men in social groups."


The current study focuses on the gender work between

women and men in the context of dating. In our culture,

biology has been given an important role in the expression

of gender. Being male or female is largely defined by

biological criteria, one's genitalia. For the most part,

persons born biologically male are "male" in that they can

be categorized as such. In our culture biological sex and

category status are linked. It is taken for granted that one

who acts like a woman is a female and that she has the

biology to prove it. According to West and Zimmerman (1991)

this sex category is what is displayed in physical

appearance and we act as if that is always correct. Gender,

then, is "being" the social category. This is adhering to

and recreating the normative societal attributions for one

who has been placed in your sex category. This link between

physical appearance and adherence to socially prescribed

behaviors presents a gender management crisis for those

whose biology and social expression are incongruent

(Garfinkel, 1967).

"Doing gender" represents that situation in which

gender is not simply a property or characteristic that an

actor has, it is something that an actor does. For example,

in Garfinkel's report on Agnes, female was not a biological

property of Agnes, but was a social conception of herself

that she cultivated by displaying and doing "female" (1967).

Doing gender is accomplished in interaction with others when

the expected role, attitude or behavior is demonstrated.

Everyone is accountable to society for the gender that is

accomplished. If the gender one does is appropriate, falling

within "manly" behavior for males and "womanly" behavior for

females, that interaction is successful in the sense that

gender has been done and one's behavior was not even

considered, much less questioned. Competent members of

society act within the bounds of gender and also reproduce

it. This production and reproduction of gender results in

its use and recognition as a category and fundamental

division of society.

Gender is at the same time an outcome of social

arrangements and a rationale for them (West and Zimmerman,

1991). The emergence of gender in social situations has

meaning within the specific social contexts in which it

occurs and is work being done. Through the perpetuation of

stereotypical dating roles, dating couples provide support

for their own gender distinct behaviors. The social

arrangement that puts men in the position to initiate dates

and women in the position to wait for the invitation

reinforces the passivity and inferiority of women in society

in general and the dating relationship in particular.

In terms of doing gender, outcomes are important

because the goal is to maintain membership in the sex

category. This is dictated by the situation but involves

acting in either a gender-appropriate way or a "purposefully

gender-inappropriate" way. Regardless, one is still

accountable. Inappropriate behavior has to have a purpose,

or situational context that makes it accountable.

Consequently, the situation in which the doing of gender is

embedded gives clues to the actors about what is tolerated,

expected, demanded, ignored, etc.

The work of gender, maintaining one's place as a man or

woman, often goes unnoticed. Fenstermaker et al. (1991)

argue that gender is a natural, normal, and often unnoticed

part of interactions. Gender production occurs in all

situations regardless of the intent of the actors.

Fenstermaker et al. (1991) are not saying that people

consciously do the work of gender, rather this work is a

feature of social structure, social situations, and social

interactions; for the most part actors are unaware of gender

production. The situational importance of gender may vary in

that accomplishing gender successfully may be the whole goal

of the interaction. The arena in which the gender work

occurs has an impact on the salience of the work that is

done. In the area of dating, doing gender is very important.

Embedded in a system that expects different abilities,

intelligence, and personality traits based on one's

biological sex and social expression of that sex, dating

demands that the gender one does is highly authentic and the

claims one makes to a gender category must be supported.

Because of the rules of gender that apply in dating, that

manly and womanly behaviors demand different actions or

reactions of men and women, there is a lot for which dating

couples are held accountable.

Gender, as work to be done in interaction, has been

examined by researchers in the area of discourse analysis.

Cahill (1986) was concerned with the acquisition of gender

identity in children and hypothesized that language use

helps very young children identify self and others as

belonging to particular gender categories. The social

validation by others, particularly other children, of the

child's adherence to a certain gender identity is an

important reinforcer of that identity. Cahill argues that

"children acquire a behavioral commitment to their socially

bestowed sex identity in the course of exploring the

vocabulary of social identification" (1986, p. 303). In

essence children are doing gender, but as Cahill's study

demonstrates, at very early ages much of their interaction

work is sex segregated.

Fishman (1978) also considered interaction to be work

and noted that the maintenance of interaction through

conversation is largely the work of women. Not only is there

an expectation that women keep the conversation going, but

their concern over talk is what makes them women. In this

regard, the women do gender when they use strategies to keep

conversations going between their partners and themselves.

These strategies used by partners to enhance or hinder

interaction include making statements, minimal response,

attention beginnings, asking "d'ya know", and asking

questions. More recent studies (e.g. Tannen, 1990) also

support these conclusions.

Fishman also pointed to power as a key factor in

constructing and enforcing a definition of reality in

interactions, particularly between male-female dyads. Due to

the "natural" quality of women's interaction skills, the

notion that interaction is work is often obscured. Fishman

suggested that because the work of interaction is "related

to what constitutes being a woman" (1978, p. 405), it is

seldom seen as work. Orienting to the idea that gender and

interaction involve work enables us to see the hierarchy

present in our daily lives. For couples in dating

relationships the work that goes into gender likely goes

unnoticed and the focus is on developing the relationship

and behaving in the "right" way.

Hall (1993) examined doing gender in an occupational

context. After examining restaurants with mixed gender

staffs she concluded that "to give good service is to 'do

gender' by performing gendered scripts" (p. 452). The

scripts differed by gender and work role. The scripts

involved friendliness, deference, and flirting, depending on

the type of restaurant. Hall's assumption of a gendered

organization perspective assumes "gender is embedded in the


organizational logic of job evaluation, promotion,

procedures, and job specifications" (1993, p. 453).

The current study assumes that gender is an essential

element in dating relationships, is the primary work being

done, and that how well the partners do gender has

consequences for their future. Just as the nature of the

service occupation and social expectations accompanying it

lead to the production of a particular gender role in the

restaurants Hall studied, the social situation of dating

provides participants with expected gender roles, behaviors,

and attitudes and provides a social context in which

accountability and appropriateness are monitored. Thus,

mate/partner selection and activities are part of a gendered

relationship structure.

Focusing on the work of gender in dating relationships

will likely demonstrate not only the different culturally

assigned tasks, but also point toward the arrangement

between the partners of any heterosexual couple. Among the

situations in which gender is seen most clearly are those in

which a breech of expected gender roles has occurred. Those

nontraditional gender behaviors such as female date

initiation, expense sharing, and sexual advance may

constitute a breech in the societally imposed norms of

dating. It is through these changes at the microsocial

level, however, that social institutions and macrosocial

change are originated.

When a woman does a man's task by initiating a date,

her action results in gender assessment. On the level of the

interaction response may be positive (e.g. he accepts), but

also might be negative (e.g. she is seen as desperate and

bold). There may be positive and negative assessments at the

structural level as well. One of the ways a woman may be

able to fulfill this male task and still maintain her status

as a member of the female sex category is to ask in a

different way than a man, under different conditions, or use

any strategy that will keep her display of gender from being

doubted. Doing gender provides a useful way to conceptualize

dating because of the element of situation. In

nontraditional dating, violations of the normative

expectations for women are a common occurrence. These women

are, however, still considered women and are, according to

the literature, overwhelmingly successful in acquiring the

first dates that they seek (e.g. Lottes, 1993; Mongeau, et

al., 1993). Subsequent dates initiated by the woman are,

however, met with some resistance (Kelley et al., 1981).

Through work in the expression of gender in dating, "people

produce their relationship to one another, their

relationship to the world, and those patterns normally

referred to as social structure" (Fishman, 1978, p. 398).

This study will use the concept of doing gender to

understand how gender is perpetuated in the realm of dating.


History of Datina

The Courtship System

According to some experts there have been several

changes in American mate selection processes since this

nation's birth, not just the more commonly discussed

transition from a courtship system to formal dating that

occurred in the early 1900's. The first transition was from

fairly autonomous mate selection in the colonial era to a

more restrictive and formal system commonly referred to as

courtship. The second and most widely known transition

occurred with industrialization; a move from the courtship

system to what will be called traditional dating. One of the

cornerstones of modern dating, traditional or

nontraditional, is that it occurs only in those places where

mate selection is predominantly, if not completely, under

the control of young people rather than parents. The shifts

in locus of control helped to change the activities and

expectations of dating partners. Evolutions in dating are

continuing with current discussions of "getting together" or

"hanging out" becoming possible replacements for dating.

