Double Binds

A double bind can be easily explained with the old adage:  “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Sexism and sexist gender socialization create many double binds for girls and women. Gender expectations for girls and women are lengthy, detailed, and impossible.  In order to be a “good” woman, one must possess most, if not all of the following “feminine” qualities:

Be quiet, be passive, be selfless, be dependent on a man, don’t use profanity,  be nurturing, be moral, be pure, be proper, get married, be a “good” mother, be responsible for the success of all of your relationships, be sexy but not sexual, be pretty, be thin, and the list goes on almost indefinitely.

Double Binds for women arise out of the standards I have described above (which is by no means conclusive).  Women are socialized to be “feminine” and “good” through shaming for nonconformity. Each of the expectations has an opposing negative identity attached to it. Some examples: Be passive or you’re a bitch. Get married or you’re a lesbian.  Be feminine or you’re a dyke (which has a very negative connotation in the South-not so much in the North). Be pretty and thin no matter what the cost; literally and figuratively.  Each of these expectations/identities has other problems as well. Adhering to them increases women’s oppression and the likelihood of being victimized.  Be passive but don’t be a victim. Women are taught not to be aggressive and not to yell.  Women are silenced as children and then when they are victimized as adults (and as children) they are too afraid to yell and scream or fight back; even when they need to protect themselves from death.  When women are raped and survive they are often blamed for provoking the attack.  Why didn’t she scream?  Why didn’t she say “No”? Why didn’t she resist or fight back?  Because she’s been socialized not to and because she’s been told by the media that she should cooperate so that her attacker won’t kill her (I will cover this in much more detail under the Sexual Assault page/post).

We socialize women to get married and stay home and be dependent upon a husband. However, when women can’t support themselves financially outside of marriage and become dependent on welfare, they are shamed for being dependent.  When women are successful in careers and have financial independence, they are accused of sleeping their way to the top. There is virtually no way to “win” as defined by society’s standards.  You must define your own.

How does a woman achieve being sexy but not sexual? Can a woman be sexy or sexual and still remain pure?  These are impossible standards because “pure” originates from the religious usage of the word which relates to not being sexual. In fact, women are considered to be impure by Christians simply because they menstruate. These are impossible standards that no woman can meet.  Now it becomes easy to hate women (as a group) because no woman can achieve the standards so all women must be bad.  Women hold other women to these standards and they hold themselves to these standards. Women can be as sexist or more sexist than can men.  And now, women dislike/oppress themselves and other women because they cannot see that the standards are sexist and oppressive.

Consider the phrase “A lady on the street and a freak in the sheets”.  This is the bind about sexuality for women. How does a person maintain two sexual identities or sexual standards? A woman can’t act like a “whore” if she believes that whores are bad because then she is forced to believe that she’s a bad person.  Generally speaking, people like to protect themselves from feeling shameful and shame is the feeling that you are a bad person; unlikable for some reason.

The following is a link to a performance of “Girl Exploded” by Lauren Zuniga.  It’s an excellent illustration of sexist gender socialization and double binds for women.  You’re missing something monumental if you don’t watch this video.  It’s 3 minutes…just do it.


About freethinkingfeminist

College Professor, Feminist, Atheist. Bachelor's and Master's in Social Work, and PhD in Social Welfare. Expert on the topics of sexism, violence again women, intimate partner violence, family violence, social and economic justice View all posts by freethinkingfeminist

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