Updated: FEBRUARY 17, 2020
Double standards are principles that are applied differently towards one group of people or circumstances than another. Double standards usually judge one group more favorably than another under similar circumstances. They can apply towards people of different genders, races, sexualities, religions, and in practically every area of life. They vary depending on culture and location as well as other factors.
The term is most commonly used to describe gender inequalities within society. While this is a common contemporary gripe, the term dates back to the late 1800s.
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A push towards social equity has brought double standards more sharply into focus. Double standards surrounding gender and sexuality are among the most common. Promiscuous men have long been branded studs, a term with positive connotations, while women engaging in similar sexual behavior are called sluts. Men can go topless on the beach or while working out while women must cover up in most places. Men who take charge are considered assertive people with leadership qualities while women who do the same thing are branded bossy. Society is more accepting of women showing their vulnerability and crying or admitting they are scared. Men who do the same thing are typically seen as weak or cowardly.
There can even be double standards applied to people of the same gender. For example, women who achieve in the business world may be celebrated for their drive and determination. However, if they are mothers they are likely to be criticized for taking time away from their families if they prioritize their careers. Female models are encouraged to flaunt their bodies and their images posted in public places while mothers are discouraged from nursing in many areas outside the home. The romantic or sexual advances of people who are thin and attractive looking are more likely to be received positively while those of people who are overweight or less attractive may be considered sexual harassment.
On the surface, double standards seem to disadvantage one group while advantaging another. However, in actuality, double standards tend to disadvantage everyone. For example, people can feel pressure to fulfill the roles that are seen as more socially acceptable for them.
Being aware of double standards is the key to achieving a more equitable society. When encountering a situation where you think someone should or shouldn’t do something, you should question whether you would hold the same view if the person had a different gender, sexuality, race, or circumstances. Then consider the validity of your judgments and whether they are relevant in modern society.