The earliest method of mate selection employed in the

United States is controversial. Some sources (e.g., Rice,

1993) suggest that parental control was very strong with

only formal supervised visits permitted between the woman

and her suitor. During this time, courtship revolved less

around the couple and more around the family. This was a

more permissive system, however, than that employed in

Europe at the same time, which focused on arranged marriages

for the merger of capital, social status, prestige, etc.

Supervised courtship in the US would continue until the

early 20th century.

In another discussion of courtship (Rothman, 1984 cited

in Cate and Lloyd, 1992), the importance of the participants

in determining the nature of courtship was noted. From this

account, the idea that mate selection in the colonial era

was highly formal is somewhat inaccurate. Among those

families of great wealth or strong European ties, courtship

was likely formal, but among the majority of "average

Americans", it was under the control of young people.

The nature of colonial life meant hard work, long

hours, and little leisure (the opposites of which were later

credited with the rise of modern dating). For young men the

choice of a life mate was more closely tied to her ability

to help out, run the household efficiently, and be a good

wife, than to his love for her. This does not, however,

suggest that love was lacking in these unions. It was

expected to come after marriage, but it rarely formed their

basis. According to Coontz (1988) the arrival of single

persons in America, as well as nuclear families who had left

behind kin in Europe, made a formal system unwieldy because

there might be no one to perform introductions, act as

chaperon, etc. The frequently erotic messages of letters

between couples demonstrate their openness about sexual and

relationship issues (Benokraitis, 1993). In the 1770's the

premarital conception rate was 30% (Rothman 1984, in Cate

and Lloyd, 1992) suggesting that many couples spent private

time together and were granted the opportunity to know each

other well. Coontz (1988) concludes that the colonies were

fairly open regarding sexual matters and there were few

sanctions if the couple who conceived premaritally were soon


Following the colonial era and through the 1800's, what

is commonly considered formal courtship was the norm,

particularly among the middle class. Rothman (1984, cited in

Cate and Lloyd, 1992) credits the doctrine of "separate

spheres" for the seriousness of courtship at this time. It

was widely thought that men and women were completely

different--in nature, spirituality, morality, temperament,

etc. The "cult of domesticity" was instrumental in

maintaining the belief in differences between men and women.

The separation of males and females meant that their chances

for interaction were lower, unlike in the colonial era when

they worked side by side. This necessitated formal

introductions of the couple by a third party who was

acquainted with both of them.

Whereas compatibility and mutual respect had been

important for marital partners in the colonial era, during


the 1800's it was increasingly expected that the romantic

love component enter the relationship prior to marriage

(Coontz, 1988). While emotional love, but not sexual

expression of that love, was an essential element, the

process of procuring a suitable spouse was quite formal.

Murstein (1974) says that this was a reflection of a formal

trend in society as well. For relationships this meant

engagement announcements, formal exchanges of engagement

tokens, and formalized wedding ceremonies (Rothman, 1984,

cited in Cate and Lloyd, 1992). In addition, it was during

the 1800's that the white wedding gown first appeared in a

popular women's magazine (Special Reports, 1991).

The expected behaviors of young people followed this

formality as well. As already noted, one had to be

introduced; "pick ups" did not occur. The accepting of a

young man's attentions was seen as serious because it was

expected to ultimately lead to marriage. As a result, a

female had to believe she liked the male, or could at least

learn to like him, before accepting their first "date".

Their "dates" centered around family and it is likely that

the gentleman pled his case to the family as well as the

woman. Parents played an important role in planning

activities and encouraging the couple. From the sheer number

of people involved, it goes without saying that intimacies

were not permitted.

During this period of courtship, women had a great deal

of power in mate selection processes. A woman had to give

some indication that she was willing to have the man call on

her before he would ask for permission. Mothers and

daughters would make themselves available at social

functions and would decide from which gentlemen calls would

be accepted (Bailey, 1988). Many women announced the days on

which they would be home to receive "visitors", both male

and female, and a formal system for announcing one's

presence, the use of calling cards, was followed closely.

This system of offering permission to visit, both by the

mother and the daughter, granted women a great deal of

influence in mate selection. There was a lot of control of

courtship by women partly because of the permission a woman

could grant a suitor but also because of the location of

courtship activities in the woman's sphere, home. The parlor

and front porch were popular places for young couples to

share food and conversation. They were sanctioned by the

parents because they were not particularly private places

and parents could usually remain inconspicuously nearby to

monitor the couple's behavior and conversations (Bailey,


Once the couple was engaged, they were given

considerably more privacy. It was during the engagement

period, typically lasting two years, that couples began to

get to know each other well (Benokraitis, 1993). While this

system of visiting and courtship was quite common for middle

class young people, it presented problems for less wealthy

families who did not have the extra room to allow a couple

to get to know each other in semi-privacy. As a result,

courting began to occur in public places. For young people

who worked in cities this public courting became commonplace

because it would have been scandalous for a young woman to

entertain a man in her private quarters, whether dorm,

apartment, or boarding house (Coontz, 1988).

Traditional Dating

Dating began about the time of World War I and by 1920,

became the way to court. The reasons for the shift to dating

from courtship are diverse with each seeming to explain

different aspects of the transition. Accompanying increasing

industrialization was increasing urbanization. People moved

to the cities in large part because this was where the

better jobs could be found. This urbanization brought young

men and women in closer proximity because of residence and

the likelihood that both would hold jobs. This propinquity

expanded the field of eligibles for many young people. For

the most part, these city jobs, mostly factory or skilled

labor or service positions, compensated the workers well in

terms of money and leisure time. The result of these better

paying positions and limited work days was the opportunity

to meet and spend time with potential partners. Also young

people now had money to spend on each other. The importance

and frequency of dating on college campuses led Waller

(1937) to talk about the rating and dating complex among

college daters. Highly critical of dating behavior, this

study focused on the notion that men who had money to date

well were the most desirable as a date. For a woman,

desirability as a date included being attractive, a good

dancer, a good conversant, and perceived as being popular

because she dated frequently. Following the conceptual

approach of this paper, one could think of this as daters

doing gender. Their expression of maleness and femaleness

was prescribed by the society and to play the game of the

dater, one had to successfully present the image.

Industrialization also took the locus of work from the

home. For many women this provided an incentive to work

outside the home at tasks they had formerly performed for no

pay. It was quite common for immigrant and less affluent

women to work before they married (Degler, 1980). This work

away from home took women out of the direct control of their

parents and enabled them to interact with a wide variety of

individuals (Knox and Schacht, 1994). Women working, coupled

with an increase in the women's equality movement in the

1920's, have been proposed as reasons for women's more brash

behavior and greater acceptance of dates. Many of these

women felt they should be equal to men in all aspects of

life, including "politically, socially, and sexually," thus

representing a loosening of the acceptable behavior of women

(Rice, 1993). Just as there were more women working, there

were more women being educated. The advent of free access,

public coed high schools also gave dating a push. Males and

females had daily contact with each other and participated

in activities together. Another intriguing possible reason

for the emergence of dating is the creation of adolescence

and the lengthening of childhood, giving young people an

excuse to have fun and put off responsibility.

The new technology of the industrial revolution spawned

the widespread availability of two key inventions for

daters: the telephone and the automobile. The telephone was

a way for a man to ask a woman on a date, have her accept,

and arrange the details of the meeting. Certainly this would

make a shy gentleman bolder and make asking a woman out less

intimidating. The telephone could also allow couples an

opportunity to communicate even when they might not be

currently in the same locale or able to spend time together.

In Waller's (1937) study of dating behavior the telephone

was important because the woman might keep her caller

waiting longer than necessary or wait to be paged several

times before coming to the phone to receive the call, all in

hopes of appearing more popular.

The importance of the automobile should not be

understated. It provided a means of transportation to dating

events (e.g., dances, movies, parties, etc.), thus enabling


the couple to vary their activities. They could travel

farther away from home and participate in a wide variety of

activities. One of the other key contributions of the car

was that it afforded couples privacy for not only

conversation but sexual intimacies. The car provided couples

the opportunity to "spark", "spoon", "woo", canoodlee", or

"firkytoodle", whatever their choice might be (Middleton,


While courtship was coming to resemble what we now call

dating, a change was occurring in the roles that men and

women were expected to play. While under the courtship

system, women had a lot of control of the initiation,

activities, and intimacies of getting to know a partner.

