SEXUAL DOUBLE STANDARD . Society is known to treat men and women differently despite the equality that is supposed to exist between the sexes. While sexism and gender sensitivity was at its worst during the early eras, it still exists nowadays because of what is known as the double standard mentality. In the poem ‘Double Standard’ Harper presents various examples of this double standard mentality that exists in the late 1800’s.
The poem focuses on sexual double standard which is more appropriately considered the battle between the sexes nowadays and it presents this sexual double standard in three main lights, these being sexual double standard in social, cultural, personal, and public perception which represent the gravity of the matter in America circa 1895. This almost comprehensive idea of sexual double standard presented in this particular poem is quite disconcerting because it seems that in the poem, the female speaker is on the losing side having only Divine judgment as her only source of comfort.
The first interpretation of sexual double standard in the poem comes as the difference in social perception of the male and the female which the poet tackles in the poem by presenting situations where she is still the culprit even when it is obvious to society that the one at fault is the male. “We still live in a society that promotes the notion that it is normal for a man to desire many women and yet normal for a woman to desire only one man. Our beliefs about male and female behavior may have been helpful in the past, but today they are doing much more harm than good. (Langley) Noticeably, in relation to this particular aspect of sexual double standard, one sees how the speaker in the poem paints a grim picture of how society seems to accept the mistakes of the male gender as being normal and understandable while ignoring the fact that there is a victim in the situation, this being the female speaker. This is a clear manifestation of the double standard mentality in the context of genders because society is known to have its set of taboos and ideals that it adheres to however, because of gender, these ideals and taboos are often set aside and ignored in favor of sexist perception.
This particular concept of sexual double standard can be seen in the lines, “Can you blame me that I did not see / Beneath his burning kiss / The serpent’s wiles, nor even hear / The deadly adder hiss? ” (9-12) where the voice in the poem is addressing society with the assumption that she is being blamed for her turning a blind eye on her partner’s infidelity. Here on sees that even with the man’s infidelity, society is poised to blame the woman instead of the man who is most of the time, the one at fault. “A woman that sleeps with several men is a “slut” or a “whore. A man that gets laid all the time is a “stud” or a “player. ” “(Sis) This is a clear manifestation of how society is able to create more un-repulsive concepts in favor of gender. In another stanza from the poem, the speaker narrates, “Crime has no sex and yet to-day / I wear the brand of shame; / Whilst he amid the gay and proud / Still bears an honored name. ”; (25-28) these lines suggest that the speaker had committed a crime, perhaps killing the man that she refers to in the poem, because of what the man had done to her.
Here, one sees that the speaker claims that the man is free and she suffers because of the crime that was committed because of abuses on her. This particular stanza in the poem expresses a no-win situation where the female gender is automatically wronged when the crime committed is against a man.?? The second aspect of sexual double standard presented in the poem is the cultural aspect of this concept which dictates that culture, despite having a fixed perception of acceptability consequently begins to adjust according based on the gender of the person within a particular culture. For many years now, women have been knowingly or unknowingly performing a balancing act – the sexual double-standard still exists in our culture; but ironically, women’s final right to claim is the root from which their oppression stemmed. ” (Langley) This means that while culture will demand certain things of those covered by it culture is more lenient with the male gender and as a result is shaped on the basis of the responses of this gender to social situations but also mostly because of how women concede to men in the resolution of certain issues.
Of course, in the poem, this particular aspect of sexual double standard is expressed in how the speaker suggests another aspect of infidelity, where in the man’s preoccupation with the mistress, who is most likely the speaker in the poem results to his fiance or ‘would-be –wife’ being snatched away from him by another man. The lines, “Would you blame him, when you draw from me / Your dainty robes aside, / If he with gilded baits should claim / Your fairest as his bride? (17-20) express a verbal irony where the speaker questions her role in the misfortune of the man when in fact it is the man who has brought this upon himself, but even so, because of the sexual double standard that exists, the man views the speaker as the cause of this misfortune. This presumption is made out of the cultural typecast that paints the woman as a temptress and as someone, who, if not for her submission, would not be in the situation she is in.??
The next aspect of sexual double standard illustrated in the poem is that which is related to public or civic perception. This is often a situation where the public or civic stature of a person, more so when the person is of the masculine gender, is unaffected even with charges of immorality and abuse of women. On the other hand, if women are subjected to the same situation, women are most likely to be sanctioned horribly because of what they had done.
In many countries all over the world, the public officials are openly bigamous and even with this immoral offense, are still respected as civic and government leaders. So, the soliloquy of the speaker in the poem as shown in the lines, “Would you blame the world if it should press / on him a civic crown; / And see me struggling in the depth / Then harshly press me down? ” (21-24) expresses her concern for the society that sees the offender in a different light as she does.
In these particular lines, one sees that civic society views the man differently as it does the woman, where in this case, the man is honored despite his immoral background and the woman is inevitably and unfairly treated. It seems that in these few lines, the poet reveals how civic society is able to ignore the personal or the moral state of the male gender and pass the blame on to the woman for the primary reason that it views men as the dominant gender and the woman as ‘something’ unto which men’s misgivings may be projected on.
The last and final form of sexual double standard suggested in the poem is the sexual double standard that is more intimately connected with the individual who is a victim of this mentality. In this case, the person to whom an injustice is committed begins to feel less about herself because of the obvious bias in how the offender is treated. “It is only by doing away with the sexual double standard that females will finally achieve the equality they have so long sought after but they will no longer be able to blame males for their sexual indiscretions and their lack of self control. (Langley) Of course, in this poem, the personal damage that is caused by the sexual double standard that exists is the hopeless state of the speaker, where because of the social, cultural, and public blatant and intentional ignorance of her state, she begins to draw from her animal instincts. So, in effect, she is dehumanized by the unfairness of perceptions and decides to take matters into her own hands by killing or destroying the cause of all her misery.
In the lines, “Would you blame me if to-morrow / The coroner should say, ? A wretched girl, outcast, forlorn, / Has thrown her life away? ” (37-40) where obviously, society will only consider the apparent crime of the speaker instead of looking deep into the underlying circumstances that had caused this for the speaker. So, as a deliberate move and an expression of hopelessness, the speaker simply lets go and leaves emancipation up to the divine in the lines, “No golden weights can turn the scale / Of justice in His sight;? And what is wrong in woman’s life / In man’s cannot be right. ” (57-60) while at the same time leaving the reader with a critical afterthought that refers to all the illustrations of sexual double standard suggested in the entire poem. It is clear that in this poem Harper uses images of gender abuse and domestic violence to express and convey the message that the sexual double standard that exists here is one that can strip the woman down to the bone and render her useless even to herself.
It is the kind of sexual double standard that extracts humanity from the speaker who is most likely the mistress of the subject of the poem who uses her justifications of her state to explain how biased and how double standard society, culture, and the public is when it comes to perceptions of sexuality. Works Cited Harper, Frances. “A Double Standard . ” Peot’s Corner. N. p. , 1 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 May 2010. . Langley, Michelle. “The Sexual Double Standard . ” Ezine. N. p. , 1 Nov. 2005. Web. 11 May 2010. . Sis, . “The Sexual Double Standard. ” New West Missoula. N. p. , 21 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 May 2010. .