We treat male and female sexuality differently. The most well-known example of that is the slut double standard for women (casual sex is seen as degrading and disgraceful for them to an extent that it isn’t for men), but we also have some important sexual double standards for men. The first and second (player and virgin) involve having or not having sex, while the third and fourth (creep and objectifier) are about expressing sexual desire. The fifth (“male nudity is funny, not sexy”) is a difference in how we tend to see men’s and women’s bodies. The sixth is “male homosexuality is uniquely offensive”.
The impact of these on the development of men’s self-esteem and sexuality needs to be better acknowledged and understood. A few are covered in this man’s experience:
If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m very afraid of being called a creep. For so much of my childhood, I was taught that it was pretty much the worst thing I could do. I was taught that women don’t want to be bothered by men, that hitting on women is inherently objectifying and misogynist, that my (completely natural) urges are predatory and negative, that I should respect women by behaving in a completely passive way around them.
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1. Player or victimizer
The double standard is that men who have casual sex are viewed as “taking advantage” of their partners to an extent that women who have casual sex aren’t. A woman out on a Friday night to find a one night stand is unlikely to be perceived as “preying” on men (she’s more likely to be seen as the prey). Consider this in relation to slut-shaming. If in casual sex she’s being degraded and disgraced, he’s doing the degrading and disgracing.
Look at this experiment on /r/OkCupid. A woman in her late 30s asked for advice finding men in their late 20s for casual sex, and then (after enough time had passed) someone else made a nearly identical thread but with the genders flipped. The response to the woman was serious, supportive, and positive, while the man was received overwhelmingly more negatively. His attractiveness and sexual ability were questioned multiple times, as was the legitimacy of his desire for a younger woman. He was accused of wanting women who were dumb, wouldn’t see through him, and were willing to put up with bad sex. The undertones of him “taking advantage” of them were clear.
This isn’t completely limited to casual sex (slut-shaming isn’t either). Consider the trope of the overprotective father intimidating a boy his daughter brings home, as if even a relationship should be seen through the lens of the man “taking advantage” of the woman. TVTropes explains: “[he] wants to protect his daughter from being exploited” and “[i]n the rare event that he finds a suitor he can tolerate, he will still threaten the boy with dire consequences If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her…”.
The double standard is that lacking sexual experience is seen as pathetic and disgraceful for men much more than for women. “Is the Adult Male Virgin Society’s Last Taboo?”:
From countless teen movies to comments on online forums, the adult virgin male is branded as a bit of a loser. While female virginity may still retain some virtue in modern western society, male virginity certainly does not.
This man talks about his experience as a virgin during his university years:
1) Men would mention my virginity to any girl I was flirting with in a party.
2) People in my dorm thought it was funny to shout that I was virgin loudly in public, I was the only one in my floor.
3) I was constantly harassed about my virginity; jokes were constantly said about getting me a hooker, because “obviously” I had no shot on my own.
Many feminists recognize and acknowledge the virgin double standard (although too often couched in the language of “patriarchy”, e.g. “The Shame of the Male Virgin”).
The double standard is that expressing sexual desire or being perceived as doing so (striking up a conversation, asking someone out, etc.) carries a much greater risk of garnering the label of “creep” for men than women. The word “creep” is associated with certain genuinely threatening people (stalkers, people who spike drinks, public masturbators, people who refuse to take “no” for an answer, etc.) and so it has a lot of strength, but unfortunately it can also be used on innocent or mundane behaviours (it’s “both extremely ostracizing and extremely vague”). See this man asking an advice column on Slate if he can go to a bar by himself without looking like a creep (he’d moved to the area and wanted to “meet some new … friends”).
Clarisse Thorn explains that as a woman she can be explicit and overt with her sexuality without worrying about being considered a creep, which puts men in a double bind, considering that they’re usually expected to be the initiators. The only way for a man to guarantee that he won’t be seen as or called a “creep”, according to a commenter she quotes, is to completely suppress his sexuality.
