Should Men Pay a “Dick Pic Tax”?

Man Up tackles the ethical quandary of who should pay on the first date.

Aymann Ismail and a Martini with cash next to it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Lisa Larson-Walker and Getty Images Plus.

On a recent episode of Man Up, Aymann Ismail entered the cultural debate over who should pay on the first date—and admitted to being one of Those Guys who go to great lengths to grab the check. Should men still be doing this in 2019? Is it chivalrous, patronizing, … or simply the least men can do to make up for the hassles and dangers women face in the dating marketplace? Ismail spoke to one writer, Sarah Crow, who insists on splitting the bill. They discussed what paying for a meal means to her and whether all men should pay a “dick pic tax.”

Aymann Ismail: I was trying to figure out why I felt so compelled to pay for everything, and I think it goes back to my first date ever and getting advice from friends and all of them saying, “You’ve got to bring your money because if she wants ice cream, you’ve got to get her ice cream.” And I also had friends that were girls, and one of the constant complaints was “Oh, and he didn’t even pay for the meal.” That was also one of those fears that I had of liking this girl, going on a date with her—I’m saying “girl” because we were young—and then it not working out and then she has this laundry list of complaints, one of those being “Oh, he’s supercheap too.”

Sarah Crow: I think that when you start the first date with the understanding that you’re going to be splitting the bill, then you can make those decisions if that’s important to you. That can be something that you address on the first date, and that other person can be like, “No, that’s not cool with me.” But when you make it a thing on the first date, it sets the tone for the dates to come. Also, what if she wants to go out two days later? Not everyone has a $500-a-week Per Se budget or whatever.

Ismail: Right. What does splitting the bill do for you?

Crow: It gives a semblance of power in that initial situation. I don’t think that any guy that I’ve ever been out with has been like, “This is explicitly a quid pro quo.” Like, “I’m going to pay for your meal. We’re going to have sex later.” I’m not dating sociopaths or anything. But I think that there is an initial imbalance when you have someone saying, “I am paying for this thing. What is it that you’re bringing to the table?” Are you paying for my time? It does feel very weird to have someone take the upper hand. I’m also proud that I can pay my own bills and that I can make money and buy the things that I want. And when someone’s like, “No, I’m the person who does that for you now,” it undermines a lot of stuff that I’ve done in my life. It’s like, “None of what you’ve been doing up to this point matters because I’m just going to be your money guy now,” which is a very weird thing.

Ismail: I think what we’re really talking about here are gender roles. And what I’ve always been confused about is when we do talk about gender roles, we usually frame them as conservative versus liberal principles, right? If you’re a liberal person, supposedly you’re less prone to fall into gender norm traps. But still—

Crow: Yeah, internalized misogyny is a bitch. It doesn’t help anyone when women are expecting that men are going to pay for them. I know a lot of women who would consider themselves feminist who would be horrified if a guy was like, “No, we’re splitting it down the middle.” But I think these things are so ingrained. Definitely when I was first dating, when I was in middle school or high school or whatever, you heard, “If he doesn’t pay for you on a date, don’t go on a second date with him.” But I don’t know that people, when they really break it down, necessarily think that way. It’s one of those things that you hear repeated so often that you’re like, “Oh, OK, sure, that makes sense.” But I don’t know how many people, if they were like, here’s a really, really great person that you’ll have a great time with but you’re going to have to buy her a meal, would be like, “No, I’m calling it quits here.”

Ismail: [Laughs.] “Dating is just not for me. That’s where I’m drawing the line.”

Crow: “I’m done.” I think a lot of men have been told that if you’re not capable of providing financially, then you’re not doing the most essential part of your job as a man. And I think that’s changed in the past 50 years; even in the past 20 years, there’s been a major shift. I’m not saying that men and women are completely financially equal, but it’s getting better. My grandfather worked, and my grandmother stayed home, and that’s what was expected. I’m pretty sure every generation of my family prior to that, that was the situation as well. So it’s really hard to undo that in, like, 30 years.

Ismail: Dating kind of sucks for women. It’s a lot of work and maybe a lot of risk involved, because a lot of times it’s online. And if you’re just sending anonymous messages to people, you might get a picture or something you didn’t necessarily ask for. So what would you say to someone who says that that’s probably a lot of work, and therefore the least they can get in exchange for that is a free meal?

Crow: If we’re going to start talking about all the ways that women should be compensated for their work, maybe getting a lobster tail once in a while is not the top of the list of priorities.

Ismail: This is about to get really expensive, yep.

Crow: Obviously it sucks that women have to, you know—I mean, not have to. People could clean up their act a little bit.

Ismail: If only.

Crow: Right. But I don’t think that if you get sent a dick pic from one guy, the next guy should be paying for your date because that dude was really shitty, you know?

Ismail: It’s the dick pic tax.

Crow: Yeah.
And also, who knows? That dude you’re on a date with could have been getting catfished, could have gotten a dick pic too. You never know what people go through.

Ismail: We need the best mathematical minds to come together and figure out the right ratio.

Crow: Exactly.

To listen to the entire episode, including a defense of letting men get the check by writer Magdalene Taylor, click the player below or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.