This was due in large part to the place in which courting

most often occurred, the woman's home. In the system of

dating that emerged in the 1920's, the power and influence

of women had declined in the arena of mate selection. A

woman had to wait to be asked out by a man. She might give

subtle hints of her interest but could never appear forward

and seldom had anyone spreading the word that she was ready

to receive callers (Bailey, 1988). Men became the dominant

partners in a dating relationship because they had control

over which women dated and which sat at home. In addition,

dating now took place in the world of men, away from the

home. Men were responsible for asking for the date, planning

the activities for the date, paying any dating expenses, and

choosing the most popular partner that they could. An

important resource for daters was money. In most scenarios

men had more and consequently controlled what the couple did

together. A man with money could date frequently and expect

to have the "best dates" accept his invitations. This

pattern of men's finances dictating dating behavior has been

a prominent theme in dating. Bailey (1988) points to a

1960's advice column for young women that suggested if a

woman knew her date was short of cash, she may offer to give

him some money but that must be done privately and before

the activity of the date so that he "appears" to be paying

for everything.

When thinking of the dating couples in the first half

of the twentieth century, characterizing their associations

as the "dating game" may be useful. This analogy applies

nicely to the gender roles and expressions that partners

displayed as they attempted to achieve a desired outcome.

Ehrmann (1964) in a discussion of sexuality and dating after

World War I, indicates "the new-found freedom of male-female

association became both the basis for boisterous and

rollicking equalitarianism and an arena for the heightened

battle of the sexes" (p. 594).

This battle Ehrmann refers to was based on a situation

where the participating men and women wanted different

things from the dates. Men desired sexual or erotic favors

from their partners; women wanted marriage, social prestige,


or romance.This created tension and the likelihood of

exploitation between the partners. The male wanted to get

"as far as possible" before having to commit to marriage.

The female wanted to grant as few sexual favors as possible

to get her desired outcome, a marital promise. In this game,

one partner wins at the expense of the other.

Whyte (1990) suggests that these different expectations

for dating lead young people to put on false fronts so that

current and potential dates will be impressed. The use of

the term "dating game", then, highlights the series of

strategical moves that a dater would employ to reach his or

her desired outcome. This process found each individual

"manufacturing artificiality in order to impress the date"

(Whyte, 1990, p. 21). The structure of dating ensured that

both male and female agendas were being debated. Men and

women displayed the gender roles that would most likely

assist them in achieving their desired outcomes.

While dating in the early 1900's through 1960's was

fairly structured and followed traditional gender roles,

more contemporary dating can be quite spontaneous, something

that would be considered improper under the courtship

system. Traditional dating was less formal than courtship in

that there were no formal introductions necessary and no

required progression of events to go through. Today's dating

is even more informal than that.


It has been suggested that the focus of dating, as

opposed to courtship, was quite different. Waller (1951)

suggested that courtship had an end--marriage. The purpose

of traditional courtship was to find a mate. Dating, on the

other hand, was not always about mate selection,

particularly for men. In his account it was conspicuous

consumption. While Waller's view may have been cynical, it

is true that the outcomes of dating and courtship may be

different. For the young woman who accepts a call from a

suitor, there is an implicit agreement that she will

continue to see him in the future. In dating, especially in

modern dating, it is "just a date" with no commitment past

that one shared experience.

One of the largest differences between courtship and

dating is the prohibition of intimacies in courtship, their

acceptance in traditional dating (usually under certain

conditions), and their expectancy in current dating. When

considering a shift in sexual intimacy levels on dates, a

look at changes in virginity at marriage is instructive.

Examining three cohorts of women, those marrying in 1925-

1944, those marrying in 1945-1964, and those marrying in

1965-1984, Whyte (1990) found large differences in virginity

at marriage. The percentage of non-virgins at the time of

marriage were 24%, 51%, and 72%, respectively, for these

cohorts. For many women who were non-virgins at the time of

marriage, particularly in the first two cohorts, their


sexual experiences had been with their betrothed and usually

occurred only after becoming engaged. For the last cohort

over 40% lost their virginity to someone other than the

future marital partner.

Current Dating

Throughout this century dating has continued to evolve

and change. During the 1950's dating was very traditional

and "appropriate" gender roles were followed. Couples were,

however, permitted privacy and "going steady" was an

indicator of one's commitment. A popular activity was

"cruising," again demonstrating the importance of the car

for dating. In the 60's and 70's dating became less formal.

Mixers and informal gatherings were common places to meet

and mingle (Benokraitis, 1993). Based on earlier dating

criteria, contemporary dating is very relaxed with few, if

any, prohibitions. Either partner may ask and pay, and

intimacies are permitted, if not expected. Dating occurs for

a longer period in one's life now than in the past as people

are waiting later to marry or choosing to remain single. In

addition many daters are divorced or widowed and may bring

new criteria, goals, norms, and expectations to the dating

scene. Throughout this century a few trends have emerged in

dating. Dating begins at younger ages today, 13, compared

with 16 in 1920. People have progressively had more dating

partners throughout this century, have gotten into "steady"


relationships sooner, and have experimented with sexual

intercourse in dating relationships sooner (Whyte, 1990). It

has been suggested that the focus of dating is moving away

from marriage (Libby, 1976).

As a result of changing attitudes toward or perhaps

visibility of dating, some family scholars have suggested

that dating has been replaced by "getting together" (Libby,

1976). While this phenomenon likely provides participants

with a variety of experiences that differ from traditional

dating, dating remains an essential part of partner

selection. I propose "getting together" is a stage in

courtship, like has been suggested of cohabitation. This is

the period in which one is not yet serious about finding a

partner. This is "play time" or "oat sowing" time. With the

trend toward postponing marriage, people may not be looking

for commitments or "dating" relationships until they are

ready to marry. I do not believe dating is being replaced,

perhaps just postponed until a more appropriate or

convenient time. It is also reasonable to expect that how

people conduct dates has changed over time. The purpose of

dating for a given individual is important to consider.

Because dating has, since the turn of the century, been

regarded as a way to find a mate, "getting together" might

be intended just for fun, not mate searches. Finding out the

meaning of getting together dating for the persons involved


(e.g., how they view their behavior) might be a useful place

to start.

The history of courtship and dating in America is

intriguing because of the central role it has played in our

culture and the changes that have occurred. The importance

of dating, as the recognized manner in which mates are

chosen, has made it an intriguing topic for family

researchers. As the trends in dating continue to change,

particularly as a result of divorce and lengthening periods

of singlehood, family sociologists have many intriguing

questions to explore.

Current Dating Behaviors and Attitudes

Dating Scripts

The rules that govern the interactions of dating

partners are socially scripted. That is, there is a set of

guidelines determined by the culture that dictate the roles

each partner is to play in the dating relationship. These

scripts are thought to be particularly important early in

relationships when couples rely on them as guides for

appropriate behavior (Rose and Frieze, 1993). These

heterosexual dating scripts are mediated by gender. Men and

women are given different tasks, which each learns early and

often through the repetition and sanction of socialization.

Simon and Gagnon (1986) distinguish between cultural and

interpersonal scripts; the former representative of a

hypothetical situation and the latter indicative of beliefs

to which persons actually adhere. Research by Rose and

Frieze (1989; 1993) describes the roles expected of and

actually adhered to by men and women in a dating situation.

Their results indicate that the attitudes of men and women

continue to be rather traditional in regards to courtship

and emphasize a strong degree of gender typing. DeLucia

(1987) argued that the gender specific behaviors that occur

on dates could be linked to gender role identity. Utilizing

the Bem Sex Role Inventory, DeLucia determined that there

was a significant relationship between gender role identity

and gender-specific behavior, with the masculine men and the

feminine women adhering most closely to stereotypical dating


Like earlier researchers (e.g. McCormick and Jesser,

1983; McCabe and Collins, 1984) Rose and Frieze (1989) found

that there were gender differences in scripted behaviors for

a first date. Early dating seems to contain stricter gender

scripts than those found for established couples. If that is

the case, it would seem less likely that the scripts would

be violated early in a dating relationship. The current

study seeks to understand the situations where violations of

these scripts might occur and the gender work that

accompanies this.

