“Equality Has Gone Too Far”?

“Women lactate, men dictate.” – Swami Beyondananda

My good friend Mike Tymn wrote a thoughtful response to my September 4th post, as he has often been so kind as to do.  You can find it in the comments.  I was going to reply in another comment, but so much related material has appeared in the news recently that I’ve decided to add another post.

Mike asked why gay people feel the need to get married, as opposed to just living together, especially since marriage seems to be less important to straight people these days.  “Why is it so important to gays, other than the tax advantages? If that is the case, why not let brother and sister living under the same roof marry so that they, too, can get a tax break? Or father and son living together? Where do you draw the line?”

The first question is very easy to answer.  It’s a matter of being treated as human beings like everyone else.  I used to have a similar viewpoint to Mike’s, that civil unions or some other legal framework would be fine, as long as the financial and other rights were the same as marriage.  I imagined that if such a system could be put in place, the fight over the issue of marriage itself might settle down, and people might be able to get on with their lives.  But it became obvious to me over time that marriage, as such, called by that name, is crucially important to an awful lot of people.  People want to make that public commitment to each other, and they want to feel that their families, friends and the larger society recognize it.  They may fail at being married, and same-sex divorce does come along with same-sex marriage, but they want the same chance as everyone else.  Or as some wag put it, “Gay people should have the same opportunity to be miserable as straight people.”

I’m fine with Mike’s idea of family members forming an economic unit that would bring them tax advantages– though they already have rights to inherit and such that are unavailable to unrelated couples outside of marriages and civil unions.  When my daughter was a teenager, she suggested that pairs, or even groups, of friends ought to be able to form units similar to marriages too.  As the population ages and we especially have more and more elderly women around (see that longevity contest above), perhaps we could develop some kind of framework to make it easier for people to band together for mutual support.

Mike brought up another point that is perhaps a bit stickier.  “As with racial equality, I think gender equality has sometimes gone too far in the other direction,” he wrote.  “Sports is a good example. Seemingly, equality should mean no separate divisions for women, i.e., they should compete with the men, just as they want to in the workplace.  But, no, equality means having separate competition for women. That’s all well and good, but why should prize money be equal for women, as so many women argue in my favorite sport, long distance running?  As an example, the Boston Marathon offers equal prize money to the top 10 men and top 10 women. But there might be 200 men finishing ahead of the 10th place woman and 190 of those men will receive no cash prize.  Is that equality?  It is certainly good for sport and good for the health and fitness of the nation, to have separate categories for men and women, but I think the reasoning conflicts with the reasoning in the workplace. In other words, women don’t want to be treated differently in the workplace, but where they are not equal they do want to be treated differently.  It makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Frankly, I think it makes perfectly good sense, and while the above strategy may not produce absolute, ultimate fairness, I think it is the best solution available.  No one is arguing that men and women are physically the same.  While individuals vary greatly, and some women are bigger and stronger than some men, in general men are larger and have more muscle mass.  Providing equal opportunity in sports takes that fact into account.  If a contest were held that gave prizes to those who lived the longest, or those who could survive longest without freezing to death, on average women would win handily.  Expecting women to lift the same weights, etc., as men would make no more sense than expecting men to lactate (which, to be fair, they can do under certain circumstances, but it sure ain’t easy).  I doubt that Mike or most other athletes would want to return to the days, not so long ago, when women could not even enter the Boston Marathon.  And there’s no reason to keep men out of synchronized swimming, either– nor my own “sport” of belly dancing, where a few of them are doing some quite interesting work these days.

Soon after Mike wrote, I saw an interview with Billie Jean King, and then the following article:
http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/09/10/the-king-and-her-court/.  Among many other things, it addresses the extreme disparity in earnings between the genders in sports.  One thing  we see is that a lot of promotion and education was necessary to find sponsors in order to get that prize money going:
‘And her feminism only grew when Wimbledon became an “open” tournament (with prize money) in 1968 rather than remaining “amateur” (or “shamateur,” as players still received money under the table). After winning the 1968 Wimbledon singles title she learned that while she was given a check for £750, men’s champ Rod Laver earned £2,000. Talk about “that’s not right.” [Which she had thought at age 12 when she realized that most of the players were white.] Some tournaments had a male-female prize ratio of as much as 12 to 1 in those days.
‘Next thing you know, with the guidance of Gladys Heldman, the founder of World Tennis Magazine, a group of 9 women players formed their own tennis tour in 1970, the Virginia Slims Circuit, and worked like crazy on-and-off court to gain sponsors and an audience.’

