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History of Dating in America

Discuss dating, relationships and foreign women.

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History of Dating in America

Postby Falcon » Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:45 pm

How did American dating become the way it is now today? To understand this issue, we will have to look back to history. I will post some articles on the history of dating in the United States. (The term "dating" itself is ambiguous and not easily definable, since courtship traditions vary so much across social classes, generations, and cultures.)

American Dating Culture ... lture.html

A Brief History of Courtship and Dating in America, Part 1

A Brief History of Courtship and Dating in America, Part 1

The End of Courtship, Part 1

The End of Courtship, Part 2

The End of Courtship, Part 3

The Dating Game: The Dangers of Cash-Based Courtship
by Anne Morse

On the very first date of her life, 16-year-old Carrie (not her real name) was taken out by Trent, a senior she knew slightly at the large high school both attended. The pair went to a spaghetti house for dinner, then drove to a mall to see a movie. When the movie was over, they went out for dessert. As Trent pulled his car into Carrie's driveway, he asked Carrie for a goodnight kiss. Carrie didn't really want go lip-to-lip with Trent (he was a little on the geeky side) but her first thought was, "He spent all that money on me!"

In the end, she didn't kiss him — and he never asked her out again.

The editors of a new book on courtship say it's no accident that males have learned to view females less in romantic terms than economic ones. And the people we can blame for this dismaying state of affairs are: our great-grandparents.

University of Chicago professors Amy and Leon Kass have edited a collection of essays titled Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. One of the best essays is Beth Bailey's "From Front Porch to Back Seat." Bailey writes that until the beginning of the 20th century, dating as we know it did not exist. If a man wanted to get acquainted with a woman, he came calling at her parents' home. He sat on the porch or in the parlor, drank lemonade, and perhaps listened to the young lady play the piano — all under the watchful eyes of her parents.

Courtship power, in the era of calling, belonged exclusively to women — to mothers and their daughters. When a girl reached a certain age, it was her mother who decided which young men would be allowed to call on her. As the young woman grew older, she herself was allowed to invite young men to call on her — provided, of course, that they had been properly introduced at a dance or dinner party (at which other mothers had controlled the invitation list). Extended family and friends might also bring eligible bachelors to call.

Young men who broke the rules and called without permission soon discovered that the daughter of the house never seemed to be "at home." Thus, it behooved a young man to do everything in his power to impress a young woman — and her mama — in order to secure that all-important invitation to her home.

But the twentieth century had scarcely arrived when your great-grandparents began to supplant calling with dating.

Upper class women, who were beginning to invade academic and professional worlds, began demanding their places in public accommodations, as well. They wanted to be able to go out dining alone with a man, for example, without damage to their reputations. Besides, youth from high society were attracted to the excitement and the freedom dating represented, Bailey says. They went slumming in the dance halls, delightedly mixing it up with the lower classes their parents wanted them to keep clear of.

Couples from the lower classes began dating for more practical reasons: Between 1890 and 1925, as they moved from the farms into the cities, young women no longer had parlors into which they could invite gentlemen callers; young factory girls and their families were usually jammed together in one or two rooms. In other cases, young working women boarded together in rooming houses where parlors were not available. As a result, "A 'good time' increasingly became identified with public places and commercial amusements," Bailey writes.

As dating became standard operating procedure for conducting courtships, the consequences were far-ranging and sometimes tragic. First, Bailey says, "Dating moved courtship into the public world, relocating it from family parlors and community events to restaurants, theaters and dance halls. At the same time, it removed couples from the implied supervision of the private sphere — from the watchful eyes of family and local community — to the anonymity of the public sphere."

Second, Thus, Bailey says, dating "not only transformed the outward modes and conventions of American courtship, it also changed the distribution of control and power in courtship ... shifting power from women to men."

Men, not women, were now the "hosts," and men "assumed the control that came with that position," Bailey says.

Whereas in the old days men had to wait for women to invite them to their homes, now women had to wait for men to invite them on dates. In the 1920s, etiquette books advised men that it was NEVER acceptable to call upon a young woman without obtaining her permission to do so. By the 1950s, the shoe was on the other foot: Girls were warned to NEVER invite a boy to her home or anywhere else; to do so would be an infraction of the rules, and put boys off. Third, Bailey writes, dating "moved courtship into the world of the economy. Money — men's money — was at the center of the dating system."

While calling on ladies was free, Bailey notes, "Access to the public sphere cost money. One had to buy entertainment, or even access to a place to sit and talk. Money — men's money — became the basis of the dating system and, thus, of courtship." Young factory women "whose wages would not even cover the necessities of life became dependent on men's 'treats,'" Bailey writes.

