Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From Carl The Open-minded Chauvinist: Double Standards

This is a Repost from last year

Hi there. To introduce myself briefly, I’m Emily’s “open-minded chauvinist” ex-boyfriend. What’s an “open-minded chauvinist” you might ask? Well, basically, I think in stereotypically male patterns, so I think that men are smarter since they usually think like me. But I’m willing to say “I’m wrong,” hence the “open-minded” modifier. Emily even got me to say that I was wrong once.

So I had been thinking about this subject of double standards some months ago as I was in the process of a break up. I admit up front that this post is totally heterosexual-oriented. I’ll also admit up front that I have no idea whether the causes of my concern are societal, biological, cultural, or just idiosyncratic to me and probably most of my friends. Also, please note the overabundance of the term “stereotype” and its variations. I believe stereotypes exist for a reason (most men are X), but they obviously aren’t absolutes (all men are X).

Anyway, as my girlfriend and I were evaluating the relationship, I realized that I had made some changes in my life to accommodate her expectations. I don’t think the changes were bad, detrimental, or unhealthy in any way. Most of them had to do with how I spent my leisure hours—at the time, mostly by playing World of WarCraft.

I didn’t mind that I had made changes. I think most relationships require a fair degree of compromise and flexibility, and certainly the one I was in was healthy and productive. However, something disturbed me. I began to realize that while I was comfortable with my girlfriend asking me to make specific changes with regard to things that bothered her, I was not comfortable asking her to make commensurate changes.

As an example, I felt that it would be okay for her to ask me to give up my weekly guys night. Sacrificing time with their buddies is exactly what happens when guys grow up and become more serious about their relationship with their significant others, right?

So why did I feel like I would be a controlling and emotionally abusive boyfriend if I asked her to give up a weekly girls night?

As I thought about it more and more, it occurred to me that this was just one of a number of areas in which I thought it would be unacceptable for me, as a guy, to ask a girl to change. Moreover, I felt that all the things that guys stereotypically need to do when they grow up and move into steady jobs, relationships, etc. are to simply get rid of the stereotypical guy things! Sunday night football? Gone. Her book club? Not gone. Bowling? Gone. Her knitting group? Not gone. Going to the movies with the guys? Gone. Going shopping with her girlfriends? Not gone.

Now it goes without saying that ideally you would do things together. Go swing dancing. Learn martial arts. Take a massage class for couples. Something. But let’s face it. Rare is the relationship in which the couple agrees on every activity, and most human beings need some form of “me” time.

So what if the guy really likes football, and his significant other just isn’t interested in joining him to watch it? Must he really give it up? Can she ask him to give it up? (I feel subconsciously that yes, she can ask him to). If he’s not interested in her book club, and she really wants to continue it, must she really give it up? Can he ask her to? (I feel subconsciously that no, he cannot ask her to). It gets even more complicated when you realize that there will be things that don’t have a commensurate activity/desire/whatever in the other partner’s life.

In looking over drafts of this post, Erica pointed out that we are also culturally conditioned as men to be more “loners” and individual-oriented. Women, conversely, are conditioned to be more group-oriented. If this idea of conditioning is true, and it seems to both Erica and me to be so, of course in a society like ours men are expected to leave the group environment, while women are not. This rings true to me as a possible contributing factor.

I also recall a point Emily made when we discussed this issue a while ago. It was that there is a stereotype that all men want is sex. And while this stereotype is a myth, in both my opinion and Emily’s, I fully understand where it comes from. In this view of what men want, the man is already getting what he wants if the relationship includes sex. So he can’t ask for more. Yet since she isn’t getting what she wants (since she wants more than sex), she can ask for more. This stereotype about what men want also rings true to me, as at least a contributing factor.

In short, I think there’s a double standard that states that men have to stop being boys when they enter a steady relationship, yet that women don’t have to stop being girls. It’s very subtle, possibly even subconscious. I know that I didn’t really notice it until this last relationship. Yet in looking back I feel that it was present in all my previous ones to one degree or another—both from me and from my (now) ex-girlfriends. All I know is that if I asked my girlfriend to give up similar things that I felt morally obligated to give up, I would feel like I was beginning to match the warning signs of an abusive boyfriend. And that just seems wrong.

