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Class Lines And Gender Roles

"She drove the poor boy to it!" This appalling statement, made in reference to the vicious, senseless murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, illustrates commonly-held views of gender roles amongst the lower class: Miss Brown was 'too beautiful, ' so she 'must have been immoral;' O.J. Simpson had been legally married to another woman when he began pursuing Miss Brown, but as a male he was blameless; and even though Miss Brown and O.J. Simpson had been divorced for approximately two years prior to the murder, she was still allegedly his property. While the speaker assumed O.J. Simpson was guilty of the murder, it coincided with the speaker's belief that Miss Brown 'deserved what she got.'

There are some important key points relevant to these viewpoints and the behaviors which accompany them: 1. It is not new. People who read news accounts and research statistics, tempted to dismiss it all as "People these days, " or "The way America is today, " are misinformed. Further along in this article I will add reference material and personal accounts which should make it one hundred percent clear that these are not "modern" problems. They have existed for many generations. 2. These problems are not limited to the inner-city, or cities in general. They are as prominent in small towns and rural areas where the lower class population is the norm. 3. These class differences have very little to do with income or job status. 4. It is much more prominent in some regions than in others; and amongst some cultures than others; and even amongst some religions more than others. 5. The gist of the issue consists of two main points: first, when people believe their lives and futures will hold nothing of substantial worth, the tendency is to live in the present day, to live in the moment, and to seek instant gratification; in short, they run on animal instincts rather than rational thought or legitimate emotions. Second, negative environmental influences-- including that which is considered 'acceptable' in the area where one lives, and direct influence from older generations to the young-- cause these problems to continue.

Gender roles consist of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. The egalitarian basis for lives, individuality, and relationships is unheard of in the lower class population. The main focal points are male superiority and male dominance; and the disproportionate regard shown to the topic of Sex. The general consensus amongst the lower class population is males possess inherent authority and females are to be submissive, owned, and without individuality or rights.

What Does the Double-Standard Really Mean?

While the speaker's remark about Nicole Brown and O.J. Simpson is an accurate light on the double-standard attitudes and beliefs of the lower class, it goes much further than the topics of ownership, rights, and moral issues. One example is a direct contrast to the upper classes' longstanding view that one 'place' of a 'real man' is to respect and protect women and children. Although the average lower class male's behavior toward and treatment of his own children and female family members is usually quite negative, it can extend to other women and children in his everyday life as well. In the lower class environment, women and children are essentially "sitting ducks." The cliche of the "female redneck who carries, and knows how to use, a gun" is one example. As little children know from an early age they have no rights and no one will protect them from harm or danger, adolescent girls and adult-aged women are in the same category. Women realize they have only two options: either be an unwilling victim, or to learn how to take on a man's role to defend themselves. The bottom line: lower class males are not men; while they believe they have authority over women and children for obedience, subservience, and submissiveness, the man's role is really in the hands of the women themselves.

Second, the double standard surrounding male vs. female roles includes sexual behavior. However, there is more to it than the commonly-held belief that it is a matter of one set of principles for males and a different set of principles for females. In the distant past, it was more cut-and-dried: males were considered to be unaccountable for their "boys being boys" behavior, while women were often ostracized and permanently branded for similar behavior. In the distant past, lower class adolescent males were expected to be sexually active; similar behavior amongst the females "branded them for life." Even young girls and women who had been raped were sometimes forced to enter into a marriage with their rapists, living out their lives in shame over having 'lost their virginity.'

Times have changed; and, with the changing times came a blurring of lines, at least in regard to behavior itself. Today's lower class girls and women are as sexually active as their male counterparts. Unlike the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of the upper classes, in which sexual activity is intended to be a part of a longterm, committed relationship, sexual activity amongst the lower class often has little or nothing to do with relationships. Instead, it is seen as a biological urge for which one is expected to obtain instant gratification. In two of the books I have referenced further along in this article, the writers detailed their own personal initiations into sexual activity. Similar to experiences which have been related by numerous middle-agers today, sexual activity amongst the lower class population often begins before adolescence, consists of multiple Sex partners during both adolescence and adult life, and rarely have legitimate relationships attached to it. You may hear individuals in, and even post, middle-age asking people whom they have just met such inappropriate questions as "What age did you lose your virginity?" "What do you like sexually?" "How many people have you had Sex with?"