The traditional male cultural script for a date could

be considered proactive (Rose and Frieze, 1989). The actions


described for men were self-directed and included such

actions as "asking for and planning the date, driving,

initiating and paying for date activities, and initiating

physical contact." Rose and Frieze (1989) indicated that the

expected roles of women on a date, involved waiting to be

asked, being concerned about looks and appearance, keeping

the conversation flowing, and rejecting the physical

advances of the partner, and are reactive roles. The

researchers concluded that "male dominance and control of

dating are expected by young adults on a first date" (Rose

and Frieze, 1989). This study represented cultural scripts

in dating.

In an effort to understand how closely daters'

interpersonal scripts would adhere to the cultural scripts,

Rose and Frieze (1993) asked 135 respondents to list the

actions that men and women would do to prepare for a

hypothetical first date and their actions while on the date.

These same respondents were then asked to describe their

most recent first date by telling what their role was in

preparation and on the date. If 25% or more of the

respondents mentioned a particular action, it was included

in the script. There were some actions listed for both men

and women. These included grooming before the date,

interacting on the date, and saying good-bye. As in the

cultural scripts, on an actual date women were playing more

passive, reactive roles than men. Of the twenty actions that

defined a woman's script, six were directly part of the

man's script or were initiated by him (e.g. picked up date).

None of the men's fifteen actions were initiated by their

partners. Overall this study confirmed the different roles

of men and women in dating and the persistent influence of

cultural scripts in socio-sexual behavior.

Female Date Initiation and Expense Sharing

Researchers have been concerned with the effects of

women violating the cultural scripts and assuming a

traditionally male task, initiating a dating relationship.

Hypotheses have revolved around men's impressions of date

initiation by women (Muehlenhard and Scardino, 1985), men's

perceptions of greater sex willingness and risk of date rape

when the woman initiates the date (Bostwick and DeLucia,

1992), changes in the length of dating experiences with a

partner when the woman initiates (Mongeau et al., 1993),

perceptions of sexuality and likability (Harnish et al.,

1990), and anxiety differences between men and women when

initiating dates (McNamara and Grossman, 1991). Each of

these studies approached female date initiation from the

standpoint of it being an unusual occurrence, one that would

be expected to alter other aspects of the dating


Using a sample of 309 male undergraduates, Muehlenhard

and Scardino (1985) manipulated female date initiation and


apparent intelligence of the woman through four videotaped

representations of interactions between a male and female

student. The results of this study indicated that females

who initiate dates are seen as more sexually active, more

casual daters, and are more flexible and agreeable than

females who do not. The more intelligent woman was rated

more likable, truthful, interesting, flexible, tactful and

less sexually active or a casual dater than her non-

intelligent counterpart. The woman who was perceived as

intelligent and asked for a date was rated as most likable

of all the women and the most feminist. This study suggests

that men are not disturbed by women who initiate dates and

may even find these women more likable. As the authors

suggest, however, this may be due to the male's false

perception that this woman wants to have sex with him.

Harrington (USA Today, 1992) found that men liked women to

initiate dates and hypothesized that this was because it

took some of the pressure off them.

Likability and perceptions of sexual willingness

informed a recent study about initial interactions. Harnish

et al. (1990) focused on the impacts of gender and self-

monitoring on perceptions of sexuality and likability. One

hundred ninety unacquainted undergraduates were recruited to

participate in mixed gender pairs. After a five minute

discussion of their likes and dislikes about college life,

participants completed questionnaires in private. These


included a self-monitoring scale and a list of qualities on

which the discussion partner, as well as the respondent,

were to be rated using a likert scale. The results of this

study support the findings of Muehlenhard and Scardino

(1985) in that "men perceived their female partners and

themselves as more seductive, sexy, and promiscuous than

women perceived their male partners or themselves." Men were

also more likely than women to report that they were

sexually attracted to the partner. While men felt mostly

sexual attraction after the brief encounter, women reported

they felt mostly friendship.

This tendency of men to interpret the actions of women

in more sexual ways has been linked to studies of date rape.

Women's dating behaviors may be interpreted by their

partners as indicators of sexual willingness. For example,

Muehlenhard, et al. (1985) found that a woman was perceived

to be more interested in sex if she asked for the date and

if she let the man pay for the expenses of the date.

Building on this idea, Bostwick and DeLucia (1992) evaluated

how men and women viewed the dating behaviors of asking and

paying and how these were related to sexual willingness and

date rape. Four hundred fifty-eight respondents were given

scenarios that varied who asked and who paid in a dating

situation. They were then to evaluate the degree to which

the man and woman in each scenario wanted sex and how

justified the man in the scenario might be in committing

date rape.

Results indicated that men consistently rated the

sexual willingness of both males and females higher than did

the women. Women who asked for dates were perceived by men

and women as more willing to participate in intercourse than

women who did not ask men out. However, when the woman asked

and paid, perception of men's sexual willingness went down

and "men in particular reported a greater decrease in male

sexual willingness" (Bostwick and DeLucia, 1992). For none

of the scenarios presented was rape reported to be

justified. This may, however, be due to the awareness

students have of the "right" answer regarding date rape. The

researchers concluded that indeed female date initiation and

paying behaviors were important. "Women may be perceived to

be most sex willing when they pay for all the date expenses,

moderately sex willing when the man pays, and least sex

willing if each person in the couple pays his or her own

expenses" (p. 22). If this conclusion is accurate, women

should offer to pay their own dating expenses if they wish

to avoid sexual intercourse.

In the most comprehensive study of female date

initiation to date, Mongeau, et al. (1993) examined the

proportion of persons who have been involved in a female

initiated date, the length of female initiated

relationships, the techniques used to initiate, and

evaluations of the female initiators. Four hundred forty-

four male and female undergraduates participated in this

study in two waves. The first wave (N=172) was asked about

ever having experienced female initiated dating. The second

wave (N=272) was asked about their experiences with a female

initiated first date. This division is important because

there are different issues when a woman initiates a date in

the context of an ongoing relationship compared to

initiation of a first date.

The data for female initiation were as follows. In wave

one 84% of the women had initiated a date, 92% of the dates

were accepted, but only 65% of the women asked the same man

on a subsequent date. In wave two (first dates) 63% of the

women had initiated, with 88% of the dates accepted.

However, only 44% of the women reported asking the same man

out again. A significant percentage of the women not asking

the man out the second time had, however, gone out with him

more than once. This could indicate a return to traditional

gender roles where the man asks or a mutual agreement to see

each other again. On average, female initiated relationships

lasted 27.2 dates, but the median number of dates was 5.

Forty-one percent of the respondents indicated the

relationship ended by the third date, but 7.5% had dated

more than 100 times.

Three factors were cited by Mongeau et al. (1993) as

significant predictors of attitudes toward female initiation

of dating. Positive attitudes toward feminism were

correlated with positive attitudes toward female date

initiation. Males held more positive attitudes toward female

initiation than females did. Those males who had accepted a

female invitation were more positive in their assessment of

female initiation of dating. Contrary to earlier studies

(e.g. Muehlenhard and Scardino, 1985) Mongeau et al. (1993)

did not find that the men in their study equated a direct

female initiation of dating with a direct sexual invitation.

In a very recent study of dating (Lottes, 1993), date

initiation rates for women were 74%. In addition 92% of

women had shared dating expenses and 76% had paid all of the

expenses for a date. When these data are contrasted with

those of Korman (1980), it is clear that some changes have

occurred in women's dating behavior over time. From this

comparison one would conclude that women's dating behavior

with regard to initiation and expense sharing has become

more liberal over time. As the summarized studies suggest,

attitudes and behaviors have become more liberal over time

and the current study can anticipate similar results.

Female Sexual Initiation

Beyond female initiation of dates and expense sharing,

there are other violations of the traditional dating scripts

which may have a direct impact on the relationship. These

studies focused on female sexual initiation. For most early

studies of female sexual initiation, "only atypical couples

reported that the woman actively initiated initial

lovemaking" (Macklin, 1983). More recent studies of female

sexual initiation also indicate that men and women feel more

comfortable with their traditional sexual roles, initiator

and refuter respectively (Grauerholz and Serpe, 1985).

It has also been suggested that women may exert

control over sexuality in covert ways (Perper and Weis,

1987). In a study of college students in 1985, Lottes

reported that 34% of college females "very often" initiate

sexual intimacy with men. There was, however, no distinction

about the stage of the relationship; and female initiation

rates for first intercourse with a new partner may be lower.

