6 Double Standards We're All Guilty Of
Every one of us has decried a double standard at some point. The double standard in the workplace when it comes to paying women, or among universities when it comes to letting in people who thought high school was boring.
But while we're wondering how admissions departments sleep at night, there are some much more common double standards that we rarely complain about since we're too busy obliviously believing in them. For instance ...
PSAs Are About Other People, Not Us
If you leave your house occasionally, even just through the magical portal of television, you'll be no stranger to PSAs (public service announcements) warning you about the dangers of drugs, drunk driving, texting while driving, not reading to your kids and not eating "the other white meat."
However, if a corny anti-drug commercial has ever made you want to shout at your TV "NOW I AM GOING TO GO DO EVEN MORE DRUGS!", you're not alone. Many people shout at their televisions, and also, the effectiveness of PSAs has been shown to be mixed, at best.
"I am going to do ALL THE DRUGS! I'll show YOU, TV!"
And it's not just because the commercials are corny.
While the college students in this study were aware of, and realistic about, dangers outside their control(like being hit by lightning, or the government trying to bring them down for no reason, or corporate America repressing them, or something), they were unrealistically optimistic about their odds of avoiding self-controllable risks, like drunk driving, drug overdoses, STDs or becoming a hipster.
Or a metrosexual.
Another study asked students about how "vulnerable" they were to 10 negative life events including heart attacks, alcoholism, diabetes, muggings and divorce, and of course they rated "the average student" as much more vulnerable to these things than they (or their close friends) would be.
Many smokers, for example, acknowledge that "most people" who smoke will get addicted and/or die from it, but also believe themselves, for some reason, to be an exception. If you showed them a PSA about how smoking is addictive and kills people, they'd just nod their heads and completely agree, as long as "people" doesn't include them.
Another experiment tried to individually educate people on their risks from stroke, cancer, heart attack and car crashes, but only the stroke and cancer messages stuck. Again: Cancer and stroke are things people tend to see as mysterious afflictions from God or fate, while heart attacks and car crashes are "controllable" things, and no matter what statistics you quote, people are convinced they've got it handled -- or maybe they subconsciously don't want to change their lifestyles.
"This cake could never kill me. We love each other so much."
Apparently you can't even convince people to wash their damn hands before eating or stop leaving potato salad out in the sun, or whatever, without them agreeing heartily that it's a problem and remarking how ignorant other people are about food safety, while making a sandwich on their dog's back.
I'm not sure I need to say this, but don't try this at home.
We Are Considerate Drivers, Other People In Traffic/Line Are Jerks
Evidence shows that bad traffic makes us physically and mentally ill, and apparently it also makes us really judgmental.
"Asshole! I bet you use dogs as sandwich tables!"
I don't know about you but I've caught myself a number of times thinking, while sitting in a traffic jam, about how everyone else "doesn't really need to be there"; that they're mostly all housewives who could have run their errands any time of day and happen to be out on the road at rush hour because they're stupid procrastinators, while all I want is to just get home from work. After a moment's logical thought, it's pretty clear that most people around me are also just trying to get home from work.
Part of it is not being able to put a face on most of the other drivers, giving me a blank slate to project all kinds of prejudices on them. In one study where researchers stopped a car too long at a green light, the test subject behind the car was more likely to honk if they couldn't see the driver -- probably imagining all kinds of awful things about the monster inside.
Skull recreated from drivers' descriptions of the unseen driver blocking them in traffic.
In addition to hiding the driver, they also tried another round where they placed a rifle in the back window, a good prop to help an already angry driver build up the imaginary character of the asshole gun nut unseen in the car ahead. This, not surprisingly, caused more honking.
A few suggestions for future researchers who really want to provoke some honking, or perhaps actual violence.
Another study showed that drivers in Palo Alto, one of the wealthiest communities in the world, were more likely to honk at a "low status" car than a "high status" one, possibly allowing them to imagine they were honking at a welfare queen with a sense of entitlement, or perhaps someone who belonged to a -- heavens! -- labor union.
