Sexual Double Standard: Root causes and feasible solutions
Gender-related issues have been an important topic in society throughout history. For years, women have been subjected to adverse treatment when it came to sexual standards. While men have long been credited and hailed for ‘bedding’ women and having many sexual partners; however, women were historically scorned for having multiple partners, especially out of wedlock. The sexual double standard has roots in our modern society as well. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, men and women have seen their sexual roles go in the same direction as before. Women are still heavily scorned for being promiscuous while men are rewarded. The rewards, in this case, are social. Moreover, there is less social stigma associated with men who choose to have many sexual partners. Ultimately, the sexual double standard developed from media related scripts and a culture of acceptance; adequate solutions to this problem will require integrating sexual equality into the curriculum of sexual education courses that young people take.
How did the double standard start?
The sexual double standard is a dominant and widely practiced view that scorns women for sexual conduct that is deemed excessive. In another sense, it is also:
“The view that encourages and accepts sexual expression of men more than women” (Knox 257).
While men and women form intimate relationships differently, the implications of such a standard reflect adverse treatment towards women with multiple partners. As Knox remarked, women who have multiple partners are personified with negative connotations. On the other hand, men are glorified for the same behavior and depicted as being “studs” (Knox). Ultimately, it is wholly unacceptable in today’s society for women to have promiscuous relations with men while men can actively practice it without such intense social stigma. The heightened social stigma associated with women’s behavior is the main crux of the problem.
When looking at the root cause of the problem, it is important to consider how children learn their sexual behaviors. From an early age, children are socialized into society through school, their friends and of course, parents. While parents can do a good job of teaching their kids that a sexual double standard is not acceptable, there is still the issue of school systems. Sex education in schools is a great opportunity to teach kids about sexuality and how it works in terms of the social context. Moreover, the media is another root cause of the sexual double standard. Television, magazines, and movies are an important factor to consider because they are key ways that children learn scripts about how to behave in the real world.
Television and media
Television shows give young children sexual scripts to follow, and effectively is a major root cause of the sexual double standard. According to Jennifer Aubrey in Sex and Punishment: An Examination of Sexual Consequences and the Sexual Double Standard in Teen Programming, women are personified as facing severe social and emotional consequences for not being sexually promiscuous. In their analysis of various television shows that depicted social relations among youth, the researcher found:
“Negative consequences were more common in scenes in which female characters initiated sexual activities than in scenes in which male characters initiated sexual activities” (Aubrey 505).
Women that were open to sexual conduct were later scolded and personified as being subjected to negative behavior, despite the fact that men did the same thing, albeit with less stigma afterward. Some of the consequences of sexual conduct by women included emotional abuse and social alienation (Aubrey). Clearly, this is an example of men being able to exercise “greater sexual freedom” while women were not able to practice the same behavior (Eichler 127). The media offered a script that children could follow and utilize for their own lives.
Reflecting on sexual double standards and children
In looking at the evidence, it is clear that a major cause of the sexual double standard is the fact that the media portrays gender roles with pre-defined social scripts. Through repeated exposure to such forms of media, women develop internal modes of conduct that enforce the sexual double standard. Social cognitive theory by Albert Bandura argued that children and people have the capacity to internalize behaviors that are repeatedly shown in movies and television shows (Aubrey). Also, women’s behaviors regarding sexuality are increasingly subject to influence by the media.
Research shows that girls internalize the belief that ‘nice’ girls and ‘good’ women do not take the initiative in satisfying their sexual desires; they wait for men to make the ﬁrst move, and, even then, they control and restrict how far the sexual behavior will advance. (Aubrey 512) Children are thus trained to abide by these strict social norms and codes of sexual conduct that they see in the movies. Promiscuous behaviors are scolded or praised because of the personifications in television shows like the ones that Aubrey analyzed.
As children internalize these beliefs over time, negative terms also enter the mainstream vocabulary of children. Terms like that result in a sexual double standard where women are subjected to being treated adversely while men are not. Clearly, this is a problem with how the media chooses to portray men, women and their relations. The double standard stems from the fact that young people learn these behaviors and contribute to the culture of defined sexual roles.
In order to propose an effective solution, it is important to consider that we need to change the way that future generations of children respond to gender roles. This is not an easy task and requires a high level of reinforcement, persistence, and thoroughness. Addressing the issue of the media is not the most effective channel of influence. After all, attempting to battle established and funded institutions like Hollywood may be a moot point. Magazines, television shows, and movies would still reinforce social norms that pertain to sexuality. However, there is an immense opportunity when it comes to education in public and private schools.
Solving the double standard problem
Sexual education classes in schools have proven to be effective in helping youths recognize and practice safe sexual behavior. For instance, the 1980’s were years where schools focused on comprehensive sexual education with an emphasis on disease prevention (Levesque 30). Soon, there was a social stigma around not practicing safer sex and a problem was seriously addressed. Similarly, other issues within sexual education were addressed: contraceptives, STI prevention and more (Levesque). Sexual education has thus proved to be a robust means of addressing issues concerning sexuality. The same efforts can be focused on addressing the sexual double standard.
Since youth have a more liberal attitude towards sexual relationships, a curriculum focused on addressing issues like the sexual double standard can be effective in changing the way that children think about sexual roles. For instance, greater emphasis on equality and impact of having multiple sexual partners can easily be integrated into traditional sexual education courses. Since there are no outstanding media interests that impact sexual education curriculums (like Hollywood), efforts would be effective in getting the message across to students. Over time, a balanced focus on understanding the social and emotional implications of having multiple partners would be realized by students. As students change the way that they think about sexuality and their own bodies, they will come to better understand that their behavior is misguided when it comes to treating women adversely for having multiple partners. Moreover, men would also eventually develop a stigma associated with having many partners.
Naturally, this process would not fix the problem overnight, but it would be a solid foundation for a better future where women are treated equally with respect to sexual roles. If men are burdened with the same stigma of being dirty and a ‘whore,’ then attitudes would profoundly change over time. Once those attitudes are passed down to further generations, then the problem will be truly addressed and peoples’ attitudes will begin to change for the long term. Moreover, the social stigma would be associated with men as well as women.
The media’s role
We have seen that media like television shows focus more on sexuality and have fostered attitudes that supported the sexual double standard of sexual behavior. The integration sex-role related materials was offered as a feasible solution to address the problem. The sexual double standard is a viewpoint that supports the notion that it is ok for men to have sex with many sexual partners with minimal social stigma. However, women are faced with an intense social stigma for the same actions. The problem was that society enforced these viewpoints through various areas of influence, especially in television shows. Research by Aubrey showed that television shows offered scripts that children would emulate in real life.
This resulted in adherence to the sexual double standard. While attempting to amend the way that Hollywood depicts sex roles would be a formidable challenge, changing the way that sexual education programs address the issue would be effective. Over time, children would develop more appropriate and egalitarian attitudes toward sex roles. Ultimately, this solution would take time and effort but would prove to be effective in changing the way that people think about the sexual double standard.
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