This led men to a view of "dating as a system of exchange best understood ... as an economic system." When a man spent money on a woman, Bailey writes, it seemed like an economic act. Dating, "like prostitution, made access to women directly dependent on money."

During a dating situation, both the man and woman offered companionship — but men alone were also required to open their wallets. In a sense, the woman was "selling her company to him," Bailey says. In the man's eyes, "dating didn't even involve exchange; it was a direct purchase."

The implications of this thinking became evident in the chilling results of a survey taken a few years ago by the American Medical Association. According to the AMA survey, more than half of the boys polled (ages 11-14) thought that forced sex is acceptable if a man had spent "a lot of money" on his date.

Maybe this is why, throughout history, care has been taken to ensure that courtship was NOT grounded in economics. Consider the novels of Jane Austen. In Austen's world, courtship consisted of gentlemen calling on ladies in their homes, or meeting them at private dances or picnics or parties. Men were not allowed to spend money on ladies.

The reason for the warnings against bringing cash into courtship was made even more clear by Margaret Mitchell in her novel, Gone with the Wind. Mitchell describes how, in antebellum society, young girls were warned never to accept anything but a small, impersonal gift from a man — or the man might be tempted to take improper liberties. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in a passage in which Rhett Butler — who took pleasure in breaking society's rules — tempts Scarlett O'Hara with the highly inappropriate gift of a Parisian hat. When Scarlett accepts the hat, both she and Rhett understand that an economic exchange has taken place, and that she now "owes" him something in return:

"I don't want any money for it," [Rhett] said. "It's a gift."

Scarlett's mouth dropped open. The line was so closely, so carefully drawn where gifts from men were concerned.

"Candy and flowers, dear," [Scarlett's mother] had said time and again, "and perhaps a book of poetry or an album or a small bottle of Florida water are the only things a lady may accept from a gentleman. Never, never any expensive gift, even from your fiancé. And never any gift of jewelry or wearing apparel, not even gloves or handkerchiefs. Should you accept such gifts, men would know you were no lady and would try to take liberties."

"Oh, dear," thought Scarlett ... I simply can't tell him I won't accept it. It's too darling. I'd — I'd almost rather he took a liberty, if it was a very small one."

Rhett — perfectly aware of Scarlett's dilemma — watches her in amusement. He later warns Scarlett: "I am tempting you with bonnets and bangles and leading you into a pit. Always remember I never do anything without reason and I never give anything without expecting something in return. I always get paid."

If that American Medical Association survey is correct, today's men expect to "get paid," as well. But sadly, today's women are not receiving a gift — or even a date — in return for what they're giving up to men.

On the average college campus, the biggest complaint is that nobody dates anymore. Instead, collegians hook-up. Men and women attend huge drinking parties, get acquainted with someone of the opposite sex, and after a suitable interval (an hour or two) the couple departs for a private place in which to copulate. (For a comprehensive discussion of how hooking up has replaced dating, see Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that men and women no longer think of courtship as something that applies to them — at least, not until they graduate college and establish themselves in a career, and make some money. We now have a whole generation of college men who don't understand the need to learn courtship rituals — of why they should even bother attempting to impress a woman to whom they are attracted. After all, marriage is 10 years or more away. And if the girl in question is perfectly willing to bed down with him without demanding anything in return — well, why bother buying flowers and taking her out to dinner? Without marriage, courtship rituals makes no sense.

Even when today's man is ready to woo a wife, his courtship bears a stronger resemblance to a corporate merger (right down to insisting on a prenuptial agreement to protect his wealth) than the delicate mating dance our great-great grandparents enjoyed.

What's the answer?

A couple of solutions come to mind.

First, as Wendy Shalit suggests, women must relearn the seductive power of just saying no — no to seductive clothing, to hookups, to premarital sex — no to anything less than traditional courtship and marriage.

Second, college women should find ways to make dating a non-economic proposition. Like those factory girls of a hundred years ago, most college coeds today have no parlor in which to invite men to sit and visit — even if they wanted to go back to the days of sitting with their beaux on the porch or in the parlor.

But you have plenty of other options that cost little to nothing: Taking walks across campus, taking in a free concert or lecture, attending church activities or getting together with other couples for ice skating in winter or hikes in summer.

If you want to do something that does cost money, consider going "dutch" — just in case the young man is, like Rhett Butler, thinking of taking liberties. (Make sure he understands why you're doing this: It's not because you're an "I have to be in control" feminist. Just the opposite. You want to pay your own way because you're a true traditionalist.)