Waiting in line -- which is basically a traffic jam without the cars -- triggers a lot of the same impulses. It's understandable. In both cases, a certain number of people are ahead of you, and they need to do their thing before you can do yours. Since their needs are being prioritized ahead of you, it's natural to ask the question of whether they REALLY need to be there, and make up some reasons why they probably don't, giving you an easy target to blame for the long line.
Jokes About Other People's Favorite Things Are All in Fun, Jokes About Our Favorite Things Really Mean Something
We tend to imagine a divide between people who "can take a joke" and people who are "take everything too seriously," which isn't too inaccurate as a general personality trait, but doesn't give a complete picture.
Some of the very same people that are always telling others to "lighten up" and stop being so "butthurt" when they're targeted for jokes will suddenly begin complaining about their own butt pain when their own group is targeted.
"You take BACK what you said about Pokemon players!"
A person who makes jokes about Asian drivers or black people liking fried chicken will roll their eyes and say "It's just a joke" when anyone object;, saying everybody should know they're not a racist and they don't really mean all of these things. Then they find out about the Stuff White People Like blog and they pitch a fit, going on and on about how #79 doesn't apply to them and only applies to a very small group of white people, suddenly turning very serious indeed as they explain point by point why these descriptions don't accurately apply to white people as a group.
"No, see, not all white people listen to NPR, so this joke doesn't work at all."
Because when you make a joke about some other group, it's obviously meant as a joke, and anyone pointing out any factual inaccuracies it's based on (Canadians don't really say "aboot", some types of Chinese food are quite filling) is "nitpicking" and shows the person "doesn't understand it's a joke." But when someone makes a joke about your group based on broad generalizations and inaccuracies, of course you "totally get it's supposed to be a joke," but the joke "just isn't funny" because of those wrong assumptions.
It's not just heavy issues like race either. Plenty of people are willing to tear into Twilight and laugh when the stupid "twi-tards" rage back at them, demonstrating their lack of humor. But then you mock the Twilight-mocker's favorite hobby or Internet hangout, even lightly, and they feel like they at least need to "correct" your "misconceptions."
"I've picked out a couple of episodes containing heterosexual Riker sex scenes that I think will conclusively prove he's not, as you put it, 'the gayest character on the show.' "
Or even worse, they could be in a group of people that considers humor solely as a weapon to attack things. The only reason you would make jokes, according to this group, is to attack something and say it is bad, like Jon Stewart making jokes about Fox News, or Yahtzee reviewing video games. And derision is certainly one great genre of humor.
But people make fun of things they like all the time. Sometimes it's an affectionate gesture toward something they really like. Hell, often comedians even make fun of themselves. But people who have trouble doing that have trouble understanding the concept in other people, and see any joke about anything as a sign that the joke-teller is hostile toward that thing.
Clearly, David Wong really hated Lord of the Rings. At least that's what an entire forum full of complaints used to claim.
I'm not here to draw a line on which jokes are okay and which are offensive, just suggesting that wherever we do draw the line, maybe we put it in a different place when the joke's about someone else than when it's about us and our favorite things. Maybe consistency for you means being less racist, or maybe it means being more evenly racist to everybody. I'm not going to judge.
Our Friends Are a Wacky Ensemble, Other People's Circle of Friends Are a Homogeneous Stereotype
I'm guessing everyone's been in a situation where they've been in some restaurant and a group of teenage girls is at the next table, talking way too loud and giggling at everything. You glance over once because you are wondering where that extremely loud noise came from and if anything interesting actually happened, but you just see the girls and go back to thinking about whatever you were thinking about.
Such as, "Is my date trying to drop a hint by eating that fry so suggestively?"
