In societies, behaviour is generally governed by informal norms, rules and formal laws. The behaviour of people as well as of the society on the whole is different toward men and women. In feminist analysis, men are at the driving seat when it comes to defining the contents of formal and informal behavioural cultures. The contents defined by men are discriminatory meaning thereby that the criteria or standards aimed at evaluating and regulating women differ to those used for men. In other words, rather than a uniform standard of behaviour for all, there exist double standards; one for men and the other for women. It has been witnessed that double standards benefit only men. This write-up highlights the various shades of the double standards women have to face in the society.
The existence of double standards has been a matter of great concern for the feminists. In their quest for attaining formal legal equality between men and women in terms of right to vote and equal pay, etc., the feminists have argued that women should enjoy the same citizenship rights and rewards as men. However, the term double standards have recently been associated with analysis of informal norms and rules of behaviour particularly within sexual context. The double standards of sexuality means that sexual behaviour deemed inappropriate for a woman may be regarded as appropriate and normal for a man. There are a number of sources of evidence to reflect double standards of sexuality in almost all the societies of the world. For example, young women safeguard their sexual reputation and avoid being labelled as sexually promiscuous while young men demonstrate their sexual reputation in order to enhance their standing within their peer group.
The term “Double Standards” is also used in the analysis of the ageing process. Sontag (1979) has argued that as they grow older, men and women are evaluated differently and this is advantageous for older men. Women are usually valued for their youthful physical attractiveness and in old age, they feel threatened because they are no more attractive. Men, on the other hand, are not valued for their looks. They are valued for what they do, particularly economically. Sontag also points out that the signs of ageing in men are less heavily penalized than they are in women. In men, wrinkles and grey hair may be taken as a sign of experience and be described as “distinguished”. Women, contrarily, conceal signs of ageing on their faces because of the importance of youthful attractiveness.
As a concept, the term “double standards” is often used to describe disparity between women and men, benefitting men on the whole. However, there are some instances in which men are at a disadvantage. This is dubbed as ‘reverse’ double standard wherein discrimination is against men. For example, in Britain, men’s entitlement to state pension begins at the age of 65 while that for women at 60. In Pakistan, ten percent women quota in the CSS examination is also an example of double standard – discrimination against men, where female candidates compete on open merit also.
As understanding of gender relations has become more sophisticated recently; it has been witnessed that double standards are often far from uniform in their application and effects. They vary in the context of class, ethnicity and sexuality. In Connell’s analysis of the gender hierarchy of power, a particular form of masculinity is suggested as the dominant force in the production and reproduction of double standards. This particular form of masculinity is referred to as hegemonic masculinity. Those men who do not live up to the hegemonic masculinity ideal may find themselves disadvantaged by the use of operations of double standards. On the other hand, women who get better education and become independent economically are in a better position to minimize the restrictions of double standards they might otherwise face.