And the rest is history.  Lack of equality and opportunity in the non-sports workplace is typically quite a different matter.  Most jobs these days do not depend on size and physical strength, and for those that do, such as firefighting, many women are able to qualify.  In my profession, there is absolutely no reason that gender should determine anything at all; men and women are entirely equal in their ability to be healers, and in general we charge and receive similar compensation per treatment.  Even when we are discriminated against as a group (as when Medicare refuses to recognize us, or when Presbyterian Health Care pays us 30% less for acupuncture than other insurers), that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether we are male or female.  We move forward or backward as an entire profession, all together.  That’s exactly as it should be.

But none of that is quite what I was talking about in my post on misogyny.  I was complaining that women are still raped, beaten, killed, and in every way disrespected around the world, every day, typically with complete impunity.  And women are judged and criticized for the shape of their bodies in a way that men rarely are.  For example, a disgusting button directed at Hillary Clinton was available at the California Republican Convention a few weekends ago.  It read, “KFC Hillary Special: 2 fat thighs, 2 small breasts… left wing.”  You may have noticed, also, that no matter what Hillary wears, she’s not OK– either her pantsuits are too covered up and frumpy, or her blouse is unbuttoned too far and she’s not frumpy enough.  This is par for the course for prominent women, and it simply does not happen to men in the same way.

Back to Suzanne’s question about the differences in the way women are treated in various countries, and the possible reasons for that.  Jimmy Carter is working on a book that takes up this issue.  “I am convinced that discrimination against women and girls is one of the world’s most serious, all-pervasive and largely ignored violations of basic human rights,” Mr. Carter, 88, wrote in his book proposal, adding: “It is disturbing to realize that women are treated most equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.”
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/09/19/1239894/-Jimmy-Carter-To-Pen-Book-On-Global-Abuse-Of-Women-And-Religion-s-Negative-Impact-Videos

A friend of Suzanne’s, when she asked the question that instigated my other post, actually suggested that the fact that the US is a Christian nation, so that God loves us more, is the reason that things are better here for women.  Um, no.  Although if we were following the earliest Christianity, or the behavior of Jesus himself, women would have leadership positions within the Catholic Church and other sects.  Religion does not have to include discrimination, and the most enlightened religious leaders have not made it so.  Even Muhammad changed divorce laws to make them fairer to women.  But somehow as time goes on, the tradition of suppressing women always seems to reassert itself, and I return to my hypothesis that it is driven by fundamental biology and so is difficult to get rid of.

Another telling presentation that came up was a set of shockingly sexist ads from decades ago:
http://www.purpleclover.com/money/694-sexist-ads/  They’re hilarious, but deeply disturbing, full of images of wives and girlfriends flattened on the floor or kneeling in front of their lord and master.  One of the ads even asked, “Is it always illegal to kill a woman?”*

Much bias is so pervasive and institutionalized, so much part of our everyday background, that it becomes invisible.  A while back I picked up an application for the Manzano Mesa Multigenerational Center.  The 50+ application (sigh) asked whether I was disabled or frail.  It also asked whether I was a female head of household.  ??  Not sure on that one; some years ago my family voted me “queen,” agreeing that they wanted me to be the main decision-maker.  Bob’s is the first name on the tax documents and the mortgage, though.  One way or the other, the assumption is that heads of households are always male, unless there is no adult male present.  Why is this the default condition?  I can’t really think of a solid reason for the modern world.

