Negotiating Courtship: Reconciling Egalitarian Ideals with Traditional Gender Norms

  • Lamont E
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Traditional courtship norms delineate distinct gendered behaviors for men and women based on the model of a dominant, breadwinning male and a passive, dependent female. Previous research shows, however, that as women have increased their access to earned income, there has been a rising ideological and behavioral commitment to egalitarian relationships. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 38 college-educated women, this article explores how women negotiate these seemingly contradictory beliefs in order to understand how and why gendered courtship conventions persist even as heterosexual romantic relationships become more egalitarian. My findings show that while the women reference essentialist beliefs about men's "nature" to explain their commitment to courtship conventions, they draw on narratives of choice, individualism, and personal autonomy to assert that the symbolic gendering of courtship will not interfere with their desire for an egalitarian marriage. However, women's behaviors and narratives reinforce notions of gender difference, potentially providing support for other forms of gender inequality.

Author-supplied keywords

  • courtship
  • dating
  • egalitarianism
  • gender
  • relationships

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  • Ellen Lamont

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