Consider the following two images:
1. a naked little boy surrounded by ten grown women
2. a naked little girl surrounded by ten grown men
Which is more wrong?
We are naturally inclined to pick the second one. Why?
Yesterday I got into a heated discussion with my little brother regarding to gender issues and double-standards. He presented me with these two images, and asked me which one I considered more “wrong”. Of course, I chose the second one. A naked little girl surrounded by ten grown men inevitably conveyed a strong, disturbing sexual vibe, while a naked little boy surrounded by ten grown women seemed “safer” because of the suggestive maternal undertones, with little or no sexual implications at all.
My little brother brought up this uncomfortable comparison to illustrate society’s double-standards towards men and women. He didn’t explicitly say it but I sensed that he thought it was unfair for men to be easily identified as sexual perpetrators.
What caused this “injustice”? To approach this simply with the argument of fairness doesn’t seem to encompass the structural and ideological fabrics underlying the two images. Of course, I acknowledge the fact that women are perfectly capable of committing a sexual crime, but we must recognize that statistically over 90% of sexual crimes are perpetrated by men. In a sense it is as much a fact as it is a stereotype.
Why is the second image more wrong? In short: patriarchy–a social system that endorses male supremacy. Since patriarchy endorses male supremacy, it functions and operates upon the subjugation and objectification of women, the other gender that is not male. Rape, in many ways, is a power trip and not simply the gratification of sexual desires, because it involves the physical subjugation of women. The reason why women generally don’t rape is because women’s existence under patriarchy has never been about domination. Women are “supposed” to be maternal, social, sentimental and passive. It’s the patriarchal idealization of femininity: women exist as daughters, then wives, then mothers. Women exist in relation to the men in their lives, devoid of autonomy and individuality.
Based on this idea of femininity, ten grown women circling a naked boy doesn’t seem so wrong, because women are thought to be inherently maternal–and what’s wrong with ten “motherly” women surrounding a naked little boy? In addition, generally speaking, little boys are rarely sexualized figures–little girls are. (Speaking of which, did you know that Lewis Carroll, the author of the literary classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, was a pedophile, and Alice was actually a little girl he knew and had a fetish for?)
A little girl surrounded by ten adult male is a disturbing image because the little girl is a sexualized figure. She has inevitably been reduced to a sexual object and cannot preserve her innocence as she is contrasted by the ten male figures, who are stereotypically and ideologically perceived to be in the position of power and dominance (thanks to patriarchal assumptions). This image is unsettling because it creates a unnatural gender/power dynamic in which the presence of ten men–ten patriarchs are overpowering the helpless, vulnerable, and most importantly, naked, little girl. The word “naked” is the key word here, because it sexually objectifies the little girl. It’s basically as wrong as it gets.
Well, times are different now. We’re obviously much better off than the way we used to be. However, having that said, we cannot escape the social indoctrination that program us to think and judge in certain ways. We are socially conditioned by the historical remains of patriarchy and we are all affected by it. It is inescapable. Even if we live in a society that seeks to define itself with gender equity, a perfect balance is still nearly impossible to achieve. We cannot escape conclusions that are immediately prejudiced and sexist because we cannot escape history, and that is why we cannot resist condemning the second picture (a little girl among ten grown men) as “more wrong.”
So it’s not just about double-standards. It is a double-standard–a double-standard given breath by the patriarchal system that used to govern us, and in a more loosened, subtle manner– governs us still.