Meanwhile, bigotry marches on.  (I’m not going to address the question of racial equality here; anyone who looks around for a few moments can see that it’s still a huge issue.)  Vladimir Putin, continuing his tragicomic standup act, made a pronouncement that masterfully combined misogyny and homophobia into one nauseating mess when he said that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wouldn’t have been prosecuted for having sex with a minor if he’d been gay.  Around the same time, Selena Gomez was banned from performing in Russia because she had expressed support for gay rights.  Yup, she’s seriously dangerous.

*Well, yes, unless it’s like that recent case in which a man was acquitted of murder even though he had in fact killed a woman, although, to be fair, he said he didn’t mean to kill her– that makes it OK, right?  It seems that she was a professional escort that he had hired, and when she refused to have sex with him, he felt within his rights to shoot her because, in his view, she was stealing from him.  ‘Cause $150 is totally worth taking a life for, especially if the victim is a thief or scammer.  She lived, paralyzed, for months before succumbing to her injuries.  http://voices.yahoo.com/man-kills-chaste-craigslist-escort-acquitted-under-12185381.html

11 Comments

Filed under history, human rights

11 responses to ““Equality Has Gone Too Far”?

  1. Hania Stromberg

    Hi Elene, A terrific post. I agree 100 % with all you say here. Also as I have not kept up with your blog and thus the comments to your blog lately, I have missed Mike’s most perceptive comment and am grateful that you copied it here. Thanks for this blog. I hope it gets a good exposure. Have you thought to try getting it published in a newspaper? Love to you and your family Hania

  2. Elene,

    Thank you for your thoughtful points of view. I find myself agreeing with you, but when I start going deeper into the whole idea of fairness and equality and the liberal need to legislate such fairness and equality, I begin having second thoughts. I think it boils down to one’s philosophy of life.

    As I have come to believe, life is all about learning and growing in spirit, or evolving. . This is best done by overcoming adversity and dealing with life’s challenges. To quote the apparently advanced spirit speaking through the trance mediumship of Cora Scott, “the line of life in the Soul is the overcoming of matter through the adverse conditions presented [to you.]. If we demand that all adversity be eliminated by legislating it away, we are not really dealing with it ourselves and not growing in spirit. We should welcome the challenges and face up to them on our own, not depend on our legislators to help us “feel good” about ourselves.

    Bottom line: I don’t think equality and fairness can be achieved through legislation. In fact, it often has the opposite effect. Life is unfair and this unfairness is a gift to us.

    Back to sports, shouldn’t we demand legislation that basketball be outlawed? How fair is it that a 5-foot tall person is forced to compete with a 7-foot tall person? .

    • Mike, as soon as everyone is so spiritually advanced that they stop trying to harm and take advantage of each other, we won’t need legislation. Until then, we need laws against rape, murder, domestic violence and other assault, slavery, theft, and the like. Of course all of these things still take place despite the laws, but at least the rule of law gives us some recourse against them. In general, the rule of law is intended to protect the weak against the strong*. A totally “fair” system in which every individual could simply take what he or she wanted from others, according to his or her ability, would be utterly unlivable.

      Many employers, apparently not really clear about what factors create a successful business, are eager to pay as little as possible. If they downgrade pay on the basis of gender or color or ethnicity, rather than ability, that is not something an enlightened society can accept, any more than we can accept child labor or the slavery of sweat shops (which we’ve still got even in this country).

      At any rate, I never brought up the subject of legislation at all in today’s post.

      Saying that we should grow in spirit through adversity is fine as a general philosophy, but I doubt that you think children who are being physically and mentally tortured by their parents should be left to suffer, nor that women who have been trafficked and forced to work as sex slaves should not be rescued. There is plenty of unavoidable adversity and suffering in the world. It remains for us as compassionate human beings to reduce what suffering we can.

      Your basketball example is a straw man and has no real connection with my subject, which, again, is not how to handle differences between athletes, but the genuine hatred and violence visited upon women and those who are sexually different.

      *though many, many exceptions could be given!

  3. Elene,

    Thanks for your reply, but I think you misunderstood. I didn’t say we don’t need laws. I questioned the need for laws to enforce equality. The examples you gave have nothing to do with equality. And I questioned why a person should feel better about him- or herself simply because a law says he is now equal. Such feeling should come from within. At least that is the way i see it.

