Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Sexual Equality

When people hear me criticising the feminist movement, they often say “But you do believe in equality, don’t you?” That’s the question I intend to address here. Basically, the short answer is that the question itself is too vague to be meaningful. However, if you consider yourself to be a liberal in the classical sense, if you accept Darwin’s theory of evolution, if you believe that democracy is the best form of government humans have developed, if you believe that the two-parent family has been shown by centuries of use, and decades of recent experiment, to be the best instrument for the successful raising of children, then I do not hold any opinions which are likely to offend you. If, on the other hand, you are a religious fundamentalist of any stripe, or if you are a Marxist, or any kind of anti-family activist, then our relationship is likely to be fraught with difficulties. Everyone, friend and foe alike, is likely to find me rather pedantic.

When people ask “Do you believe in equality?”, the philosopher in me cringes. Firstly, I have a problem with the verb ‘believe in’. It is usually used in a religious context, as in “Do you believe in God?”. It usually seems to be an attempt to elicit a declaration of faith; an invitation to affirm that you are ‘one of the gang’. I would not describe myself as a person of faith. As Mark Twain said “Faith is believing what you know ain't so”. I have no particular interest in being one of the gang either.

I don’t have a problem with the verb ‘believe’, and I believe that the verb ‘believe’ is best followed by ‘that’. I believe all sorts of things. I believe that Paris is the capital of France. I believe that the Enlightenment at the end of the Eighteenth Century was one of the high-points of human intellectual achievement. I believe that cats have four legs. I believe that democracy is the best form of government yet developed. I believe that rights and responsibilities are only available as a multi-pack. Don’t ask me if I believe in something. Ask me if I believe that something.

As for ‘equality’, can you be more specific? When people ask me “Do you believe that men and women are equal?”, they seem to be referring to several different things, including at least the following:

1 Do you believe that men and women are essentially the same as each other?

2 Do you believe that men and women do in fact have the same rights and responsibilities under the law?

3 Do you believe that men and women should have the same rights and responsibilities under the law, whether or not they do in fact?

4 Do you believe that men and women do in fact have the same cultural, professional and social opportunities?

5 Do you believe that men and women should have the same cultural, professional and social opportunities, whether or not they do in fact?

6 Do you believe that men and women experience the same outcomes in their lives?

7 Do you believe that men and women should experience the same outcomes in their lives, whether or not they do in fact?

These questions are all different, and each requires a different answer.

Question 1 is an empirical question about how the world is. It is really asking ‘Is this object M an object of the same type as that one W?’ Given the types of objects that men and women are – namely human - it is a question about human nature. As such, in order to answer it, we will need to use tools including biology, zoology, anthropology, psychology and philosophy. There is a genuine issue about how similar the two objects would have to be, in order to be judged to be the same, and this depends on why one is asking the question, and what kind of answer one is looking for. Everyone knows that men and women are biologically different from each other, and there is plentiful evidence – from both our daily lives and from evolutionary psychology - to show that their sexual behaviour is fundamentally different. Does this make them different? If you are discussing their sexual behaviour, yes it does. If you are discussing their ability to make tea, no it doesn’t. It depends on why you want to know.

Question 2 is a question about the law at a particular time and place. Do you believe that men and women have the same rights under the law in the UK in 2006?

I feel that I am ill-qualified to answer this as I am not a lawyer. However, as an intelligent UK citizen it seems to me that the law does not always treat men and women in the same way. Several areas of inequality immediately spring to mind. Firstly, the way that men and women are treated in the family courts during and after divorce is fundamentally unequal, with the family courts heavily biased against men. Secondly, criminal sentencing policy is fundamentally unequal, with men likely to receive much harsher punishments than women for the same crime. Thirdly, there are inequalities in life expectancy, pension age and health spending, which means that men work longer, pay more taxes, have less money spent on their healthcare, and yet die younger. This is grossly unfair. Given that men in this country die younger than women, we should be retiring earlier, not later.

I am sure that a feminist commentator would be quick to identify areas in which she feels women unjustly discriminated against. I would have to examine each of her claims on its own empirical merits before I decided whether or not to accept it. However, having highlighted three areas of bias against men, this gives me enough on which to answer the question in the negative.

Question 3 is a question about my political beliefs, and I think that this is the question that people usually intend. I believe that every adult citizen should have the same package of rights and responsibilities under a written constitution (the constitution itself will define the terms ‘adult’ and ‘citizen’). I am a classical liberal; my credo is ‘a fair field and no favours’.

Question 4 is a sociological question about the state of society. However, I am going to answer question 5 first, as it is related: Do you believe that men and women should have the same cultural and social opportunities? Consistent with my answer to question 3, you may expect me to say that every adult citizen should have the same package of obligations and opportunities. However, in reality this is never achievable. People do not start out in life with the same opportunities. Some are born into wealthy families, some into poverty. Some are born with illness or disability, others are not. Some are born with high intelligence, or to very able parents, others are not. I believe that every citizen, whether adult or child, should be given a guaranteed minimum package of obligations and opportunities, and this will be provided by the state if their parents are unable to provide it for them. So, the state will give all children the obligation of attending school, and the opportunity to get an education, every one will have basic healthcare and a basic pension provided by the state, and so on. Some people will have additional opportunities given to them by virtue of having wealthy educated parents, or because of their own hard work and talent, or whatever.