Then one of the girls says "Stop it, Tiffany, now EVERYONE is staring at us, wondering why we're so weird!" and they giggle even louder. Eventually, if you end up passing each other, one of the bolder girls might "apologize," saying, "I'm sorry Tiffany's so loud, she is a real weirdo!" and Tiffany will go, "Oh my God, no, you're the weirdo!" and they will burst into a chain reaction of giggles.
It seems like teenage girls are the worst for this, but we're all guilty of thinking that our group of friends is a very interesting, wacky, diverse bunch of individuals, each with unique idiosyncrasies and quirks. College party kids think that their group of friends is the gang from The Hangover, and their tales of drunken adventure will be unprecedented and fascinating to strangers. Working people think their co-workers are as interesting as the cast of The Office and that a long story about one guy's weird habit will have any outsider on the edge of their seat.
"For Linda's birthday, Jan and Steve put a whole bunch of sticky notes on her cubicle walls. They are so wild!"
The other side of that linked study is that we see other groups as homogeneous stereotypes. The working dude sees the college party kids as a group of identical, interchangeable "bro"-types. The teenage girls see the working stiffs as a bunch of clock-punchers who are always typing TPS reports in unison. It's hard to say who's "right", but one thing for sure is that nobody wants to hear the other group's stories.
Other People Are Influenced By Their Biases But We're Not
One thing you'll find in a lot of closed-minded people is a startling similarity in their theories of how those with opposing views came to hold them. Some nonreligious people think that all religious people only believe what they do because they grew up "brainwashed" into it; surrounded by friends and family with the same beliefs. Some religious people think that nonreligious people only disbelieve in religion because our heathen universities put those ideas into their impressionable young minds when they were too young and pliable to resist.
As far as I can recall, universities mainly teach you how to procrastinate and how to convince your parents you "need" a laptop.
We might laugh at people being so arrogant about their own ability to reason compared to others, but it seems we all suffer from it to some degree.
In this fascinating three-part study, they first had subjects rate how susceptible they were to different biases compared to the "average American", classmates in a seminar, or fellow airport travelers. Not surprisingly, everybody rated themselves less susceptible than any of the other groups.
"I suddenly feel like buying a Coca-Cola, out of my own independent decision-making process."
Then in part two, they brought back the people who said they were less susceptible to bias than average and showed them a description of how each of the biases might affect them without knowing it. They bravely stuck to their guns and insisted they were just as unbiased as they had claimed.
Finally, in part three, the researchers showed people the results, basically saying, "Look, everybody rated themselves above average. That's not mathematically possible. Maybe you overrated yourself?" The subjects shook their heads at how shameful it was that the other participants in the study overrated themselves. But they proudly continued to rate themselves the same.
How study participants see themselves.
Digging deeper into this thought process, another study noticed that participants gave a lot of credit to the fact they were aware of potential influences that could bias them and were able to think through it and account for it. But apparently they didn't think anybody else could do that.
One of the biggest influences, of course, is media, and studies have definitely shown that people think the media has a bigger influence on other people than on themselves. Seeing a guy shoot another guy on TV doesn't make me want to join a gang (goes the reasoning), but those other poor, easily-led sheep out there will be out popping caps in asses before the commercial break ends.
Other People Have Double Standards But We Don't
As seen in the bias study, even after all this has been spelled out, there's still going to be some people who have read all the points above and are convinced none of them apply to themselves. Maybe they liked the points and have just the person in mind to whom it applies, and they're eager to show it to that person. Maybe they hope that some group out there, that clearly has a problem with point No. 4, will read this and "learn a thing or two."
"That article is funny because it is about other people!"
I figure nothing can really be done for such a person. Warning them just adds another layer of recursion, where they go: "Yep, I hope whoever you're writing that to realizes that they do have double standards and thinks again!"
This is exactly the kind of person I'm going to imagine next time I'm stuck behind some dipshit in a traffic jam.
For more from Christina, check out 5 Things That Are Being Automated That Probably Shouldn't Be and Political Cartoons: The Lowest Form of Communication.