In a 1993 study Lottes reported that 38% of college females

said they had initiated the first sexual encounter with a

new partner. This study, however, did not talk about how the

initiation proceeded. Seventy-eight percent of females and

76% of males in the same study reported that both sexes

should be equal initiators of sexual relations.

Factors that have been linked to women's initiations of

sexual activity include relationship context, sexual

satisfaction, and sexual experience (Lottes, 1993). Those

women who are involved in a long-term serious relationship,

feel sexually satisfied and loved, and have a fair amount of

sexual experience are more likely to feel comfortable

initiating sexual activity. The data of O'Sullivan and Byers


(1992) supported the presence of a steady dating

relationship in the likelihood of sexual contact being

initiated by the woman.

Just as studies of unwanted sexual advance by men

against women have been presented, studies of unwanted

female sexual advance on men are also being reported.

Anderson and Aymami (1993) reported that 93% of the females

in their study had initiated sexual contact with a partner

but there was no control for length of relationship in this

study. There were gender differences reported in the study,

In all initiation situations men reported receiving more

female initiation than women reported initiating.

Other studies exploring female sexual initiation focus

on strategies and techniques women employ to convince their

partners to participate in sexual relations. O'Sullivan and

Byers (1993) reported that women had very little success in

initiating sexual relations with a partner. In a study of

201 unmarried, heterosexual students, the researchers

focused on female sexual initiation by type of influence and

receptivity of the partner. Over half of the respondents

reported having been in a situation during the prior year in

which the female partner desired more sexual activity than

the male. Most disagreements occurred in the context of

steady dating relationships. Ninety-six percent of the

participants who experienced a disagreement reported that

the woman used a sexual influence strategy. These strategies

were classified as positive (e.g. used humor; danced or

moved seductively), negative (e.g. cried; moved away from

partner), or neutral (e.g. bargained; stopped sexual

activity), with the positive strategies most often employed

by women. The authors concluded that context was a critical

consideration in the sexual encounter.

Christopher and Frandsen (1990) also considered

influence strategies to engage in or limit sexual activity.

After presenting a questionnaire to 411 undergraduates, they

concluded that four categories of strategies were used:

antisocial acts, emotional and physical closeness, logic and

reason, and pressure and manipulation. The latter was found

to be used more by men than women and by persons who wanted

sex more. Emotional and physical closeness was found to be

the most successful strategy but those who wanted sex less

used logic and reason. The researchers caution that it is

not known how the use of these strategies impacts

relationship development or progression.

While female sexual initiation is still being explored,

preliminary data indicate that this behavior is definitely a

part of dating relationships. There is some discrepancy as

to the frequency of female initiation but most data indicate

the context of a relationship is an important variable.

Consequently in the current study, one would anticipate

fairly low sexual initiation rates for women because they

are being asked about first and early dates with a partner.


At this point in a relationship the freedom to violate

gender scripts in multiple ways is likely constrained,

whereas in an established or steady relationship violations

are not viewed as harshly or inappropriately.



Twenty heterosexual couples who have never been

married, have dated a relatively short time, and are not

currently cohabiting or engaged were asked to participate in

an interview regarding their dating behaviors and attitudes.

At least one partner from each pair was a student enrolled

in undergraduate courses at University of Florida during

Fall 1995 or Spring 1996. These participants were asked to

participate in two interviews, the first as a couple and the

second individually.

The study involves couples who have dated a relatively

short time. The determination of an arbitrary measure for

"short time" is not necessary in a study of this type.

Because the focus is on the production of gender among new

relationship partners, their attitudes and actions, they

should demonstrate consistent gender for new relationships

regardless of where they draw the line between new and

established relationships. Variation is expected, because

just like the expression and awareness of gender, what one

considers a lengthy or short relationship is a matter of

perception. If all participants answer questions while they

are under the assumption that theirs is a relatively new

relationship, then the conditions for data collection are

adequate. The feminist goal of truth in research, to

represent the voice of the participants as accurately as

possible (Thompson, 1992), is reinforced when the

participants set the standards for length of association.

While failing to specify a particular time period for

couple's associations may be interpreted as a lack of

measurement precision, it is more valid to allow those

persons involved in the relationship to use their own

determinations of the length of relationship that qualifies

as "relatively new." Thus an arbitrary time is not placed on

the relationship.

The sample involves couples who do not have a lengthy

association because the study focuses on gender in early

date initiation and in the formation of the relationship

rather than after a relationship has been established. As

Mongeau and associates (1993) discovered, the behaviors of

women may be different in regard to dating initiation if

they are involved in a serious relationship with the dating

partner. It is likely that the relationship provides a

safety net so that violations of traditional gender roles

are not seen in a negative way. There is more risk and

accountability when there is no firmly established and

negotiated relationship; violations of expected gender roles

are more accountable in this context.


From the standpoint of doing gender, asking for dates

is an activity not widely associated with the female sex

category. Consequently, there may be adjustments in the

asking that allow women to maintain their appropriate gender

and fall within the acceptable bounds. Because women are

accountable for their portrayal of gender, asking in an

open, non-relationship context, has more risk. Additionally,

women involved in a relationship over a sustained period of

time would likely differ in degree of adherence to

stereotypical gender role scripts and be more likely to

adhere to an interpersonal script that was different from

the cultural script, thus allowing women more freedom to do

typically male activities (Rickard, 1989) and a

justification for their unexpected gender expression (West

and Zimmerman, 1991).

The sample was taken from students enrolled in

undergraduate classes in sociology during the Fall 1995 or

Spring 1996 semesters. Students enrolled in sociology

courses were selected for ease of data collection and

access. In addition, sociology courses are in high demand to

satisfy many of the university general education

requirements. The sample is not intended to be

representative, but should provide a cross-section of

student attitudes and behaviors. Students are also a

population heavily involved in social, recreational

activities and partner selection. Consequently, students

would be expected to have multiple opinions and ideas about

partner selection to share with the researcher. The nature

of a co-educational campus is such that women and men have

lots of contact and daily interaction. They attend classes

together, participate in social and professional activities,

live in diverse housing, dine with opposite sex colleagues,

etc., all making friendship and partner choice facets of

daily life.

Data Collection

The study is composed of interviews with participants

who are willing to discuss their feelings about dating in

some detail. The interview method allows for fairly quick

collection of data at a reasonable cost of both time and

money. The quick response time with a personally

administered interview allows for additional time to be

spent in data analysis and still keeps the study on

schedule. Interviews also permit the researcher to probe for

detailed information that a more closed-ended questionnaire

may miss.

Relatively unstructured interviews were selected as the

methodology for this research question for epistemological

reasons as well. Primarily, face to face interviews allow

for more understanding of the respondent and a means to put

the respondent's "voice" into the research conclusions

(Thompson, 1992). Feminist researchers have touted the


interview as not only a useful feminist research method, but

as a way to make sure all parties, interviewer and

interviewee, have a place in the data collection and

subsequent report. Participants not only present verbal

data, but indicate through body language and other visual

cues additional importance and meaning in their statements

and interactions. Because the first interview is with both

partners, this joint interview provides a unique opportunity

to witness the couple in interaction, a situation that one

might only get to witness by accompanying the partners on a

date. In keeping with the "active interview" approach

(Holstein and Gubrium, 1995), the researcher was aware of

the impact of the respondents on the interview focus,

selection, pace, content, etc. Therefore the "voices" of the

respondents have become the primary data collected.

The interview format was chosen because it can give

voice to the men and women involved in the dating

relationships and doing the "work" of gender. Rubin (1990)

uses this technique to allow her participants to "tell the

story" of the sexual revolution. This is a narrative of

personal experience applied to the process of social change.

The current study seeks to use the narratives of dating

partners to understand how men and women go about the

primary work of any interaction, the production and

sustenance of gender. Interviews not only provide the

researcher data for analysis, and sometimes the analysis

itself (DeVault, 1990), but present an opportunity for the

participants to clarify their own feelings, opinions, and

beliefs about the research topic (Thompson, 1992).

The interview schedule for both interviews was

developed by the researcher to illicit data to support or

refute the theoretical position of "doing gender." The first

interview (Appendix A) was with the couple together and

focused on issues about the relationship, such as, length of

association, how they met, how they "got together", what

they typically do on a date, what they converse about, the

conceptions of dating that they share, and the kind of

gender roles that they expect from the partner.

