Afternoon Inquisition 9.9

Skepchick is a female-forward site, to be sure.  While we are not exclusively for women, we are, by definition, about being, well, chicks. (Except for Sam, he’s about being awesome.)

So, Skepchick readers of both genders, I’m wondering:

How do you feel about gender equality?   Does it exist?   Should it exist?


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. It should. Hell yes, it should. And I want to believe it does exist, at least in some places. But we still see some ass backward fucktards in some parts of the world who won’t let it.

    But hey, I sincerely think sites like this one are going to help level the playing field for eveyone eventually.

    Rose-colored glasses firmly in place.

    (And thanks for the props, A.)

  2. No, it does not exist.

    Yes, it “should”.

    No, we will not see it in our lifetimes.

    This is a very touchy subject for me: my wife is a feminist. I am likely to grow very… critical.

  3. How to put this?

    Society should be structured in such a way to ensure that all individuals can be as equal as they wish to be.

    How’s that?

  4. I think we’ve made a lot of amazing strides in the U.S., but we are certainly nowhere near close to perfect gender equality — and that includes all genders, not just male and female.

    And of course it should.

  5. The whole problem of “gender equality” is the basic phrasing of the name. I’m all for equality. By calling for gender, or racial, or whatever equality, we are implying that those differences we’re trying to downplay are actually important. The fact is, we’re all different. I’m a guy, you’re a chick; he’s short, she’s tall; that guy’s got light skin, another guy has dark skin; they’re all differences, and they’re all unimportant. (OK, so when Mrs Plittle and I are alone together under the sheets, the differences are all important) What’s important is how we relate to each other on a day to day basis, and the best way to combat discrimination of any kind is to encourage people to stop categorizing each other, and just relate. I’m Plittle, you’re a.real.girl. Nice to meet you.

  6. I think inherent gender equality does exist. I don’t think that’s always reflected in our culture, although, yes, I think it should be. In both cases, however, I think that “equal” does not mean “same.”

  7. It most definitely does not exist, and never will 100% across the board.

    Should it exist? Yes and no, depends on the subject.

  8. I refer again to The Male Privilege Checklist.

    These are benefits I enjoy but my wife does not.

    Some examples to entice you to follow the link:

    1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

    14. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.

    27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.

    36. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

    45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

    Nope. Definitely not equality.

  9. I used to think my gender was the best, but then my girlfriend built me a bookshelf with her vagina. That put her ahead until I cooked her Eggs Benedict with my penis. So I guess we’re even.

  10. I think gender equality is an example of taking a complex issue and trying to package it in an easy, pithy catch phrase. Genders are not equal – there are some (pretty key) differences that we all know and love.

    Fairness is important but it has to be managed against the basic differences between genders. For a very basic example, I want to be considered in the same light as a male colleague when I am up for a promotion at work. But I don’t want my personal trainer to hold me to the same standards as my husband when he is evaluating our progress at the gym.

    Gender equality is just a sound byte that sounds logical on the surface, but really doesn’t mean anything – the real issues come into play once you get deeper into the situation.

    And another thing, what is up with this ‘everyone is equal’ thing anyway? Sorry, I am better than some people, worse than others, depending on what task or quality you’re talking about. Equality in general is a myth – and if we ever achieved it, it would be DULL. And also, probably the end of the human race, because there wouldn’t be any ambition…

  11. “prejudice = privilege plus power”

    I think there’s an element missing here. You can have privilege and power and still not be prejudiced if you don’t think you’re better than other people/groups and don’t use your privilege or power to keep other people down.

  12. @Fracture: Agreed, men and women can’t be “equal” per se, because we’re not — we’re different. And that’s awesome. But we should be “equal” of course in terms of basic human rights and freedoms.

    I don’t think that’s happening 100% now, but things are certainly better than they used to be in, say, my grandmother’s generation. There’s still a long way to go though. Especially, as Marilove said, with genders other than typical “male” and “female”.

  13. @mxracer652: Depends on what subject? When is one gender “better” (if they are not equal, one must therefore be “better”) than another?

    @Jen: I think in these subjects, people tend to forget that gender is not just about male and female. And when you consider that, I think it makes it even more obvious that all genders should be equal.

  14. So many undefined terms, scopes, etc. (:

    Some, but not all, groups of people don’t use gender as a relevant criteria for assessing others’ value or opinions. It’s not nearly as widespread as it should be. It’s not easy to root out, and many people who value it find it difficult to implement consistently. Biases are like that: they can blindside you.

    It clearly does not exist among groups of people who have firm statements of the structure, “men should…” or “women should…” built into their cultures. I guess the really interesting question is: are there possible cultures in which such a statement can be almost universally correct?

  15. @Masala Skeptic: “But I don’t want my personal trainer to hold me to the same standards as my husband when he is evaluating our progress at the gym.”

