Feed the FAQ: the policing of women’s sexuality and double standards

Crowd-sourcing time! From KellyK in the Suggestions thread:

Can you add “slut-shaming” and/or “mother/whore dichotomy” to Clarifying Concepts? A classmate of mine posted something I found mildly offensive and I’m having trouble elucidating why it strikes me as sexist, and would really like something to point him to when he inevitably asks what I’m being so critical of. (We’re reading The Economics of Attention and he’s arguing that the author favors attention itself over substance–using whores and mothers as a metaphor for this, complete with the tropes of “whore=deceptive”, “mother=wholesome.”)

There’s a lot to unpack in this, and I’d appreciate some input on how best to start. Please share links to relevant posts that analyse/explain how slut-shaming etc attitudes work to constrain and otherwise harm women, and feel free to share your own thoughts as well. Then I can use your input and provided links to write up an FAQ.

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9 comments on “Feed the FAQ: the policing of women’s sexuality and double standards

  1. Might I, as an intruding male, point out that “mother” and “whore” are overlapping categories? There is no reason for one to exclude the other. Quite a few prostitutes have ended up in that trade because they became mothers and had no other means of supporting their Chilean.

    • I see your point, and the usual phrasing is “the virgin/whore dichotomy”. However, we’re talking about reified archetypes here, not actual people, which is of course half the problem when dealing with obtuse interlocutors such as KellyK’s classmate. No real person ever fully embodies an archetype, they are social narratives which lead to expectations, and often those expectations are unrealistic and unreasonable.

      We’re not talking mothers, we’re talking Mother – i.e. June Cleaver, Carol Brady, or even Elastigirl – the always understanding Nurturer who always has The Answer (when of course actual mothers can be tetchy and make mistakes just like anybody else). There is no way that the archetypal Mother is a whore.

  2. Damn. “Chilean” should have been “children”.

    I see your point. Certainly the virgin(Madonna)/whore dichotomy is a classic archetype. But it was expressed as “mother”=wholesome v. “whore”=deceptive. That’s a departure from the normal pure/tainted antinomy. Perhaps the questioner wasn’t up on his classic antinomies. I’ll try not to type when I’m sleepy.

    The last time I came close to embodying an archetype, I had to inform a little girl I wasn’t Santa Claus. She was so disappointed that I told her that I was Santa’s cousin Subordinate Clause. Rotund and bearded older male’s an archetype in Western civilisation, alas.

  3. @ Subordinate Clause:

    *still laughing* Best. Answer. Ever. My inner linguist is jumping up and down with glee.

  4. This one makes some good points about the dichotomy’s role in rape culture:

    And this one is good for some points on how it relates to intersectional isms involving race and class and transsexuality, plus how it defines women’s sexuality in relation to men’s (default) sexuality:

    More on women’s sexuality framed as existing only in relation to men’s sexuality:

    This one’s more arcane, but it’s an interesting explanation of the biblical origins of the dichotomy:

  5. A few thoughts.

    I think the division is between clean and dirty, and it all goes to contamination theory, supported by everything from religious statutes to the idea of “cooties.”

    A virgin is sexually “clean” by definition as no penis has been in her. A “good” mother is still clean because only a registered “correct” penis has been in her — the one that “created” a child. The sex has been blessed, literally by a religious, moral, or legal entity, or sometimes figuratively by “love,” so the woman is still clean and the child of such a woman is clean, too.

    Sexual contact, without the blessing of religion, state, or love, makes a woman dirty, hence a whore.

    Women are more dirty-able than men because the semen goes out of him and into her. Semen is one of those things that are good when they’re your own, bad when they’re someone else’s. There’s homophobia here, too; contact with another man’s semen is very bad because sexual relations with men is very bad.

    Sex workers who are also mothers are still dirty. Contamination trumps cleanliness, and they have lots of sexual contact with more than one man. But you don’t have to actually take money to be a “whore.”

    Being a mother might make her even worse than a “whore” who has no children, because at least the one without children hasn’t dirtied any children.

    Or she might be the whore with a heart of gold (gold=purity), some part of her soul/being untouched by the dirty penises, and maybe then kind of sort of safe for a man to have sex with because she might not dirty the man.

    Sex workers dirty their children through sexual contact, magically by dirtying the vagina from which they emerged, and the mother who touches them.

    This is also why some people don’t want people using condoms, getting vaccinations, or otherwise avoiding the contamination of STDs. The STD is an external sign of an inner corruption, and removing it would be wrong.

  6. Oldfeminist,

    I have nothing to add, other than to say that your comment above has given me a lot of food for thought.

  7. I really don’t see the double standard(from my perspective). A double standard exists when one side is criticized for doing something while another side isn’t.

    Look up the movie “American Pie”, and identify the classic womanizer(sleeps with or seeks to sleep with a ton of women). Notice how the other male characters feel about the womanizer. It isn’t with respect.

    It is similar in real life as well. Most of those guy’s that one could accurately describe as a “manwhore” don’t get a lot of props and when they do it is heavily laced with sarcasm. Also remember most young men aren’t “manwhores”. Not because we can’t nor is it a case of us not wanting intimate relationships, but more along the lines of it goes against who we are. It is harmful to our very emotional being.

    So you have a person who isn’t a whore themselves, why would they want to date or form a long term relationship with someone who is? Would you hold it against a woman who decided not to date or have anything to do with a womanizer? Somehow I doubt that.

    So stop expecting us to do that which is most likely going to lead to our emotional and physical harm. We have hearts too that we must protect. And women are human beings, just like men. Some are good, most in between and some are sadly evil. That is the nature of things.

    Also there is the phenomenon of women partying now then expecting later on to marry Mr.Right or Mr.Decent so they can father children from Mr.Fun and Mr.Passion. That is going to have an effect on men as well. As anthropological studies show even chimps have an inbuilt sense of fairness. And a “if I wasn’t good enough then” type attitude develops. That is probably a decent size of the so called “double standard issue”.

    Because you must remember that most men are only capable of perceiving it as a double standard if the man is the same as the woman(both being the classical “whore”).

    It is a grave mistake to focus more on classical theories and antiquated traditions over the life experiences and perceptions of others.

  8. Also( and mainly to oldfeminist) I think it is inappropriate to view traditional Church advocates and idiocies has having lasting or overly influential value. If men subscribed to those view points why are men as a class leaving the Church in droves? It is mainly the traditionalist female class that is keeping those institutions alive as most men left when they began to throw us under the bus and only cared about boy’s and men in so much as they could molest, rape and abuse us.

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