Every so often you are confronted with your own prejudices, the ways in which the media has shaped your thoughts. Yesterday was such a day for me. I was reading an article on the blog Feministe where the author sets up a scenario in which a female member of congress poses on the cover of a magazine wearing an unbuttoned shirt exposing her stomach and part of her breasts. She poses the scenario as a question, asking her readers, “can you believe it?” She follows that up with the clarification that we couldn’t believe it because it wasn’t true, she just made it up. Rather than a congresswoman, this scenario describes what actually happened: a congressman posing with his shirt unbuttoned, completely exposing his abdomen and chest, on the cover of Fitness magazine.
My initial reaction was to think it was horrible that anybody could think it mattered whether the situation involved a man or a woman. The problems that one would have with this type of cover should exist regardless of the gender of the member of congress in question. But upon further reflection I realized that I would think it was different. I realized I would judge a congresswoman more harshly than I judged this congressman for his magazine cover. I think this prejudice stems from the portrayal of woman’s bodies in the media. Images of scantily clad women have always had hyper-sexualized undertones so a woman on the cover of a magazine with her shirt open seems more about selling sex to me and I would wonder why I female congresswoman would want to project that image while this image of a man is questionable but doesn’t seem as overtly sexual because its about fitness.
Bothered by this realization of a double standard I asked my friend what she thought. She offered her opinion:
Re the senator, I think it’s ABSURD that he posed for this cover and I do think he’s selling sex along with fitness, but if the woman had been on the cover like that I probably would have been outraged and considered her a terrible role model for children, etc, etc. That likely is a double standard. One thing, though, is that I think I’m offended more by the woman doing it because I’m so tired of the sexualization of women and of women feeling like they have to resort to sex to be valued whereas with men I just think you’re ridiculous if you do it but don’t see it as a sign of oppression. Although that may also be a double standard against men and an erroneous/naïve omission of the reality that men are also feeling the pressure to sell themselves as sexual beings to succeed…although I don’t really think they feel it as strongly as women, that pressure may be mounting in some arenas.
So we both came to the conclusion that we had this double standard in the way we would react to the female senator as opposed to the male senator. Whatever way we sought to explain our thinking, it wouldn’t change the fact that we were judging them differently although they were hypothetically doing the same thing. So the question is why? Why do we have this double standard in our minds even though we both recognize it as such?
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