    I think this is more about the individual and not the sex, so I’m not sure if it works well as an anology. For instance, if my boyfriend and Venus Williams went to the same personal trainer, that personal trainer would certainly give Venus a harder, more complicated workout than my boyfriend, because Venus could kick his ass.

  16. @writerdd: My fault for not making this clear.

    It’s not about individuals, it’s about cultures (or better: subcultures).

    Prejudice (for example, sexism) is a social effect, not a personal one. An individual can commit an act of prejudice, and that’s one of the most common misconceptions about the problem.

    Does that make the definition work better for you?

  17. @writerdd: There is inherent privilege in, say, being a white male in our society. Even if you don’t knowingly or purposely use it to keep others down, it doesn’t mean you aren’t still getting the many advantages for being white and male.

  18. Not really, I think prejudice is both cultural and personal. Sometimes it’s cultural and therefore invisible on the personal level, but I think at other times, perhaps when it is starting to change, it begins to be noticed and it is still practiced by individuals, even if the culture is changing. The long term goal of such a process should be to eliminate the prejudice totally. But maybe the cultural and personal are two different, but related, things. Whatever, I don’t have time to think about this more right now even though it’s very interesting.

  19. @marilove: It’s about both the individual and the gender, I think. If there was a male who was in about the same shape as I am (and my husband is a pretty good example because we have the same body fat levels), we still can’t be evaluated in the same way because male and female body types are simply different – he’ll build upper body strength faster and easier than I will etc. It’s the same reason that it’s rare that you have co-ed competitive sports – there’s a physiological inequality.

  20. Progress definitely has been made to mitigate the opporession that can occur with our biological differences. For example- more widespread awareness of and access to things like ECP and abortion.
    And, women still make 69-80% of what men make for doing the same work and having the same qualifications. While this is improveing, we still have a long way to go.

    We haven’t even scratched the surface of creating equal spaces for other genders. Having to check either male or female on every form you ever fill out is a clear indication that other genders aren’t even acknowledged.

  21. @ marilove:
    In varying fields of employment, one sex is better suited, on average, than the other. I can think of a few either way.

  22. Gender is a social construction that’s full of hooey. Sex, for that matter, is also a social construction full of hooey. But *usually* sex is more cut and dry than gender, even if there is more of a spectrum of sexes than our binary system suggests.

    My own little bit of radicalism is that I think gender should be eradicated. I realize that will never happen, but it’s a lovely little utopia inside my mind, where both little girls and little boys can wear pink frilly dresses while playing in the mud and not be looked at as odd.

  23. If we are talking about the genders on the whole, in generalities, vs. individual woman & individual man, I’d say the genders are not equal and will not be. Our parts are different, our brains work differently. Again, this is generally looking at each gender as a group, because of course individuals will differ from the whole.

    But should we have equal opportunities regardless of gender? Hell yes.

    Do we currently? Not even close. In my area in particular the wage gap is lower than the state average and the stage average is lower than the national average (SWPA). There is still much work to be done and I’m not sure we’ll ever really get there completely, but there are certainly things we can still be doing.

    Its about having options. Choices. Regardless of whatever minority status an individual has.

  24. Equal rights, equal opportunity, equal pay, equal respect and dignity of all persons… , absolutely. However no one is equal qualitatively with respect to our physical, intellectual and emotional abilities and capacities. This is a different issue as others have stated and in my estimation is often confused with general equality concerns. Also I think some “gender” differences are misconstrued as concerns of equality when they are more issues of biology such as the penchant of males toward more aggressive and competitive behaviors.

  25. @James Fox: “However no one is equal qualitatively with respect to our physical, intellectual and emotional abilities and capacities. ”

    Yes, this! We are all unique snowflakes. ;)

  26. @marilove: I think we’re saying the same thing. Gender equality is a difficult construct to try for – it’s much more important to look at individuals and fairness in key areas. All I’m saying is that there are some physiological differences that are GENERALLY true – there are always exceptions but you can assume those differences are true for a large proportion of the population and can make some fairly good assumptions about them. Yes, you should be flexible enough to be proven wrong. If my trainer suddenly has to train Venus Williams, he may choose to put her on a track that he traditionally uses for men, but that’s the exception, not the rule. In general, he probably has some activities that he finds effective for most men and some that he finds effective for most women. And I’m ok with that because it probably works.

  27. @marilove:

    I think we’ve made a lot of amazing strides in the U.S., but we are certainly nowhere near close to perfect gender equality — and that includes all genders, not just male and female.

    Yeah, don’t leave out the Hedges. We want to be equal too.

    I am a Hedge

  28. @marilove:
    All the typical physiological/biological differences between the sexes that make one more apt at something than the other.

    I do think gender fairness can be achieved. That is failing miserably in most areas of society.

  29. @laurae: “If we are talking about the genders on the whole, in generalities, vs. individual woman & individual man, I’d say the genders are not equal and will not be. Our parts are different, our brains work differently.”

