We’ll start out by talking about sex but before we do an important distinction needs to be made. Sex and gender are completely different concepts and one does not inherently control the other. Now that that’s out of the way we can talk a little about rape.
Rape, or nonconsensual sexual activity, amounts for over 90% of all sexual reproduction done by organisms in the Animal Kingdom. Consent is a pretty rare thing to find beyond our species and a few other cases.
Remember, being alive is about two things: food and sex. If you have enough food to have sex and reproduce, you are succeeding. If you choose not to reproduce unless the mate consents, you are limiting yourself biologically. The species where males raped females to impregnate them are ones that were more likely to survive over time.
The Animal Kingdom definitely isn’t the forefront of romance but it’s not like they didn’t make any attempt at all. Many species have specific courtship rituals or features to attract the opposite sex in order to perform the reproductive actions. Some organisms judge their possible mates by the sounds they can make or by the colors present on their bodies. We even recognize some organisms by their sexually attractive features.
The tail of a peacock, which has been sexually selected over generations, is how males prove themselves better than their peers in the eyes of a possible mate. If you ever walk outside to hear the birds chirping, you are just listening to the sexually charged cries of birds calling for mates. Humans similarly have parts of our anatomy that we accentuate or hold in a certain way to attract the opposite sex. It’s actually kind of fun to watch puberty-riddled boys and girls experiment as they puff their butt and chest out walking by each other in school hallways.
Some adaptations to prove an organism’s worth to the opposite sex can also be used as a way for males to compete with each other. The horns of many sheep and deer-like species are great ways for males to prove their mating potential. Fighting skills are best when they are practiced meaning two males will repeatedly ram into each other. The individuals with more tendencies toward violence were better able to perform when the female was choosing. This is possibly where the trend of males secreting testosterone originated, a hormone purposed to build muscle, originated. It’s also a good explanation of why human males are much more aggressive on average than females. In a way, guys are just preparing for a mating display.
Our species used stories to spread lessons to teach their young about how to interact with each other and many of those stories showed females as people who should not just be raped and left. To prevent that, females were exchanged from fathers to suitors in the form of marriage contracts. Early on, males could marry multiple females but more advanced religions eventually morphed marriage into a one-on-one gig. Females were still treated as property and of course males could rape as many women as they wanted after raiding an enemy village. Religion seemed to have no problem with that.
Greater testosterone of males plus the tendency for male leadership allowed for religions to have many caveats directed at females as a way of maintaining the gap between the sexes. In some religions, women were forbidden from performing trivial tasks without the presence and permission of their husband. This type of culture still exists today as many Muslim women are forbidden from exposing their skin to the world or even going to the store without a male escort.
Many religious stories displayed a dichotomy that continues to confuse women to this day. Men like to believe that their daughters are innocent and untouched while also expecting other people’s daughters to enjoy and want to have sex. Let me spell something out for all the men out there: if you are having sex with a girl, she probably has or had a father and that father probably wanted to prevent exactly what you are doing. It’s called a double standard and it’s existed in cultures all over the world. Whether it’s Hera vs. Aphrodite or the Virgin Mary vs. Mary Magdalene, presenting opposite role models to women causes problems when women feel as though they should mirror both behaviors.
Women and men lived very different lives for the majority of human history. Women were placed into more subdued, domestic roles while men were usually placed into more leadership and fighting roles. Industrialization rolls around and all of a sudden men, women, and even children can perform the same jobs necessary to keep machines going.
Women proved themselves equal laborers to men and with some convincing, a huge step forward for equal rights occurred as women in America were given a voice in the political system. Of course, white males still had a couple-hundred-year head start but it’s the right direction for progress. The equality of the sexes seemed imminent as women stepped up to fulfill roles of the many men who fought and died in World War II. Then the Advertising Era began.
The new technology of television allowed for much more than flashing images and sounds. The media could could create a standard for just about everything. I’m not saying this was an intended consequence of the rise of the media, but it did give a huge amount of people access to the same programs. On the flipside, it gave those programs access to huge amounts of people. Suddenly, the way an actor or actress looks on television becomes the expected look of the people watching that program. The topics discussed, and more importantly, the ones that are censored, spread to the entire audience faster than any point in our history.
As the choices for different programs grows, the audience becomes the resource that programs/channels are competing for. The programs start to dig further into the Basic Functions of their audience, using sex and violence to attract more viewers. Once a show gets its audience habituated to a certain look for characters, another show will come out with even more attractive characters. Pretty soon, every show has characters that are far, far above the actual standard for the audience. Expectations rise and since the scope of media and entertainment keeps increasing, it causes a positive feedback loop.
Not only has the media helped in standardizing a particular look as “good” but they’ve characterized the mannerisms of a character based on the sex of that character. If you were to ask someone what makes a person “manly,” they will probably cite someone who is tough and mysterious like John Wayne or Sean Connery. If you asked someone what makes a person “girly,” they’ll probably mention innocence, maybe even stupidity, and frailness. We haven’t mentioned gender yet until this point but here it is: gender is in your mind and does not exist as one thing or another like sex. Gender, like so many things, is a spectrum, not a dichotomy.
The omnipresence of the media instills expectations for a person of a specific sex to act and look a certain way. That could not be more wrong. You are you. You can identify with one of the words we’ve used to describe a gender, if you please, or you can just ignore those categories altogether. I’m currently pretty pleased with the media for diversifying their characters and broadening the definitions of what it means to be a man or woman with characters that break stereotypes. Just remember that stereotypes exist as a means of categorizing but they do not work to accurately describe a real person. You’re just too unique to fit into any one category.