The second part of the research involved the individual

interviews (Appendix B). Because the interview is with the

researcher and only one of the partners, these questions

focus on the individual in the relationship. This portion of

the study is much less structured than the initial interview

and will provide the participants the opportunity to

consider the role that they play in the relationship, the

role the partner plays, how these roles developed, etc. This

portion of the study revolves around how partners ask for

dates, perceive the response, negotiate payment, initiate

sexual contact, etc. In the separate interviews with the

partners, the focus was on the roles, behaviors, and

attitudes that a particular partner demonstrates. These

participants were asked about what they do to attract the


partner, how they want the partner to see them, and if they

believe their behavior is appropriate with regard to gender.

The responses of the participants provide descriptive

accounts of the their dating experiences and gender

expression with the current partner. One of the main

objectives is to determine how men and women view their

position in the relationship and, more importantly, how they

display gender to themselves, the partner, and the societal

observers through the claims that they make and for which

they are accountable.

Following a technique used by Blaisure and Allen

(1995), the couples were interviewed together and

individually. First partners were interviewed as a couple

about their dating experiences and how decisions are made

about their dating activities and behaviors. Each partner

was then interviewed separately and asked about what they do

specifically in the relationship with regard to the

expression of gender. As permitted by the participants, all

interviews were audio recorded and video recorded. The use

of both recording devices provides a back-up in case of a

technical malfunction. Additionally, the use of video

recording is useful when watching couples interact. Not only

does this provide a means to record the conversations and

responses that the participant provides, but the researcher

is better able to note the nonverbal negotiations and

expressions of gender that are being displayed. The video

record presents a unique opportunity to capture physical

movements and body language that would be overlooked and

lost as data in an interview that was only recorded as an

audio tape.

Recording the data as closely as possible was one of

the researcher's primary goals. The importance of

representing the exact words and meaning of the participant

is crucial. For too long researchers have interpreted the

meaning of what their respondents said, rather than letting

the words and actions of the participants speak for

themselves (Reinharz, 1992). In an attempt to better

represent the voice of the respondents, a method that allows

for accurate recording of the interview proceedings was


Data Analysis

It is important to recognize that because the interview

is a method of research shared between all participants,

including the interviewer and respondent, there is input

from all sources, thus it is important to consider the

presence of the interviewer. While primarily removed from

the "data" the interviewer's presence may have an impact on

the participants' display of gender. Once the participants

are aware the interviewer is a woman, her gender may be an

important variable. While on the surface this seems to make

data analysis challenging, the presence of anyone, male or


female, would impact what happens and perhaps what the

respondents say. The issue is to take the data at face

value. If the partners say a certain thing, the researcher

must trust that it is what the respondents mean. Therefore,

in the analysis, the researcher points out the links between

the interviews and the strategies being employed, but trusts

the knowledge and experience of the respondents.

Data analysis proceeded by categorizing responses into

themes. Often couples dealt with multiple themes in an

interview and this was noted. Particular attention was paid

to definitions that couples applied to relationship aspects

such as date, first date, boyfriend or girlfriend, and

commitment. Finally, the language and terminology that

couples used to explain the status of their association was



This chapter presents the findings from video taped

interviews conducted with currently dating couples. The data

are from interviews conducted with the couple together and

interviews with each partner individually. A total of 60

interviews, three for each couple, were transcribed and

analyzed to provide insight into the production of gender in

dating relationships. The main areas indicated by the

research data are the production of gender in a relationship

setting, the language couples use to categorize and theorize

about their relationships, and one of the main outcomes of

the interviews, the production of a believable relationship.

Doing Gender in the Dating Arena

Five areas have historically been gender prescribed in

dating encounters and have suggested that males play a more

active role than females. Date initiation, planning,

providing transportation, and paying have been linked to the

traditional male gender role. These areas were explored in

the current research in the interviews with the partners

together and individually. Sexual initiation also has gender

expectations, with the male partner expected to be the


aggressor. The respondents were asked about this issue in

their individual interviews to decrease any embarrassment

and permit them to answer as honestly as possible about the

sexual aspects of their relationship.

The dating couples in this study were well aware of the

societal expectations of daters, but were quick to point out

in many cases that they had a variation on the traditional

expectation. The doing gender approach may help to account

for the acceptability of doing something different. With the

doing gender concept, West and Zimmerman (1991) argue that

inappropriate or unexpected gender behaviors may be

presented to make a point or influence interaction. Among

the dating couples in the present study, the areas of

nontraditional gender roles were most often linked to paying

for and planning dating activities. The respondents cited

various reasons for doing other than the expected in their

relationships. Among them were the female partner having a

higher income, the male being miserly, or the partners

perceiving a shared arrangement as more equitable than when

one partner was financially responsible. These claims may

serve as justifications for the violation of traditional

gender expectations for the couple and for the larger


Traditional Gender Roles

Traditional gender roles are easy for couples to

follow; however, many couples follow only part of the gender

prescriptions. They may see traditional roles as too

limiting or old-fashioned, or simply may not find them

acceptable. In the current study partners who focused on

traditional and nontraditional gender divisions in dating

provided justifications for their ideas often citing

socialization and comfort level as their reasons for their

particular behaviors. One important factor in couples

portraying less traditional gender roles was the length of

the relationship and whether they had known each other prior

to a dating association.

When asked what she saw as the role of the woman on a

date, 20 year old Dana said,

I don't know. Probably I think I still have a very
traditional opinion about it, like as being the
one who is going to be more...the guy is taking
the girl out. It's not like a date together. So,
maybe that is because I have never been on that
many official "dates" (uses her fingers to make
quote symbols). So, I think I'd like it to be that
sometimes, where it is just two people and the guy
comes to pick up the girl, and go out to dinner or
a movie...something like that.

While the literature might suggest an increasing number

of women are asking men out on an initial date, the women in

the current study revealed that asking is still very much a

male activity. Some females provide suggestions that their

male partners then act upon, but the risk in initiating a


planned date was carefully considered by the women. In

keeping with the concept of doing gender, a woman must use a

different asking strategy than a man because of different

gender expectations. In this study that meant the woman

often asked "as friends" or for a group activity rather than

as a one-on-one traditional first date.

At the time of the interview, Rosie, 20, had been

involved with Marco just less than one year. She considered

him to be her first real relationship and felt that they had

long term possibilities. Like many women, Rosie feels that

knowing the partner as a friend before initiating a dating

relationship is very important. Kim is the interviewer.

Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Rosie: I don't...I think it would depend on the

situation. If they were...if it were like a

friend, then it wouldn't be anything because even

if the other person, if the woman was interested

in the man, she would at least have that

friendship as a barrier. But, I don't know. I've

never asked any guys that I have known on dates. I

don't think it's wrong, but... I don't know. I

guess I'm kind of traditional in that sense.

Kim: So you don't think you would ask someone out?

Rosie: Probably not, no. I would ask somebody to go out

for coffee or something like that. I don't...I


guess that would be considered a date, but nothing

too big.

The same question asked to Rosie's partner, Marco, 21,

elicited a more upbeat response. Marco also helps Rosie

maintain her gender display by talking about why she would

never ask a man out.

Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Marco: I think it's wonderful, and just shows a lot of

confidence. It shows that they are not into the

traditional...or old type of traditions where the

man is the one who asks them out. I don't have a

problem. She didn't ask me out this time, but

before this relationship I had people that did.

And I think it's great.

Kim: Would your partner ever ask a man out?

Marco: Never, never.

Kim: Why is that?

Marco: She's very reserved, quiet. She wouldn't even show

it. She's the kind of has taken me a

long, long time to actually get to know her

without, just by observing. I don't think so.

Personally I don't think so. I may be wrong.

Hannah and Jesse, both 21, had been dating just over

five months at the time of the interview. When they

considered the issue of female date initiation, they

demonstrated the differences between attitude and behavior

that characterize many relationship issues. The first

segment is from Hannah's individual interview and the second

is from Jesse's. Jesse recognizes how hard the gender

violation is for Hannah, even though like most respondents

he welcomes a woman's initiation.

Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Hannah: I think that it is a good thing. I don't think I

could ever do it, but anyone who can--I think they

should go for it! (laughs) But it's just not

something I could do.

Kim: Why not?

Hannah: Rejection. I don't like rejection at all. Just,

I'm not a real forward person and it would just be

totally uncharacteristic of me so...