    See, I have a problem with this line of thinking, because it basically says: Male. Female. That’s it. Sex and gender are not just about male and female. And how do our brains work differently, exactly? I think those “differences” are likely socially constructed.

  30. I’m guessing, by the comments already, that you mean political and social gender fairness, not necessarily equality.

    Does that exist? No. I’m not certain that it’ll happen in our lifetimes, either. I’d really like it to happen in my daughter’s lifetime, or her children if she decides to have any (she’s 6 1/2 now).

    @ Amanda: If gender were to be eradicated, that would be a happy, happy day.

  31. @marilove: And let me say — our parts are not always that different. There are plenty of intersexed people born, probably more than we realize, for instance, and some men are born with female parts. This is why I have a problem with “males and females have different parts and their brains work differently.” That would only be true if there was just male and female, but that’s not the case.

  32. Ok, so I line up pretty well with @MasalaSkeptic and @Laurae: for me, gender equality does not, cannot and should never exist.

    Men, women and every gender inbetween are thankfully and wonderfully different, and that’s never going to change no matter how much one might like it. (Although I don’t know how much one would actually like it, if it were to come to pass.)

    Equal opportunities? yes. Meritocracy? yes.

    Gender equality? Hopefully never.

  33. @marilove:

    And how do our brains work differently, exactly? I think those “differences” are likely socially constructed.

    I think there are actual differences. In humans, there are male-specific genes on the Y chromosome that lead to different developmental paths in males and females. Some of the outward physical differences are readily apparent. It is reasonable to expect some physical differences that are not as easily visible. I am pretty sure there are differences in neurological development. This can easily lead to different ways of thinking. Because brain development continues after birth (as any parent here knows, all humans are born with incompletely functioning brains), a lot of the differences we see in adults could easily be due to social interactions. This doesn’t mean that there are not differences that are present at birth. I’m not up on the research in this area, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are significant differences between male and female infant brains.

    I think in general, for any trait or characteristic that you measure, there will be a wide range of values. For some traits, you will be find a bimodal distribution. For example, height of adult human. There will be to peaks in the plot of these heights, one for males and one for females. But the two distributions will overlap a lot. There are probably cognitive traits that would have a similar bimodal distribution.

    I don’t think this is the ‘equality’ that we’re talking about here. I assume the question is a bout ‘equality’ as in All Mean are Created Equal. Which is clearly a false statement if taken literally.

    So, my answer to the actual question(s):

    How do you feel about gender equality?

    I feel good about it.

    Does it exist?


    Should it exist?


    I am a Hedge

  34. @marilove: Well, I did say “and every gender inbetween” for just this reason.

    It isn’t about parts or organs or chromosomes being measured and equalized, it’s about breaking that kind of measurement down.

  35. @Im a Hedge: ” but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are significant differences between male and female infant brains. ”

    I’d loooove to read more about that, actually. And what differences there might be in an infant that wasn’t born “technically” one sex or another, ie with different/mixed sex organs and/or chromosomes.

  36. In societal terms, absolutely!

    In scientific and biological terms, absolutely not!

    But we should be careful not to let the former interfere with the latter. I’ve seen women get bent out of shape about some study or other that talks about differences in women and men in behavior, etc. The criticism of these studies should be about the science, not about what would be best for society.

  37. No, it doesn’t exist. Actually, I don’t think any kind of equality exists but I am sure that isn’t what the question is about this afternoon. As far as the equality of opportunity. Yes, that should exist. I have a daughter and I want her to have the same opportunities as my sons. I think the biggest obstacle to equality of opportunity in the USA these days is the inequality of wealth. We have spent the last 28 years funneling money from the low and middle end of the wealth scale up to the wealthy and ultra wealthy. As Warren Buffett has said. “There is a class war in this country and my side is winning.”

  38. @marilove:

    a lot of people aren’t born strictly male and female, when it comes to the actual sex organs and the chromosomes.

    There’s certainly a phenotypic range, but I think it’s generally after the chromosome stage. That is, there may be an individual who is XY, so genetically male, but something prevents the male developmental pathways from beginning, or from completing. This person may be born as a phenotypic female. That is, the body would be indistinguishable from a female, other than the fact that there is a Y chromosome in every cell. If some of the male developmental programs have completed, or started and made substantial progress, this person could phenotypically fall somewhere between male and female. The rumors I hear (and I can’t back this up at all) are that these folks usually end up ‘assigned’ female status. The obvious implication of all of this is that it is a lot more difficult to make a penis than a vagina.

    I am a Hedge

  39. @shanek: Ah, but these studies generally forget that sex and gender are not the same, and that sex and gender can be and are very fluid.

    @Gabrielbrawley: I agree 100% with your last few sentences. I do think that sexism and classism go hand-in-hand a lot of the time, though. And racism, for that matter.

  40. “There is inherent privilege in, say, being a white male in our society.”

    As a white male I’d like to mention that most people I’ve ever heard say this have
    a) not been white males, and
    2) made more money and had a generally higher standard of living than I ever have come close to.

