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2012 fall columnists Credit: Sindhuri Nandhakumar , Justin Cohen

When it comes to dating, it seems that even the most vocal advocates of gender equality come to accept the status quo — men asking women out. In relationships that don’t fit the man-woman mold, the overtly masculine (or less feminine) usually initiates events that take it to the next level.

Romantic movies have women fantasizing about their dream proposal. YouTube is filled with viral videos of men proposing to their girlfriends. When I congratulate newly engaged friends, I find myself asking, “How did he propose to you?”

Even women who don’t like having doors opened for them (because it hints that we’re subordinate) still enjoy being asked out to dinner.

Theories on why men are more likely to initiate romantic relationships range from the scientific to the absurd.

The website, for example, argues that there is an “innate animal nature” that makes men the “aggressor” and women, the “pursued.”

Meanwhile, Michael Mills, a psychology professor at Loyola Marymount University poses an argument based on the fact that men value sexual fidelity in their partners. By not initiating relationships, women maintain their sexual reputation and win men’s desires.

In other words, women don’t want to be perceived as sluts.
This creates an unfair situation for women. Those of us who have no problem asking someone out in theory are less likely to do so in practice because we don’t want to be perceived as being promiscuous or forward. This results in a frustrating wait for someone else to find the right moment and the right words.

But it’s also unfair for men. While men’s websites and magazines will argue that “the chase is half the fun,” the pressure of having to initiate everything from dates, relationships to marriages must weigh heavily on men’s minds.

Science help us understand why males and females act a certain way, depending on our genetic makeup and evolutionary history. But I don’t think science ever told us that we shouldn’t try to change the deeply embedded social norms in our society that restrict the rights and freedom of people.

At Penn, however, this might not matter a great deal since our school has earned the reputation of having more of a hook-up culture than one that involves dating. When stories about making out at some alcohol-filled party are recounted the next day, the memory of who started what is probably hazy anyway.

But Penn is more than its reputation. When my roommates and I lamented the lack of a dating culture at the University, we made a list of the dates we had been on throughout the last three years. Initially, we struggled to come up with names and examples. But slowly we remembered “that guy who wanted to get coffee with me,” or “that guy who took me to a nice dinner and tried to kiss me after.” We talked about how nice it was to have a conversation with someone and get to know them better.

I vividly remember one of the first “dates” I went on at Penn. I met a guy at a service project over spring break who happened to be traveling to the same country as I was over the summer. He asked me if I wanted to go to dinner so we could plan to meet up while we were there. At dinner, he took out a hefty Lonely Planet guide that stayed on our table, untouched.

It was only afterward that I found out that the travel plans were an excuse to go out to dinner.

At Penn, dating is considered old-fashioned and unexcitingly slow. But we are still appropriately scandalized by attempts to change gender norms in relationships.

This has created a population of students who want to make meaningful connections with people in places other than the dance floor of some sweaty fraternity house, but are limited in what they can do because it’s usually men who do the asking.

The fact that there is a dissatisfied population means that there is potential for change in the status quo. Let’s help create an environment where we as students can form meaningful relationships on an equal footing. Ask if you want to — don’t wait just because you’re a woman.

Sindhuri Nandhakumar is a College senior from Kandy, Sri Lanka. Her email address is “Questions for Answers” appears every other Wednesday. Ask her your question @sindhurin.

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