When the weather warms up, you might consider doing something else, as well: Pick up a copy of Amy and Leon Kass's book, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. Take it out under a willow tree this spring, along with a picnic lunch, and read it,if possible, out loud, to a pleasant acquaintance of the opposite sex. You'll want to read Beth Bailey's essay, of course. And then, over a latte, read some of the book's selections on love, courtship and marriage: "Courtship," by Erasmus; Levin's proposal to Kitty in Tolstoy's Anna Karanina; the courtship of Emile and Sophie in Rousseau's Emile; Shakespeare's sonnets and Miss Manners' "Advice on Courtship."

Economic courtship plus emancipation from parental control has led to more than just embarrassing episodes like the one Carrie experienced with Trent. It's led to tragic social ills: exploitation of underage girls by oversexed men, sexually transmitted disease, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and childbirth and abortion. But as we begin the 21st century, we can begin to change that tragic pattern by imitating those horse and buggy couples who lived and loved at the beginning of the 20th century.

As we celebrate Valentine's Day, I wish all you young lovers the best, most romantic gift I can think of: The same cash-free kind of courtship your great-great grandparents enjoyed.
Last edited by Falcon on Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Falcon » Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:48 pm

A Modest Proposal
by Robert Stacy McCain

Wendy Shalit has a modest proposal for young women. She believes that the traditional feminine virtue of modesty is the solution to many of the problems — from sexual harassment to depression to eating disorders — faced by young women today.

The 23-year-old Milwaukee native makes her arguments in "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue," a new book by the Free Press that is already generating what she calls "a visceral reaction."

"I was on [National Public Radio] and one woman said my book should be banned ... but another woman was so glad that finally someone is discussing these issues," Miss Shalit said in an interview last week during a visit to Washington. "I never have somebody tell me that they have mixed feelings or they're not sure what they think about modesty. They always have one extreme reaction or the other."

Miss Shalit, the younger sister of former New Republic writer Ruth Shalit, first gained widespread attention in 1995. That's when, as a sophomore at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., she wrote an article for Commentary magazine criticizing several sex-related problems on campus, including coed bathrooms in the college's dormitories. Reader's Digest reprinted the article, and numerous pundits cited Miss Shalit's account as testimony to political correctness run amok.

Her conflict with a sexually explicit culture actually began years earlier when, as a fourth-grader, her complaints about a sex-education class led her parents to request that she be excused from the classes. She spent those hours in the library.

"I was glad to be in the library, because the other girls got teased, and I would just pretend like I didn't know what they were talking about," she recalls. "And in a lot of cases, I didn't, and I was glad not to, frankly."

Sex education in public schools should be "completely abolished," Miss Shalit says. "At best, it's redundant, because kids do not learn the facts from sex education. They know it already."

But Miss Shalit also says sex education hurts girls — "and boys, too" — by eroding natural modesty. "The problem is that we have it so early now, we really don't allow people to develop their personalities before their sexual identity," she says.

The argument that sex education helps resolve unhealthy sexual "hang-ups" is flatly wrong, she contends. "Every single study" shows that "low self-esteem is correlated with early intercourse for girls," she said.

"That's very interesting, because we associate modesty with making women weak. That's what we're told — that modesty oppressed women. Then why is it the case that women ... who wait the longest are indeed the ones who have the most self-esteem?"

Miss Shalit answers her own question: "Well, it's because they have a sense of self that is beyond how they view themselves as a sex object. And they want to wait for the right person. There's nothing wrong with that. When you're insecure, you feel like you have to sleep with ... every guy who asks, because otherwise you have 'hang-ups.' You don't have enough self-confidence to say, 'I don't have a hang-up. You're just a jerk.'"

Beyond coed bathrooms and sex education, Miss Shalit's book explores the intellectual history of modesty, examining arguments by such philosophers as David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well as by feminists from Mary Wollstonecraft to Simone de Beauvoir.

"The early feminists were very interested in sexual virtue," she says. "Simone de Beauvoir thought modesty was natural, and that was interesting to me, because ... you associate her with the most radical feminists.... But even she felt modesty was the one thing that was natural for women, and that if society didn't respect that, there would be a lot of brutality against women."

That prediction has proved true, Miss Shalit says, citing the 1993 case of the "Spur Posse" — a gang of high school boys who scored "points" by having sex with girls — as evidence that male honor is an "obligation related to ... female modesty."

"Today we have the real sexual double standard, because we have the 'Spur Posse,' men who are men by scoring, instead of being men by sticking by one woman and being honorable," she says. "What is manly has changed." What is womanly has also changed, she says, because feminists, women's magazines and the mental health industry are all devoted to desensitizing women to sex.

