05/18/2012 11:42 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Feminism: All Grown Up, But What Have We Gained?

As a child in the 1980s, the "feminists" who I was exposed to made me cringe. I'm embarrassed to say it, but it's true. I was just a kid and these women were extremely vocal members of my community. They held protests and formed special groups, making their agenda clear and known to all. They always seemed to be complaining of some injustice or another, and I, for one, just wanted them to stop. "Why bring attention to yourself like this?" I remember thinking at age 10, "Geez, it would be less of a big deal if you didn't," and I'd roll my eyes. But I would learn that there were less mortifying ways to be a feminist and that these women -- however they expressed their irritation -- had valid concerns.

I was in my 20s when I started to internally rally against what I thought were the misogynistic injustices of the dating world. On a blind date for instance, the guy was typically given the girl's phone number and he could choose whether to call or not. He could decide when to call and determine the venue and time and date. He could choose whether or not to call afterwards... On the rare occasion when I actually was attracted and interested in a blind date, I felt that I was in an unfair position, at the mercy of the male advantage. Later on, when a guy at a party handed me his card and asked that I call him, I finally felt the power that had been lacking. The ball was now in my court. But I was so stupefied by this atypical move that I kept dribbling. Party Dude never got his call.

At another point in time, when a relationship suddenly turned sour on the side of the road because "I bet you don't know this but men DON'T like when women give them directions," I had to admit to myself that I'd officially joined the other side. I was a feminist, damnit (!), as much as I didn't like the term that conjured up images of my former neighbor Ronnie's loud rallying. There were dignified ways to go about this, I thought.

Gradually, I began to bond with other women who were also just discovering their own inner feminists in their 20s. And that was when I realized that something was terribly wrong. My cohorts believed that females should be held to a higher standard and when they spoke of atrocities committed by men, it was almost as if they expected that men would commit them, but that women, being the superior gender, would always be above these behaviors. Isn't feminism about equality? I argued. The question seemed to to fall on deaf ears. Men Behaving Badly was something to scoff at and even name a TV show after. On the other hand, women behaving badly was deemed in defiance of feminism. If the end goal is equality, I rationalized, shouldn't we all be expected to behave well and each side be given an equally hard time for being "bad"?

We see this double standard on television all the time. Image-conscious Emily Maynard did not originally want to be The Bachelorette, but she caved to the network's persistent courting. As a mom, Maynard explained prior to taping, this would be a different sort of season. There would be none of the typical haplessly horny hot tub scenes and the sexual spice that beckons 50 Shades readers to the TV. She would have her daughter Ricki along for the ride. The nation let out a collective sigh of relief and discussions ensued on Internet forums and in the press about how appropriate this was for a single mother. Many viewers had been upset with Emily for agreeing to be the Bachelorette "as a mom," deeming it inappropriate. However, flash back to former Bachelor and single dad Jason Mesnick, who made no such declarations about his own season's steaminess factor.

As the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchises' host, Chris Harrison, said:

Jason being a single dad, you know, it's almost like Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks. Everybody was like, 'Oh, how sweet, this single dad.'

But then when a woman was doing it, it was funny that the reaction was totally different. It wasn't, "Oh, look at Emily." It was, "How dare she!" So I love, again, our show kind of bringing up this social issue and the juxtaposition like why? How is that fair? How is she any less deserving?... I found it funny that that was the case.

Many women aren't laughing. There definitely are higher expectations for women than for men, not only with regard to conducting oneself "appropriately," but also with regard to being less emotional, more stoic and more masculine. Is it any wonder that the recent number one movie was Think Like a Man? And remember when Arsenio Hall called the tenacious Aubrey O'Day a "bitch" on Celebrity Apprentice and Lisa Lampanelli chewed him out for actually "going there"?

"I am definitely expected to act tougher than my male colleagues," said my friend Heather*, a lawyer at a top Manhattan firm, "One of the partners is actually quite an emotional man with temperamental flare-ups and outbursts, but if I were to exhibit even one iota of that type of behavior, I'd be called a 'bitch', be the joke of the office and be given zero respect."

Another friend of mine, Tara, had begun dating Mark, who was determined to keep things casual and commitment-free. Tara, unsure of where she saw Mark in her own personal timeline, was quite fine with the arrangement, until Mark expressed his trepidation on one of their trysts.

"I'm having fun with you," he said, "But I'm afraid that you're going to expect more from me than I'm able to give. I don't want you getting too emotional."

Taken aback, Tara recoiled before saying what was on her mind: "Don't be so freaking full of yourself. Just think of me as the 'female YOU.'"

"OK, OK..." Mark said after absorbing her words, "...But you have to admit: You're waaayyy prettier than I am."

Content, Tara smiled and silently agreed.

(*Friends' names have been changed.)