What is Equality?

The goal of feminism is generally equality. Equality for women. Equality for racial and sexual minorities. The idea (for just about anyone other than some of the more radical among us) is for a completely equal society. The question becomes not how to go about this, but, first, what does equality mean?

The most obvious answer, in America at least, is to be equal to men. The job opportunities and various privileges accorded to American men (seeing others like themselves on tv at any time, knowing that the person in charge is likely to be like them, etc.) are desirable to obtain or neutralize. However, men’s positions are not 100% enviable.

First of all, not all men have equal standing or opportunity. A White woman is likely to be in a better position than an African American man. Defining equality as “equal to a man” is problematic. This is not only because of race, either. A short, effeminate or fat white man is not going to get the same respect or bump as their more (hegemonic) masculine counterparts.

If this is the only issue, we could just boil it down to being equal to attractive, healthy, educated, straight and well employed white men. But there are problems with being even this type of man. The men are often stuck in jobs they do not want. They are emotionally repressed, because this masculinity is challenged by expressions of emotions, such as crying.  Many more, of course, but you get the idea.

As a woman, do you really want to be in the position these men are in? Maybe the answer is “yes”. But keep in mind that you get all that comes with the package. Men are not without their oppressions, their payoff is just arguably better. You are no longer pressured to be a mother, but if you do not have a high earning job, then you are a failure. You are no longer a sex object, but violence and aggression become an assumed part of your performance.

I am not arguing that men are just as screwed as women. What I am trying to get across is that changes need to be made across the board and it is not as simple as raising women to men’s levels. Being a man is not perfect. Being a man with a vagina is not the ultimate solution. I will be going in to some suggested solutions in following posts when I discuss different feminist theories.

As always, I want to hear your thoughts on the issue (when they are constructed politely). Especially those who disagree with me!


About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
This entry was posted in Opinion, Question and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What is Equality?

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Tori

    firstly, I wish you well in your studies – it sounds like a great opportunity for you and I’m sure you’ll spread the fruits of your labours to great effect:)

    Equality…well, I think you’ve made a number of assumptions about men’s social constructs and emotional landscapes that don’t square up with the world as I know it. But the USA is a very different place from the UK and so, for example, the Religious Right are simply nowhere to be seen here and their works count for absolutely nothing outside a few Full Bible churches. Anyway, I’d like to ask you a question, maybe to open up some debate: given that exploitation is a precondition of its machinations is equality possible under Capitalism?


    • Tori says:

      I would argue that equality under capitalism, as it works now, is, ifnot impossible, extremely difficult. Our current capitalism, in America, is, as my teacher likes to say, “let ’em rip” capitalism. The goal is to make as much money as possible. A huge part of that ends up being unfair wages and benefits, over working individuals, a need for marginalized groups, binaries to set your product up as the “good” one and a number of other things I am not thinking of. This is an area I agree with the more radical feminists and other more radical groups. The current systems need a serious change, probably to the point that they are no longer recognizable.

      Thanks for the question! What are your thoughts on the matter?

  2. Female Activation says:

    For me equality is when its accepted that a person is allowed to express who they are without judgments. I know this is a pretty broad statement and sounds like a perfect world but to me I feel like that’s what we are fighting for…..

  3. steve says:

    I can’t think of a universal definition, taking in all the complex issues of our societies, that gives us a useful summary of equality in action. So for me ‘equality’ has an honorary ‘doing word’ status and I try to measure it in various particular ways. My model would be the mosaic rather than the linear pattern of development and I’d want to look at a mixture of such concrete issues as, say, health, education, housing and other basic concerns to measure wether or not equality is being achieved – and perhaps to define it in action.

    In my initial response I floated the question of wether equality is antithetical to capitalism. I hope that’s not too daring:). I’m a Brit Socialist and hold dear the example of the post-ww2 Attlee Labour government which created our National Health Service (NHS) and Welfare State which I believe set in motion huge strides away from the Victorian-style predatory commercial ethic towards creating essential resources shared by our whole community.

    Broad brush-strokes, I know, but successive Labour governments – powered not least by influential women’s campaigners within the trades union movement – have specifically targeted women’s health issues as a priority. Incredibly, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative regime began the work of unpicking the achievements of our NHS by allowing for-profit businesses to move in on selected sectors such as dentistry or hospital support services. The result has been a disaster for universal access to good oral care and a series of scandals over basic hospital hygiene. Yet the privatisation process is breaking into a sprint under our current Conservative government – and few of us expect to have much of an NHS left in a couple of years.

    Like vultures, the corporate investors and health insurance companies are lining up to cherry-pick what will become our most profitable health markets – and to add injury to insult will get substantial Conservative government incentives to do so. I’m not persuaded that businesses will match the long-term, publicly-funded deep research and investment at the root of Labour’s improvements to women’s health. This isn’t simply a philosophical question about equality – it’s a concrete issue of equality in action in the lives of ordinary people. And I’m certain that such interrelated issues as erosion of maternity and early years care and deregulation of labour markets are going to set back by decades the hard-won advances achieved by women – an example of free markets being antithetical to equality.

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