Back in the 1960s, feminist activists declared that “the personal is political,” meaning that seemingly innocuous personal interactions, such as a man opening the door for a woman unencumbered by a package, buying his date a restaurant meal while the woman reciprocated with a home-cooked meal, or having her give up her name at marriage, recreated gender stereotypes and inequalities. Despite significant changes in law, economics, and politics, there has been very little change in many of these relational habits and expectations. Indeed, looking at the personal sphere of male/female relationships, it sometimes seems that there has been no gender revolution at all.
To take one example, a survey I did of college students at 20 U.S. colleges and universities showed it is still men who ask women on dates in almost 90 percent of cases. Men are also still expected to propose marriage. And very few men announce their impending marriage by displaying an engagement ring.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was an increase in the number of women keeping their own name upon marriage, but this never extended to more than a small fraction of brides, and the trend receded has receded since. Children are almost always given their father’s last name.
The double standard of aging persists: While male actors are still cast in romantic leads as they age, women usually need to be young to be seen as desirable enough to be cast in a role involving romance. And my research shows that this double standard persists in real life as well. Women’s chances of marriage decrease with age much more than men’s, because the older men are when they marry, the more they seek out women younger than themselves.
Another double standard relates to sexuality-in particular, who gets judged more harshly for engaging in sex outside committed relationships. College students today sometimes “hook up”-which can mean anything from “making out” to intercourse-outside of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. But my research shows that women are more likely than men to be looked down upon and called names for hooking up.