The Wise Guys column Em & Lo this week has something from me in it. Here’s the question.
Advice from three of our guy friends. This week they answer the following: “My boyfriend claims it means nothing when he looks at other women, and yet he gets jealous when I look at other men. Why is that?”
Here’s my answer (which, probably not coincidentally, is fairly closely follows my reactions in Interconnections: Women, Men, Infidelity, Morality, Betrayal, Dignity, “Manhood,” Etc..)
Straight Married Guy (Figleaf): Funny you should mention that. I’ve got a woman friend who flirts shamelessly but almost blacks out with jealousy when her partner so much as asks another woman to pass the salt. Her answer for the double standard is a lot like men’s: She knows she’s not looking to change relationships, so it’s okay for her, but not having the same insider information about what her partner’s thinking, she sees it as a total threat. Something similar is probably going though your partner’s head.
But that’s just the general case — there’s a more specific case related to what we “know” about men and women in relationships. We “know” that women are all “naturally” monogamous and men are just as “naturally” promiscuous, right? And so all your boyfriend’s cultural messages are that it’s really harmless for him to eye other women. He’d at most want a one-night stand, but we all “know” he wouldn’t want an emotional attachment. Meanwhile, though, all the cultural messages about you as a woman say that if you’re looking, it’s because you’d rather be with them. Forever! So he “knows” you’d really “only” want an emotional attachment and not a one-night stand. And as Em & Lo’s survey showed back in September, both men and women feel way more threatened by emotional infidelity than sexual infidelity. Is it fair that women are thought to be “naturally” monogamous and men are thought to be “naturally” promiscuous? No, but a lot of things aren’t fair, and jealousy will probably always be with us. The bigger question is whether it’s true? No, it’s not. Which is a bigger problem, but one that, unlike jealousy, we can get over.
Lot of scare quotes in that response. But then words like “know” and “natural” are scary in declarations about gender differences.
But bottom line I think the bogus Two Rules of Desire, wherein it’s both inconceivable and intolerable for a woman to just think some guy’s good looking, accounts for most of the double standards of gender and jealousy.