But even that’s not fool-proof. See this article from a black man with a skin condition, who reports that sitting in coffee shops he sometimes gets mumbled comments like “yuck”, “gross”, and “creepy”. His case illustrates that “creepy” isn’t just for contexts with sexual undertones (though it typically is). He also brings up appearance:
A creep is a mugger, chat-room victimizer or necrophiliac in waiting. Evidence of such isn’t necessary. The creep’s nature can be discerned from his (it is an overwhelmingly masculine label) appearance and mannerisms.
The 2016 study “On the nature of creepiness” (also here) surveyed 1,341 people. The vast majority (95%) of respondents said a creepy person was much more likely to be male, and most said creepy people aren’t aware that they are creepy. Female respondents were more likely than male ones to assume that a hypothetical creepy person had sexual interest in them. Certain traits were found to be associated with creeps, including many that involve being unattractive or weird-looking (e.g. pale skin, long fingers, bags under eyes, greasy or unkempt hair, odd clothes, being very thin) and many that involve being awkward or not socially adept (e.g. laughing at unpredictable times, standing too close, excessively asking about personal life or talking about their own, expressing too much or too little emotion). The authors suggest that feeling “creeped out” is anxiety over a potential threat, which shows us that being awkward or unattractive (particularly as a man) can mean being seen as a threat (especially sexually).
Fear of being “creepy” is likely one reason for “hover hand”, where someone (almost always a man) awkwardly can’t make physical contact when taking a picture with someone, usually with the woman being much less scared of physical contact herself.
4. Sexist or objectifier
The double standard is that expressing or implying sexual desire (to a potential partner, about a public figure, etc.) is much more likely to be seen as sexist or “objectifying” when men do it (“objectifying” is often/usually used as a stronger term for “sexualizing”). A woman who makes a comment about a male celebrity being attractive is unlikely to be accused of believing or implying that he has nothing to offer outside of his sex appeal, or accused of “not respecting” men. This is like the player / victimizer double standard in seeing men’s sexuality as degrading to women, but this just needs desire (not actual contact or casual sex happening).
The BBC reported in 2016 that Nottinghamshire police had started counting “harassment of women” as misogyny and a hate crime. They defined this as “behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman”. The Nottingham Post cited police describing this as an effort to crack down on (among other things) “unwanted or uninvited sexual advances” and “uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement”, reporting that they had investigated 21 people for “misogyny hate crime”.
That’s deeply concerning for two reasons. First, it’s a problem to tell someone who realistically must initiate (if they want any sort of sexual/romantic relationship) that they can only do so if they’re absolutely certain of the other person’s interest or “invited”. Striking up a conversation or asking someone for their phone number is a valid way to figure out whether they’re interested (it’s people who refuse to take a clear “no” for an answer that should be treated more harshly). Second, doing something to a woman because she’s a woman doesn’t have to mean misogyny. The most likely reason a straight man only approaches and asks for a phone number from women but not men is that he’s straight and doesn’t find men attractive and doesn’t want to date them.
For objectification, one article in the Irish Examiner has a woman saying she berates her brother as “smarmy and sexist” for watching women’s tennis “not strictly, I suspect, for the sporting spectacle” while herself ogling over male sports stars. “Am I hypocrite? Maybe, but I’m not alone […] objectifying men and objectifying women are two very different things.” She’s right on not being alone: “Why it’s great to objectify World Cup players” (Amanda Hess, Slate), “Why We Objectify Men Without Guilt” (NYMag), “Why Shameless Objectification Can Be A Good Thing” (Jezebel), “Why It’s Completely Okay To Objectify Men…No Really, It Is” (Elite Daily), and “it’s ok when it’s men for us to ogle and reduce to objects?” … “Yes” (response from feminist author Jill Filipovic).