Kim: How do you feel about women planning the dating


Hannah: Oh, I think it's fine. Like I guess that kind of

contradicts what I just said, but, like I don't

have any problem once I'm in a relationship

saying, "Why don't we do this on a certain night."

So, I guess in a way that's asking him out, but I

know he's usually not going to say, "No, I don't

want to go out with you." He might say I don't

want to do that, let's do this", but that's fine.

As far as I'm concerned, that's fine. And if the

guy says, "You want to go out?", "Yeah, I guess.

Whatever you want to do", you know. But I just

don't think I could ask someone out.

Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Has this ever happened to you?

Jesse: Yes, actually the first time it happened was when

I was in high school. And it was, I don't know if

it was because the way the girl was or if, maybe

because I had some weird idea about it initially,

it kind of--I remember when she asked me it was

like "Well, okay", you know. "Well all righty, I

guess you know what you want, right?" But I think

it was just because she was a real strong

personality. But now I don't have a problem with

girls, and I think, for the most part now, girls

are fairly forward, I think. A lot are and it

doesn't bother me. They have every right to ask

guys out, just as guys can ask them out.

Kim: Would your partner ever ask someone?

Jesse: No.

Kim: Why not?

Jesse: Probably because I had to make the first move, and

just the way she acts around other people

sometimes, like strangers and stuff. I, you know,

observe her when she's around strangers. She gets

quiet, I think a little bit at first. So as far as

making initial moves, and striking up, I guess


even conversations. She's not against society, or

something, but you know what I'm saying. I think

she is more on the shy side than I am.

Planning is an area of dating that has traditional

expectations as well. Cookie and Rocky, 22 and 20

respectively, had been dating approximately four months at

the time of the interview. They preferred to say they were

seeing each other, rather than dating, because their

association was "real casual". In their joint interview they

talked about how the bulk of their activities took place

with their friends. As a consequence they rarely had to plan

activities for the two of them alone. In the individual

interview Cookie suggests that there are some positive

aspects to adhering to traditional gender roles in dating.

Kim: How do you feel about women planning dating


Cookie: I think it's fine.

Kim: Do you enjoy it more when he plans or when you


Cookie: Usually I plan everything outside of the

relationship with him, so it's kind of nice when

he plans things because I don't have to make the

decisions. I'm usually the decision maker with all

my friends, so actually I like it when he does.

Kim: How do you feel about women driving?


Cookie: That's fine. I like it when he does. Again, same

thing--I drive with all my other friends, but when

I am with him, I like it. It is a good break.

Kim: Tell me how the issue of paying fits into your


Cookie: Well, it's, I don't know. It's kind of.. It's not

one-sided, I guess. He paid in the beginning, he

paid for a lot more I would say than...And I'm

just not used to it, actually, because a lot of

the guys that I have dated before just expect me

to pay, for whatever. So it was kind of nice, but

I don't mind paying for things.

In his three to four months of experiences with Tracy,

18, Rick, 20, had very definite ideas about the roles of

women and men in the dating scenario.

Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Rick: I think it's OK, cause a lot of girls ask me out.

I feel flattered. It makes me feel good. I feel

good. I think, I think they are making a wise


Kim: How do you feel about women planning dating

activities and driving?

Rick: I don't think they should do that, cause they're

women. I'm not saying, I just think that men

should have that kind of role to say something in

that kind of decision there. Cause he's the

provider and he should, he should have the say-so

in what goes on.

Kim: How do you feel about women paying?

Rick: Paying for stuff? I think that should be his.

Because I buy something, I'm not saying if I buy

something she should buy something for me, but I

pay mostly, I pay 60, she pay 40, 55, 45,

something like that, but I think the man should

pay more than she does, but I guess she should pay

something herself too.

His very traditional ideas were sometimes in contrast

to his partner who had made the first move to establish a

dating association, as she says, "because his fraternity

brothers told [her] to" and had loaned him money to buy a

car. Tracy longs for a traditional type of relationship

where she is acknowledged as his partner and Rick wants to

be free to play the field. Her discussion of how she wants

her partner to see her gives a good indication of the kinds

of differences this couple experiences in the dating arena.

Kim: Describe how you want to be seen by your partner.

Tracy: Basically that we go together, that we're boy-

friend...if we do everything that boyfriend-

girlfriends do, and all his friends think we go

together and all my friends think we go together,

we might as well say we are boyfriend and

girlfriend. It's just the matter that I think he

just wants, at this point too since he doesn't

want to be labeled as boyfriend and girlfriend,

he'll get upset about things and say, "I'm not

your boyfriend", but in every other aspect we go

together. So I would like him to say we go

together and mean it.

In the joint interview couples were asked about who

generally drives and pays when they go on dates. There was a

tendency for the couples to skip the driving part of the

question, or dismiss it, and focus on the paying aspect.

Things like who had a nicer car, who knew the way around

town better, or simply who enjoyed driving more were often

cited for why one partner was more likely to drive than the


When asked who usually drives and pays on their dates,

Charles, 21, and Vanessa, 20, focused most of their

attention on the issue of paying. These partners had known

each other and been dating only a short time, two months,

but shared the unique situation of residing in neighboring

apartments where the roommates were all good friends and the

two apartments participated in many activities together.

Kim: Who generally drives and pays when you are


Vanessa: Especially when we first started dating he paid a

lot, like, you know, offered. And now...


Charles: And now cause...well what happened was I worked

over the summer and I only had one class so I

worked a lot so I had extra money. And of course

in the beginning of a relationship, you know..

Vanessa: You know, you're trying to

Charles: Well I guess you're trying to do a little

impressive thing with the money. So, I had money

and I didn't mind spending it cause I was having a

good time and I still do, you know. But I started

running out of money because I started having to

pay for lots of food because I wasn't home as much

and so I started having to watch my money. And I

drove a lot, she drove a couple of times like when

we went out, if we went to a bar scene or

something because I like to have a drink or two. I

don't drive at all so she offered to drive for us.

I guess the answer to your question I, maybe I do

[pay more].

Vanessa: You do a little more than I do.

Regina, 19, and Owen, 22, had been dating for

approximately 13 months when they participated in the study.

When asked who usually drives and pays on their dates, they

offered the following explanation.

Regina: At first I didn't have a car up here, so that

pretty much took care of the car part.


Owen: The first semester I pretty much drove, but now we

both have cars so it kind of varies.

Regina: Yeah, off and on. I mean, if my car's working or

if it's parked too far away or something, then

we'll just take his.

Owen: Whatever is more convenient. As far as paying...

Regina: I try and pay and he won't let me half the time.

Owen: And ah, you know, it's just a simple matter of

like, right now, at this point, I have more money

than she does. I mean, I worked down at IBM this

summer and I'm about to graduate and I'm getting a

real job, you know, in a couple of months. So

engineers make way too much money, more than they

deserve. So you know, I mean someday she's going

to be a $100,000 paid violin teacher and--in her

dreams--then she can support me. But for now, I

pay. I pay for a lot of things, but she still pays

now and then. But it's not like I, I like don't

go, "You're the woman and I will always pay cause

that's the way it is". So you know, sometimes we

just go out to dinner and she'll be like, "Put

your money away, I'm paying tonight."

For Veronica and Paul the issues of traditional versus

nontraditional dates were a constant theme. In the joint and

individual interviews they talked about how they worked out

paying issues in a fairly traditional manner, offering


various justifications for their traditional and

nontraditional attitudes. Veronica, an 18 year old freshman,

had known Paul, a 22 year old senior, for three years. They

had been close friends and decided to start dating eight

months prior to the interview. Both come from financially

stable, Catholic families. The first excerpt is from the

interview with the couple together.

Kim: Who generally drives and pays when you go out?

Veronica: He does.

Paul: That would be me.

Kim:(to Paul) How do you feel about that?

Paul: I like it. I'm the only, I don't know if this has

anything to do with it, I'm an only child and I

was taught that's what you're supposed to do. At

this point I think we've been dating and friends

long enough that it's getting to the point where,

I don't know if we have mutual funding of the

relationship but I would say it's pretty much to

the point where it's not as much of a big deal if

she pays for something. Whereas in the beginning,

you know, that would never have been the case. I

don't think I would have felt comfortable letting

her pay for something. And I know eight months

isn't really long, but I think, you know, when you

look at the length of the relationship, the

friendship, I mean, it is.

