#LiesToldByFemales Shows the Sexual Double Standard Lives On


Periodically, there will be hashtags that flare up on Twitter that are full of nothing more than a series of people rehashing tedious sexist stereotypes, all while thinking they are so very clever. The latest one, #LiesToldByFemales, immediately promised to be even more tiresome and unfunny than most, working a particularly insidious misogynist stereotype that women are inherently duplicitous and manipulative. (How women can be such masters of manipulation and yet somehow be disempowered for the entire length of human history is a question that never seems to occur to people who trot this one out.) Sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Women were accused of cheating, lying, and hiding uncomfortable truths, mostly from men.

Of course, women do lie. But so do men. Lying is part of human nature, practiced by all and condemned by all. That’s what made this particular hashtag so offensive. It’s a classic double standard, where women’s lying is singled out as particularly horrifying, whereas men’s lying is considered so natural as to go unremarked upon. (It’s also dehumanizing, with the animalistic word “female” being used instead of the more humanistic “woman.”) Unsurprisingly, many of the lies that were recounted weren’t so much “female” lies as just people lies: saying you’re fine when you’re not, hiding extracurricular sexual activities from a partner, concealing how much money you’re spending from family members.

But what struck me about a lot of the tweets was that the lies that women purportedly tell often center around sexuality and gender expression, and unfair expectations put on women to behave in certain ways. In other words, a lot of #LiesToldByFemales are women claiming to adhere more closely to traditional gender roles than they actually do, to present themselves as more chaste and more submissive than they actually are. Indeed, the largest category of #LiesToldByFemales seemed to be about minimizing sexual desire and experience.

Some examples:

 

 

 

 

Yes, that last tweet included a picture of a cave to invoke the utterly untrue, misogynist stereotype that the more sex a woman has had (or the more sex partners she’s had), the “looser” her vagina is. Why would having sex 100 times with ten men have more of an effect on your body than 100 times with one man? Either way, it’s all a lie. The size of the vagina is affected mostly by genetics, but if sex was going to have any effect, it would probably be in making it tighter, since your pelvic muscles, like all other muscles, get stronger with more use.

What is interesting about these tweets is that the women being invoked here, whether real or hypothetical, are being judged just as much for the sex they’ve had or enjoyed as they are being judged for lying about it. In other words, women are put in a double bind: If they tell the truth about their sexual experiences, they get to be judged as sluts. If they lie about their sexual experiences, they get to be judged as liars. But as the hashtag participants made clear, it’s also widely understood that just because women aren’t supposed to like or have sex, women do, in fact, like and have sex. So if women refrain out of fear of being judged, then they aren’t being true to themselves. It’s a classic no-win situation, and a perfect encapsulation of how sexist social structures work.

What made the tweets particularly aggravating, at least to me, is that most of them imply or even outright state that the person hearing the lie told by a “female” is a man she is or is about to have sex with. That makes the double bind on women even more obvious and unfair, since the man she’s with no doubt has the expectation that she wants and enjoys sex with him, but that she has no history of wanting sex prior to him. The assumption in play here is that women are being pressured to downplay their interest in and experience with sex with the man they are having sex with, though no doubt he would prefer her to display sexual skills congruent with experience while pretending not to have that experience. This makes sex sound like a miserable tightrope for women, of having to demonstrate skills and enthusiasm while pretending not to have a sex life before this particular man that would have cultivated skills and enthusiasm. How very depressing.

Here’s a better alternative: Let’s stop judging women for having sex lives. This goes double for a man who wants a woman to have sex with him right now but is eager to condemn her for having had sex in the past. Just accept that women, like men, have sexual desires and sexual histories and all these things go into making them the unique, interesting people that they are now. You know, like how we treat men without questioning it. The only reason women feel they need to lie about their pasts are because people shame them about their pasts. If we stopped shaming, women would stop lying.

Maybe then we need a new hashtag? How about #LiesWomenHaveBeenForcedToTell? It’s longer, but it’s more honest. And it puts the blame where it needs to be: on people who make lying a necessary survival skill for women, not on women who tell lies because all their other options are even worse.

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  • jruwaldt

    They do sound like the things a woman might tell a man with whom she’s about to get intimate. However, some of them sound like they’re being related by other women who are trying to say, “I’m not a slut, but I know some women who are.” My feeling about many women’s sexual attitudes is that they think, “I have a healthy sex life. She’s a slut.” This can help assuage any guilt about her sexual experience, which, despite being perfectly normal, is nevertheless considered excessive by much of society.

  • King Rat

    This is an interesting read:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/the-evolution-of-bitchiness/281657/

    Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge have also theorized that
    women, not men, are largely the ones who suppress each others’
    sexualities, in part through this sort of indirect aggression.

    “The evidence favors the view that women have worked to stifle each
    other’s sexuality because sex is a limited resource that women use to
    negotiate with men, and scarcity gives women an advantage,” they wrote.

    Other studies have shown that undergraduate college women are more likely to gossip about someone rumored to have undermined their own reputation. Women are more likely to form social alliances and then manage threats from outsiders through social exclusion, rather than, say, beating each other up. Girls are more likely to ostracize a newcomer or befriend someone for revenge.

    In his book, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating,
    Buss argues that women do this because, evolutionarily, women who are
    willing to have casual sex undermine the goals of women who want
    long-term relationships. “S1utty” women hint to men that it’s okay not
    to commit because there will always be someone available to give away
    the milk for free, as it were. Their peers’ “derogation” is thus
    intended to damage the reputation of these free-wheeling females.