The interesting factor, however, is while these kinds of questions, and the behaviors associated with them, are nearly equal between males and females, the lower class gender roles are still very apparent: while the males expect, and even demand, this kind of compliance from women, women who behave as nothing more than whores and prostitutes are treated accordingly. In other words, women are not "expected to be good" and either upheld or downplayed depending upon their decision; instead, they are "expected to be bad" and then slammed when they degrade themselves by complying.

Expectations? Within a five-year time period, I personally had five males in various age groups expose themselves in my presence. In this kind of environment, the average male believes all he needs to do is expose his genitals, and no woman could resist him. While this type of behavior could have earned each and every one of them a place on the state's sex offender registry, sex offenses are rarely taken seriously.

Where is it Coming From-- and What are the Consequences?

At its worst, the older generations encourage the young to follow their examples. I venture to say this is nothing new, either. From the two reference books which describe the writers' personal experiences to average individuals today, many factors are similar. First, youngsters who do not have a home life consisting of at least one caring, attentive parent, are much more prone to negative outside influences. Whether their home lives consisted of a parent who was rarely home to provide adequate supervision and guidance, or whether the child was mistreated at home, "home" is a place he would logically not want to be. Second, the lack of a stable home life equals the lack of stability in general. Such youngsters consistently seek excitement and instant gratification to quell what they mistakenly feel is boredom. It can come in the form of sexual activity, crime, alcohol or drug use-- or a combination of all these factors.

One may be tempted to wonder how this is related to gender roles. When early sexual activity and multiple partners are nothing more than quenching one's urges, it too frequently results in objectifying human beings. It is no accident that certain ills of society are much more prominent amongst the lower class. While no one is immune, the percentages of alcohol and drug dependency, violent crime, the inability to form and sustain healthy male-female relationships, and sex addiction are all much higher amongst the lower class population. The instant-gratification factor, coupled with the factor of excess, contribute to this rate. Specifically on the subject of gender roles, when individuals with whom one is having relations is considered little more than an object from which to gain gratification, many fail to ever move beyond this extreme. Males will go through life believing 'females' exist for the purpose of meeting their needs; women will go through life believing that is their purpose.

Religions which have a disproportionately-high stake in the lower class population perpetuate these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. You will find many people who claim to be very serious about their religion also claiming there is nothing wrong with single males having multiple sex partners, and married males cheating on and abusing their wives. Some houses-of-worship have the practice of seating males and females separately in church services. It is not about basic respect; it is the commonly-held belief that everyone is sexually-driven, and keeping the genders apart is the only way to prevent transgressions.

You will also find this belief and practice in lower class families, and in the community. One example involves families who go out of their way to keep their sons and daughters apart from young people of the opposite gender. As the older generations grew up with the belief that everyone is sexually-driven, there are two general responses: they either prevent their youngsters from having legitimate dates and other social interactions, or they prod their youngsters into early sexual activity. I, personally, have known of parents who "turned out" ten and eleven-year-old girls into prostitution, admonished teenaged girls to "never have sex with a man unless he gives you money or jewelry, " and parents who allowed their adolescents to "shack up" in their own homes with their partners-of-the-moment. While the latter obviously gives youngsters a warped idea of what relationships are all about, the former is as destructive. Families which generate the belief that no male and female could possibly have nonsexual interactions increases the lower class pattern of widening the gap between genders. After all, if one does not have friends and associates of the opposite gender, how can one possibly hope to understand or communicate with "them"?