"Now it's become pathological, if you have feelings about sex," she says. "I see a lot of my friends on Prozac because they think they're too sensitive. And it's just very sad, because we're 'curing' precisely the instincts we should be valuing."

Women today get too much bad advice, especially from women's magazines, Miss Shalit says. "The women's magazines play a huge normative role" because "they do give advice," she says. "We're all encouraged to become, basically, adulteresses, and grow up to be very sophisticated, hip, 'fatal' women.... I think the advice is so bad that a lot of women would rather have no advice than to read these magazines."

Advice from feminists is just as bad, Miss Shalit says. Feminist author Naomi Wolf says, "we're all bad girls now, there are no good girls, and we have to liberate our 'shadow slut.' ... I don't think it's true. I think there are a lot of girls who are good and want to be good, it's just not cool to be good anymore. It's decidedly uncool, because we're all supposed to be jaded and very sophisticated at age 12."

The author says modesty is important because it "protects sexual vulnerability," which she believes is "a wonderful thing" that can lead to "a profound connection." But feminists, she said, now view modesty as "something that we're trying to cure young women of."

Miss Shalit has kept her sense of humor about critics, such as the hostile caller on NPR. "She said, 'I'm a feminist, and I'm just hopping mad, you can imagine, and I think you should take that book and burn it.'" It was not until after the show was over, Miss Shalit said, that she thought of "the clever response" to the caller: "You should buy millions of books and burn them."
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Postby Falcon » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:16 pm

American-style dating is highly confusing for many non-Americans and people who grew up in immigrant households. That's because "dating" as we now know it today was something new that came up during the 1900's.

So, one important point to understand right up front (and about which many inside and outside the church are confused) is that we have not moved from a courtship system to a dating system, but instead, we have added a dating system into our courtship system. Since most young adults will marry, the process employed in finding a husband and wife is still considered courtship. However, an extra layer, what we call "dating," has been added to the process of courting. If you are familiar with computer programming terminology, you can liken dating to a sub-routine that has been added to the system of courtship.

The new system of courtship that played itself out in the entertainment culture and public square largely was understood and described by the advice and "expert" class with metaphors taken from modern industrial capitalism. It's as if those who wrote and commented on male-female relationship had stopped reading the Song of Solomon and Jane Austen in favor of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes.

The new courtship system gave importance to competition (and worried about how to control it); it valued consumption; it presented an economic model of scarcity and abundance of men and women as a guide to personal affairs — There aren't that many good men left, so you better get one while the gettin' is good!

According to cultural historian Beth Bailey, the word "date" was probably originally used as a lower-class slang word for booking an appointment with a prostitute. However, by the turn of the 20th century we find the word being used to describe lower-class men and women going out socially to public dances, parties and other meeting places, primarily in urban centers where women had to share small apartments, and did not have spacious front parlors in their homes to which to invite men to call.

With the rise of the entertainment culture, with its movie houses and dance halls and their universal appeal across class lines, dating quickly moved up the socio-economic ladder to include middle and upper class men and women, as well as the new urbanites.

When one tries to understand how dating has changed over time, and most importantly, how we arrived at the system of courtship and dating we have today, one must realize the monumental cultural shift that occurred during the 1940s, primarily due to World War II. The courtship experience and ideals of those who grew up before World War II were profoundly different from those of teenagers in the postwar years, and the differences created much intergenerational conflict.

In the late 1940s, Margaret Mead, in describing this pre-war dating system, argued that dating was not about sex or marriage. Instead, it was a "competitive game," a way for girls and boys to demonstrate their popularity. In 1937, sociologist Willard Waller published a study in the American Sociology Review in which he gives this competitive dating system a name, which he argued had been in place since the early 1920s: The Campus Rating Complex. His study of Penn State undergraduates detailed a "dating and rating" system based on very clear standards of popularity. Men's popularity needed outward material signs: automobile, clothing, fraternity membership, money, etc. Women's popularity depended on building and maintaining a reputation of popularity: be seen with popular men in the "right" places, turn down requests for dates made at the last minute, and cultivate the impression that you are greatly in demand.
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Postby fschmidt » Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:13 pm

Wendy Shalit's article was well reviewed by Devlin. To see how things have changed, it's worth reading de Tocqueville on women in America. And though from England, a good insight into civilized courtship can be found in Pride and Prejudice (movie version). Sane courtship still exists in religious subcultures as can be seen in the movie Arranged.
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