Feminism at its heart is about equality between the sexes, and as someone who considers himself a feminist (but open-mindedly chauvinist about it, ha!) this strikes me as something that needs to be fixed. We recoil in horror from women being pigeon-holed because of gender expectations. Shouldn’t we do the same when it happens to men? Gender stereotypes and expectations can cut both ways.

I am also open to the possibility that this double standard is just in my mind. But having said that, I have asked a few other men this question, and so far they seem to agree with me in a non-statistically valid fashion.

Anyway, this is just one example of ways I think double standards hurt men. This article points out others.

Comments 95 and 105 in this Feminist Mormon Housewives thread especially show how we men are in a bind with regard to the issue of communication and consent in sexuality. Also, I feel that there is plenty of discussion these days about women, homosexuals, African-Americans, etc. but none really about “men” as their own category. “Men’s Studies” programs are not nearly as ubiquitous as their counterpart, though there is an American Men’s Studies Association.

Nor is there a National Association for the Advancement of Caucasian People. There’s a pretty classic essay called “The Men We Carry In Our Minds,” that notes how disparities even among white men can very much color how we view issues of double standards. So while some of these other double standards don’t affect me personally as much (as an active Latter-day Saint issues of sexual consent aren’t going to arise until I’m married), the main one I have focused on with regard to relationships does.

What’s my point? I’m not sure exactly. It just seems to me that the advent of feminism, however one defines that; along with civil rights for various groups; the sexual revolution; and some stereotypes (which again, as I argue, exist for a reason), have put men in a bind sometimes. I’m absolutely sure women are put in binds as well, as Emily and Erica can attest better, and in more specific detail, than I.

All I know is that asking a significant other to give up something seems to be a double-standard wherein men get the short end of the stick. As one who believes in equality for the sexes, I believe this should not be the case. In short: it’s not all roses and hugs and puppies on the male side of the divide either.


  1. I am glad I have a wife who will let me play hedgewars with my friends.

    We have determined that time with our own gender is very important (and contructive) for a marriage, in addition to the activities we do together.

    I am glad (and probably very blessed) that I don't have to feel too bad of a person when I wish to do my own modest activities. Note that since I used the word 'too' above, that probably means I am part of this double-standard as well.

  2. One more thought: Could it be that since men have simpler minds (not less intelligent), women are slighty jealous?

    Your example about sex in marriage is an excellent example.

    I don't know if this is true, but as a man, all I really need sometimes is a good meal and I'm happy. It seems that women might need a little more....

  3. Hello, Carl!

    Speaking as a happily married person with quite a number of happily married friends, I just don't see this being the case in the healthy marriages with which I am familiar. Your sentiments are the stereotype, often used in humor, but I just don't see that being the case.

    First, I believe that a man and wife should "cleave" to one another. Most happily married couples I know don't have "boys" or "girls" movie nights regularly, they go to the movies TOGETHER and because they like each other, they have a good time.

    Occasionally, my husband and his man friends go to see some gory shoot-em-up that I'd prefer to skip and it's no big deal. Since we already have plenty of quality time spent together, I don't mind him having a little of his own and he doesn't mind mine. Sometimes I watch football, sometimes he watches Austen. We do it together and we enjoy each others' interests. Balance over time is important. I don't know any of my friends who don't work hard to make this balance work.

    Upon reflection, I guess it IS true that I go out more in the evening, usually to church women's activities, than he does. But I always ask first to make sure he's up for a night home with the kids, and he always always always encourages me to go. He knows that when I'm home, as the mother of small, demanding children I'm "on the job" and occasionally I need a break. He goes out to lunch with friends and family quite often during the week at work, and he knows that occasionally I need to go out and have a little relaxation, sans laundry and dishes, too. The traditional family structure does lend itself to the young mother having more "recreational" time outside the house in the evening. Perhaps that is where the stereotype originated I don't see that as wrong or in any way depriving the husband of his needs. Just making sure the mother of small children has her needs met, too. I imagine at some time in the future, when my kids are older and more autonomous, my husband's job will be more demanding and he may have greater/different evening needs, too.

    Any time a marriage or relationship requires the sacrifice of just one, all the time, then that relationship can't be healthy. Of course there are exceptions (say, a disabled spouse?). But across the board the picture to draw seems, in my humble opinion, is certainly anything but common in long term, stable relationships. Do you feel your parents' relationship was like that? If your girls are making you give it all up, then man, RUN THE OTHER WAY!!! Maybe that is why you experience them more often in dating: you just haven't found someone who balances out you.