    • Somehow we do not seem to be communicating well today, sorry! You wrote, “If we demand that all adversity be eliminated by legislating it away, we are not really dealing with it ourselves and not growing in spirit.” I replied with examples of kinds of adversity that we do legislate against. And really, the crimes I listed often are related to a fundamental sense of inequality– that we are allowed to do harm against another because that person is in some way less than we are. Most obviously, we may enslave someone because we think he is subhuman. We may rape a woman because we don’t see her as a person, but only as an object for our pleasure. We may steal money or property because we feel we are more deserving of it than another. In wars, we systematically dehumanize the enemy so that we can feel justified in killing them. If we did truly treat others as our equals, in the sense of the Golden Rule, things would be quite different.

      Self-esteem should indeed come from within, but if someone is not at all affected by what others think of him and say about him on a daily basis, that is a very unusual person. Does it affect you at least a little bit when people accuse you of all sorts of idiocy on the basis of your writings about spiritual matters, having the hatred of the pseudoskeptics directed at you over and over? Even though you know you’re right and you know you shouldn’t let them get to you? Maybe you can feel a tiny piece of what it’s like to be gay, then, or to be otherwise a member of a group that’s constantly being told they are wrong, immoral, dirty, bad, going to hell, and so on and on. It gets to you after a while no matter how strong you are inside. I know you’re a compassionate person and you can imagine this.

      This discussion is reminding me of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s story “Harrison Bergeron,” in which above-average people are given artificial handicaps so that everyone becomes unavoidably “equal.” It’s taken to a level of complete and horrifying absurdity, the ultimate degree of the kind of legislated equality you are complaining about. But that’s not what I’m advocating. People all across the political spectrum agree that equality of opportunity is the ideal. And that includes another concept that is basic to our society, “equal protection under the law.” None of that implies that people are equal in their abilities, but it says that all deserve equal respect as human beings and an equal chance at life, liberty, etc. The bottom line is that women and LGBT people have demonstrably not had equal opportunity or equal respect. At least it is getting better– at least in some places.

  4. Elene,

    I agree. The discussion went way off base and I was thinking out loud. It began with my asking why gay couples need to be married and can’t just live together, especially since marriage is on the decline with heterosexsual people. It was a question more out of curiosity than any attempt to argue against gay marriage. You responded by saying it makes them feel better, or words to that effect. I asked why it would make a person feel better just because the law says they can feel better, wondering why they can’t find inner peace without a law saying they can now feel better. I guess we could go around in circles on this and related subjects endlessly, and I have no desire to do that. As I said previously, I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other on gay marriage. I simply have never understood why it is so important, except for the economic advantages. And that leads to the question of why limit it to married couples. Why not everyone living under the same roof? Brother and sister? Father and daughter? You suggested that maybe that is a good idea. If we follow that line, everyone gets a tax advantage and that adds to the government deficit, so taxes must be raised for everyone. The solution, I guess, is to simply do away with the law allowiing tax advantages for married couple. I’ll end it at that.

  5. Hi Elene,
    I am new to your site although I have been receiving notices of your posts and have read some. This post certainly piqued my interest.

    I realize that you are limited perhaps in the number of words you are allowed to write on a blog, but it seems to me that you are the master/mistress of generalizations and I find myself saying in response , “Yeah, but what about……” To start off, your quote at the beginning from comic Steve Bhaerman isn’t funny and does not represent reality. There is no correlation between lactate and dictate other than word rhyming and as anyone who has a Jewish mother knows or anyone who has attended Catholic schools knows, women also dictate. A better rhyming correlation would have been: “Women lactate; men ejaculate.”

    I too have wondered why homosexual people feel a need to “marry” when a legal contract could convey the same rights and responsibilities. “Marriage” as a rite is a religious practice, differing from religion to religion and originally implemented to convey property rights and status to women in some cases but more importantly to insure purity of the hereditary line for inheritance of property and lineage status. (This is why virginity, chastity and faithfulness used to be so important.) Other than continuing the hereditary line by establishing a “family”, men receive little or nothing by marrying a woman in today’s American culture. To the contrary, in many cases, it becomes a burden men must bear in an effort to insure that children born of the woman are (hopefully) really theirs.

