“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.”
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