  4. NessaAnn,

    I love all the points you bring up - your perspective is really interesting and insightful. I particularly enjoy the point you make about how in the context of a traditional family structure, a man might meet a lot of his social needs during the day, while a woman might need to meet those social needs in the evenings. I'd never thought of that before.

    As a very side note, I want to point out that I never once asked Carl to give up one of his guys nights when we were dating, and was in fact *shocked* when he seemed to think I even had the right to ask him to do that. More than shocked, I was even horrified, since the last thing I want to do in a relationship is control someone. But I guess that's why we're still friends even after breaking up.

    Anonymous #2 - It sounds like you believe in a lot of the generalizations and stereotypes that Carl mentions. But where does the idea that women are jealous of male simplicity come into this discussion? What you're suggesting sounds a heck of a lot like penis envy, so I'm very curious about where you see that fitting in.

  5. Ugh, Blogger just deleted my comment- yuck! Lemme try to reproduce it.

    First: yay for comments and discussion!

    Second: Another thing I see as contributing to the kinds of pressures and expectations that Carl discusses here is the way the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s wound up being portrayed and remembered in popular memory. A lot of what tends to memorialize that movement, at best, is the idea that women fought against the social restraints men had on them; at worst, we think of it as man-hating lesbians screwing with the social order (and I mean that those words are used as pejoratively as possible in this context). Either way, what came out of it was the majority culture's impression that women were right and men were wrong, and men were holding women back. From that, it's easy to draw the extremist conclusion that men can't set any boundaries with their partners, but women can. We can see this sort of limitation in other areas, too- for example, the idea that men are SO grabby and domineering that they can never be raped by women, who are perpetual victims. Obviously, that isn't true.

    One of the nice things of the perspectives we have, as folks who've largely grown up in a society that has made so many changes in the way it treats women, is that we can look back on the second-wave feminist movement and see what it missed in its giant rush towards social change. Things like the fact that it forgot to consider trans women, or the needs of Women of Colour, or the ways in which social constructions of sex and gender constrain all of us.

    Finally, I like NessaAnn's concluding remarks: if you're with someone who won't compromise and allow you (sex, gender, etc. aside) to spend some time alone with your friends, and/or you won't let them do the same, that's a huge warning sign that something's not right with your relationship!

  6. I am Anonymous #2.


    Wow. I was actually asking a simple-minded question - I wasn't meaning anything by it. Just an honest question. I am too simple to analyze the analysis of anything. :]

    I also do believe that there is truth to every stereotype, that is why they exist. However, I have been fortunate that most of my acquaintances rarely do fit stereotypes.

  7. I agree that men are kind of getting the short end of the stick these days. We seem to be living in an Era where all males are considered perverse, amoral sex fiends. Then there's the fact that breast cancer research gets a heck of a lot more funding than prostate cancer research.

    Recently a man was arrested for being naked in his own home because, unbeknownst to him, a woman and her young son walked across his yard and saw him through the window. Would a woman be arrested if she were in the same situation? My guess is no.

    Most men that I know are good-hearted, compassionate gentlemen and they deserve to be treated as such, and not as murder suspects.

    Here are some examples of our anti-male society from the Free Range Kids blog:


  8. Something that used to come up in my undergraduate classes (women's studies and cultural studies) that we might want to be aware of- or even discuss in terms of its implications for this post- is the way in which we tend to go all-or-nothing about things like oppression. When we start recognizing how gender binaries and stereotypes hurt everyone, we sometimes forget that not everyone is equally impacted by them. So, for example, in light of Carl's post, we sometimes forget that while men are negatively constrained by expectations about what is and isn't okay for a man to do in a heterosexual relationship, women tend to be equally constrained (if not more so), especially down the line- he's expected to give up half of his WoW raiding nights, but then she's expected to make all the name changes if they get married; he's not "allowed" to ask her to stay home from a girls' night, but it's okay for him to expect that she'll do the primary child-rearing if they have children.

    And, obviously, like Carl pointed out in his post, these are generalizations that don't fit for everyone; their power comes in the fact that they're majority-driven and not individual-driven.

  9. Perhaps you should consider yourself a "gender egalitarian."