Unfortunately, the pop-culture of America has perpetuated the myth of gender differences. The so-called "self-help" industry encourages both men and women to view each other as so different that there is little hope of true understanding and communication. While the basic middle-class observance of platonic friendships could alleviate these problems, the fact that platonic friendships are "unheard of" amongst the lower class worsens it. The general idea is all male-female interactions are sexually based, with or without other motives. Regardless of age and personal situation, they do not move beyond-- or grow up beyond-- the young child's "a little boy's playmates are other boys, and a little girl's playmates are other girls." Lower class adult-aged males "hang out" with "the guys, " and lower class adult-aged females hang out with other women. It is simply not permissable or acceptable for the genders to mix as friends-- or as equals. Logically, when individuals cannot understand each other and cannot communicate effectively, they easily believe they have no common ground on which to form healthy, sustainable relationships.

As substance-dependency issues are also more common amongst the lower class population, so is an odd view of what is taught in 12-Step programs. While the general viewpoint of 12-Step programs is that a person who is new to a "recovery program" should abstain from entering any new relationships in order to focus on his or her recovery, lower class newcomers, oldtimers, and sponsors alike cannot grasp that this does not mean also refraining from having sex with people they are not in relationships with. Amongst the lower class you may hear "Sponsor told me I should not get into a relationship-- but he said that doesn't mean I can't have sex!" and variations of this theme. Not only do these people have backgrounds where sexual activity is not connected to true relationships, the people they listen to in their "Programs" uphold continuing the practice of keeping sex and relationships separate.

In the distant past, my hobby of scouting old book shops, yard sales, and similar places for old or out-of-print books often netted a goldmine. Three particular books were very worthy of consideration. Well-known journalist Vance Packard published The Status Seekers* in 1959. In 1965 and 1967, respectively, Claude Brown and Piri Thomas wrote of their own growing-up experiences in Manchild in the Promised Land**, and Down These Mean Streets***. Mr. Brown's and Mr. Thomas's books will clearly show that "today's out-of-control lifestyles" are not new at all. While the lifestyles in general, and the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors connected to gender roles are described by these men in terms of their own inner-city experiences, they are as common in other lower class environments as well.

In contrast to the mistaken belief that job status and income levels are the largest determining factors in socioeconomic class differences, there is one very important factor which was not common in the era when Mr. Packard wrote The Status Seekers. In the mid to late fifties, most people in the United States lived out their lives in or near the location where they started out in life. The factor of mobility was not commonplace in his era; in fact, it did not become commonplace until a couple of decades after he wrote his book. The result is The Status Seekers places much more emphasis on income levels and jobs than is currently relevant. Mr. Packard did, however, note that a person's behavior and attitudes will show a person's roots, even if his financial status from his youth has radically changed.

These books describe lifestyles which include gender inequality and immorality in the 1940s and 1950s. Although I cannot provide links to archived newspapers, newspapers provide an excellent source of information on the continuation of these issues. In September 2000, the Hammond (Louisiana) Daily Star published a detailed article on the rate of pregnancies and births amongst local girls in the 10-13-year-old age group. While the article itself explained this rate as including a very high percentage of preteen girls who were impregnated by forcible rapes and being taken advantage of by older males, the accompanying editorial commented that people should not be "narrow-minded" by believing such behavior is wrong, or even abnormal. In addition, true to low class form, the individuals from their studies were not referred to as 'little girls' or 'children;' instead, they were termed 'our young females, ' as if they were nothing beyond their biological and reproductive capabilities. In 2001, the El Paso (Texas) Times published an article which stated "Our culture teaches young girls to be sexually submissive." This, too, was not deemed negative. More recently, Texas governor Rick Perry decided to make Gardasil mandatory for all sixth-grade girls in Texas' public schools. With the belief that early sexual activity is normal, acceptable, and to be expected, this governor who claimed to be a Christian decided sixth-grade girls-- usually 10-13-years-old-- needed to take this first step to protect themselves from developing a cancer which is usually acquired by having multiple sexual partners. Even more recently, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register published a short article about a twenty-five-year-old male who had been charged with statuatory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl. Some readers expressed outrage in the comments section-- not outrage over an adult taking advantage of a young girl, but outrage over it being considered a crime. "Ask your grandparents what age they were when they began 'hooking up'!" one reader remarked.

