If you’ve spent any time out in the world, chances are that you’ve encountered a double standard. Whether you’ve benefitted or been harmed by an unequal expectation, the presence of double standards frequently occurs in personal and professional lives.
They’re perpetuated in media and can begin forming as the result of stereotypes learned at young ages. Different people can make the same mistakes and be punished unequally, and some will escape punishment altogether.
What is a double standard?
A double standard is a principle that is unequally applied to different people or groups. Double standards arise as the result of stereotypes, or the oversimplified ideas held about a certain type of person. Though there is no exhaustive list of who is at risk for being stereotyped, common factors that may lead someone to have a different set of expectations than others include but are not limited to race, religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level and sexual orientation.
Common double standards in gender
Double standards can occur as a result of gender biases. Because of this, deeply held beliefs about how people who belong to different genders should act is and what is expected of them impacts how they move through professional and personal spheres. Because of the ubiquity of such unequal assumptions, many of us may perpetuate such standards unintentionally. The first step to combating double standards is to recognize them.
Individuality versus teamwork
Women are expected to be helpful and to work for the good of the group while men are expected to pursue goals that benefit themselves. In offices, women are expected to handle responsibilities for committee planning duties and work that is unlikely to lead to their career growth. As a result, men and are able to focus their energy on projects that will help them land a promotion as a result.
Keep track of who has served on which type of committees, and constantly rotate roles. Give all team members a chance to work on projects that will allow larger opportunities to open up for them down the road. If you notice that tasks are being divided unequally in your office, bring up your findings to someone in a position of power or someone in the human resources department.
This can mean that women are expected to clean up and keep things tidy more than men both in the home and in the workplace. Meanwhile, men are more likely to be excused from performing ‘office housework.’ Examples of office housework include being expected to place lunch orders or bring in coffee. Even when both partners in a romantic relationship have careers outside of the home, the burden of cleaning still often falls on women’s shoulders.
One strategy to implement to avoid this is to come up with a strict division of labor both at home and at the workplace. Communicating that you expect a balanced schedule of duties and keeping track on a calendar or chart can keep work divided up equally. At the office, make a list of duties and address poor participation as a performance issue if the work isn’t completed.
Men who take charge are seen as being assertive, but women who take charge are seen as being bossy. Unfortunately, this double standard often appears early on in childhood when boys are praised for taking charge while girls are chastised for being bossy. The expectation created is that women should follow and behave modestly.
Avoid this double standard by encouraging girls to speak up and pursue leadership opportunities.
Women are expected to stay at home with children, and men are expected to return to work. Some of these double standards have influenced the way that policies are built. Women are expected to sacrifice their careers to care for children while men are pressured to provide financially.
Advocate for paternity leave for men in workspaces. When a couple has children, don’t assume that the woman should take time off instead of the man.
Double standards are in place for which emotions are acceptable to be expressed based on gender. When men behave aggressively, they are less-likely to be mocked than if they display fear or sadness. Types of emotions are often gendered. Emotional expression is another area where double standards are often set forth from a young age. A boy who becomes upset and cries may be told to “stop crying like a girl,” while a boy who engages in destructive behavior may have such behavior dismissed with the excuse “boys will be boys.”
Avoid engaging this double standard by prompting children to express their emotions in healthy ways.
Common double standards in relationships
Double standards aren’t always perpetuated intentionally. In relationships, patterns can emerge seemingly out of nowhere and allow uneven sets of expectations to remain in place for the duration of the relationship.
Relationships with exes may be tolerated by one partner, but another may have an issue with it. If one person often spends time with former romantic interests, the same partner forbidding their partner from allowing the same behavior is a double standard. This double standard may arise if one person has insecurity issues or if one person has had more relationship experience.
Acceptable response time
If one partner expects the other to respond to phone calls and text messages immediately, but does not reciprocate, this is an example of a double standard. In some cases, if someone doesn’t respond, they may believe that their schedules are more important than the person who they are with. Depending on the severity of the disparity, this can be a major red flag, especially if the issue is addressed but not corrected.
Relationships should be a space for people to each contribute and learn from one another. If one partner is constantly determining how they spend time together and is unwilling to compromise, this is a sign that a double standard has been put into place.
You can avoid perpetuating relationship double standards by taking a step back and viewing the situation from the eyes of the person you’re with. Imagine how you feel if the same standards were applied to you. If you don’t think it would be fair, evaluate why you think it isn’t acceptable for the person you’re with to engage in such behavior. Should you find yourself still adamantly against changing what you want, think about changing your own behavior first.
If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel your partner is exerting a double standard, ask them to to see things from your point of view. Provide examples of why their behavior goes against what they expect of you, and ask them to explain their point of view. When you bring up these conversations, do so calmly in a way that asserts that you’re looking to better the relationship, not to start an argument.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.