    ———-

    Rebuttals:

    He argues that though this and other studies show how important
    physical appearance is to the way women respond to each other, there’s
    too much cultural baggage at play to say it all comes from our primate
    ancestors. The short-skirt-boots combo, for example, is already a
    “meaning-laden image,” he said.

    In her own recent research, Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham
    University in the U.K., argued that young women tend to use indirect
    aggression to a greater extent than young men, in part because that’s
    the most socially acceptable way for women to compete.

    In fact, Buss has found that men “bitch” about their rivals, too—they
    just tend to insult their lack of money or status, the things women
    traditionally have valued in mates, rather than their physical
    appearance. They don’t s1ut-shame as much, Buss argues, because women
    will still date male “s1uts.”

    ———-

    Anyhoo, food for thought. The thing is though, from what I understand, there are certain tribal societies that don’t have many, if any, hangups about sex. How about studying them? The problem with the above studies is that they are entirely dependent on a specific cultural context, which reallly can’t speak for all of human evolution. And there have existed cultures in the past where ‘s1utting around’ (the Etruscans) was entirely NORMAL.

    I honestly wonder though. Has a society ever existed where people really don’t have ANY sexual hangups? is that even possible?

    • L-dan

      That’s actually a huge problem with a lot of studies of human behavior that’s been seeing some press in recent years. The fact that the easiest set of research subjects to sample is often the students at the researcher’s institution means that you get a lot of “humans behave like this,” when you’ve really shown that “Western college students behave like this.”

    • Kelly Davis-Jordan

      Of course some women condemn other women, its called ‘internalised misogyny’ if you are brought up in a society which has different standards for men and women, its only natural that some women will be influenced by this to the point of wanting to be the ‘good girl’ and condemning other women to ensure male acceptance and some crumbs from the table of patriarchy. Its beneficial for patriarchy if women police each other, divided we fall and all that.

      • Arekushieru

        EXACTLY. It’s the same circumstance we can see happening with Female Genital Mutilation. But I have had people declare that since it’s the WOMEN who are continuing the practice it’s not an example of misogyny. I’m like, “WHUT!?! That’s PRECISELY why it’s an example of misogyny.”

        It’s also why the situations you’ve presented may be more excellent examples of the double-bind rather than examples of lies women tell each other or themselves, to tell you the truth.

        • L-dan

          Same thing with foot-binding back in the day. When your prospects in life largely hinge upon getting a good marriage, if your family loves you, they will sometimes do horrible things to put you in the position of having a good marriage and a good life as they define ‘good’.

      • Shan

        YES! I would upvote this a thousand times if I could!!

    • jruwaldt

      From Seinfeld:
      (Elaine has just learned about wedgies)
      Jerry: So what do girls do?
      Elaine: We just tease people until they develop an eating disorder.

  • Pretty Little Ballcrusher

    Please tell me somebody used, ‘Of course I can feel it.’ #LiesToldByFemales

    • fiona64

      Or “OMG … it’s *huge!*”, LOL

  • http://massivehassle.com/ tinyorc

    Another big “lie” seems to be women… sorry, “females” deceiving men through all their appearance-enhancing paraphernalia. Push bra? LIES. Make-up? MORE LIES. Instagram filter? ALL OF THE LIES.

    And it’s the same double-bind thing, where women are held to impossible task of conforming to narrow standards of conventional beauty, but are judged as shallow and vain if they are seen to be actively spending money or time on their appearance. The men participating in this idiotic hashtag are definitely the kind of men who expect women to be thin, feminine, clear-skinned, glowing, hairless, but would also prefer not to watch their girlfriend faff around with tweezers or face cream because that’s boring for them and ruins the illusion. Basically, “be an airbrushed supermodel but also never make me wait around while you get ready or spend what I consider to be too much money on a haircut or a wax.”

    I feel like the hashtag should be changed to #WomenCan’tWin

  • TheBrett

    Great post. I don’t expect much from many Americans, though – too many of them espouse and push conservative, restrictive beliefs on sexuality that they don’t follow themselves in their personal lives. Getting past that level of “I don’t do this because I’m Special for Reason X, but I’m going to try and force other people to do it” is hard.

  • Horation_Tobias_HumpleDinK

    Well, you got Christianity to blame. The whole religion has it ingrained into the spine, misogyny. With Adam & Eve – the concept of women being liars and the reason we fell from paradise. Least Islam has female warriors to an extent and old Norse had tales and legends, of bad ass females. Christianity doesnt really have that. Has the whole thing with Lilth too about her being the first woman. But due to not being so obedient, she was portrayed as evil. Then obviously Eve is a complete archetype for misogyny and female oppression.

    • Ramanusia

      Or interpretation. Eve embraced knowledge and rejected blissful ignorance. The women in the bible are interpreted as being rather stupid, shallow creatures, the ones who have been left in the book anyway.

      • Dez

        I’m not a theist or Christian, but I agree with Eve and the apple. Eve was right for wanting knowledge and being informed. Purposeful ignorance is a negative trait to have.

  • Goldenblack

    I liked the #liestoldbyfelines tag that came up in response to this.

    • goatini

      #liestoldbyfelines

      (leaps and falls) “I meant to do that”