Today in my sociology of gender lecture my Professor asked us the question “if you were to see a man walk down the street with a black eye what would be the first thing that comes to mind?” The class responded, “Oh, he got in a fight!” My professor then proceeded to ask “Ok….now if you saw a woman walking down the street with a black eye, what would you think?” The class responded “She was beat up!” People in the class assumed the woman was a victim in a domestic dispute, but the man was assumed to be an agent that could and would transform his environment. The example illustrates that we interact with men and women on different terms, but also that we often fail to notice how we are doing it. This tendency to have common sense ideas about how men and women operate in the world, and the different expectations we develop from that common sense is the double standard.
Now, with regards to sex before marriage or having multiple sexual partners, one can easily see this double standard. I would like to begin this post by echoing the rhetorical question posed by Wenty in the last post: If we all agree men and women ought to be treated equally, then why are women shamed for being sexually active when men are congratulated? As has been pointed out on this blog (here), there is a hegemonic, gender ideology at work, which leads us to regard sexually active women as sluts, while sexually active men a rarely referred to as anything.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and reported in Contemporary Sexualities (2003), revealed that out of 500 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 17, 92% reported that girls get bad reputations for having sex. Associate director and senior research scientist at the Center for Research at Wellesley College, Deborah Tolman, notes that as a result of this double standard “many girls find ways of transferring blame to escape responsibility for their sexual encounters.” The article goes on to explore the way “parents, not just peers, are also guilty of applying the sexual double standard to their children. 85 percent of teens said parents have different expectations of girls and boys. Even today, sexually active boys are ’ladykillers’ while girls are ’sluts.’”
Sex has become something of a spectacle and can be found anywhere in present day America, so it is odd that we seem intent on sending the message that sex is shameful for women, Just watch any number of music videos or find the nearest commercial billboard. Sex clearly sells! American society is obsessed with sex, but we don’t demonstrate this obsession in a uniform way. More often than not, we passionately decry it as shameful when it involves women, but when a man like Lil Wayne demonstrates some provocative moves in his latest video, he is in no danger of being told he should feel ashamed. Similarly, the bawdy lyrics of Trey Songz’s latest hit are not perceived to be daring, but they would be if sung by a woman artist: “You gunna think I invented sex.”
It is not just that there are double standards, but that the standards placed on women are themselves inconsistent and therefore impossible to satisfy. On the one hand, men frown on women who flaunt their sexuality, but at the same time, they seem to insist that half-naked women parade around in the background of music videos. Does anyone sense a trap?
In their posts, ChelleBell and Wenty wrote about the practice of slut-shaming and noted that women are objectified, and their bodies are sought by men hoping to become manly. Masculinity theorists like Jackson Katz might point out that men, in fact, depend on sex with women in order to “do” masculinity well. A society characterized by hegemonic masculinity strongly encourages men to develop characteristics such as aggressiveness and a will to dominate, but it also encourages men to participate in the subordination of women, all in to the name of obtaining a true masculinity.
~ Country Girl
Teen Gender Double-Standard Persists. Contemporary Sexuality [serial online]. April 2003;37(4):7. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 4, 2010.
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.