Off the Usual Topics: Gender Double Standards
We hear and see a lot decrying cultural double standards that harm girls and women. Most recently I saw a campaign by several organizations to stop referring to girls and women as “bossy” when they are simply being assertive in the same way boys and men can be assertive. I agree that this is a double standard that pervades American culture and we need to speak out against it. Girls and women should not be degraded by epithets like “bossy” or others just because they are smart and assertive.
What troubles me, though, is that I hear and see very little about cultural double standards that harm boys and men or put them at a disadvantage compared with girls and women. All double standards based on bias prejudice are wrong. And American culture today abounds in ones that are biased against males. An argument that “It’s still a ‘man’s world’” doesn’t justify biased double standards. Two wrongs do not make a right.
The only reason I’m speaking out about this is that almost no one else seems to. As a culture we seem to have accepted double standards harmful to males or that put males at a disadvantage. We may be seeing the results of these double standards in the higher dropout rates of males from school at every level (including suspensions and expulsions in lower grades where actually dropping out is not legal).
Boys are more likely than girls to be suspended from schools for the same behaviors. Boys are more likely to drop out of high school and not attend college than girls. (And yet I see many messages against dropping out aimed at girls and young women!) Boys and men are routinely given harsher sentences in juvenile and criminal courts than girls and women.
Boys are required to register for Selective Service at age 18; girls are not. (And yet young women are now being permitted to engage in combat training and potentially, in the next war, engage in combat.)
Hitting, slapping and kicking are considered funny in television commercials and comedy programs when the victim is male but never when the victim is female. (Note the current “V8″ commercial in which a woman trainer hits a man on the forehead for not eating his vegetables. Sure, no damage is done to him, but imagine the genders reversed. What an outcry there would be if the commercial showed a male trainer hitting a female on the forehead!) In television situation comedies women routinely slap, hit and kick males—sometimes in the groin—and that gets a laugh from the “laugh track” operator and audience. (Think back, for example, to the television comedy show “Everybody Loves Raymond” where Raymond’s wife often hit him and kicked him in the groin.)
Perhaps the most egregious social double standard negatively affecting males, especially boys, is the way fiction and entertainment treat sex between boys and women. Many, many books, television shows, and movies romanticize such sex as “coming of age” (for the boy). Imagine the outcry there would be if a book (considered mainstream and not pornography), television show or movie depicted sex between a man and an underage girl as romantic, beautiful and actually him doing her a favor! Then think of all the books, television shows and movies that depict women who have sex with boys as doing them a favor! If you want examples, think of the television who “Dawson’s Creek” in which a mature female teacher has a sexual affair with a teenage student. It was romanticized and celebrated as part of his coming of age. Think of the movie “The Reader” which depicts a mature woman seducing a teenage boy—with the boy shown in full frontal nudity. (The movie makers had to wait until the male actor turned 18 to film that scene but in the story the character is definitely under age.) Think of books like “The Beet Fields” by childrens’ book writer Gary Paulsen—or hundreds of others that portray sex between adult women and boys as something beautiful. Who ever speaks speaks out against this cultural tendency to romanticize what is actually a form of child sexual abuse? I never hear it spoken against.
I’ve often spoken out here about the overwhelming emphasis on women’s health in American culture and neglect of men’s health by government and the health-medical industries. For the past several years the American Heart Association has sponsored a month long (February) campaign called “Go Red for Women” that highlights women’s heart health. Many people are assuming that heart disease is primarily a women’s health problem that has been overlooked. Actually, the vast majority of women who die of or are disabled by heart disease are elderly (heart failure, not classical heart attacks). In most cases nothing can be done to prevent or stop that disease at it is simply a result of the aging process. Most of those elderly women’s husbands died long before of either cancer (the major cause of death in men) or preventable and treatable heart disease (classic heart attacks).
Men continue to die on average five to six years younger than women and yet almost every gender-related health message seen and heard are aimed at women about women’s health. The federal government and most states have women’s health offices and agencies but not men’s health offices or agencies. It is much easier to get funding for research on women’s health than men’s health.
Double standards that disadvantage males abound in education, the criminal justice system, and the health industries to say nothing of the mass media in general.
Speaking out about this does NOT in any way imply that double standards that harm or disadvantage girls or women are not important for redress. Let me be clear: they are. But they are being identified and spoken out against already by so many people whereas double standards that disadvantage males are being given very little attention.
I believe this is a matter of justice because boys and young men are increasingly dropping out of social engagement and productivity. I believe there is a trickle down effect where society’s negative stereotypes about and neglect of males’ needs and rights and equality (e.g., in health concerns and in education) are gradually eroding young males’ sense of belonging and being valuable. Many young males are retreating into disengagement out of a perceived and felt alienation. Every gender related message in public tells them they are defective females and in order to be valuable to society they need to repress their masculinity and become more like females and that females are superior and more valuable.