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The meaning and origin of the expression: Double standard

Double standard

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Double standard'?

A double standard is a rule which is applied more strictly to one group than to another.

Such inconsistency of the application of rules may occur in regard to race or the legal system, but is especially used to describe the more strict standard of sexual behaviour expected of women than what is required of men.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Double standard'?

The term 'double-standard' has been used since at least the 18th century to refer to the inequitable treatment of women.

The philosopher and activist Thomas Paine wrote this in the Pennsylvania Magazine in August 1775 :

[Women] are constrained in the disposal of their goods, robbed of their freedom of will by the laws and victimised by a pernicious system of double standards.

It was in 1930s USA that the expression 'double standard', referring to the sexual promiscuity applauded in men and and decried in women began to be commonly used. For example, this piece from the Californian newspaper The Fresno Morning Republican, January 1930:

Why marry? We have shifted from the old-fashioned double standard, where girls had to be pure, white, unkissed lilies and men visited the tawdry districts on a Saturday night. But we have not shifted to a regulation fair and square single standard.

That assessment, that the double standard had been done with in the 1930 seems wildly over ambitious, as it is clearly still going strong today.

'Double standards' apply in any branch of law, business or social relations where one group has more power than another. The old proverb 'there's one law for the rich and another law for the poor' is an early expressions of such double standards.

Other 'double' phrases:

Double cross

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble

Double Dutch

Double entendre

Double whammy

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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