It’s a well-known fact that people pay to hear what celebrities think about pretty much everything. But Kirsten Dunst has now learned that it doesn’t mean everyone is going to like what they say. In the May cover story of Harper’s Bazaar UK, the actress received criticism for commenting that more traditional male and female roles are undervalued, especially when it comes to dating.
“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued,” she told Harper’s Bazaar UK. Dunst continues by suggesting that nurturing, being a mother, and cooking are examples of the kind of feminine roles that are underappreciated today.
To make matters worse, Dunst fessed up to one of the most antifeminist notions of all: the desire for a knight in shining armor—or to believe one might exist, period. "Sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor,” she explains. “I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s how relationships work.”
I doubt anyone was surprised when Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan pinned Dunst as unqualified to discuss feminine gender norms and being “kind of dumb about it.” But just because some feminist commentators dislike the sentiment, it’s clear that Dunst is not the only strong, independent woman to subscribe to a traditionally feminine role in her relationships. Many feel that these gender norms—for example, that men should take the initiative on the first date—are well placed.
A recent study published in the journal Gender & Society indicates that many women who call themselves feminists also look for chivalrous men. The study surveyed the dating history of 38 college-educated women between the ages of 25 and 40 who wanted relationships where the breadwinning, housework, and childcare were shared equally. Researchers discovered that these same women still adhered to traditional gender roles when it came to dating. Among the women surveyed, most expected a man to pay on the first date and were content to let men determine the level of commitment within the relationship. These women consider chivalry to be an indication of a man’s character, helping them to determine if he is respectful and caring.
Granted, the author of the study and NYU doctoral candidate in sociology, Ellen Lamont, worries that there is a disconnect between what women expect and desire during courtship and their expectation in marriage. “My biggest concerns with the women’s narratives is that they want traditional courtship and egalitarian marriages and I just don’t think that will be possible,” explains Lamont. She raises a good point, but why do women prefer traditional gender roles while romancing their future spouse and at the same time view marriage in less traditional terms?
The conclusion could be—as suggested by the title of a Women’s Healtharticle—that women still don’t date like feminists. Or perhaps the answer is that traditional norms don’t necessarily have to clash with our freedom to be strong independent women, whether we’re single, dating, or married.
Why can’t a woman choose traditionally feminine roles, especially if they feel that they complement their sense of femininity and help them navigate romance with the opposite sex? What’s wrong with allowing my date to pay for a meal or choosing to stay home with my children if I freely choose? This behavior is as complementary to my femininity as running a business or asserting my needs in a relationship.
To undervalue women’s choices, and to say that you can’t be a strong woman and choose a traditional norm, is far more unfair and antifeminist. And, quite frankly, I am not content to leave it up to others, whether patriarchal men or lofty gender theorists, to sort that out for me.
Photo by Gabriela Hansen