    Which I think means the gender equality topic isn’t even wrong. Opportunity and achievement are influenced by a plethora of factors. Considering any one of them alone is like my college Physics One class where we were told to “ignore friction” in some problems. Yeah, you can come to an approximation of an issue, but without considering all of the factors you cannot create a meaningful approach to improvement.

  41. The perception of women in various positions of authority (police officer, doctor, lawyer, mayor, governor, president) is gradually transitioning from unthinkable to unprecedented to unusual to commonplace. I think when we start running out of “First Woman ___” headlines we’ll be on the right track.

  42. @marilove: THERE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MORE lol. Issues.

    Anyway, yes, if you are a white male, you have inherent privilege you may not even be aware of. “Opportunity and achievement are influenced by a plethora of factor” — of course they are. That doesn’t mean you aren’t inherently privileged, though.

  43. I’m a white male in the United States and let me just say that I have definitely benefited from it. Tons.

    I don’t think it’s right, but I can’t pretend to be a black woman to level the playing field. I don’t really know how to handle it.

    As far as equality, no, we aren’t equal, and we shouldn’t be. We should have equal access and opportunity for education, healthcare, safety, dove chocolate, beer and tennis courts, but to say we *are* equal is to deny reality.

    Who is better at what? I’m not going to get into specifics, because I’m not smart enough to start that conversation, and any conversation like this must start with all the disclaimers about individuals not being applicable to the understanding of the aggregate population. My wife is is smarter and weaker than I am. Does that mean women are necessarily smarter and weaker in the aggregate? Of course not.

    But you *can* extrapolate from the individual: She is smarter than I am, but we should have equal access to education.

  44. 1: Gender, sex, and how you interpret their meaning and significance is a whoooole Kleenex Box of Issues I don’t want to open. Each time you pull an issue out, another one pops up! Suffice to say I don’t think any of it is entirely socially constructed, nor entirely genetically determined, nor entirely tied to development. It’s a mish mash (and a bit of a mess!), and that’s probably all we’ll end up concluding :)

    2: I hate the term “equality” when it’s put up with no qualifiers. I think equality under law is a great starting point. Then I think you move on to institutional equality (again, by rules/laws). But once you come down to the social level you hit the level of impossibility. Equality of opportunity is a great phrase, but EVERY SINGLE person faces different circumstances and it’s so, so tough to ensure something like that. It’s hard enough to predict the weather, and weather doesn’t have a consciousness or a culture influencing its choices (that we know of! ::bum bum BUMMMM!:::)

    You cannot guarantee against unconscious/subconscious bias. You cannot always prevent intentional bias or discrimination, nor identify it correctly when it occurs. It is very difficult to “enforce” any sort of top-down equality because of this, even if the attempt is right-headed.

    3: I also think it’s important to remember that equality =/= sameness. People are different. People self-identify in all sorts of ways, ways that sometimes don’t match up with the identities others perceive for them. In some situations it’s going to be best to recognize the differences in others for a variety of reasons and adapt methods and approaches, but it gets VERY hairy on either tail end of that (where you encounter relativism on one side and discrimination on the other).

    On the whole, I don’t think questions like this have legit “answers” (or not in any practical sense anyway). “Shoulds” are, by definition, open-ended questions with their answers being more about opinions than any definitive proof or testable hypotheses. But regardless, it’s always good to THINK about these things.

    By the way: This an awfully lengthy comment to leave, considering that its content ultimately signifies nothing :-P

  45. @ “prejudice = privilege plus power.”

    I loath this kind of neo-feminist stuff. I mean maybe I’m misreading you here (in which case I apologize) but you’re essentially saying that I’ve inherited sexism by being born a white middle class male. The PC left’s very own Original Sin.

    I don’t think that’s what the civil rights movement was about. I don’t think that’s what MLK was talking about.

    I identify much more with what Masala Skeptic said. When we talk about gender equality it’s an asymetric equality.
    For instance I have the right to write my name in the snow when I take a piss. A woman may have that right too, she just has to work a little harder for it. This is not sexism. Or if it is then the battle against sexism is a fools errand.

    There’s a conservative leaning (that’s an understatement) site I post at sometimes. Today one of them wrote the following:

    “single-motherhood — a one-way ticket to misery.”

    That’s sexism worth speaking out against.

  46. marilove:

    I think what you’re getting into is a perennial problem with human thinking. In The Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins gets into how you differentiate between one species and another, and points out that there is no species barrier; it’s a subtle gradation and therefore it’s human folly to think there’s a definitive point where one species ends and another begins. He uses ring species like the salamanders in California as an example.

    I think you’re making the same point about gender. There are males who are more effeminate, females who are more masculine, XY females, XX males, XXYs, lots of variations. But just as there is nonetheless a useful distinction of species, there is also a useful distinction of gender.