    People can make a public commitment without calling it marriage. Families and friends and the larger society, including government, can learn to recognize that commitment. It doesn’t have to be called marriage; marriage is a religious rite. In my view, society would be better off if all committed relationships were a contractual arrangement with an expiration date. What a savings of time, energy and money would be achieved if people knew that their legal obligation to stay together would expire on a certain date and they could renew it or not, whichever they mutually desired

    This need for “marriage” must come from some convoluted religious belief system of homosexuals involving a diety; surely atheists would see no need for “marriage” when a legal contract would suffice.

    In the American culture, marriage does convey a supposed tax advantage but in my opinion the advantage is minimal when compared to the expense and maximal effort required to sustain a married relationship. And I agree with Tymn, why not allow brother and sister to marry? Why not allow father and son to marry? Why not allow polygamy? Why not allow marriage of minors as is acceptable in some cultures. Following the homosexual line of thought, what would be the societal harm from those loving relationships, especially now that homosexual marriage and thereby homosexuality is condoned by the federal and state governments?

    And that is the real problem. Those born under that governmental approval of homosexuality will choose with impunity with whom they wish to have sex. And contrary to what some women may think, men in the ruttish stage of human development can have sex with a watermelon and find it more satisfying than sex with a woman considering the sequalae that often follows. What stimulates most men is their own sexuality not necessarily a female. The companionship between men is more intuitive and two Toms, Harrys and Dicks may be seen as better than one. The day may come when men find a relationship with another man more satisfying than a relationship with a woman. From a man’s perspective a male help-mate who can earn a good living, change a tire, clean out the gutter, re-roof the house, unclog the toilet, cut the grass, shovel the snow, bury the family dog and empty the mouse trap as well as cook, clean and decorate the house may be preferable. And all of this without having to send flowers on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries or after an argument.

    The legal acceptance of homosexuality demeans the status of women in a society. I find it hard to believe that women are such strong supporters of homosexual relationships.

    You say that marriage called by that name is crucially important to an awful lot of people. Who? Why? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What is really going on here? Why are we as a culture so caught up in labels?

    The obvious bottom line in the natural world is that “marriage” is a religious construct and that women and men are not equal. It is only in certain cultures that males and females are legislated to be equal and perhaps rightly so, depending on the culture in which they live. But women and men will never be equal in the natural world. Living in the natural world gives the spiritual being an opportunity for learning. Being a man or a woman affords the opportunity to learn the yin or yang of existence. To refuse that opportunity is simply to postpone development into a higher realm. – AOD

    • Amos,

      Your comments make an interesting counterpoint to the Wallace quote you posted at Mike’s blog recently, in which he advocated freeing women from the necessity of marriage.

      I realize that you are limited perhaps in the number of words you are allowed to write on a blog, but it seems to me that you are the master/mistress of generalizations and I find myself saying in response , “Yeah, but what about……”
      Well, that statement surprises me a bit, given that I listed specific examples– King, Putin, and so forth.

      To start off, your quote at the beginning from comic Steve Bhaerman isn’t funny and does not represent reality. There is no correlation between lactate and dictate other than word rhyming and as anyone who has a Jewish mother knows or anyone who has attended Catholic schools knows, women also dictate.
      Steve Bhaerman/Swami Beyondananda has a Jewish mother. I went to 12 years of Catholic school. Humor is subjective. I find Steve’s work generally hilarious. Did you note the “dic” part?

      “Marriage” as a rite is a religious practice…. men receive little or nothing by marrying a woman in today’s American culture. To the contrary, in many cases, it becomes a burden men must bear in an effort to insure that children born of the woman are (hopefully) really theirs.
      Marriage is also a civil contract, not only a religious rite. It is often accomplished without the involvement of any religion whatsoever. As to whether men receive anything by marrying a woman, you might like to look at research that shows that married men live longer and are healthier than single men. (Women also benefit health-wise by being married, but the effect is less dramatic.) Women still do the bulk of childcare and housework, which directly benefits their husbands, as well as often being the main wage-earner in the family these days, providing economic benefits. If none of that convinces you, perhaps you’d like to ask my husband if he has received anything good from the 34 years he has spent with me.

