How many of our political confusions are caused by our failure to define our concepts clearly? How much of the debate over equality rests on a failure to understand what the words mean and how they are used?
Take the mindless mantra: equal pay for equal work. In one way or another nearly everyone believes it, but do you really think that these are the same uses of the word “equal.” You can easily say that two people do or do not receive the same pay. Pay is a number. It is either the same as another number or not.
But, do two people do the same work? Do two people who have the same work titles work with the same efficiently and effectiveness? In some cases, like assembly lines we might say that they do roughly the same thing, but most workers do not do the same thing. Mowing one lawn might have a lot in common with mowing another lawn, but they are not precisely the same job. Two people cannot mow the same lawn at the same time.
Moreover if two junior assistant sub-managers are doing equal work and are receiving equal pay, how can you justify promoting one and not the other to senior assistant sub-manager? Do you flip a coin? Is that fair? Is it fair to ignore hard work and achievement? If you do, are you telling people that they will not be judged by their work product or their contribution to the company?
Some people believe that equal means same. Are men and women the same? Undoubtedly, they are not. But if men and women, the two genders-- for those who still believe that there are two genders-- are not the same, why would custom and tradition not have defined different ways of treating each gender?
One notes that ideologues insist that men and women are social constructs. Better yet, they tell us that being the one or the other is a matter of belief. Since we are dealing with ideology, it is natural that it would all be reduced to belief.
Today’s litmus test for true believers is your willingness to believe and to say that Bruce Jenner is a woman… despite having male appendages. If you say that Bruce is really a woman you have passed the test. If you force everyone else to agree, on penalty of ostracism, you are heading for a leadership role in the thought police. If you belong to those unhappy few who do not want to date a male who is convinced that he is really a she, albeit with male genitals, you are a bigot.
Of course, if men and women are not the same, are not equal in that sense of the word, then it makes less sense to denounce people as being sexist when they, for example, treat women with respect.
Try a racy example. If a man and a woman are having sex are they doing the same thing? Is each one performing an action that is identical to the action being performed by other one? If they are kissing they are likely performing the same action. If they are copulating, they are clearly not doing so.
Are men and women of equal strength? Most sensible observers would say that they are not. Military training has had to adjust to the fact by changing the strength requirements for certain recruits.
If men are stronger than women, some would say that it is invidious to judge people by their strength. You should not be defining people according to characteristics that have nothing to do with their minds or souls.
But then, how much of the debate about men and women concerns the fact that women are far more vulnerable to sexual assault? Certain ideologues insist that this too is irrelevant, up to a point. If women are in all ways the equals of men then the male duty to protect women is a protection racket, a system of rules that makes women look and feel weak, thus makes it more difficult for them to ascend to positions associated with power on male status hierarchies.
But, note the terms of the current debate on rape culture. The ideologically correct view is that women are more vulnerable to sexual assault and that they need to be protected. Perhaps not by their fathers and brothers, but by the state and the police and the media.
This feels like reinventing the wheel. But, were women safer when they were protected by their fathers and brothers or when their complaints could be considered in the criminal courts? I would suggest that the rape culture meme falls apart from its own internal contradictions, but that would surely be considered sexist.
As long as the corporate, political and military worlds are not being led by disembodied minds, strength must pay some role. It might not be everything, but it is surely not for nothing.
Everyone knows by now that the female voice does not have the same pitch as the male voice. Everyone knows that the same words coming from a female body do not produce the same effect as they would have if they were coming from a male body. When a woman gets angry and asserts herself she does not produce the same reaction as a man does when he says the same thing. A deeper voice commands more respect and causes something akin to a fear reaction. A higher pitched voice feels less serious and does not command the same respect.
A woman barking orders is not as persuasive as a man barking orders. But, of course, you are not allowed to say so.
Worse yet, is the emulation factor. Effective leaders set an example. Those who work under them imitate their behaviors, thus saving them the trouble of having to tell other people how to do things.
This works because underlings want to rise up the status hierarchy, to become like their superiors. But, what happens when their superiors are women and when they, if they are men, do not want to grow up to be powerful women. And worse, what if young women do not want to grow up to be powerful executives—either male or female executives—because they know, ideology notwithstanding, that a powerful woman is an unattractive woman. Worse yet, a powerful woman receives less intrinsic respect than a man when she exercises power.
Ought this to be so? One may rail against the injustice of it all, and even argue that leadership in new industries will no longer require assertions of masculine authority. Silicon Valley high tech companies are in the vanguard of every trendy liberal cause, and yet they are still very largely male enclaves.
