There was I, third coffee under the belt thinking about the pros and cons of my wife
away for 15 days. What it boiled down to, after prolonged honest introspection, was
that I would have most of the discomforts of bachelordom and few of its benefits.
Put brutally, despite belonging to a species of pair-bonding philanderers, there
seemed little chance of broadening my horizons. Why, if marriage is not a single
word but a sentence, shouldn't there be a remission for good behavior?
These musings stopped when a pretty young woman arrived unexpectedly, dressed like
a roadshow Carmen, seeking my help with a draft of a Project Analysis. Life brightened
up until she said "I'm starving. Let's go out and eat breakfast. Have you had
yours? Oh! Well! Let's go all the same; "I've been paid and have lots of dollars."
Any man can guess the rest. We went to the best place in town and though I ate nothing
when the bill came, it was left to me to pay! Driving back I could not help reflecting:
the idea that a sexual revolution has happened and that things are now a bed of egalitarian
roses remains a feminist figment of imagination.
We may live in sexually enlightened times where women are presumed to be just like
men in their search for self-actualization, but not where economics are concerned.
Male-female sex relationships may now be liberated but not as far as a man's pocket
book is concerned. Phnom Penh remains a microcosm of all cultures where the male
is still seen as a major exploitable asset, where power, whether political, financial,
or whatever, is still the prime aphrodisiac for the fair sex. Decades of consciousness
raising has produced few changes in traditional female attitudes except perhaps,
that the contents of the wallet is in the wrong pocket.
As I wrote that I could sense future female readers eyes glazing over. I know I am
on dangerous ground here. That my wife's aerobic group will get together once she's
back and sympathize with her having to live with such an unreconstructed chauvinist.
But that would be unworthy. Surely Eve's sisters can engage in constructive debate.
I am simply making the valid point. Liberty should be broad-based for both sexes
not just for the unconstructed French believers in "Liberte, Fraternite, et
Before being glibly type-cast, let me explain what I mean. To help those on the other
side of the biological divide I am not going to refer to double standards, fiscal
or otherwise. I shall stand above the fray, show my impartiality and merely refer
to the male/female etiquette of economics. After all, it's the former half-subject
I am supposed to be knowledgeable about!
In doing so I shall resist the temptation of using economic terms. I am a sensitive
person. I know from experience they are sexist in the extreme. Concepts like "trade-offs";
"capitalizing on a major asset"; "input/output"; "preference
curves"; "demand driven and supply response"; "monopolistic exploitation
of a natural resource"; "service industry"; and, worst of all, "the
invisible hand" (that every one knows wanders of its own free will!).
In the interest of sharing feelings-something that men are supposed to be bad at-let
me use some personal instances and reflections thereon. They are all examples that
most males-enjoying the privilege of courting an attractive woman-have experienced
at one time or another.
Take dining out as an illustration. All men know of women who imitate the Queen,
or the First Lady of the USA, who would not dream of carrying money on their person
when out with a male escort. Or the female guest who, when the bill arrives, opens
a handbag as big as an overnight case only to fetch out a flimsy handkerchief.
Questions about such time-honored gestures. What is it about waiters who persist
in handing over the bill to the man even if there are several females at the table;
have they no sense of solidarity? Have they sold out? Are they merely time-servers
in Nature's longest running conspiracy? How many times does a man have to dine a
woman for whom he has respectable urges to ensure the continuation of the species
before she starts flapping her credit card around? Why do women think its socially
insulting to offer to pay? Do they think that sharing expenses leads inexorably to
bed-sharing? That just sitting looking glamorous while the poor fellow tries to be
interesting about himself for hours is sufficient? Why does female curiosity stop
short of wanting to see what's in the bill?
What about the naughty week-end to Bangkok where you suddenly find she has always
wanted to stay at the Royal Orchid? Could a poor libido-driven man feel free at the
start of such an episode-never mind its end on Sunday-to hint that romance at such
a giddy level should be financed half/half. After you reel away from the cashier
wondering how long it will take before the Chinese shopkeepers open a pawnshop in
the Marche Centrale, what happens? What happens when you both fly back with tickets
you have purchased? Does she think it sufficient to send you round a potted plant
the next day as you shake your piggy bank and wonder how best to write to your bank
Just because I am frequently consumed with unrequited lust doesn't mean that I have
to run up an overdraft for the eventual privilege of a beautiful body. In such cases
I have often wanted to say, "have you thought about the ethics of getting my
body at no extra charge? The link between cash and a cuddle, today, is INFLATION.
No! It's about time the ground rules for financial responsibility in romance were
set. There is still too much nagging uncertainty for both sides. In the good old
days when sex was definitly wicked, the conventions were understood. If you asked
your secretary out for a drink after work you knew you paid for the drinks and she
knew you were thinking of offering half shares of the blanket. Similarly, if you
wined and dined a girl to the expensive hilt, she new you really wanted to see her
lovely face framed by your pillow. Men may not have been very subtle in their genuine
offer to help a girl extend her experience, but at least the economics were clear
and so was the straight choice. Women, though hard pressed to admit it today, found
such situations predictable and, except for the incurably naive, easy to handle.
A moments reflection will show that what I am saying is true. In those pre-Seventies
days the codes were clear. Everybody knew where the lines were drawn. But now there
is nothing but confusion apart from the monetary sphere. For all its successes the
feminist revolution hasn't changed a thing in the area of the chase, it is still
"Tarzan, you pay, cos me Jane." Hopefully, it should change. As women get
more and more financial clout they need to rethink the conventional trade-offs. It's
all very well expecting men to fight against the way their mothers brought them up
to become "New Men"; its about time females became "New Women"
There needs to be a new economic etiquette to accompany this to be hoped for shift.
I am working on its elaboration at the moment. Economics is not just the "dismal
science!" When I do, some lucky girl will be the first to know, though I promise
to share it with readers of the paper all the "top people in PNP want to read".
What I can reveal is that it will be based on one simple principle- that it is bad
manners to concede that a person who makes an initial 100 percent financial contribution
to the running costs of romance thereby buys himself out of a future 100 percent
index-based quid pro quo!