My wife and I are going to a social event to the house of a (not so close but still) friend who is a self-declared and active feminist (e.g. she blogs about it). For such social events, we normally take flowers to the host in gratitude for the invitation. We like this present because (to us and based on feedback from past experiences) flowers are beautiful, colorful, smell nice, and overall bring joy to those around them. Also, most of the people give wine or chocolates, so we think something different is a nice present too.

In this case however, I am afraid flowers could be understood by her as a gendered/stereotype/sexist present. Since there is no obscurity between this friend and ourselves on her feminism, we having not thought about this potential perception could make her feel unpleased, specially when she might have to receive this present in front of other guests.

Is this an appropriate present?

Context is United Kingdom. I should add that I had some misunderstandings with some other (activist) feminists before for things I considered minor issues, and just want to avoid another. Not that I think something terrible might happen of course, but just asking to be more "informed". I confess I would particularly appreciate an answer from a self-declared activist feminist, which perhaps might back up the answer with some sources/texts on why my friend could well be upset with such present.

Update: I will report back on how this went (in a week's time). The truth is that this massive conversation (quite insightful) is kind of pushing me to actually give her flowers, to see what results of it. If I direct her to this post after it, I am sure she will have a massive laugh! (or not)

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    <comments removed> A lot of interesting answers and follow up here; unfortunately, folks still think question comments are the places to post their answers which only spurs on further answers and debate... in comments. Comments are not your chat room. This is not a discussion forum. If you have an answer, please post it below. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Sep 21 '17 at 14:14
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    What in particular makes you think that she would be offended? Have there been past cases where she responded negatively to such a gift (or something like it)? – HDE 226868 Sep 21 '17 at 15:48
  • @HDE226868 This came in another comment. See here. Precaution+curiosity based on past experience with other feminists. – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 15:49
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    @luchonacho Do you usually give flowers to any host, no matter their gender? – Thomas 'Panda' Attwood Sep 24 '17 at 22:21

14 Answers 14

up vote 56 down vote accepted

Whether or not someone is a feminist is a very bad predictor for how much they (dis)like being given flowers. Some may, some may not. It's certainly neither a necessary (1) nor a sufficient (2) condition; so without further information, not much advice can be given. You know your friend better than this bunch of strangers on the internet.

  1. On the one hand, there are various reasons why someone might feel offended by a gift of flowers, though all very unlikely: You forgot about the person's allergy, the particular kind of flower evokes bad memories, and, yes: the person is a feminist and considers a gift of flowers as symbol of patriarchy.

  2. On the other hand, I'd venture to say that most feminists see a gift of flowers simply as a kind gesture and that's it. Most women I know consider themselves feminists (but only a few are activists), and as far as I'm aware of would not be offended to receive flowers. Even if your friend thought giving flowers was symbolic of patriarchy, she might still see the kindness of the gesture, value the expression of your friendship, and/or consider it inappropriate to "punish" you for a well-intentioned act of kindness.

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    I like this answer. Do you have a particular example to back up your comment "none of them would be offended to receive flowers"? Has this come up in a conversation? How are you so sure about it? If you give me some hints, I can maybe apply them to my friend. – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 13:39
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    Also, she might dislike flowers totally independent of her feminist ideology - she might simply not want to take care of flowers or not appreciate them by themselves. But either you know her well enough to judge whether she likes flowers in general or she's hopefully kind enough to appreciate the gesture even tough she doesn't like flowers for whatever reason. – Darkwing Sep 21 '17 at 14:36
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    @luchonacho I've given my girlfriend and ex-girlfriend flowers, if that counts as experience, but these are of course very context-bound examples (and they are feminists but not activists). Concerning instances of more activist feminists, I haven't given the people I'm thinking of flowers, but I know them well enough to be sure they would not only not mind, but be happy to receive them as gift. However, as I said in my answer, everyone is different. – user510 Sep 21 '17 at 14:47
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    I don't know if this helps you with your friend, luchonacho, but I consider myself a feminist (I believe women should get equal pay for equal work, that there are various systemic holdovers of a much more patriarchal time that are damaging to both women and men, that intersectionality is an important lens for understanding people, etc.) and love to receive flowers. Just not fragrant lilies, because they give me a terrible headache. But even if you gave me stargazer lilies I would smile and thank you and then put them out on the porch "where the whole neighborhood can enjoy them" ;-). – 1006a Sep 21 '17 at 16:25
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    @luchonacho personally I think neither flowers nor chocolates are sexist presents, and my experience is that men prefer chocolates over flowers, so this seems pretty variable. – user510 Sep 21 '17 at 19:29

Personally I think you are overthinking it. I have never given flowers and had them unappreciated. All those reasons you gave for giving flowers are good ones. I don't see how following feminism would make you have to dislike flowers.

