– By Issy Anthony – Comment Sub-Editor
Relationships are a fundamental part of human nature. Romantic relationships, specifically, are shown to us constantly, from films and television, to advertising, to the relationships of members of a certain royal family. They’re something we grow up believing we need in order to live a fulfilled life. But there is a difference in the way they are portrayed to men and women, leading to a disparity in their pressure to be in one.
Firstly, I must mention that I am writing this from a heterosexual perspective. This is for two reasons. The first is because quite a lot of this article will be based on experience, and this is the only experience I know, and I don’t want to assume anyone else’s. The second reason is that when there is a pressure from society to be in a relationship, it is largely pressure to be in a heterosexual relationship. This is because of society still not being as fluid as we would like, and also because of biological factors that I will come onto later.
Ever since my 15th birthday, there has been one question that has remained on the lips of family and friends: the dreaded ‘Have you got a boyfriend?’ I remember one summer, on the annual holiday we took with two other families (one with boys similar to my age, one with older girls), I was asked this question again. The two older girls in one family had bought their boyfriends with them, and there seemed to be an overall feeling in the air that I should feel sad about this. I didn’t.
When I was asked if I had a boyfriend yet (the key word here being yet), and I replied no, they suggested I get a practice one. I didn’t have to love him, they explained, it would just be so I knew what to do when I did actually have one I liked, and also so I would at least have one. Surprisingly, this was not the reaction my male friend of the same age got. He was viewed as playing the field, not settling for someone he wasn’t truly interested in, and just having fun. And this was completely accepted.
Perhaps I should have made it clearer to my mother’s concerned friends that I did actually know boys and have a social life, but it didn’t feel like a clarification that needed to be made. They seemed genuinely worried for me, like my lack of a boyfriend reflected my social ability and desirability. And this right here is the problem. When a boy/man states that he is single, there doesn’t seem to be much backlash. While maybe his mother would like him to be in a relationship, everyone else seems content to allow him to live freely, and choose when he wants to commit.
Whereas with a woman, put simply, it’s seen as a failure. There must be something wrong with us to explain why we are not in a relationship, either we’re too bossy, or not attractive enough, or aren’t a serious candidate. I have never heard a male friend feel worried about not having a girlfriend. But I have heard many of my female friends worry if there is something wrong with them, or if they will ever get one.
Whatever the reason society has attached, why is it far more for women than men? I have a few ideas. The first is that we have always lived in a patriarchal society, so if there’s an excuse to make a woman feel less valid, you can bet we will. The second is biology (as I mentioned earlier). Women have the ‘biological clock’ that men don’t have, meaning since the beginning of humanity, women have always known that to reproduce, they must settle down and find a partner quickly, whereas men had, essentially, their whole lives to figure it out. If they wanted to be picky, then they could be picky.
The third reason are the sexist standards of sexuality that we hold women to. Thanks to porn and advertising, the current popular idea of a sexually desirable women is somewhat unrealistic. We are shown images of a big bum, small waist, flat stomach, slender legs, and long, glossy hair. Not to mention, we are expected to be practically hairless from the eyelashes down, and while I know some women who choose to do this, we have to be honest and admit that this is not the way our bodies were naturally made. There are many problems with this, but for the purpose of this article, I will zone in on one. This all takes effort. Hairlessness, a good physique, flattering clothes.
Women are expected to uphold these unrealistic beauty standards enforced on us, and only once she is in an established relationship can she finally reveal a more realistic self. While I’m not saying women do this only for men, it is enforced from a patriarchal standpoint, and I know many friends, myself included, who felt far less pressure to look perfect once we were in a relationship and felt we no longer we ‘advertising’ ourselves, as we no longer felt we were being viewed in such a superficial way.
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