  47. @ Shanek, every day when you hail a cab on the street and aren’t black, you are privileged. When you host a plumber, electrician or equivalent and aren’t a woman, you are privileged. When you apply for a job and aren’t black or a woman or both you are privileged. And on and on and on.

  48. @drockwood: “prejudice = privilege plus power” works with racism, too.

    You haven’t necessarily inherited sexism and racism, but you DO benefit from being white, male, and middle class.

  49. @ shanek, good point re: there being a continuum, clearly that’s the case. Genetic gender is one thing, the continuum of “real” gender is another.

  50. @JRice: Yeah… Like, I don’t think he’s necessarily sexist or classist or racist just because he’s white, male, and middle class, but he certainly does have a lot of privilege because of it.

    I’ve noticed it’s white, middle class men who tend to have a problem accepting that.

    And let me say: Sometimes being a white, middle class (a broke middle class, but middle class nonetheless) female has it’s advantages. Like when getting stopped by the cops.

  51. Fuck the male privilege check list. Especially #27.

    @”27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.”

    As if any feminist is effected by that.

    Sorry, that was pretty low on my part. I’m not really that ignorant. I just love easy jokes and cheap shots.

  52. The question is problematic at best. It’s a basic truth that all people are not “equal” – we all have our own unique abilities (some innate, some developed, some a confusing amalgam of both). The real question is whether all people are equally entitled to certain core rights, like basic human rights and equal treatment under law.

    I don’t think there’s a meaningful difference between “should be” and “are” equally-entitled: women are entitled to the same rights as men (and vice-versa); unfortunately, our society doesn’t always respect that entitlement.

    I don’t think it will happen in our lifetime, simply because the acceptance of the idea that people should have the same rights regardless of gender (or sexual orientation, or race, or what color their hair is, etc.) requires that the majority be able to:

    1. Accept that people have innate differences,
    2. Realize that these differences should be celebrated, and
    3. Understand that none of these differences mean that anyone should be denied basic rights.

    Sadly, I think we’re a long way from that, because most people can’t think clearly — and many that can refuse to actually do so.

  53. @ “You haven’t necessarily inherited sexism and racism, but you DO benefit from being white, male, and middle class.”

    here’s a quote about racism / prejudice you may’ve heard:

    “I have a dream that they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”

    I forget who said it.

  54. @drockwood: Hahaha, yeah. I take 10 minute showers, don’t blow-dry my hair, and only wear makeup on occasion. Most men I know take a lot more time preparing than I do! :D But mostly it’s ‘cuz I’m lazy.

    @drockwood: > …Right, that’s ideally how it would work, but that’s NOT how it works in our society. By being male, white, and middle class, you HAVE privilege that a black, poor female does not. Period. And you can’t deny that, can you?

  55. here’s a quote about racism / prejudice you may’ve heard:

    “I have a dream that they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”

    That’s nice and all, but if you think this is a reality right now, you’re crazy.

  56. @marilove: In drockwood’s defense, marilove, his point isn’t that he doesn’t have privilege, it’s that he doesn’t feel he’s part of the problem with sexism.

    Clearly he recognizes his privilege, or else he wouldn’t have brought up his problems with how women define sexism.

    …Errr… while I’m at it: my wife pointed out that my “prejudice = privilege plus power” was wrong. It’s actually “sexism = privilege plus power” (and you can replace sexism with other things).

    Prejudice–and I apologize for my mistake–is simple pre-judgement. A separate issue, which has been mentioned in this thread in a few places already.

  57. @ “By being male, white, and middle class, you HAVE privilege that a black, poor female does not. Period. And you can’t deny that, can you?”

    I don’t know, I mean I guess, I try to avoid jumping to baseless conclusions and over generalizations, but I suppose I basically agree.

    But none of us are born on a level playing field and that’s not what civil rights should be about. Even if we were to adopt sweeping socialist polices to even things out there’s still the genetic disparities.
    We should worry about our own conscience and about laws that discriminate unjustly. Anything after that is just an excuse to share sob stories and sing kumbaya (which admittedly doesn’t sound so bad. at least better than reading some male privilege check list).

  58. Interesting discussion about White Male Privilege. What always bemuses me is why I’m expected to feel guilty about having that privilege, or why I’m expected not to use that privilege to ensure my success (as if “success” was some zero-sum game where my success must, by definition, be at the expense of someone less-fortunate).

    I am aware that as a white male, I have certain privileges. I can use the power that comes with that to try to make sure those that don’t have the same advantages get them.

    There’s not really anything I can do about how I was born, and anyone that would expect me to feel guilty because I was born white and male is just as sexist as someone who believes my partner should be quiet and demure* because she was born a woman.

    That said, I do think it’s important for anyone born into an “in group” to _realize_ in what ways they are inherently privileged. I also think that such privilege does come with responsibilities: namely, (a)to help the disadvantaged, and (b)to work to improve our society so that all people’s successes are the result of their effort and ability, not their race, sex, etc.