      What a savings of time, energy and money would be achieved if people knew that their legal obligation to stay together would expire on a certain date and they could renew it or not, whichever they mutually desired
      With divorce being so common, it seems like this is often how marriage is treated in practical terms. I agree with you that it might be worth a try. As always, you’d have to have a legal and ethical framework for dealing with the children of that relationship.

      This need for “marriage” must come from some convoluted religious belief system of homosexuals involving a diety; surely atheists would see no need for “marriage” when a legal contract would suffice.
      That’s a strange statement, since atheists get legally married all the time.

      Those born under that governmental approval of homosexuality will choose with impunity with whom they wish to have sex. And contrary to what some women may think, men in the ruttish stage of human development can have sex with a watermelon and find it more satisfying than sex with a woman considering the sequalae that often follows.
      Not only is this statement a massive insult to both men and women, according to research it is simply not true. Both men and women look for real relationships. Perhaps you are different. Or perhaps you have had some terrible relationship experiences?

      What stimulates most men is their own sexuality not necessarily a female.
      I’ll leave it to the guys to respond to that one.

      And all of this without having to send flowers on Valentine’s Day, anniversaries or after an argument.
      I don’t think you know any gay male couples!

      The legal acceptance of homosexuality demeans the status of women in a society. I find it hard to believe that women are such strong supporters of homosexual relationships.
      Whoa, whoa, whoa! Haven’t you noticed that there are homosexual women too???? I’m bisexual myself. “The legal acceptance of homosexuality”– which exists in human nature whether societies like it or not– works AGAINST the demeaning of women who are not strictly heterosexual.

      You say that marriage called by that name is crucially important to an awful lot of people. Who? Why? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What is really going on here? Why are we as a culture so caught up in labels?
      This issue is about so much more than just a label. It’s about deep meaning and fundamental social attitudes.
      Personally, I love being married, and if for some reason someone tried to change that status, even if they told my husband and me that we could keep living together in the same way as always, I’d fight to my last breath to keep it.

      The obvious bottom line in the natural world is that “marriage” is a religious construct and that women and men are not equal. It is only in certain cultures that males and females are legislated to be equal and perhaps rightly so, depending on the culture in which they live. But women and men will never be equal in the natural world.
      I hope that this is a language issue and that you didn’t really mean that last sentence the way it sounds. If you truly believe that men and women are not EQUAL as persons, that is, that as human beings they do not deserve the same rights and respect, we have nothing more to say to each other. If you are simply saying that men and women are not THE SAME, then that is an objective fact.

  6. Susan

    This is a lot of very “charged” material, and thank you for your level headed handling of it, Elene.

    It always amuses me to hear how people who benefit from non-equality think.

  7. Whoa. I guess I came late to this conversation. I’m not even going to touch Amos’ post, as I think Elene’s response pretty much covered everything. I did want to mention in response to Mike’s misgivings about marriage that many radical queers I know in Albuquerque are vehemently against the institution of marriage because it reinforces and validates an oppressive and patriarchal state. They feel that the material benefits (tax breaks, insurance, etc) should be sacrificed in order to assert their own definitions and validations of their relationships. In fact, some feel that the current legislation on marriage equality is simply a straw man tactic to avoid real issues of inequality that will still prevail with or without state sanctioned marriage (economic disparities, discrimination, hatred, and violence against queers). So Mike, your questions are not totally off base. On the other hand, I know a wonderful lesbian couple who are just as intelligent and politically minded who held a (mostly) traditional wedding and went to California to get their legal marriage certificate as soon as they could. They have been happily married for two years now. Personally, I think the argument of whether homosexuals “should” or “shouldn’t” choose to get married is absurd. Obviously the ability to choose at all is the issue.

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