Double standards

For some time now, one would hear comments like, “think outside the box”; “you have to make a difference” and “we have to get back to agriculture” and so on.

Very often these comments are directed at the youth in our society who, we are failing to realise are becoming more and more confused as they witness the double standards that persist in society.

To put it differently, I will share one of my experiences with you. While in the company of some retired head teachers, bankers, insurance executives and civil servants who were all reminiscing about the “ole days” with much pride, not to be left out, a young woman added that her uncle was a fisherman. Suddenly, there was a pause as each “stuffed shirt” absorbed this new information. Although no comments were made the brief look on the faces of the persons present were enough to confirm my suspicions that we in society always “talk the talk” but are not prepared to “walk the walk”.

Every year, political and other pundits visit graduation ceremonies around the island pontificating to the youth that they must either “think outside the box” or regard agriculture as an option in determining their profession. However, we are yet to see these people lead by example or should I dare say, have their children utilise these options as a career choice. Not once, have I seen one of these people in a field of vegetables with their sons or daughters working on a plot of land with broken finger nails, old boots, sombrero and tattered shirt showing that there is no stigma in agriculture.

Nevertheless, they are often in the public forum with well manicured nails while dressed in the latest designer wear suggesting that others do it, which demonstrates a whole lot of double standards. By the same token, we are baffling the youth with our expectations on the one hand and our behaviour on the other. The message has become so confusing that it appears as if the boys and girls are unsure of the role they have to play in society. The boys seem to be struggling with the question “should I run around like my father and denigrate women or should I dress up and look pretty like my mother with the latest hair styles and jewellery”?

The girls, on the other hand, seem to be obsessed with their body image and want to be models or stylists or back up dancers like what is observed on BET. What is clear however is they all seem unsure about how to proceed. Yet at every corner pundits are talking about agriculture as the way forward but are failing to demonstrate how to get there without working in the sun all day, having calluses on our hands and being stigmatised for such work. The article this week is about double standards in society and the challenges it has placed on our youth.

Let me start with educational expectations and home management. We have all believed the view that boys mature more slowly than girls and this mantra seems to be written in stone. No one has considered that there are exceptions to every rule and that at times there are girls who also develop slowly and not because of any disability.

So as a result, when a boy achieves a grade of 242 in the Common Entrance Examination, this result may gain him entry into Queen’s College and two more marks may get him into Harrison College. Whereas, if a girl receives 244 she may be granted entry to The St. Michael School or lower depending on the cut-off mark that year.

It appears as if different standards are being used to evaluate men and women, so have we considered the double standards here and the messages that we are sending to our youth from an early age?

We are all aware that although prima facie we live in a patriarchal society on the one hand, yet on the other hand our women are proficient at single-handedly managing households with children while being responsible for a job outside the home. At the same time, men still occupy 75 per cent or more of all senior positions both in the public and private sector. This in itself is a double standard.

It appears as if we are saying that to achieve their highest potential, woman are expected to aim excessively high but males don’t have that same criterion. So can this low expectation that society places on the male from an early age account for why so many of them choose to “lime on the block” instead of striving to be the best that they can be.

Could this also explain why an unemployed male who is offered a job that pays say $175 a week would turn it down, preferring unemployment instead of low wages whereas a female with similar qualifications or more who is unemployed would accept the offer and stretch the dollar until better can be done.

Likewise, let us look at the double standards in the workplace. According to Foschi, (1996) it appears as if performance evaluations are based on both status and performance. In other words, you are evaluated on who you are (whether male or female) first and foremost and then on your performance.

The research suggests that success for a man incorporates two sets of criteria firstly being male and secondly his level of performance. On the other hand, success for females could be any combination of factors which suggests a weaker inference about her abilities. In other words, if the woman succeeds in her job her evaluation is usually very suspect.

Because she is female the criteria alluded to could range from her sleeping with the boss to being his relative. Very rarely do these comments suggest that she is really competent at her profession and hence deserves the position. The fact that she is a woman does not help, instead because she is female there is always this lingering suspicion. So there is never any set combination for female success whereas for the male because he is male competence is inferred.

Now let us look at our social environment. When a woman marries a man of high status in society she is treated with a great deal of respect even though all may know that she is the trophy wife, no one dares say this and the male retains his status.

However, should the situation be reversed and a female of high status marries a man of low status the woman loses respect from her peers and others. Furthermore, the standards for men and women differ when it comes to competence. For instance, when a man demonstrates incompetence in his personal life like inability to look after children or the home he is not disgraced by his counterparts nor society. However, if a female demonstrates the same level of incompetence she is held up to ridicule across all of society.

On the other hand, if a male demonstrates some measure of competence with the family no matter how weak, the degree of ability inferred is greater than that of a female who exerted that same level of competence. So males are provided with a more lenient standard of ability than females.

In relation to sexual behaviour males and females are evaluated differently depending on whether it is a man or a woman who engages in this behaviour. Marks and Fraley (2006) refer to this behaviour as sexual double standard and explains it as “… men’s sexual behaviour brings praise and respect, whereas for women” the “identical sexual behaviour brings public disbelief”…

In other words, if a woman has several sexual partners she is denigrated in the eyes of society, whereas if a male has several sexual partners he is glorified by the same society. Even by the church leaders whom I notice are very silent on matters of morality, but let us not digress.

So one may ask, if this double standard is noticeable to everyone why does it continue. Research by Marks and Fraley (2006) suggests that sexual double standards in society may not be as profound as was first determined. They believe that the influence of the media where television programmes portray females in this respect serves to provide a priming mechanism for adolescents who then sustain this double standard.

In relation to the double standards of status, education and job performance they suggest that these are so entrenched in our society it is difficult for individuals to see them for what they are. In essence, these double standards have had such a powerful impact on social norms in our society that they are being reinforced by social learning and conditioning therefore they will be difficult but not impossible to change.

In closing, although the double standards may appear difficult to change, a collective effort by all stakeholders (governments, church, school and other organisations) can result in doing the right thing for the next generation. As the opening vignette suggests, we need to stop frowning on agriculture in order to turn around this economy and to collectively “think outside the box” in order to reduce the double standards that exist in this small developing state even if it is only for the sake of the youth. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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