The Sexual Double Standard in the 18th Century Continues Today

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Men can’t be sluts. Sure, someone will occasionally call a guy a “dog,” but men simply aren’t judged like woman are when it comes to sexuality. -Jessica Valenti

“If you have a vagina, chances are someone has called you a slut a least once in your life.” According to Jessica Valenti. This unambiguous assumption is accurate not only for today’s culture but also during the eighteenth century; this was cause for many woman authors of the time to illustrate the double standard that was (is) acceptable in society. In Eliza Haywood’s, Fantomina, the protagonist of the story is “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit,” who because of her stature and more importantly, her gender, must disguise herself in order to explore her sexual curiosities in contrast to her heartthrob, Beauplaisir, who because he is a man, is free to have as many open sexcapades as he desires (Haywood 2796). This double standard that is apparent and accepted in Fantomina still applies to today’s woman. Though a woman has more right to do as she will now, the same stigma applies.

According to the study What Motivates the Sexual Double Standard? More support for Male Versus Female Control Theory, Rudman and her co-authors state that “a consequence of the SDS”, (Sexual Double Standard), “is that having many sexual partners raises men’s status in society but stigmatizes woman.” and that “woman seek to protect the market value of their sexual favors by refusing offers of casual sex and deterring other women from accepting them…”. This is the exact predicament that our protagonist faces in eighteenth century London. “While at the time having no other aim, than the gratification of an innocent curiosity”, Fantomina must weigh the pros and cons of sexual curiosity against her reputed virtue (2797). Meanwhile, Beauplaisir’s only worry is whether or not he has enough money to pay his whore. This exemplifies the sexual double standard that is the norm in Fantomina; the acceptance of its “ok” for a man to be promiscuous but a woman must be chaste, that a man may openly seek sexual favors but the woman must think about her reputation and remember her place. Fantomina says to hell with men having all of the fun and reassures herself that “-the intrigue being a secet, my disgrace will be so too” (2801). The question then becomes, why is it that woman’s reputations are stigmatized by casual sex but men are precluded from this indignity?
He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut is a book by Jessica Valenti that blatantly calls out men (and woman) who tolerate and accept the sexual double standard in today’s society. “Slut is applied to women engaged in any activity besides knitting, praying, or sitting perfectly still lest any sudden movements be deemed whorish.” This may sound like a complete exaggeration of the term but think about it… when a woman is jealous of another woman she uses the word slut or whore, when a woman is dressed scantily, or if (god forbid) she is dating more than one man, she is branded. We as a society uphold this timeless double standard of woman being looked down on for having sexual desires and praise men for being just the same. Rudman says in order “to enhance their status, men tend to exaggerate their number of sexual partners and to earn bragging rights, they may spread rumors about their female partners. In fact, men list bragging about sexual conquests as a reason for having casual sex.” In Fantomina’s case, after she is “undone beyond the power of heaven” (2800) by Beauplaisir and he is tired of her, “he was willing to be at liberty to pursue new conquests” (2802). Of course she is ruined and he is off to conquer another woman. It seems as though we deem it acceptable behavior now and in the past for men to be whorish because “men receive encouraging, and woman restrictive advice…” (Rudman), WE keep the standard because we as a society, even after hundreds of years, seem incapable of change. The question that Valenti poses is “So… What do we do?”
By the end of the story, Fantomina is unable to keep her charade up because she is now pregnant. Rather than both parties being held to the same standard, her mother holds Fantomina solely responsible: “Though the injury you have done your family (said she), is of a nature which connot justly hope forgiveness,” (2813), Here Fantomina’s mother is telling her daughter how her masquerading, sexual exploration has not only ruined her but shamed her family as well. She goes even further by saying “The blame is wholly hers, and I have nothing to request further of you, than that you will not divulge the distracted folly she has been guilty of.” –so although it takes two to tango or in this case, make a baby, Beauplaisir is off the hook because he did not know it was this particular young lady he was sharing his passion with and please don’t tell the others what a slut my daughter is. Fantomina’s mother is a perfect example of people maintaining this double standard. Rather than stick up for her daughter and tell the man that he is equally responsible for the pregnancy, she requests nothing further from him and sends her daughter off to live a sexless life in a French monastery. This was not the proper action to take, arguably. In today’s society, we often look down on single woman having a child but don’t look at a man with multiple children with different mothers twice. I believe it boils down to holding people accountable for themselves regardless of gender or action. If a woman wants to disguise herself as four other woman and fool around with a single man, at least she is being loyal to one where as the man shamelessly believes that he is with four. We don’t need to put harsh labels on one sex while turning a blind eye to the other.

Works cited:

Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze. 1724. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. 4th ed. Vol. 1C. New York: Longman, 2010. 2796-813. Print.

Rudman, Laurie A., Janell C. Fetterolf, and Diana T. Sanchez. “What Motivates The Sexual Double Standard? More Support For Male Versus Female Control Theory.” Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin 39.2 (2013): 250-263. PsycINFO. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. (MLA ARTICLE)

Valenti, Jessica.’s a Sud, She’s a Slut: The Sexual Double Standard. Seal Press. May 29,2008.Web. 24 Sept. 2015.

Image: Sexual Double Standard Continues

Tags: Fantomina, Eliza Haywood, Gender, Double Standards, Slut