Double Standard: Women Are "Skanks" and Men Are "Studs"?

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

The following article was published on Goatmilk, Wajahat Ali’s blog as part of a special series…

The stories are almost always the same: a woman, frequently in a Muslim country or within Muslim communities, is brutally slaughtered for “violating the family honor” by being suspected of fornication or adultery. In the notorious Amina Lawal case in Nigeria, she was sentenced to death for adultery, but the father of the child was let go for “lack of evidence.” Sometimes, a woman or young girl is killed by her brother, who himself has a girlfriend. Yet, this double standard exists not only in Muslim or Eastern societies; it exists even here in the United States. Women who sleep around are frequently called “sluts” (or worse), while a man with multiple sexual partners and escapades are “studs.”

Why does this double standard exist?

Perhaps there is some sort of evolutionary/biological origin? In order for a species to propagate itself, males must mate with as many females as possible. This is true in a large number of species, from dung beetles to lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). Is this sancitiy of female sexuality somehow biologically “hard wired” into the human psyche? Is it because women are our mothers, who garner tremendous honor and respect? Thus, when seen as promiscious, it tarnishes the image of motherhood and is therefore unacceptable? After all, the phrase “your mother is a whore” will lead to death in quite a few societies around the world, Muslim or otherwise. Is it because most people associate prostitution with women, rather than men?

Most definitely, inherent in all of these speculations is a fundamental unfairness vis a vis women. They assume the woman to be less than man, and therefore every aspect of her life must be controlled. Yet, the Lord our God does not make such a distinction between men and women. He tells “the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty” and also tells “the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty.” God praises both the men and women who “guard their chastity” (33:35). He is explicit about sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage: “And do not commit fornication/adultery, for behold, it is an abomination and an evil way.” (17:32) It is wrong for both males and females.

It seems unconscionable to me that a woman can be murdered, sometimes brutally, based on mere speculation of immoral behavior, but people will look the other way when a man does the same thing. Yet, the answer is not to start killing the men for “violating the family honor.” No one should be killed. Period. But, that does not mean that we should start having a nonchalant attitude toward female sexual promiscuity either. It does not mean that we should start calling women “studettes” as well and call it a day.

Clearly, I come from a conservative Islamic view about sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage. I am guided by the Scripture on this, and I believe it is equally wrong for both men and women. Our boys and girls must be taught this from a young age, and there should be no moral equivocation on this point. I am the father of three daughters, but if I did have a son, his sexual promiscuity would hurt me just as deeply. Never would I take him aside, give him a nudge on the arm and say, “Way to go, son!” Never.

Indeed, I lament the abandonment of chastity before marriage by a significant number of young Muslim men and women. True, our society is so hypersexualized that it is very difficult to remain chaste before marriage in today’s day and age. In addition, the bar for marriage has been set so high in so many Muslim communities that it is virtually impossible to get married before one is in his or her mid 30s or even 40s. Yet, I believe sex should be only within the boundaries of a committed, marital relationship. No matter how the winds of acceptability change in society, the standards of our faith remain steadfast.

And I must say this: all of this is my own personal opinion, based on my own religious sensibilities and sentiments. Although I do have strong feelings about this issue, I am – in no way, shape, or form – rendering judgment upon or condemning anyone who does engage in consenual sexual relations either outside of a marital relationship. It is neither something with which I agree or would do, but whatever someone does in private is between he and his Lord. God is our Judge, not me or anyone else. Let that be absolutely clear. Nevertheless, regardless how one feels about this issue, I can confidently say this: to condemn women for being “unchaste” while winking at the males for doing the same thing is absolutely wrong and must end now.


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