The Double Standard on Sexual Exploration.

So, I’m guest blogging at Feministe right now and, in my first post, I pointed out how annoyed I get about the sexual double-standard when we talk about kids exploring their sexuality for the first time. When boys start to masturbate, it’s just natural; when girls do it, it must be a sign of abuse. This is the concern lots of Slate readers are having about the masturbation scene with Sally from the most recent episode of “Mad Men.” From my post:

Child abuse is a serious issue and, truthfully, is most often perpetrated by family members and friends. It’s not impossible Gene was an abuser, and maybe that’s where the show’s producers are taking it. But honestly, a ten-year-old boy masturbating wouldn’t arouse the same suspicions, and it’s not crazy that a ten-year-old would start exploring his or her sexuality. We have a tendency to think of the middle part of the last century as this pristine era, right before the sexplosion of the 60s, in which girls wouldn’t have known how to do those things. But think about it: did anyone have to tell you what to do? We certainly don’t talk much about masturbation now, and lots of girls do it.

It doesn’t mean, of course, the premature sexual knowledge isn’t a cause for concern. But that’s not what masturbation is. Masturbation is pretty normal, and it’s pretty normal for pre-pubescent girls to start figuring out their bodies. That’s particularly true if they have a creepy boy-neighbor-friend-who-has-a-crush-on-their-mom that tells you sex is when the boy pees inside the girl.

Are you all suddenly suspicious of Grandpa Gene, too?

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15 comments to The Double Standard on Sexual Exploration.

  • Nicole

    I had this conversation with someone after the recap. I don’t think Sally was abused, but I think the writers took pains to leave it open to interpretation. If Glenn had started masturbating last season, I think everyone would have assumed he was fantasizing about Betty, not that she had molested him.

  • It’s weird. At no point did I even think about Gene molesting Sally. I just thought she was sexually curious.

  • Russ

    I did not even imagine this Gene possibility until reading this article. I thought she was just curious as well …

  • VT

    I was more inclined to think that Henry might be molesting Sally. Does anyone else think its weird that as powerful as he seemed in his earlier episodes, that he is still living in another man’s house?

    • April

      I don’t see how these two things are linked. Sally would be living with Henry and Betty no matter what house they were in. But you’re right that it is pretty weird that they’re still in Don’s house.

  • Paul

    Anyone masturbating in front of someone else is weird. It doesn’t matter that her friend was asleep. Ho would the parents react if they caught a ten year old boy masturbating while your son slept. Stop looking for double standards where there aren’t any.

    • Scipio Africanus

      It went past just doing it in front of her friend, though. Betty specifically, and I think earnestly, commands Sally that she simply shouldn’t do that at all, let alone the way she did it.

      When Bobby starts mastering his own universe in about 5 years time, Betty’s one stipulation will be that he make sure the bathroom door is thoroughly locked while he’s doing it.

      The thing about this double standard is that it simultaneously denies females their right of physical self-exploration, while it libels males as inherently carnal beasts who’s self-exploration *can’t* possibly be curbed, therefore it is to be sort of grudgingly allowed. It carries a really poor view of box sexes at the same time.

    • quadmoniker

      This isn’t really about how the parents in the show reacted as much as it is about how viewers reacted to what went on.

    • Alisa

      A lot of sex play and self stimulation goes on between and in the presence of playmates. It may give you the willies but I don’t know if I would call it weird.

  • Scipio Africanus

    One more thing. Betty was being totally hypocritical, because she was getting her rocks off on the washing machine one afternoon in the second season, I think.

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