The founder/editor of Feminist Current explains one feminist approach to sex that is “critical of prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, burlesque, BDSM and, really, sex and sexuality as defined by patriarchy and men”, which “work[s] towards a real, liberated, feminist understanding of sex and sexuality”. I’d suggest that taking such a hyper-critical and uniquely suspicious attitude to male sexuality (or female sexuality when appreciated by men) is a sexual double standard and insulting/harmful to men.
5. “Male nudity is funny, not sexy”
This double standard is that female nudity (or women’s bodies more generally) are more likely to be seen/presented as sexually desirable, while men’s bodies are more likely to be seen/presented as humorous. This double standard is actually pretty well covered by feminists, like in “What’s So Funny About Dudes’ Bodies?” from Jezebel.
Whether it appears on a movie screen, in a magazine, or on a porn site, the naked female body is almost always meant to be titillating. So how come naked dudes are so often meant to be funny?
The article explains that scantily-clad men often elicit laughs regardless of body-type, related to the stereotype that women’s bodies are beautiful but men’s are utilitarian.
We’re always told that we’re supposed to be the sexy ones, but this can be a heavy burden, and I think plenty of dudes would be only to happy to share the weight. So while dick jokes can certainly be funny, let’s remember that plenty of women also like actual dicks.
A more extreme version of this is when men’s bodies are seen or portrayed as gross. The male author of the article “The Male Body: Repulsive or Beautiful?” gives examples from his life. His grade six art teacher declared that all great artists saw the female form as more beautiful than the male and then quipped that “no one wants to see naked men, anyway”. When he first became sexual, he was sure his girlfriend liked being with him in spite of his body instead of because of it. He even had a streak of experimenting with having sex with men, not because he found them attractive but because he relished how they made him feel attractive (commenting on his body rather than technique, etc.). He comments on straight men wanting to feel desired:
They may know what it is to be relied upon, they may know what it is to bring another to ecstasy with their touch, but they don’t know what it is to be found not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but worthy of longing.
From “The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality”, a woman’s perspective:
And lastly,know that your body is beautiful. I, like most females, was warned that penises and balls and anuses were gross. I was told to hold my nose, close my eyes, get it over with.
The view of women’s bodies as beautiful and men’s bodies as not so beautiful—whether utilitarian, funny, gross, or something else—can be seen in our clothing norms, which generally require men to cover up more than women (there are a few exceptions, like showing nipples in beachwear). This can be seen in formal attire, athletic wear, attire for restaurants (also bars and clubs), etc.
Sociology professor Lisa Wade remarks that if male athletes wore comparably skimpy outfits as female ones, it “would look ridiculous”. Her point is about the “sexualization of women”, but it also illustrates my point about seeing men’s bodies differently.
6. “Male homosexuality is uniquely offensive”
The double standard is that when homosexuality is considered lewd or offensive, male homosexuality is generally considered especially bad. “Across our society, the taboo on male homosexuality remains far greater than the one on lesbianism.”
In 2012, the FBI classified 55% of sexual orientation-based hate crimes as “anti-male homosexual bias” compared to 12% as “anti-female homosexual bias” (28% were generic “anti-homosexual bias”). In the same year, Statistics Canada reported that 80% of sexual orientation-based hate crimes in Canada had male victims.
There’s actually a long history of uniquely persecuting male homosexuals. In the United Kingdom, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (also known as “An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes”) recriminalized male homosexuality as “gross indecency”. Until decriminalization in 1967, 50,000 gay men were convicted, including author Oscar Wilde (sentenced to two years of hard labour in 1895) and mathematician Alan Turing (who accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison in 1952; he killed himself two years later). Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Home Secretary 1951-54) talked of a “new drive against male vice” to “rid England of this plague”.
A similar pattern happened in Nazi Germany. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “[t]he vast majority of homosexual victims were males; lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution”. 100,000 men were arrested for homosexuality and 50,000 were sentenced, mostly to regular prison but 5,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps, where they were treated especially harshly.