    * This is funnier if you know my partner. ;-)

  59. I think it doesn’t exist in society at large, though we’re slowly dragging ourselves (or being dragged) toward it. I think the best definition I’ve come up with for myself is that equality is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

  60. @Darren: I don’t think you should feel guilty. I’m not a fan of guilt in general. I do think that it’s important that you are *aware* of it and that, if possible, you try to prevent prejudice or inequality that may occur as a result of it.

    That being said, I am a brown woman, which should mean that I’m fairly low on the totem pole of privelege and I have been lucky enough to experience very little prejudice or inequality. Maybe there are opportunities I’ve been passed over for by virtue of my sex or color but I’ve never noticed. I’m very successful and happy in my career and accepted where I live (in spite of being in the Bible belt and having in-laws in Alabama).

    So, anecdotally at least, I can say that things are better.

    Or maybe I’m just turning white… I got to get out in the sun more…

  61. msd:

    “That’s nice and all, but if you think this is a reality right now, you’re crazy.”

    It never will be a reality until people start actually doing it!

  62. @Darren: +1. Excellent post, and exactly the point. Just because there is sexism in our society doesn’t make us personally guilty of anything: ignoring it does.

  63. It never will be a reality until people start actually doing it!

    I concur.

    @Darren, I don’t expect you to feel guilty about it. But you asked what your privilege was in a manner that implied you didn’t buy it.

    If I inserted meaning that wasn’t there, I apologize.

  64. @msd: “actually doing it” does not and should not mean “stop talking about how women have it harder than men”.

    To me, that seems to be the original poster’s intent.

  65. @Masala Skeptic: I think things ARE getting better, at least in some places. I can’t say that’s necessarily true for everywhere, though. Like my home town — it’s small and very “old school” when it comes to a lot of manners. If you’re a woman or someone of color, things are much harder for you there. And don’t even get pulled over by the cops in Arizona as a whole if you look or are hispanic. You will have some ‘splainin’ to do!

  66. JRice: the self-fulfilling prophecy is very real and has a measurable effect. If someone thinks they have a disadvantage, they won’t be as competitive, and they won’t do as well as someone in their same situation but who is more competitive.

    Denying that means that the situation will never change.

  67. Grented; I apologize, but I was psuedo-referencing a comment in another thread by said user, where he made it pretty clear (to my mind, anyway), that he thought sexism (racism, actually) was entirely so.

    I’ll rephrase:

    …or pretending that it exists only as a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

  68. wow, a…you’ve hit my pet topic. i’ve actually been pecking away at a post on gender…it’ll probably be awhile before i get it finished.

    so, as someone who really doesn’t fit neatly into a gender box, this stuff gets me a bit riled at times.
    i can accept that there are probably inherent average differences between people along the sex continuum (and i believe it is just that), but i am of the opinion that we can’t even begin to tell which ones are inherent and which are socialized. sexual stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our society that we often don’t see them, even in scientific research. based on this, i find research in this field to be interesting, but not conclusive, because it seems like every few years when an old study is reexamined, we see a new layer of prejudice in the method that wasn’t apparent at the time.

    to get to the point, regardless of whether or not different categories of people are inherently different, we should aim to erase those categories. i’m with amanda: gender irrelevance.
    realistically, it’ll never happen, but we can get a lot closer than we are now.

    and a general note on privilege: part of being privileged is not realizing what your status has done for you. and no, you shouldn’t feel guilty for your privilege, but as others have said, try to be aware of it.

    i have more, but this is getting too long…stay tuned for a full treatment in the next month or so.

  69. @a.real.girl: “Equal opportunities? yes. Meritocracy? yes.

    Gender equality? Hopefully never.”

    To me, that’s what gender equality is. It seems like you’re making a similar argument to when people say, “Oh, I’m not a feminist, I just think women should have equal rights” or “I’m not a feminist, I think ALL people are equal.” To me, that’s misunderstanding the definition and purpose of feminism and in this case of gender equality.

    Don’t mind me, HUGE sex and gender geek over here. And no, I was not a women’s studies major. If anyone wants a good (if dense) read on how sex and gender have changed and evolved over time, I highly recommend Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex.

    Oh and all those “male brain/female brain” dichotomies that supposedly exist? I come out male every time. Still glad to have two X chromosomes, though.

  70. JRice:

    msd: “actually doing it” does not and should not mean “stop talking about how women have it harder than men”.

    “To me, that seems to be the original poster’s intent.”

    No, it was not! I’m saying that, if you want to end sexism/racism/whatever, you can’t do it by continuing that very same kind of groupthink! You can only do it by treating people as individuals, which many posters here–including yourself–are not doing!

    If I have any privilege (and personally, I don’t see it; it seems like I’m screwed by the system at every turn), then it is because of my circumstances as an individual. What about clear advantages that go the other way? Some women can get out of speeding tickets by crying and batting their eyes. Is that fair? No, but life isn’t fair. I think we all need to get over that and realize that, in the end, while everyone should have an equal opportunity, not everyone realistically has an equal ADVANTAGE.

