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“Just agreed to watch the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice with my girl,” a friend recently posted on Facebook. “How many boyfriend points does that rack up?”
Without thinking, I replied, “Wow! Lots. You’re a good boyfriend.” Then I sat back and thought about what I’d just written. Sure, taking an interest in things your partner enjoys does make you a good boyfriend… but what about all the concessions girlfriends make? A few comments later, his girlfriend pointed out that she’d willingly sat through six Star Wars movies and three seasons of Game of Thrones – not exactly her bag – without making a fuss or asking for anything in kind, which got me thinking about the ways we expect women to acquiesce to men in relationships, with low expectations of reciprocation. Does a man’s acquiescence worth more than a woman’s? If nothing else, they appear to be less ‘status-update worthy’.
Boyfriend points seemed to be earned by men doing things outside of their own interests to please their women. All well and good, but examples abound (from Jane Austen’s Emma to Lena Dunham’s Girls) of women also doing things, sometimes begrudgingly, in order to appease their partners. However, this exceptional behaviour, and the hypothetical points earned, don’t appear on parity with those of men who venture beyond their comfort zones.
And while the assumed prize for accumulating boyfriend points is more sex, the ol’ “If I look at clothes with you, you’ll have sex with me” trope is about as romantic as a bra made of sandpaper. Does anyone really still think that women dislike sex and will only “give in” when awarded something in return? Do we really think so little of men to presume that they’ll only step outside their comfort zone when presented with a carnal incentive?
In contrast, there are no rewards programs for things taken for granted as women’s work. From cleaning the house to taking care of the kids to sharing an interest with your partner, men have countless opportunities to earn boyfriend points – and many do, without ever laying claim to them. But when a woman goes to the footy with her partner, it’s less special. When she takes care of buying all the Christmas presents, it’s par for the course. When she washes the dishes after making the dinner, it’s no biggie. At a recent baby shower, we filled out a questionnaire about the parents-to-be. “What favourite activity will the father give up temporarily to help mum and baby?” one question read. There was no mention of the mother giving up anything, temporarily or otherwise. Perhaps it was assumed she’d just give up everything, because that’s what mums-to-be do.
At worst, boyfriend points are a cute way of saying that society thinks men in relationships are put upon by their women and therefore deserve recognition for enduring our collective penchant for Rachel McAdams movies. At best, it’s a way for boyfriends to make a humble brag about what renaissance men they are. I’m no sci-fi fan, but when I watched all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica with my husband (which I loved, incidentally), it was much, much less of a big deal to our friends than when he agreed to binge-watch Gilmore Girls with me (which we both parodied mercilessly by the final season). We seem to expect women to willingly step out of their boundaries for the good of a relationship, but when a man does exactly the same thing, it’s seen as remarkable.
Perhaps we have a generation of “hapless bloke” sitcom and advertising caricatures to thank for this expectation gap. But when we reward men for doing things that are simply ‘second nature’ for women, the costs far outweigh the benefits for all concerned.