If you are worried, maybe give a house plant instead? This has less historic connotations than a bunch of flowers and has the added advantage of generally lasting longer too.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Sep 24 '17 at 19:23
  • No, don't give a houseplant! Houseplants have to be taken care of. You are giving a burden to your hostess that could last for years, or force your hostess to let something die. In fact, giving a houseplant could be interpreted as implying your hostess loved housewifely tasks. (Only partly serious here.) – user1760 Dec 27 '17 at 22:39

I don't think it should be a big deal, as you stated :

For such social events, we normally take flowers to the host in gratitude for the invitation.

So I take that, whomever the host is, you would act this way. You are not bringing flowers because she is a woman, but because she is the host.

In my own experience, most of the time, feminists don't tend to over-think that kind of small things.

But it might be a good idea to phrase it in a way that makes sure that she wil understand that it is not because of her gender.

Something like :

We brought some flowers as thanks for the invitation, I hope it's okay.

Might work fine.


If you are really worried that she might take it as a gender-specific action, just asking her in advance (via text for exemple) could be a good idea. If you ask her something like :

Hey, we usually bring flower for the host when we're invited to an event, is that okay ? Or should we bring something else ?

And depending on her answer you should know what to do.

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    Mmm, I find asking for "what present should I give you" is a bit missing the point of a present. – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 9:57
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    @luchonacho well you don't have to ask her what you should bring, just asking her if she would be offended by flowers would be enough. If she says it's okay, bring flowers, if she says it isn'nt, you can find something else ^^ – user3399 Sep 21 '17 at 9:58
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    haha what's the difference? You are still likely to give away the surprise of the present! – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 10:00
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    @luchonacho Well yeah, but there is no "sure" method of saying "yes it will offend her" or "not it won't" exept for asking her about it. It most likely won't bother her, but there is a (very slim) possibility that it might. So you have to decide if you are willing to take a (small) risk, or want to be sure 100% – user3399 Sep 21 '17 at 10:07
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    I think "just ask the person in question" is the correct answer (here and for a lot of questions on this site). As long as you ask earnestly and with an open mind, I'm pretty sure your host would be happy to tell you whether she is or isn't offended by flowers as well as why. – Harrison Paine Sep 21 '17 at 21:01

You asked for an "insider's" opinion, so, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I can give you one.

Being a feminist is not an indicator of whether or not a person will appreciate flowers, just as someone's skin color is not an indicator of whether or not a person will appreciate a slice of cake, or any other example you care to think of. The two are not related. There is no feminist credo that states "never accept a gift of flowers, especially not from a man, as this is a disgrace to you & your gender".

Do you think this person will appreciate a gift of flowers, regardless of their ideologies? Go for it. Are you worried they will take offense? Opt for another gift. This strategy can be applied to any & all flavors of people.

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    Thanks! I am not sure I agree though. Basically, you are saying this: "Belonging to group X is not an indicator of whether or not a person [of that group] will appreciate an item Y [as a present]". I can give you tons of examples of items Y which will be offensive for (many people belonging to) a particular group X. Hence, it is necessarily true that this has to be analysed case by case. My concern is that Y (i.e. flowers) might be offensive for X (i.e. feminists) because Y might represent something those in X despise. – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 17:14
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    If you gave a Black American a bucket of fried chicken as a present, may be offensive. Give a Chinese person a straw hat, may be offensive. Flowers to a feminist I think belongs in the list of possibly offensive gifts. I think it all depends on your relationship with the person. – n00dles Sep 21 '17 at 18:25
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    @luchonacho OK, my example may have been a bit too generic. Let me revise slightly: it is my personal opinion as a feminist that in general, flowers as a gift for a typical social event at a feminist someone's home are not offensive. If you are still not convinced that your friend will not be offended (after all she is your friend, you know her better than I), then my opinion no longer matters, and you must trust your gut. – jackwise Sep 22 '17 at 1:10
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    @n00dles For an extremely over-the-top example that proves the point, look up Gabriel Iglasias "Racist Gift Basket" – wedstrom Sep 22 '17 at 18:42
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    @n00dles “I think it all depends on your relationship with the person.” That hits the nail on the head. I am from New York City, but if someone gave me some endless pile of NYC related paraphernalia, I would get sick of it from day one. Treat humans as humans. – JakeGould Sep 25 '17 at 0:01

