An issue of fairness: society’s double standard

An issue of fairness: society’s double standard December 7, 2011

I realize this is not about theology per se, but it is, in my opinion, about social justice. I also realize many people don’t think this issue is sufficiently serious for mention. (One person called me “goofy” for writing about it in the local press. Oh, well.) Somewhere between 25 and 50 years ago women (and some men) began to speak up about double standards that negatively impacted girls and women (e.g., in high school and college sports and in employment, etc.). Eventually we got Title IX and other measures to even the playing field between the genders. But, in my opinion, anyway, there are still double standards and some of them affect boys and men negatively. I’m not claiming that males are an oppressed group. All I’m saying is that in some cases irrational gender myths negatively affect some boys and men (as described below) and make the justice system seem arbitrary and capricious.

Please read this guest column I plan to submit to the local newspaper and let me know what you think. It is provoked by a recent set of circumstances in our county’s courts. A young man accused of having consensual sex with a 15 or 16 year old girl (the news reports are unclear about her exact age) was sentenced to 90 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 45 years. (His sentence was later reduced to 40 years.) A female teacher accused of seducing a 13 year old male student was acquitted even though she texted him hundreds of times in a month and a half, was seen holding hands with him and was known to be alone with him often. The jury simply didn’t believe him; they believed her when she denied anything sexual occurred. A local pastor was convicted and sentenced to 65 years for killing his wife. A local woman was convicted and sentenced to 30 years for killing her husband. There was no proof or evidence that he abused her. (I’ll just add here that I was 19 when I saw “The Summer of ’42” and, as there were no ratings then, had no idea what it was about. There was no nudity or explicit sex portrayed in it. By today’s standards it would be rated “R” at most and probably “PG13”.)

Here’s my guest column:

The first movie I saw in a movie theater was the 1971 hit “The Summer of ’42.” It was about the sexual awakening of a 15 year old boy with the help of a woman who seduces him. Or does he seduce her? Wait. At least from today’s legal perspective, he was a child. She molested him. But that’s certainly not how the movie portrayed it.

Jump ahead to 2008 and another movie: “The Reader.” By then you’d think Hollywood and society would have updated its attitude about boys being molested by women. Wrong. It’s about another 15 year old boy being seduced by a woman. Or does he seduce her? Wait. It’s 2008! And yet the movie portrays the relationship as romantic and sweet.

When a teen girl is seduced by a man it’s child molestation and results in lifelong trauma. The man will probably be sentenced to many years in prison even if the relationship was consensual. When a teen boy is seduced by a woman she did him a favor; he got lucky. Even if she’s convicted (which is unlikely) she’ll probably be sentenced to probation or evenings and weekends in jail for a few years (as in a recent episode of the TV show “20/20” where the interviewer asked the male victim “Didn’t you like it just a little?”)

Society still hasn’t grown out of its gender stereotypes and double standards and that is nowhere more evident than with regard to child molestation. Juries tend to believe girls and women who cry rape or molestation. They find it harder to believe a boy or young man who says he was molested by a woman; it just doesn’t fit our social gender myth about women. We still think girls and women are rarely, if ever, predators. And when they are, it’s not as serious a crime as when a man is.

There’s another area where double standards show up in society’s attitude toward the genders: violence. The myth is that women never murder men with pure malice; it must always be due to the man’s abuse (even when there’s no real evidence of abuse) or the woman’s mental illness (stemming from abuse as a child). At least that’s what we prefer to think.

A preacher’s wife shoots her husband with a shotgun as he sleeps and flees with the children as he lies dying. Although convicted (she never denied it), she serves only a few months in jail. Soon she’s out and has custody of her children.

A local woman shoots her husband after trying to hire hit men to do it. She’s convicted but only sentenced to 30 years in prison with possibility of parole after 15 years.

A local pastor suffocates his wife and is sentenced to 65 years (a relatively lenient sentence for murder but still much more than 30 years!).

As young people say “What gives here?” Something’s amiss in society’s valuations of sex and murder between the genders. Lady Justice isn’t so blind after all—at least when it comes to gender.

Finally, if you doubt my claim, look at TV sitcoms. Women striking, kicking and punching men is a common gag that gets lots of canned laughter. But, of course, as Dr. Phil said to a man who dared to fight back against a woman attacker “A man never, never hits a woman.” If it’s domestic violence for a man to hit a woman, it should be wrong for women to hit men as well.  But that’s not what we see on TV.



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