An additional difference between eras past and the present day is while marriages in the past were often turbulent amongst the lower class, more and more today opt to eschew marriage altogether. From individuals in late adolescence to those in post-middle age, the preference is for a lifestyle of indiscriminate sexual activity without committed bonds-- either the lower class version of "dating, " or living with one person after another. Those who do marry, without the capability of forming healthy bonds or relating as one human being to another, consider having five, six, or more "marriages" as something to boast about.

And it is Spreading...

In addition to modern-day mobility placing many people in regions where they would not be otherwise, and amongst different classes where they would not be otherwise, the trend of the so-called "ghetto" lifestyle is making itself seen and heard throughout the United States. The vocabulary and clothing styles adopted by the young and the not-so-young pale in comparison to the numerous other lower-class lifestyle influences. The differences in gender roles once primarily the domain of the lower class have also spread to the mainstream.

First, it was not too far in the past that out-of-wedlock births amongst teenaged mothers was considered very negative to all but the lower class population. More recently, having and raising children alone has gone from unacceptable to popular, even desirable. In the not too distant past, girls and women not only had a good chance of marrying, they were encouraged to do so. Feminism, with its nonsense about women not needing men and children not needing fathers, Welfare Reform's emphasis on getting single mothers out into the workforce, and the current president's urging single mothers to go to college, have all joined hands to lead the upper classes to the lifestyle once reserved for the lower class.

Second, poor people used to be told their financial status made them inadequate parents. Parents with low incomes were brainwashed to believe they did not have what it took to provide for the social and emotional developmental skills, and early-childhood educations, of their young children. When the pressure to place pre-kindergartners in "Head Start" was not enough, various other programs were implemented for youngsters from birth. After Welfare Reform was enacted, the shift was from telling poor people they "should" place their children's care in the hands of others outside the home to forcing them to do so. Wealthier persons were suckered into the daycare mentality under the precept that they needed to "fulfill themselves, " needed to own everything they desired, and needed "freedom" from the "burden" of caring for their own youngsters. However, only in regions where this has been popular for generations can we see the full impact of children who have grown up without parental involvement in their day-to-day lives.

Third, what Mr. Brown described in Manchild in the Promised Land as the "doggish" characteristics of lower class males in the inner-city slums has spread. With the focus on uncontrollable sexual appetites and the absence of morality, the inability to select one mate and be faithful to the mate is more common now than it was in Mr. Brown's day. It is considered acceptable for individuals of both genders to spend their adult years living with one person after another, and engaging in immoral conduct which is this segment of society's definition of 'dating.' When young people see this in their home and community environments, they grasp it as a fact of life at an early age. They have no idea what an adult-aged man, an adult-aged woman, a father, mother, husband, or wife, is actually intended to be. In addition, children who are members of homes where mothers live with someone without marriage are at a significantly increased risk of both physical and sexual abuse. As living-together arrangements are based on convenience, males who have not made full legal commitments to a child's mother do not make a commitment to the child either. Whether or not the child is his own biological child is rarely relevant. In one particular region, every single instance Ihave noted of severe, extreme child abuse-- including those resulting in the deaths of infants and small children-- has had this one factor in common.

Fourth, as Mr. Brown describes in his book, lower-class males learn at a young age how to take advantage of females, both financially and sexually, and that it is presumably acceptable to do so. "If all a b-tch has is a penny to buy milk for her child, take the penny- she can always get more." If this quote from Manchild in the Promised Land makes one's skin crawl, it should. The attitude and behavior is alive and well, and far from limited to the inner city slums.

The bottom line is when males refuse to assume the role of men, females are prevented from assuming the role of women. While the reverse is also true, it is not yet as widespread. The slum-level mentality of male superiority and double standards put women at a disadvantage. Women are breadwinners, and sole defenders of themselves, essentially taking on a man's role in their own lives and families because fewer and fewer males wish to be men.

* http://www.amazon.com/Status-Seekers-Vance-Packard/dp/067950091X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1278626463&sr=1-1

** http://www.amazon.com/Manchild-Promised-Land-Classic-Experience/dp/B000NQ1SGQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278626563&sr=1-2

*** http://www.amazon.com/Down-these-mean-streets-Thomas/dp/B000KAGV4O/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278626603&sr=1-4

By C. - ......  

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