On the sexual double standard

Opinion by Sabrina Medler
Feb. 21, 2017, 12:13 a.m.

Stanford frosh are constantly advised to experience the quirkiness that reverberates throughout campus in full-throttle. Most upperclassmen will tell you the best parts of their freshmen year were when they went all out — getting a tattoo during their San Francisco dorm scavenger hunts, completing Bingo boards during Full Moon on the Quad or perhaps finding the perfect contenders for Screw Your Roo(mmate). As a freshman, I have had the pleasure of participating in all of these wacky traditions and more. However, another tradition that I recently experienced — Secret Snowflake — exposed some real issues regarding gender dynamics, despite being completely hilarious at first glance.

The game Secret Snowflake allows players to pick which “tier” — one, two or three — that they would like to receive a dare for. Tier one dares typically fall on the softer side — like speaking in a British accent for the remainder of the night — while tier three dares almost always involve borderline nudity or extremely obscene acts.  

When it came time for our dorm’s event, I was taken aback by the blunt categorical differences. Out of the approximately 40 people who participated, approximately 10 vouched for tier one, about 20 for tier two and another 10 for tier three. On the surface, this doesn’t seem too surprising — it makes sense that most people fall in the middle ground. However, upon closer examination, I realized that every member of tier one was female while every member of tier three was male.  

At first, this was upsetting. Of course I wanted to see more girl-power in the risky category. However, when it came down to observing the dares that were assigned, I realized why these categorical differences were so stark. Every male in the tier three category had an overtly sexual dare — wrestling in only boxer briefs while covered in caramel, donning solely one sock (to be worn wherever most advantageous) while performing lengthy lap dances or even re-enacting both sides of a porn scene. Although these images will most definitely never leave my scarred mind, I can’t deny that they were inherently comical. Regardless of how crazy the dares were, the entire room constantly erupted with laughter during the tier three round.  

However, in a much-needed Secret Snowflake debrief, some residents and I considered how the dorm would have reacted if the said tier three members were female. Imagine a scantily-clad girl lying on the ground, reenacting the aggressive moans from a porno. Any way you spin that, that is still an X-rated image, considerably less funny than a similar act from a male counterpart. Over and over, we evaluated the outcomes of each of the tier three dares had they been completed by women. Still, something about female sexuality just seemed more taboo.

Nevertheless, tracing this specific example to contemporary ways of thinking regarding female sexuality helps explain the disparity. The fact is that if a girl participated in a traditional tier three dare, she’s likely to be deemed a “slut.” Slut-shaming refers to stigmatizing a woman for engaging in promiscuous behavior. Because women are conditioned to believe that their sexuality is not to be embraced through concepts as outdated as purity certificates and as pervasive as terms like the “Walk of Shame,” they may not be as willing to put themselves out there at the risk of unfair judgement. Yet, paradoxically, women are constantly encouraged to be sexy in order to be perceived positively from men. Therefore, grappling the fine line between sexy and slutty proves to be an impossible balancing act. As Leora Tanenbaum, author of “I Am Not A Slut,” wrote, “This is the essence of the sexual double standard: Boys will be boys, and girls will be sluts.”  

This double standard is visible across multiple sectors. Consider the event that’s happening tonight, Dancing with The Card, where freshman athletes of each team must choreograph a three-minute dance to perform. A female athlete confided in me that she felt the applications of the double standard when helping to choreograph her pieces. She noted that most of the memorable boys’ pieces of the night will likely include some level of shirtless-ness while the girls’ pieces have to rely on other aspects of their performance in order to be perceived comedically.

Of course this problem pervades a far more serious realm than frivolous “Truth-or-Dare”-esque entertainment and dance competitions in good fun. When girls are constantly shamed for engaging with their sexuality in measures that don’t line up with conventional standards, they are more likely to regard sexual desires and experiences as wrong. As long as this stigma exists, it’s difficult for women to develop healthy relationships with sex. If we want to live in a world where victims are not blamed for rape, where women can make sound personal choices regarding their reproductive rights and where girls can learn comprehensive sexual education, we need to recognize the subtle instances of double standards — like the Secret Snowflake predicament — and address them from an analytical and reflective perspective.


Contact Sabrina Medler at smedler ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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