Exceptions certainly exist. And yet, exceptions do not make the rule and elevating more women into positions of power, by fiat, is not likely to improve efficiency and functioning. You might feel that your company or your nation has made great strides by ignoring the inequalities between the sexes, but other nations who are watching from the outside might have a very different reaction. If they are not with the program they might choose to try to exploit your weakness.
If Hillary Clinton becomes the first female POTUS, will it signal a great victory for women or will it signal weakness in America? How you see it is one thing, how Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping see it is quite another?
Of course, a male president might also be taxed with being perceived as being weak. For most of the world Bill Clinton’s manifest decadence clearly signaled that he and America were weak.
Even today, when we have a feckless male as American president, does it matter that his foreign policy has for the greatest part been associated with women: Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Valerie Jarrett? Do you think that when foreign leaders look at that team they are more or less likely to respect American leadership and to join a coalition behind such leadership, in anything more than in name?
Keep in mind, a strong leader like Margaret Thatcher was often tested militarily, by IRA leaders and by the government of Argentina. And Thatcher projected strength by surrounding herself with male advisers. A Hillary Clinton brings us a team of female advisors, led by Huma Abedin. Is that team likely to command respect?
And, of course, as Europe is being flooded with an invading army or refugees, how important is it that the leader who stepped forward to open her nation to them was Angela Merkel? How important is it that the Scandinavian countries that are the most progressive in empowering women have a refugee and rape crisis on their hands? Why has it happened that Sweden has become the rape capital of the civilized world and that the nation’s leaders, fully feminized, want to fight it with understanding, not harsh punishment. In the old days men used to protect women from sexual predators. In the new days, driven by ideology, men and women offer up their daughters as human sacrifices on the altar of multiculturalism.
One imagines that it is altogether possible to engineer society to make it gender neutral. There would be equal numbers of men and women at all levels of the workforce and mothers and fathers would spend an equal amount of time doing housework and childcare. See this delusional screed from the New York Times.
And yet, when women are placed in high prestige roles that had traditionally been occupied by men it might happen that they gain a certain prestige from their new roles, but it might also happen that the social prestige of the role itself will be diminished. Surely, the profession of psychotherapist, as it has become a pink ghetto, has lost prestige and influence. It is devilishly difficult to engineer human society in defiance of human realities.
Those who want men and women to share housework equally, to ensure that men become more like women, assume that women will happily hand over half of their childrearing tasks to their husbands, to human beings who lack a maternal instinct, among other things. And it assumes that men will happily sacrifice their career advancement in order to spend more time at home changing diapers.
In all likelihood men will rebel and will become more like gangsters and gamers than like diaper changers.
And, dare we mention, men who cannot support their families and who do not provide a good position on a status hierarchy are considered by women to be unsuitable and undesirable mates. They might be very suitable as one-off sexual partners, whether hookups or friends with benefits, but that is all.
As I suggested, all of these possibilities involve a failure to understand the different ways we use the concept of equality in everyday language. Harvey Mansfield reminds us that all men are not created equal, except in a very limited political sense.
If we look around, we see many inequalities, some of them socially constructed by custom and prejudice, but others—such as intelligence, size, beauty, and temperament—seem to be as much natural as any aspect of human equality. The intelligence distinguishing men from other animals is shared with all other normal humans, to be sure, but the degrees of that faculty in different men is as impressive as the common sharing of it. The early modern philosophers of the seventeenth century could do no better, when their assertions came down to arguments, than found human equality on equal human presumption: all men, sharing reason, use it, each individually, to claim superior importance each for himself. This is an equality of vanity rather than truth, or a truth about human vanity. The presumption of equality is a supposed fact agreed upon among reasonable persons for a practical political purpose, and it is based not on a finding that all men are truly equal but on a refusal to risk the disagreement that surely arises when natural inequalities are alleged as justification for rule. Only equality can be agreed to be an “undoubted right,” in Locke’s phrase, on which to found government. What is undoubted is a political truth, not a scientific or philosophic one.
In short, the term equality is misleading. In political theory it refers to a government that guarantees each individual equal rights under the law, an equal number of votes, but not an equal influence on policy. It does not promise equal incomes, equally large homes, an equal number of wives or husbands, equal status, equal intelligence, equal education or equal athletic ability. Equality, as the terms was first introduced, involved what Mansfield calls a “political truth” not a philosophical or scientific truth.