Emotional Health

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

fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.


There’s a widespread feeling that American society is in “decline.” This is despite the fact that by some important measures, things are improving for many people. Good economic news, just last week, reflected rising incomes, and not just for the rich. The health of the nation is better than ever, with the life expectancy of most groups rising steadily. Teenage pregnancy and abortion are on the decline, and so is crime. Worldwide, there have also been gains:

“According to the latest United Nations Human Development Report, published in 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 per day) fell from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. During this same time, global inflation-adjusted average income per capita increased from $8,510 to $13,551; the global child mortality rate dropped from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births to just 43; the global youth literacy rate (ages 15-24) increased from 83 percent to 91 percent; and the number of children enrolled in primary education increased in all regions, and more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa [UN2015, pg. 74].”

Perception is different however. War, terrorism and sensationalized crimes, particularly when they are unpredictable, tend to cause general anxiety. This is one of the reasons why terrorist attacks work to cause fear: you think to yourself, this could happen to me. In contrast, many people don’t worry that organized crime figures will harm them, reasoning that they tend to kill one another in high numbers, but leave the rest of us alone. There’s a problem with this thinking, of course, because many of their activities – narcotics trafficking, for example – contribute directly to crime and addiction, causing countless deaths.

The media is blamed for many sins, but tilting the news toward scare stories is certainly one of them. There is a perception that journalists are less fact-oriented, less likely to challenge the system, and more biased than in the past. At the same time, the people they cover seem less honest than ever before. Is this a real issue or is it a reflection of the fact that journalists no longer protect public figures from exposure as they did in the past? John F. Kennedy was not the only president whose extramarital affairs were known to the press, but the standard was that this was off limits. Hollywood figures were rarely “outed” for “transgressions,” like homosexuality, which could be a career-killer, except by the occasional scandal rag.

Traditionally, it has been common for men to be treated with a wink in response to certain types of behavior. A man who had many partners, was a “rascal,” at worst, (to many, a role model) – “boys will be boys.” A sexually free woman was labeled a “slut.” A man who is aggressive in business, even to the point of bending rules, is called a “go-getter.” Recent reports about the culture of male dominance in business and investment banks have revealed a portrait of a “frat boy” atmosphere in which boys misbehave together and cover up for one another. Allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News, which have resulted in Gretchen Carlson winning $20 million and Roger Ailes’ resignation, have given us an inside view.

Nowhere is the problem more vivid than on campuses, where women are still in danger of being raped while men get exonerated. Stanford University is the latest in a long series of schools where male students that have received slaps on the wrist for serious sexual crimes. This culture exists on the high school level as well. St. Paul’s School, one of the most exclusive prep schools in the nation, recently had a case in which the defendant was given a lesser sentence than many felt he deserved.

Meanwhile, the women in these cases are often ostracized. First, they are blamed. The excuse that “she asked for it,” by dressing a certain way, attending a party, or drinking alcohol, etc. is ubiquitous. If they are punished, even lightly, male perpetrators and their supporters often blame the victim for “wrecking” a promising man’s career. As far as covering for one another, Jerry Seinfeld joked: “Everyone lies about sex. People lie during sex. Without lying, there would be no sex.”

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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.