This morning's breakfast time TV fare came courtesy of MTV: a discussion of sexual double standards for young men and women in the Busting The Double Standard episode of the series Fight For Your Rights: Protect Yourself. It got me thinking about a number of different experiences I've had in my life that both confirm and deny the double standards they spoke about.
I suppose I should say first that I agree that a double standard exists in varying degrees throughout the United States, and that women, by far, are getting the worse of it. While I don't necessarily agree that Britney Spears should be wearing low rider jeans with a g-string showing over the tops of her hips in public or essentially performing a strip tease on national television, I agree that she's got a point when it comes to young women expressing themselves sexually. A lot of people still want to see women as chaste, asexual creatures, who shouldn't discuss, much less perform or enjoy, intimate sexual acts. Men, on the other hand, get to do whatever they want, as long as they don't make asses of themselves too often.
By the way, my objections to the public behavior of certain young divas like Ms. Spears and Ms. Aguilera arises because I think that it is just as much titillation as sexual expression. I don't see them out there arguing for raising the level of dialogue about sexuality for young people in this country by, say, advocating better sex education or talking about distributing birth control in schools. No, their complaint seems to arise when they more or less want to dress like strippers or porn stars. So, when I see Christina Aguilera appear on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing pretty much nothing but a guitar, that's (very tacky but) evocative marketing as much as anything else -- I felt the same about the Red Hot Chili Peppers wearing nothing but tube socks on TV and in magazines. But I digress.
At the same time, I've known and dated an awful lot of women who seem to buck this trend by being sexually experimental at different points in their lives. If my experiences in higher education were anywhere near representative, I think men and women both have their promiscuious phases. I've certainly known several women aged between 20 and 35 who ended a long relationship, perhaps with their only sexual partner ever, and then went on to find many different partners, either for a night, a week, or a month. I can't know the totality of their lives, but, I don't remember that they were handed a derogatory label like "slut" by the people around them... at least the ones who cared about them. But then again, perhaps that's just me being blind to the realities of the situation.
Me, I was mostly in awe of these women. Being a shy and rather awkward youth, and something of late bloomer, I didn't become sexually active until my early 20's. Even then, there were long single stretches in my life... and I never figured out the trick of picking up a woman and talking her into bed. I could therefore only marvel at the frequency at which these women I knew could find partners either simply for sex, or, as a set of serially monogamous relationships (I swear, some women cannot STAND to be without a boyfriend, however he treats her, for any period of time.) I also could very much appreciate the value of a woman who was very in touch with her sexuality and had both a knowledge of her body and what pleased her from prior experience. When I was lucky enough to be with such a woman, she was my teacher and I am grateful to these women I've known even now.
Other experiences I've had re-inforce the down side to the double standard though. I've gotten a line like "I would have been as physically affectionate if I hadn't been drinking" line more than once... which felt like a slightly more subtle way of saying "I'm sorry babe, it was the alcohol, not you." A number of women were confused that I didn't want to have sex after the first date or didn't want to have sex at all (because I didn't feel that the right chemistry for a relationship was happening.) I can only imagine the social pressures put on young women in similar situations.
Some say the root of all this is evolutionary biology. They point to our primate cousins, the chimpanzees, and say that a part of primate behavior is about the idea that a male wishes to control the sexual behavior of the females around him. This is done in order to ensure that when the male and one or more of the females mate, the children are guaranteed to be his. This, they say, is the reason behind everything from chastity belts to female circumcision to calling any woman who enjoys sex a slut.
I think we need to move a bit beyond all that. We are rational creatures, not entirely enslaved by our genetic tendencies. We also have fairly simple, direct methods for controlling our offspring. We know a good deal about sexuality. I think we need to discuss it, honestly, frankly, and above all, equally. A sexually empowered woman is a beautiful thing. We should look at her that way.
on 2003-05-02 at 12:29 p.m.
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