  71. I’ve always loved the way a.real.girl has talked about “gender equality”, and I think we share the same opinions point by point.

    I have the power to use my boobs to get people to change my tire, give me free drinks and buy Skepchick calendars.

    My husband uses “manliness” to sound authoritative.

    When we have a service issue with our bank or ISP, for example, I call and use my girly sweetness to try to get the job done. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, my huband gets on the phone and uses his manness to demand they get the job done. This usually works for him.

    I love being girly. I don’t think I should be penalized for having a vagina. I don’t think anyone should be penalized for having a penis. But the reality is, we all use our genders to our own benefit (no matter where we fall on the spectrum) and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Equal? Not a chance.

    Abusing the power of our gender is a different story.

    BTW, A, I love today’s topic!

  72. @marilove Check out some of the work of Helen Fisher. She mostly writes about love, but in this video:

    She also talks about how women’s and men’s brains differ. Again, its about as a whole. Of course, there are people who don’t fit into one gender (intersexuals, genderqueer, transfolk, etc.) but we are talking about men vs. women.

    I just don’t have the time to catch up on what everyone else asked. Blog commenting exhausts me.

  73. @Amanda: I’m not making any argument about rights, per se: I don’t think men and women are equal or need to be. We should be and are inequal in many ways. I very explicitly do not mean I think one gender is the lesser of the other, or even that only two genders exist.

    I think @elyse is thinking on my same track. I’m not saying I want everything to be fair (I’m not that much of a pollyanna to believe that would happen, or would be valuable.) I’m saying asking for equality is ignoring the obvious.

    Lastly, I know this term carries a lot of baggage, and that in our shared community conversation this is the substitute term for equality and fairness and merit-based decision making. But I think it’s a sad choice of words, because we fail before we begin.

  74. Looking through the comments here, I think it’s worth pointing out again that misunderstanding definitions can confuse an argument before it begins.

    If you call someone with a vagina female and someone with a penis male, then there’s a clear difference between the two. If you start asking about boobs, ability to give birth, mental dispositions, physical prowess, and a plethora of other things, I think everyone here will agree there are averages, continuums, and differences, and regardless of how you define it none of these should play into basic human rights.

    As far as addressing the problem, I agree with JRice that everyone should acknowledge exactly what benefits white males get. However, I would suggest that you are getting too caught up in your own social construction — exactly what you’re so upset about that has happened to females for so long — and forgetting what benefits white females also get. Look at each thing specifically, don’t just look at one side, and always go back to the evidence supporting the claim. I can tell you, as a fact, that 70-80% of my graduating biology, biochemistry, and microbiology class at Arizona State University is female, and that they have a much easier time finding scholarships than I do.

    Either way, I’m very optimistic that the trend is towards treating people of different genders much better, especially in young generations (the old ones will die eventually) and in the United States… I’m far more concerned by the fact that in many Muslim countries females are literally murdered or raped or flogged for not being subservient in a male-dominated society. This is orders and orders and orders of magnitude above any problems the US might have.

  75. Equality in what? I have never received a consistent answer from any woman who calls herself a “feminist.” Is it vertical equality or horizontal equality? Or both?

    For the most part, I am a fan of meritocracy in most contexts. Equal pay for equal work makes sense to me. That said, I’m not sure I agree with the effect Title IX has had on college sports, although I personally don’t even think colleges should even be in the business of sports, but the outcome still has a level of absurdity to it.

    We live in a sexist society which creates inequalities, to be sure, but I think the issue is far more complex, and there are more “-isms” kicking around that skew our perceptions. Example: The new CNNi poll ( has 57% men finding Sarah Palin to be qualified with only 45% of women finding her qualified. Would an inherently sexist society have this large of a differential? We would all like to think that it has to do with her objective stances on women’s issues, but the undisputed fact is that outside the ivory towers, this election has been primarily demographically-driven (NOT issue-driven). (e.g., Why aren’t low-income Hispanic-Americans supporting Obama in droves?) I think these poll results have more to do with the fact that she is an ATTRACTIVE woman.

    In this sense, I think there is a significant level of discrimination in our society based on attractiveness – being the right weight, etc. – although we tend to ascribe these effects to sexism, racism, ageism, etc. Thus, my opinion is that the issue of whether and why there is inequality is much more complex and much more difficult to accurately quantify and assess than male v. female.

  76. I think you guys are missing something very important. AmateurScientist made Eggs Benedict with his PENIS! I can’t even figure out which muscle to flex to turn the stove on.

    As for studies about a pay gap — how are those studies done? I remember reading a minor debunk of those, claiming that the studies didn’t factor in things like women taking time off to give birth or raise children. (That is, when they were working, they got the same wages as a man of equivalent education/training/experience, but women as a group tended to make less over a career because they tended to leave the workforce for longer periods.)

