The discussion from which this is a spin-off was to answer the question whether or not there are double standards that praise men for keeping condoms on their person just in case they found themselves in a sexual position and condemned women for the same practice. This is really a question about the attitude of society to promiscuity. The condom is in the equation because of possible and unplanned sexual activity that does not occur in marriage and is likely with different sexual partners with whom the condom-carrier is not necessarily emotionally involved.
In informal discussions and debates (yes, debates can be informal. All you need is just opposing views), there isn’t the same degree of discipline and structure required as with formal debates. Emotion is a major feature in such debates. In fact, what often wins in a debate is the best or most resonant emotional appeal. For this reason, not much knowledge or insight is found or expected in such debates. But the truth of the matter is that this is the most popular kind of debates. The more disciplined the debate is, the less appealing it is to ordinary people who typically prefer a punchline or quick summary of a position. Typically, people join a discussion because of the passion expressed or because the subject is one they’re emotionally invested in one way or another. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it often means that participants in such debates will use wrong debating tactics to defend a position that may be correct or wrong. To such debaters, wittingly or unwittingly, it isn’t about what makes sense and what doesn’t but what agrees with them and what doesn’t.
The trouble with such debates is often that it is very difficult to systematically present an argument. Also, a perceived lack of emotional investment in the matter is apt to have a debater tagged as arrogant or insensitive or both. But proper debate actually requires the avoidance of emotional appeal as much as possible and a rigorous, unrelenting examination of every argument made. It is counter-intuitive in debate to demand that anyone yield. The point of debate is to make sure that all arguments are clearly presented and defended and the most convincing arguments accepted as the best.
In my personal attitude, debate is important for one thing only: for all views to be heard and rigorously interrogated. Winning or not is not important because winning is actually a matter of popularity. And many times, the most people prefer the wrong things. If this was not the case, the Holocaust would not have happened, the Russian pogroms against the Jews would not have happened, many bad leaders would not be elected etc etc. So, I prefer to focus on method rather than outcome.
In the discussion from which this is a spin-off, I attempted to develop an argument for an unpopular view, one that at least one participant described as backward. Considering the popularity of feminism today, it is hardly surprising that anything that even looks like it might not align with it is immediately responded to with aggression or dismissal.
So, here, I am going to lay out with more clarity than I could afford within the limits of the previous discussion exactly what the argument against the concept of double standards is.
It is important to keep in mind that there are many false conceptions that are popular just because they sound like they make sense. We simply carry them along with us because they sound good and we’re often too busy to examine them and determine whether they’re really as good as they sound. Example? In Europe, they once thought the earth was flat (and I believe that there was a time before that when they thought it was round but knowledge got lost as it often does). Typical example we all know about. It’s good to consider that even if you’re not altogether wrong, you might learn something useful from listening to your opposite.
To start with, what does anyone need to know about standards?
1. They are made by some recognized authority.
2. They are enforceable.
3. There are attached benefits for conformity and dreaded penalties for non-conformity.
All of these three conditions must be fulfilled to have standards. Or else, there is really nothing but a false idea of them.
Who or what is the authority in this case?
From the story that began the discussion, Eric appeared to be representative of that authority. From the discussion that followed, it ranged from peer groups to male members of the society.
But what makes anyone or anything an authority? Either law by common agreement or popular reception among qualified representatives of the society or law by force of arms or law by some other force including economic subjugation. Whatever installs the authority as authority, however, the proof of authority is in the power to reward and to punish.
The question then arises: who has the power to reward or punish the behavior in question?
If it is Eric or any other male who sleeps with a female, in what way do they reward or punish?
If it is peer groups, in what way do they reward or punish?
If it is male members of the society, in what way do they reward or punish?
Next, we must ask what they actually do to promiscuous males and promiscuous females. That is – Do they reward promiscuous behavior in males and punish it in females or vice versa?
Because we know what the rewards and punishments are from the answers to the previous questions, it is now easy to tell whether or not there is a double standard indeed.
There is evidence, both anecdotal and scientific that a double standard exists for promiscuity in the West. The peer groups there appear to have all the social power. When a man there is promiscuous, the reward he gets is usually female attention and desire. In other words, the more promiscuous a man is in the West, the more popular he is with women which makes him even more envied by other men.
Families and elders in the society there don’t appear to have significant input into young people’s choices for marriage.
The result is that male promiscuity is rewarded with sometimes the best marriage choices.
For females, on the other hand, their peers do not appear to respect them for being promiscuous. Fellow women tend to deride their behavior and do their best to sabotage their marriage choices and interests. Men, on the other hand, don’t appear to find female promiscuity very attractive for long-term commitment so while they may hook up with promiscuous girls, they tend to avoid them for marriage.
There is abundant anecdotal evidence on the Web for this. The scientific evidence that I found is more suggestive than actually descriptive. The findings reported on Wikipedia’s articles on Promiscuity and Female Promiscuity indicate that men in the West, at least, tend to inflate the number of sexual partners they have had while women tend to reduce them. This suggests that it is more beneficial for men to appear promiscuous in their society than it is for women to do so.
Interestingly, however, Wikipedia’s article on Promiscuity mentions a 2005 scientific study that showed that this issue of double standards did not always exist. And an online poll on askmen.com which I could not access to confirm how recent it was also showed that both genders preferred sexually conservative mates. But in the currency of the moment, there seems to be strong evidence that these realities have shifted.
Now, while it is true that Africa and Nigeria has been Westernizing for a whole century at least, we aren’t totally absorbed into Western ways yet. We have something that is to some extent a culturally amorphous society that retains to some significant degree echoes of its past. In other words, we still behave quite a bit like we did just before the Europeans found us. We haven’t fully installed the Western cultural package.
For this reason, we do behave both a little like the West and a little like the old Africans used to.
The fact that our community elders, families and friends all have a significant say in our marriages is proof that we are still quite different from the West. Whereas the power lies almost exclusively with peer groups in the West, here it is still distributed – and quite considerably unequally – among the three groups I named. These three groups together form the authority in this issue.
They reward and punish sexual behavior by permitting or restricting access to good potential marriage mates.
In my community, at least, and a few others I know by anecdote, and perhaps many more, if you’re promiscuous, whether as a man or as a woman, you acquire a reputation that your friends and acquaintances will share given the right incentives and that will factor in any time you decide that you want to settle down.
While it may be a Western thing now that promiscuous men are considered attractive and a catch for marriage, Nigerian women in general still consider that a promiscuous man before marriage is very likely to cheat on them when married so they may not be particularly enthusiastic about marrying them. When they are at all, especially because of love, it is not very uncommon or strange to find their own family (and even friends) going to lengths today to sabotage the whole affair “for their own good”.
This is Nigerian reality. It applies both to men and to women.
I think I should reiterate that there is very truly evidence of Western culture and philosophy in our own indigenous behaviors so I am really not arguing that we will never find the same double standard evident in the West in our society. I am arguing that it is not the prevailing sentiment here.
This is why I hold that there is no double standard.
Do you know of any communities in Nigeria where this is not the case? Feel free to share, if you do.
Image via ReviseSociology