Sexism is a problem. So, too, is sexism. And the fact that we can openly discuss the one and not the other is doubling down on sexism.
THE DOUBLE STANDARD OF DOUBLE STANDARD SERIES:
III: HEADS, YOU’RE SEXIST; TAILS, I’M NOT (you are here)
Last month I heard on my local Vancouver radio a discussion about allegedly low male parenting expectations wherein we celebrate dads for standard parenting behavior. While it was a gentle and playful prodding at men, it was ultimately still a criticism of men for having it so easy.
It struck me as a poignant example of our society’s double standard in the way we interpret double standards (which I first pointed out in THE BATTLE OF SEXISM). In most mainstream conversation, when there is a perception that we expect less of women, that’s called sexism against women; meanwhile, when there is a perception that we expect less of men—as in this case—that’s also described as sexism against women.
Thus I keyboarded the following letter to the lead host of the show. I did not receive a reply, so I publish it here now. I’m not identifying the hosts (one male and one female) of the broadcast because I do not want to make it seem like I think those two people, in particular, have ill-will towards men. Instead, they seem like good-natured people who have trouble seeing the feminist lens that informs their viewing of double standards.
Here, then, is my letter to an anonymous lead radio host, mildly redacted:
Dear [Radio Talk-Show Host]:
I was intrigued by your discussion on Thursday February 9 in which you asked, “Do we expect too little from dads?”
Nevertheless, I wonder whether your parenting philosophy duo is over-simplifying this matter.
I must acknowledge I was startled to hear about your (and your callers’) observation that men are treated like overachievers when they’re just out being parents; if this indeed occurs frequently, I agree that it is a double standard, but—correct me if I’m wrong—you seem to be implying from the tone of your conversation that it is evidence that our society treats women unfairly (because we have lower expectations of men, thus putting greater demands on women).
Another way of looking at your observed result, though, is that it is an indication of sexism against men that we don’t expect them to be as capable parents as women. That is, maybe we see men as inferior in this arena. So—as when we see a 4-year old doing something beyond our expectations—we pat them on the head and say, “Good job!” for something that would be simple for a female parent.
It’s also possible that this double standard is unfair to both sexers. Maybe it’s condescending to male parents, while simultaneously contributing to a higher demand for female parenting perfection.
For comparison, consider how we view similar double standards in the workplace. If one looks at popular media discussions these days, it would be difficult to dispute that we often celebrate female professionals’ achievements disproportionately to men’s. For instance, a female scientist in a high-percentage male field is viewed by most pundits as doing something exceptional because she has been outnumbered by the opposite gender. But, women also outnumber men in the stay-at-home parenting role, so why do we object to the “You go boy” remarks in the parenting case, but think it’s okay to cheer “You go girl” to women who achieve success in a high-percentage male workplace?
Now, one might argue that there’s a difference here: women, one might say, are actively discriminated against in STEM fields, while men are not actively discriminated against in parenting.
However, there is lots of evidence (available upon request) that today’s gender disparity in professions is not the consequence of gender discrimination, but instead is primarily the result of the different career choices the genders tend to make based on their personal preferences and aspirations. (For instance, while there are more men than women currently graduating in engineering, there are more women graduating in medicine.)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the comparison, I see several ways in which male parents are treated worse than female parents:
(A) In family court, women are still assumed to be best parent for the job.
(B) While perhaps not given as many pats on the head, single moms are provided more resources than single dads. Recently, for instance, the YWCA and the city of Vancouver opened a new shelter for “single moms and their children,” yet I did not hear any Vancouver media pundit ask why single dads and their families were excluded. Even if the majority of poor, single parents are female, imagine a similar on-the-books exclusion of women in the workplace (or any other arena). Would the media have been equally as accepting of that kind of official, government discrimination?
(C) To my perception, the emotional connection between mothers and children is given more deference in our society than any other bond: for instance, other than creating a poignant acronym, why do we have an organization called Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, instead of all parents equally opposing the early demise of their children?
(D) Note that you talked about “macho” male culture, which one of your callers said used to cause some men to fear being seen taking care of their kids. And maybe that was and is sometimes the case, but notice how the blame goes towards men for giving into pressure to be “masculine.” But when there is perceived pressure on women to be more “feminine,” we blame society, and never the women themselves. Why this double standard?
I do not mean to suggest that double standards only hurt men. However, with every double standard, both genders are being treated differently, so I think it’s worth considering the benefits and disadvantages for everyone in each case. As it is, our public discussion tends only to see the benefits for men and disadvantages for women any time a double standard is observed.
Consider one of greatest movies of all time, The Princess Pride. Its lone imperfection, to my eye, is the scene in which Wesley is attacked by an ROUS (rodent of unusual size), and his true love, Princess Buttercup, seems only to care about her own safety. Although she grabs a stick to protect herself, she doesn’t help Wesley fight the beast until it approaches her feet. I would bet my entire argument that you, [Radio pundit, who’s a child of the 80s], are also a fan of this movie, but were equally as annoyed by this scene as I was, and that like me, I suspect you found this female characterization to be evidence of sexism towards women (that the writers thought her incapable of both courage and action). But, if we’re right that that was sexist towards women, then why do we see similar condescension towards men (in the form of low parenting expectations) as sexism towards women as well?
THE DOUBLE STANDARD OF DOUBLE STANDARD SERIES:
III: HEADS, YOU’RE SEXIST; TAILS, I’M NOT (you were just here)