Emotional Health

Sex, Lies and Gender: Are Women Judged by Different Moral Standards?

The black and white, binary view of morality is not a very useful concept. The “disparate modes of experience” is not an excuse but a more complex way of looking at these issues. When it comes to dishonesty, there are different kinds of lies as well. There are lies of commission: deliberate false statements, known to be untrue but are put forth anyway. In politics, this is so common that a “pants on fire,” or “Pinocchio” scale has been created by journalists who fact-check them. Others are lies of “omission”: leaving out part of the story. This can be passive or active, but is a grayer area, usually. Another kind of lie is “defensive”: covering up a small sin because you fear others will make it into something bigger or even distort it.

An example is a woman I’ll call Janet, whose boyfriend was pathologically jealous, and was always trying to “catch her” doing something wrong. Then when he did, he became enraged, so she found herself covering up and even lying about innocent things. After an intense argument sparked by Janet going to a movie he wanted to see with a female friend instead of him, she began to be vague or even dishonest about what she did with her time with her friends. If a male friend called or contacted her, she learned not to mention it or lie about it. “I feel like he’s turning me into a dishonest person,” she said.

While we can’t blame others for our own behavior, we can see that circumstances do matter and fear of being blamed or even persecuted is a powerful motive. Again, during the Holocaust, many Jews hid their identity during World War II, and some continued to even after, still not feeling safe. Are women, like other minorities, judged more as a group than as individuals, even now? When a woman drives badly, she is can be dismissed as a “woman driver,” whereas I see many more men driving recklessly on the roads but have never heard someone use the term “male driver.”

Some think that Martha Stewart was sent to jail while many others have avoided sentences for white-collar crimes because she was a woman. Or perhaps it was because she was a “successful” woman? In his book Tangled Webs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart, details how her lies about an illegal stock tip put her in prison. Yet the stock market fiasco of 2008, in which many banks lied or defrauded their customers and even regulators, precipitating a global financial crisis, resulted in few convictions or even prosecutions.

Just as minorities who broke barriers in law, medicine, and other formerly “white men only” fields, had to be tougher, smarter, and above reproach compared with their colleagues, women who aspire to top jobs are held to a different standard. They have to be “better” than the rest, even today. Most women know that, from a lifetime of experience, and in our hearts. As it plays out now on a national scale, perhaps we can all agree that the system is “rigged,” but let’s not forget whom it is rigged for.




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  • Arlene McCarthy October 29, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    What happened in our society that men on campus think it’s ok to rape? What happened in homes where males were taught to be gentlemen? To respect women, love them and care for them. Why are there crude words men use to describe a women who has a career and gives her opinion . I would think men would be pleased that their daughters could now be breadwinners. To help raise a family together instead of the woman in the kitchen, the man earning all the money. I’m a senior citizen I was a single parent for three children, the main breadwinner and I shutter to think what would have happened to us if I could not have earned a good living.