Veronica: Yeah, it made it easy cause it could be one of

those awkward transitions, but you already knew, I

already knew so much about him that it wasn't a

matter of my firing a bunch of questions.

Paul: But she does.

In the individual interviews, Paul again mentions that

it is not comfortable for him to have a woman pay; he should

be taking care of things like that. He is not uncomfortable

with being asked out or driven by a woman, but paying is a

big deal.

Kim: How do you feel about women paying?

Paul: Paying is something more. I'm not necessarily sure

why. Our relationship especially has never been

focused on money. I've never been in a

relationship where I felt comfortable with the

girl paying. I've never been in a friendship where

I felt comfortable with the girl paying. If I went

out to lunch with somebody who was my friend, I

would never even fathom her paying, and if she did

I would feel uncomfortable about it. Probably

archaic but just the way..

Kim: Why uncomfortable?

Paul: Uncomfortable is a good way to put it. I just

think that there are some things that, I don't

want to sound incredibly chauvinistic here, but

there are some things that a man is responsible


for. And I know that sounds just as chauvinistic

as...but, and you now, not in the fact that I

think I'm superior or any other, you know. I just

think that she shouldn't, you know. I'm taking her

on a date, I'm taking. That answer doesn't

surprise me as much as I want it to, but...I

couldn't tell you. I think it is just one of those

things that was really drilled into me as a kid,

and is one of those things that has stayed there

and has gone unquestioned. So I know that's a

really round about answer, but...

Veronica's interview follows. She seems to be

establishing equality in their relationship for herself by

noting that she gives financial input but not all of her

financial contributions to the relationship are directly in

the form of paying on dates.

Kim: How do you feel about women paying on dates?

Veronica: It's gotten different now. I mean, I remember in

the beginning I used to feel bad and like maybe I

should pay for more stuff and he'd be like "You're

not paying." And now it's kind of like, I, he, he

obviously does pay for more. I mean that's a

given. But like if we'll go over and like grab

lunch on campus and he doesn't have any money,

I'll be like "I have money. I'm paying for it."

Cause sometimes I feel, you know it's like I feel

bad because he's always paying. And like my dad

sent up steaks. I have them in my freezer, and

like we'll, you know, whenever, cause I don't know

how to cook them, so I'm like "OK, let's have

filet tonight." So I'll take out two. Or my dad or

his parents will send up like gift certificates to

Outback [Steakhouse], and you know that's just

considered, guess where we're going tonight, you

know. So that's how I think it's like mutual, but

he does pay more.

Kim: And that's OK with you?

Veronica: Yeah, very traditional, I know that's probably

horrible and just not at all like the 90's thing,

but it's definitely a reason I'm glad I'm a girl.

Couples were asked about their sexual relationship in

the individual interviews to decrease tension and the

likelihood of embarrassment. If participants were asked

questions about sexuality when they were in the joint

interview, they may be embarrassed to answer them in front

of a new partner.

Dana gives a good example of how to appear feminine and

play the accepted female role, women must reserve their

sexual appetites.

Kim: Tell me about your first sexual experience with

this partner.


Dana: The first was weird. It was a

little bit awkward. It was wasn't that

far along into the relationship and it was at my

sister's house. And it was kind of shaky, but

after that I think we got closer.

Kim: Who initiated the first sexual contact?

Dana: Kim.

Kim: How did he initiate?

Dana: I think he was the first one who brought it up to

talk about, because we talk about everything

before we do it. I think he probably brought it

up. I'm sure it was on my mind, but I was keeping

my mouth closed. (laughs)

All areas of gender specific behavior are likely

influenced by the closeness of the couple and length of

their association. It seems reasonable that the introduction

of more egalitarian gender roles occurs after the couple is

comfortable playing the traditional roles. In the case of

dating and relationships, the paying issue has most clearly

indicated the change from traditional to nontraditional

gender roles. A woman's accepted levels of financial

contribution increase the longer time she is in the

relationship. In discussing the roles that paying takes in

her relationship with Gregg, 22, Michelle, 22, suggests:

I think women should pay some of the time. I mean
I like it when, you know, men take me out, you
know, treat me like that. But I think that's more
of an in the beginning thing. Once you get into a

serious relationship it just seems like that
burden shouldn't, shouldn't all be on them.
Besides, like it there's things I want to do, I
don't want to have to depend, you know, if they
can't afford something necessarily, I will end up
paying and do that.

Suggestions like these may provide insight into how the

established gender roles change.

The next section provides some examples of the way in

which couples were negotiating their relationships, often

after being together for a while, to do things in a way

other than the gender prescribed means.

Negotiated Gender Roles

The traditional expectations provide a jumping off

point for partners to illustrate how they are different from

the expectations. They are able to then show their

individual selves and the unique qualities of their

relationships. The couples in this study often gave

conflicting ideas about dating. In some areas there seemed

to be few gender constraints. Driving wasn't an issue for

any couple. As is often the case with changing social ideas,

behavior and attitude are not evenly matched. Overwhelmingly

the respondents supported the "idea" of interchangeable

roles but many women in the study said they could not bring

themselves to initiate dates and many men did not want to

relinquish the paying responsibilities. Even within couples

this division is important. While in their joint interview

couples may talk about how they divide things equally, the

individual interviews showed some gender differences in

attitude toward this. The interviews with the females were

more likely to favor the ideas proposed in the couple

interview. Many males held a more traditional opinion of

dating and gender appropriate behaviors than did their


Hazel, 19, had been dating Joe, 18, for seven months at

the time of the interview. In her discussion of women's

initiation activities, Hazel indicates that women may do

more asking than they think, but it is less formal and more

suggestive than the asking done by males in a dating


Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Hazel: I think there is no problem with that.

Kim: Have you done that?

Hazel: Not...I wouldn't say out on a date, but I've

always been "let's go out", "let's do this." I

guess that is another way of asking.

The doing gender approach would suggest that in order to

maintain her female status it is necessary for Hazel to ask

in a way that is different than her male counterparts.

Tracy asked her current partner out on their first

date, but points out that she was pressured to do so by the

fraternity brothers of her partner. After meeting her

partner in the hallway during a fire drill, where he

initiated their initial conversation and gave her his phone

number, she called him. She hints that if his friends had

not suggested it, she may not have made the nontraditional

gender move. Additionally, since he gave her his number,

rather than her having to find it on her own, he may be

giving her more permission to violate the expected gender


Kim: How do you feel about women asking men on dates?

Is that what happened in your case?

Tracy: Well, yeah, I called him first, but that's, I

called him because his frat brothers told me to.

They were like "Yeah, yeah, don't be mean to our

boy. Be nice to our brother." I was like "All

right, I'll call," you know what I mean. It wasn't

meant to like boost up his ego or anything. I

don't know. It wasn't meant to be, to make me seem

like, "Oh, I'm just too bored and desperate so let

me call Rick." It's just his brothers told me to,

so I thought, "well they want me to call their

friend." So basically, I did. Women can, women can

ask out men; it's no big deal.

Some women recognize positive consequences to planning

dates, as well as initiating them. Susan, 19, and Jim, 22,

had been dating for two months at the time of the interview.

When asked, in the individual interview, how she felt about

women planning dates Susan replied, "That's fine. I enjoy

doing it myself and you kind of get to be more in control

that way, so that's nice." Jim agrees that women planning

dating activities is a positive thing; couples enjoy the

activities more if they both have input into what they are

doing. He also enjoys women asking and suggests that his

shyness gets in his way of picking up women.

"Once I get into a relationship I'm not that shy
and I'm not really that passive. When I'm going
out and trying to meet girls, I can't do that, I
can't hit on girls. I can't meet girls in clubs,
so I would love it if someone would come up to me
and ask me out."

For most of the respondents holding more negotiated

gender roles, the males and females in the same relationship

vary in the extent to which they feel women should have an

active role in dating initiation, planning, and paying. One

couple presented a fairly liberal statement about paying in

the joint interview but the individual interviews both

confirmed and denied this stance. Jack and Diane, both 19,

had known each other for five years and had dated

sporadically for the past three, although they said at the

current time they were totally and very committed,

respectively. Much of their discussion of dating was

informed by the friendship status that characterized their

relationship prior to dating. In their joint interview they

contrasted new and established relationships with regard to

gender roles.

Kim: What is a new dating relationship like?

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