Many cultures expect the man to take the first step in a relationship. This is based on traditions that have existed since ancient times. But these ideologies have grown harmful in the modern era. It isn’t just misogynistic but creates a heteronormative atmosphere around dating. I’m seeking to create a discussion about how gender roles and heteronormativity affect dating and romance.
Gender roles and “making the first move”
The first concept we must get out of the way is defining what gender is. Amy M. Blackstone wrote in her 2003 paper that “Gender… refers to the meanings, values, and characteristics that people ascribe to different sexes.” It can relate to aspects of someone’s biological sex, such as a woman’s ability to give birth. Still, it’s often based on cultural assumptions, such as men being more capable of providing for a family.
Gender roles define how we’re expected to act according to our genders. Men are supposed to be emotionless providers while women are supposed to be emotional and nurturing.
If those claims made you feel annoyed or angry, you’re right to be. Gender roles only serve to divide us further as a species. Due to gender roles, men are expected to pursue romantic relationships with women. By the same token, women are expected to return the interest. But boys are very rarely given any guidance on how to pursue somebody romantically. It’s not seen as the mother’s job and most fathers seem to think it’s something that comes naturally. This has led to a culture, from my experience at least, where sexual harassment is somewhat accepted as the norm.
But what happens if, like me, you’re non-binary?
While I’m physically masculine, I’m emotionally feminine. These two aspects of myself are often in conflict. I grew up as a boy, so the lack of guidance in these situations has made it harder for me to start dating. And due to the social anxiety I get from my autism, I tend to fall back into old relationships out of comfort.
But as these societal walls slowly fall, so too does the need for a man to initiate romance.
The heteronormative nature of “the first move”
According to Wikipedia, heteronormativity is “the concept that heterosexuality is the preferred or normal mode of sexual orientation.” It also “assumes the gender binary and that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between members of the opposite sex.”
While this belief is common in traditional communities, the world has changed in the last 30 years. Even Teen Vogue, a magazine primarily aimed at adolescents, is calling it out as harmful. Their article on the topic says heteronormativity “leaves a lot of damage in its wake” and that it’s “about time we kicked heteronormativity to the curb.” So, as acceptance of the LGBT+ community grows, it’s more common to see relationships without gender roles. Even if you believe the man should ask the woman out, what happens when it’s two men? Or two women, for that matter? This line is even further blurred with the rise of non-binary gender identities.
If you take gender roles into consideration, you’d expect the more masculine of the two to make the first move.
But a similar question comes up here, too. What if it’s two hyper-feminine lesbians? Or two hyper-masculine gay men? When two people land on the extreme end of traditional gender norms.neither is more masculine and you’re left with the personality traits associated with those genders.
This leads us back to how gender roles affect dating. If one person has a more masculine personality, it’s generally expected that they make the first move. But this attitude can createa spiral of self-destructive pride in one’s gender.
Dominance in relationships
While it doesn’t always end up being the case, the person who makes the first move usually becomes dominant in the relationship. This dynamic usually only exists for a short time until the couple becomes comfortable with each other. But if you ask somebody out, there’s an implied expectation you’re expected to do a few things, such as paying for the first date, asking for a second date, etc.
I’ve only been in two long-term relationships. I was dominant in my first one because she was obsessed with filling a gender role. If we stayed together, I would have been forced into being the head of house. This relationship taught me that men are expected to be dominant, which was not something I wanted. I’m thankful the idea that men must be the dominant relationship partner is dying, because it’s highly misogynistic. It often felt like her self-worth was tied to how good of a wife she could have been, and putting that sort of pressure on somebody isn’t healthy for anybody.
During my second relationship, I was with a non-binary person. Neither of us were particularly dominant. They took me out of my comfort zone by getting me out of the house during my off time. In return, I was able to help broaden their worldview by giving them a taste of a world outside of their family. Even though we’re not together anymore, we formed a strong enough bond during the relationship that we still talk and hang out frequently.
What I’m getting at here is that, through my experience, relationships that lack a dominant member tend to be healthier in the long run. That said, romance and relationships are highly subjective situations. What works for somebody else, probably won’t work for me, and that’s fine. But expecting everyone to do something a very specific way leads to a problematic culture around dating.
A hopeful future
The first thing I did when I started writing this article was set up a poll on Twitter. I asked, “Should the man have to take the first step in a relationship?” While only nine votes were cast, no one voted yes. So I dug into other places where people asked similar questions. I found that many others agreed with me.
When a similar question to mine was asked on Quora, there were a few interesting answers. A few mentioned that they didn’t know why men are expected to make the first move. Most blame it on tradition in this situation. Some men say it “made them feel on top of the world” when they were asked out. Stephanie Johnson, who majored in Sociology at the University of Arkansas, says, “The hardest part of dating today, is the blurring of gendered expectations in dating and relations.”
Men want to be asked out just as much as women want to be. And that line between the genders is being blurred further than ever before. This already seems to be leading to a much healthier culture around dating.
So, to any of the women or non-binary folks reading: if you’re into a guy and you think they might be into you, don’t hesitate to ask them out. The worst that could happen is some people might look at you weirdly. But I expect that in the coming years, all genders taking the lead will l become a much more common sight.
And I can’t wait for it to happen.