I'm a pretty active feminist, and I love it when people bring me flowers as a hosting gift. That said, I certainly know feminists on the more radical end of the spectrum who would take offense. As others have pointed out, feminists vary as much as any other group of people, so--assuming you would be as likely to bring flowers to a male or female host--your personal knowledge of her preferences is definitely your best guide here.

If you're still concerned, I'd just casually ask if she'd have any objections to you bringing flowers... that will also cover you in case she or any household members have allergies. Most feminists I know would appreciate that you spent time thinking about it, whether or not they actually mind the flowers themselves. If she's the kind of feminist who would take serious offense to simply being asked then you would probably already know. You can also just let your wife hand them to her in case she does feel at all weird about being given flowers by a man.

I don't want to say you're overthinking it because it's always great to think about these things--but you might be overstressing :)

Edit: One additional point I haven't seen people mention is that if you do bring it up with her (which honestly I think would be totally fine and probably the best move if you're still unsure of what to bring), I'd keep it casual unless she initiates a more intense conversation about the feminist implications of various hosting gifts herself--having those conversations can be a serious mental/emotional burden, and while many active feminists are committed to taking them on when they can, it's not that cool to force them to engage on it, especially in the context of something she's probably hoping to be fun and low-stress like a dinner party with friends. So I'd stick with something like "are you a fan of/any objections to flowers?", "any preference between flowers and wine?", etc. rather than "would you be offended by flowers?" or "do you feel like flowers are sexist?"

One last thought: you said she blogs about feminism. Have you tried reading her blog at all or even searching it for any mention of flowers (small chance, but you never know)? That should help you gauge how extreme or moderate her views and capacity for getting offended might be.

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    I think I have never met anyone with allergies to flowers! :( must be terrible! – luchonacho Sep 22 '17 at 7:55
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    I have one friend who gets migraines from the scent of stargazer lilies, and one who apparently gets hay fever from one of the filler flowers commonly used in bouquets... pretty major bummers! – Dandan Sep 22 '17 at 13:45
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    Probably! A cooking book sounds nice--but honestly if you were worried about the flowers, cooking had the exact same historically gendered context! Not that I think that means it's something to avoid--like I said, is honestly just go with your knowledge of what she's into and ask if you're still unsure about offending her. Although see the extra note I'm about to add to my answer on that... – Dandan Sep 22 '17 at 13:59
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    But again, it totally depends on how well you know her preferences--if she's super into cooking then a cookbook would absolutely be an appropriate gift. If she's super not, then it might be more likely to irk her than the flowers. Personal insight is key here. – Dandan Sep 22 '17 at 14:19
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    @luchonacho if you come to my household, you'd need to ask... Not from a feminist perspective (we all are for equality, but wouldn't be offended by flowers)... But from a perspective of: I have allergies, so does the gf, so does the baby (some of our allergies are runy noses... But my gf COULD go in anaphylactic shock if you choose the wrong ones) + we have a dog who LOVES to eat plants and some household flowers/plants can be dangerous to her too.... – Patrice Sep 22 '17 at 14:21

It all depends on the person and your relationship. Does she have flowers around her house? You could say "I could see you have flowers around, so I thought you might like some as a present"; so nothing to do with gender or beliefs.

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The fact that you are asking this question tells me you may want to reconsider the gift and instead find out what she likes. Then you have good reason to get a certain gift, be that flowers or a pack of playing cards.

