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Friday, May 07, 2010

Lunch and the female vote

Dr. Helen linked to one of Amy Alkon's readers asking her about the observed phenomenon of the different approaches to paying for a group bill utilized by the opposite sexes:
I am writing to see if you have insight or an educated guess on one of these oh-so-true stereotypes. If a group of men comes in to have lunch and maybe a beer, odds are pretty good that one of those men will pick up the tab. But, (ask any ten servers and this will be confirmed) if a group of women comes in, they will almost always ask for separate checks. It's always cause for comment among the waitstaff if a group of women doesn't ask for separate checks.
This is a phenomenon I have often observed myself. I haven't read the long string of comments yet, but based on past experience of this sort of discussion, I guarantee you will find the following. 1) Several commenters of both sexes challenging whether the observation is correct due to the way in which they personally claim to behave and their failure to understand that there are always exceptions to the norm. 2) Several female commenters accepting the observation but claiming that the male behavior, which is obviously perceived as preferable by the waiters, is only exhibited due to some negative male quality such as the desire to score the waitress. 3) Several nonsensical defenses of the female behavior by female commenters. 4) Several comments by male commenters expressing excessive disdain, bordering on hostility, for the female practice. 5) And finally, it wouldn't be proper discussion of sex/race differences without at least one cretin arguing that the observation must be untrue because everyone is the same and always behaves in the same manner everywhere.

Now, I tend to think the practice of calculating shares of a group bill is cheap and petty myself, but it's of zero concern to me how or why other people prefer to pay as they do. If it happens to take six women 30 minutes on a Cray supercomputer to work out who pays how much, that's perfectly fine with me. What's of much more interest to me is to consider if this approach to group payment might be indicative of a similar mentality at work on a political level and if that mentality can reasonably be connected to a shift in the political economy since women were granted the right to vote. We know that the female vote has shifted the politics of the USA and other countries leftward, but is it possible that the shift is as much based on non-ideological, instinctive factors as open ideological differences?

If one considers the group check division mentality writ large, it tends to look not terribly unlike the taxing and spending approach of a modern democratic government. There is virtually no attention paid to the national budget as a whole, but attention is focused instead upon each individual interest group area as if it has no connection to the others. Note that I'm not saying that there is anything there, and democratic lobbying groups precede women's suffrage, (although not by as long as you might think), it's just an interesting thought to contemplate.

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