This week, I was honoured to be invited to speak on the BackBench Podcast on International Women’s Day. Admittedly, as someone who likes to carefully form arguments before expressing them, something I am able to do when writing articles, I was apprehensive about voicing my opinions on a radio show. However, the style was less of an interview and more of an open conversation, covering issues from double standards in dating, the definition of feminism and the abuse of feminism for commercial or political gain. While the topics covered are all incredibly important, the most significant aspect of the podcast, in my opinion, was the fact that International Women’s Day was being supported and celebrated by a respectful and non-judgemental conversation between two men and two women in a public forum. The fundamental flaw in society which hinders any further progression towards equality is the fear and resistance to vocalising our opinions, thus men and women have become educationally segregated. Without listening to each other, learning about different perspectives and altering either our behaviour or their outlook, society will remain at a standstill.
I had mentioned to the hosts, when asked if there was anything I wanted to discuss, that I would be writing my article this week on double standards of women and men in terms of sex and relationships. These concepts are not novel, in fact they are universally acknowledged, and yet they seem to be so deeply embedded in society that they have remained unchallenged. While this aspect of sexism is present throughout all stages of life, young adults at school or university experience a much heightened version. Living in close proximity to all your friends, within a university environment, creates a subculture which is almost an entirely discrete social bubble. Everyone knows someone who knows someone, gossip spreads, rumours are passed along like a game of Chinese whispers and everyone seems to have some conceited notion that they are entitled to this private information. It is unlikely that in later life, walking down the street or going to the pub you are at risk of someone mockingly shouting ‘how is [insert name here]?’. It is also unlikely that someone you had not told will ask you about a person you are seeing, or tell you they heard information you did not tell them yourself. Due to these attitudes and this environment, university students experience these sly sexist attitudes on a magnified level.
While this applies to men as well, it is the way in which the information is reacted to which differs. I recently read that the concept of boys will be boys but not girls will be girls was founded in a time when men would want a woman to be monogamous so that they knew any child was their own. Clearly, contraception, paternity tests and electricity had not been invented yet, which demonstrates so clearly how outdated this is. In a similar way, there is a completely misguided assumption that women are incapable of casual relationships, instead being unable to resist falling maniacally in love with the boy the second he says ‘hello’. While there is evidence that women are more predisposed to get attachments, this is not applicable across the board and certainly not a guaranteed response. This subtle difference, which has no social relevance, should not be allowed to dictate a social construct. Young women face a lose-lose situation; if they express their emotions they are either ‘psycho’ or too clingy and if they remain unattached and have casual relationships they are a whole range of derogatory terms. The answer here is not to pick a side, but rather to just avoid all judgement. No one has the right to an opinion on the private lives of their peers, unless specifically asked, and nor should they feel they have the right to know about it. Instead of focusing on other people, perhaps we should pay attention to our own relationships and maybe then there would be less time to discuss everyone else. Simply, if boys can be boys, then girls can be girls.