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.
#LiesToldByFemales I’m not a slut
— John Beauregard (@jbdangles) March 5, 2014
#LiesToldByFemales “I dont usually do this”
— jaleen (@jaleenelia) March 5, 2014
#LiesToldByFemales I’ve only slept with 2 guys
— Cody (@Codehhhhh) March 5, 2014
#LiesToldByFemales <-I’ve never done this with anyone else.
— Ava❤’s Bisping (@Foxy79_) March 5, 2014
— ♡ Sam ♡ (@MsSamanthaMay) March 5, 2014
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.