So how about question 4. Do men and women (or perhaps more especially, boys and girls) receive the same package of basic opportunities? Again, I am no sociologist. However, I would have to say that where inequalities of opportunity to exist, they are more usually due to wealth than sex. Yet there are some notable differences in opportunity which are due to sex. Consider that in most societies since the earliest times, men were obliged to perform military service, which usually included hand-to-hand fighting to the death, while women were not. This remains so today in most societies. Consider that men are obliged to undertake paid work outside the home for the whole duration of their healthy adult lives, while women are not. Men work full-time because the only alternative for them is complete social exclusion. Women, meanwhile, have other choices and opportunities. They can work full time, they can stay at home full time while their husband supports them, or they can work part time and stay at home part time. The increased stress that men suffer as a result of years of full time work contributes to their lower life expectancy.


I have already answered question 6. Men and women do not experience the same outcomes in their lives. Men do more work and die younger. Women get more health care and education. Men are conscripted to fight in wars.

Should men and women experience the same outcomes? It is impossible in principle to engineer society so that everyone has the same outcome. It would be foolish to try.

I want to make a distinction between formal equality and substantive equality. Formal equality means equality of opportunity. Substantive equality means equality of outcome. I am in favour of formal equality, which is entirely achievable. Substantive equality is impossible to achieve, and there is no reason to think that we would want it, even if we could achieve it.

Unfortunately, feminism has shifted its focus in recent years from demanding formal equality to demanding substantive equality. Title IX is a good example. Instead of demanding that female students be allowed to play sports if they want to, which no-one would object to, feminists have demanded that exactly equal numbers of male and female students play sport. Because not many females are interested in sport, the result is that male sports teams are being disbanded, simply because there is not an equivalent female team. This is an example of the kind of stupidity that results once you start demanding equal outcomes. Feminists know this, but they allow it to happen because they derive a juvenile schadenfreude from screwing things up for men.

The reason for this change in emphasis is that all the battles for formal equality were won, long ago. Not many people objected to demands for formal equality. Rather than go home and do something else, feminist activists just look for more things to complain about. Hence the shift towards demands for substantive equality, with its bureaucratic overheads of quotas and monitoring and statistics. Jobs for activists for decades to come.

7 comments:

Davout said...

I would be most interesting to hear your comments on the benefits of constitutional republicanism vs. democracy.

Kant defines democracy as 'dictatorship by the majority' and I feel feminists have been masquerading as the majority and piggybacking democratic principles such as 'civil privileges are civil rights' in order to warp the definition of equality to suit their own agenda.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms is an example of the feminist lobby including separate amendments in it only for 'women' and 'multiculturalism'.

One of the reasons why I think the US has not genuflected to feminism to as large an extent compared to, say Canada, Sweden or the UK, is because the US is Republican under federal law but democratic under statutory law.

I feel that a democracy protects the majority at the expense of the minority while a republic protects each individual's rights.

Heretic said...

Davout, Thanks for your message. To be honest with you, I don't know enough about constitutional republicanism to be able to say anything useful. I agree with you that feminists are opportunistic and will try to alter the definition of equality to keep themselves in power. Whatever they get will never be enough. I am heartened to hear that the US has not yet been completely taken over by feminism. From here in the UK, it often looks as though the US is a feminist-controlled superpower, which is a scary thought.

Davout said...

I should have prefaced my eariler remarks by saying that I am Canadian and only have an outsider's view on US politics.

Nevertheless, I can say that the evangelical christian (EC) base is inadvertently aiding the men's movement in the US. Most ECs are republicans, strongly family oriented and demographically growing because they view families as assets, rather than liabilities. Little wonder then that a majority of men and married women consistently vote republican. This also means that the democratic party, in lobbying primarily to single women, has also chosen to cater to a shrinking demographic.

jw said...

Are men and women equal?

Well, I weigh some 100 lbs more than my wife and stand 15 or so inches taller. So are we equal? Depends on what you mean, eh?

Under Canadian law we are both equal and not equal. For example, she is not a rape survivor, but can legally access rape survivor services any time she wishes. I am a rape survivor, but am forbidden to access rape survivor services because I am male. We are thus, not equal.

On the other hand, we both wear glasses and have the right to get our eyes examined and treated any time we want. So both equal and not-equal.

Thus, the question has no meaning in and of itself.

Davout said...

"Thus, the question (are men and women equal?) has no meaning in and of itself."

That's a very good point, jw. If one accepts that the definition of equality has no ostensible purpose for the benefit of society, then all socialist arguments fall flat because they all presumably stem from some unsubstantiated notion of class/gender/racial equality.

Heretic said...

Good point jw. As I said in my original post, the question 'do you believe that men and women are equal?' is too vague to mean anything.

jw said...

davout & heretic: I could go on with a great many other factors in which males & females are, by law, treated differently.

The original intent of the question should reasonably be worded

"Do you believe that males and females should have equal legal rights?"

Most people believe that females should be raised were they are treated unfairly and males should NOT be raised were they are treated unfairly.

Thus, we have a system, which due to inherent sexism, cannot allow equality. Thus, again from this point of view, the question has no meaning.