Frances Cohen Praver Ph.D.

Love Doc

Moral Values and the Double Standard

Women are coming into their own-sort of.

Posted Jul 13, 2009

Women are coming into their own─ sort of. Although women outnumber men in the US population, we have only one woman on the Supreme Court. As I write this blog, the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor are underway. Although her gender is not spoken of per se, it surely is a factor in her hearings. Indeed, Sonia Sotomayor is a woman.

After the second day of confirmation hearings, her gender is a on center stage. For example, would Sotomayor be grilled about her temperament if she was a man? Apparently, of the 109 previous male judges none were asked about their temperament.  Joe Scarlborough (R) tells us that men are expected to be assertive, but when a woman is assertive she is frowned upon as being tough.

So what about the double standard? It certainly has given way to a point, but only to a limited point. It seems, one foot is still stuck in the nineteenth century. And this can be dangerous, to not only women, but to our society as a whole. A brief walk down the halls of shame of yesteryear tells it like it is.

The Victorian age espoused a double sexual standard; repressive rules for women's sexuality with sexual freedom for men. The ethos of "moral values" back then only served to spawn rampant prostitution, pedophilia, and venereal disease. Indeed the church, in order to save the purity of the housewife - the Angel of the House - sponsored prostitution. Women, whose sexuality was disavowed, were considered pathologically ill and diagnosed as Hysterical. Many of these women found relief from their symptoms at the hands of their doctors who used vibrators to bring them to orgasm. Others, less fortunate, were subjected to clitorectomy or lobotomy.

Sigmund Freud exposed the hypocrisy of the 19th century. He brought sex out of the Victorian closet with theories of childhood sexuality and erotic dynamics in the family. Although he viewed women as inferior, powerless, passive, sans penis/phallus, Freud admitted he was in the dark about women. Indeed, he referred to women as a "Dark Continent". Nevertheless, he treated women's hysterical symptoms with psychoanalysis, a far more benign treatment than other doctors.

In the fifties another artificial ideal was promulgated. The prudish, conformist, post WW11 society lauded blissful married life, with TV shows, like Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave it to Beaver that featured June Cleaver- a sacrificing wife and mother. TV housewives did not dream of extramarital affairs, and if they did, it remained as unfulfilled dreams. Women were subjected to the men who dominated them. " moral values" as exemplified on TV was the order of the day.

Behind closed doors a reality of frustrated women and satisfied men persisted. Many husbands refused to wear a condom and women were taught to please them. The result was many unwanted pregnancies. Abortions were outlawed and pregnant women were forced to seek help to end their pregnancies in unsavory and dangerous methods. They resorted to back- ally abortions or knitting needles. The movie, Vera Drake depicts this dilemma in a poignant and sympathetic way.

Alfred Kinsey in his landmark research published in 1948, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male, followed by the 1953 publication of Sexual Behavior of the Human Female exposed the hypocrisy of the times. He described what people were really doing between the sheets. He shocked the nation by his exposure of extramarital sex, bisexuality and even bestiality - a far cry from the "moral values" of the fifties.

History does not exactly repeat itself, but unresolved problems persist in new and varied forms -new wine in old bottles.

I am all for marriage, committed relationships with mutuality, reciprocity, devotion, love and sex. The reality, however, is that 40% of women are estimated to have engaged in extramarital affairs. Denial is not going to make it disappear. Should we cast a blind eye to realities, we risk turning back the clock to the Dark Ages of ignorance and repression. This frightening forecast presents us with an urgent cry to be fully awake. Only then can we benefit from the limitless possibilities of our society in the areas of science and health.

Frances Cohen Praver, PhD is the author of Crossroads at Midlife: Your Aging Parents, Your Emotions, and your Self (Praeger,2002 ) and Daring Wives; Insight into Women's Desires for Extramarital Affairs (Preager, 2006).


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