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    Good point! Unfortunately we have never been to her house :( But its a good point! Yes, I am willing to reconsider. Maybe we can give a cooking book... – luchonacho Sep 22 '17 at 7:57
  • Actually, a cooking book might even be more sexist! No idea why that came to my mind :o – luchonacho Sep 22 '17 at 14:06
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    @luchonacho Haha, yeah. I thought you meant she likes cooking! If not, that's worse than flowers! :`D – n00dles Sep 22 '17 at 18:23

First off, while most feminists will agree that feminism is somehow about women’s rights, there is no universal consensus as to what that means precisely. Some will be adamant that certain behaviors are discriminating against women, while others will contend that this is the case with the exact opposite behavior, and then there are some wo hold that anything a woman does out of her own free choosing is acceptable. And despite their opposing views, all three groups consider themselves feminists.

Hence, there is no hard-and-fast rule as to whether is is OK to give a feminist flowers. It depends entirely on the person. Here are some points you might want to think about:

  • What would you bring if you were going alone?
  • What would your wife bring if she were going alone?
  • For either of these scenarios, what would you/your wife bring if the host were male?
  • Of all the options you might come up with, which do you believe your host would appreciate? Does she like flowers (e.g. does she have a lot of flowers around the house)? If one of your other options is a bottle of wine, does she like wine? (Substitute wine with whatever other ideas you came up with.) Are there other gifts you know she would appreciate?
  • Who will hand whatever gift you’ve decided on to the host? That may make a huge difference.
  • If you opt for the flowers, how about including a card with a quotation of a well-known feminist expressing her appreciation for flowers? (Inspired by Jon Hanna’s comment.)
  • These are great question, most of which have not come up before. A lot of food for thought. – luchonacho Sep 22 '17 at 10:03

Are we over-thinking this?

Either you're overthinking it, or your host is.

The strong feminists I know still appreciate gifts of flowers, especially on appropriate occasions like the one you described.

Additionally, you're going with your wife and offering thanks for hospitality with the presentation of the flowers, so the intention seems unlikely to be misinterpreted as a romantic advance.

  • Sure, I was never worried about being misunderstood in the romantic sense. Given the context, that does not make sense. (Whether a feminist would react to a gift of flowers in the romantic sense is an interesting question but different to the one I'm asking). – luchonacho Sep 22 '17 at 7:54
  • @luchonacho That bit's mostly there for others who might have similar questions and find themselves directed here, and for some of the commenters I've seen on other answers. – WBT Sep 22 '17 at 15:48

If you give someone a gift of flowers and they act unappreciative/offended then the problem lies with them not you or the gift. If you want to give flowers then give them and don't worry about it, you cannot control other people's unreasonable or irrational reaction to things.

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    Your phrasing makes it sound like you're saying everyone has an obligation to like flowers, or at least say that they do, even if that's a lie, which I don't agree with. – NotThatGuy Sep 21 '17 at 11:48
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    They don't have to like flowers but if they don't have the interpersonal skills not be be rude about receiving them as a gift then that is problem they have not the OP. – user1450877 Sep 21 '17 at 12:53

In our company, we have an official process to gift flowers (from the manager to the person) when people have been around 5, 10, ... years. The process obviously does not differentiate between males and females (which would be chauvinistic).

Hence, I regularly give flowers to males in this context, often when other males and females are present as well.

It never was a problem for them. Initially, for whatever cliché reason, I was afraid that it would be awkward to give flowers to a man, but men do seem to like beautiful things as much as women.

So, in this regard, I believe you can feel perfectly safe!

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    Not sure how this is related to feminism though. – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 13:07
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    @luchonacho: as it is (IMO, as given in the example) OK to give flowers to men, flowers are hence not immediately connected with women, but are gender neutral. Thus the act of gifting flowers should not provoke anything regarding feminism. – AnoE Sep 21 '17 at 17:19
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    But that's exactly my point, @luchonacho. I give an example where flowers for men are perfectly normal. This should encourage the OP to believe that even if there is a slight bias of giving flowers to women (and footballs to men), it should not be that big of a bias as to make the feminist friend angry. Of course, I leave this up to the SE democracy to make it true or not, and up to the OP to find out. :) – AnoE Sep 21 '17 at 17:32
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    "we have an official process to gift flowers..." That would send me a clear message: all I can expect from this company after years of hard work is a bunch of flowers that cost a few dollars and will be dead in a week - and even they are not a personal gift from the manager, butt whatever some nameless and faceless bean-counter bought out of the petty cash budget! FWIW I'm an unrepentant male anti-feminist - all humans have feelings! Frankly, I would probably just leave them to die on my desk - not even put them in water. I don't care that the rest of the employees know what I think! – alephzero Sep 22 '17 at 3:10
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    Gosh, you guys have a bleak outlook. – AnoE Sep 22 '17 at 10:31

Flowers should be fine in this context. Flowers are a common decorative item for a home. It is hard to see how in this context they would be interpreted as contributing to patriarchy or problematic aspects of patriarchal culture, especially as there are two of you and you give them to everyone in a similar situation.

As a feminist I sometimes give flowers to my girlfriend. She likes them. That's all there is to it.

In my experience "feminist" falls into one of two categories.

  1. Normal person with pro-female views. Likes to advance feminist agendas and so on. Saying that "she is a feminist" is not much more different then saying she is a republican, christian, activist for dogs/cats, or other interest. In this case flowers should be well received and appreciated. Stay with the "Thank You" flowers and you should be find. It's hard for anyone not to appreciate flowers.

  2. Total wack job that hates any and everything that may have at one time come in contact with, had a, or seen a penis. These people are crazy and give real feminists a very bad name. Every group has there "sub group" that takes it to far and if your host is in that (sub)group. Then I honestly suggest bringing nothing. There is no telling what logic could be used to take offense at a gift. Flowers are for girls (a sexist view any way) and so your making a statement. If you bring wine then your trying something else cause wine bottles are phallic or some such thing. Again the people in this group are just impossible to please, and they manage to give more "legit" feminists a bad name (if fact it's probably what made you think you needed to ask this question).

Good news is there are actually very few people in group 2. They are there but it's not likely.

On the other side of the coin, you didn't get flowers because she wasn't a man. You got flowers because it's your go to "thanks for having us over" gift. If your friend can't understand that, then she really isn't your friend.

It depends what kind of feminist you're talking about. If you're talking about a person who loves to make everything a gender problem, is easily offended, and also happens to be a woman, you may be in trouble regardless what you decide to do.

If you're talking about the kind of person who's concerned about unequal pay, maternity/paternity leave, career opportunities, etc, you're fine.

But above that, there are 2 other important questions:

  • Does she like flowers?
  • What kind of flowers does she like?

I suggest you ask these. If she takes offense, be prepared to tell her that an anonymous straight male on the internet (that would be myself) has been asked the same questions before, and didn't take offense.

A true feminist means she wants equality. So, if you'd be happy receiving flowers from her, then she shouldn't get upset if she received them from you. There's no gender stereotype with flowers, they're a nice gesture.

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    We all should read some of the studies about gender stereotypes, in various fields related to Humanities / Social Sciences / Psychology and so on... Gender stereotypes are strong, wealthy and still widely used (knowing or not, purposefully or not). I'm not sure everyone will agree with you (even if you're nice and want to treat all equally as you do) – OldPadawan Sep 21 '17 at 15:33
  • @OldPadawan What is a "wealthy" stereotype? – luchonacho Sep 21 '17 at 15:58
  • I used wealthy as I was looking for an image that says prosperous / thriving / blooming / still growing (maybe I missed the point by lack of vocabulary, sorry) – OldPadawan Sep 21 '17 at 16:17
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    We all stereotype people, it's a fact. It's an unavoidable reaction in our brain when we see people. Your logical mind then dismisses it a second later. True fact. I saw it in a documentary with Morgan Freeman. It was originally to sum up a person to know if they are dangerous. – n00dles Sep 22 '17 at 19:45
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    @n00dles it only partially dismisses the stereotype. Or rather how much your brain compensates for the stereotype is variable depending on the individual, the stereotype, how much the person has thought about the stereotype (both in general and there's strong effect for recent thinking). It's even possible to "overcompensate" for the stereotype, though anchoring makes this unlikely. – Rick Sep 26 '17 at 12:35

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