    I don’t remember where I read that, and I can’t even swear that it’s a valid criticism. I’ll see if my secretary can use that fancy post-doctoral education of hers to check it out after my morning bagel and back rub.

  77. I remember as part of some basic training I was doing to be a volunteer at a GLBT org that there was a study done of XY Man brains and XX Woman brains. They found one very distinct difference, a large teardrop shape on a single slice which was present in one sex (I think XY Men) but not the other. They then looked at XY Women (Male->Female transgender) and XX Men (Female->Male transgender) ‘s brains, (old study, I think it was just people who identified as, but not sure) and would you believe it, XY Women had a similar slice (the same if it was the lack of teardrop) as the XX Women, while XX Men had a similar slice (slightly more exaggerated teardrop if I remembered correctly) as the XY Men.

    There’s something to this Men’s and Women’s brains develop differently. Yes, I recognise that there are more than 2 genders. (I’ve just labelled 4 there, and that was in the confines of a study!)
    Men and Women in general should have the same opportunities. It should be a meritocracy. I’m not sure how I feel about companies/universities setting target levels of women in certain positions. I’m not sure how I feel about scholarships which are only available if I have a vagina. Certainly no-one would suggest a male-only scholarship.

    I wonder about starting a male-only gym, and how long it would be before a group of ultra-feminists demanded to be allowed in, while demanding that their female-only gym remain such.

    No, I’m not ragging on feminism’s ideals, I think I hold them myself, but I can understand why some people want to distance themselves from the name.

  78. @a.real.girl: Oh yes, I know we’re on the same side and that you’re not trying to say any gender is better or worse than any other. Sorry if that didn’t come across clearly; I shouldn’t post when sleep-deprived.

    I guess the semantics come down to “equality” and “the same” have different meanings in my usage. And saying “I’m not for gender equality” while arguing for fairness and equal opportunities just seems unnecessarily divisive. I’d rather that people who hold the same ideals all group themselves together to work towards their goals rather than setting up these divisions.

    A, this was a great AI question to ask and the discussion has been really interesting, so thanks for asking it.

  79. Yup, I’ve got to toss in the a.real.girl quote too …

    “Equal opportunities? yes. Meritocracy? yes. Gender equality? Hopefully never.”

    Pretty much any original thought I had on this topic has already been gone through (my fault for not looking at it earlier!) so I won’t take up space repeating it.

    carr2d2, I’m looking forward to the long version!

  80. Oh, one more thing though. One of the reasons that I would never fight for FULL equality (with the incorrect definition of “sameness”) between the sexes is that I really kind of like my life.

    My husband and I, for whatever frustrations we may have otherwise, have a darn good partnership when it comes to our family structure. He has a full-time job. I have a part-time job that I love and will mostly fit into my kids’ school days, but it would not be enough to support me independently. The fact that I’ve been home when the kids were for the last nine years has made it so we don’t have to pay for daycare. (And yes, I know not everybody can do this, I don’t want to get into a big ol’ discussion about sahm’s and privilege.) For us, cutting corners and buying generic brands and secondhand clothes and driving cars until they die has worked, and I suppose I’m probably benefitting a little from reflected white guy privilege.

    But as far as our actual division of labor, I like the differences. I don’t WANT us to be equal. Some of it’s gender, some of it is just personality and natural ability, but the differences are what make it work. He’s brilliant, but I’m better with money so I do that. I like being outdoors, but he’s better with yard work so he does most of that. We both love the kids, but he would not be a good all-day around-the-clock parent so I do that. I *could* do the heavy lifting around the house if I have to, but it’s easier for him so he does that. He can cook, but I really enjoy it, so I do that.

    Some of them fall in the accepted gender stereotypes, some don’t. But it works for us. And I guess what I really don’t want is somebody outside my life telling me that I *have* to go out and have a full-time job just so that things can be “equal.”

  81. @Improbable Bee: what i was getting at, and i think what a lot of people have been trying to get at, is that i don’t think people should be in any way constrained by their sex or gender. everything should be determined based on individual strengths and aspirations. you and your husband have a fairly typical division of labor, and, taking gender out of the equation, it would probably stay the same because you’ve worked out a system that works for both of you based on your individual strengths. my husband and i have an arrangement that is pretty close to 180 degrees from the norm, because it works for us.

    i just think that the more free people are to make choices (and not have them made for them based on their genitalia) the better things work and the happier people are.

  82. The genders are not identical morphologically and there’s plenty of evidence that they are not identical neurologically. That we may differ in natural capacities may delight misogynists/misandrists but it needn’t somehow preclude equal treatment under the law. If we were to offer a gradient of civil rights and position people along that gradient based upon their genetic predispositions, we’d be allowing the imagined implications of science to make slaves of us rather than living according to our preference and making use of science to facilitate that decision.

  83. I’d like to see it happen.
    I want to see it happen.
    I treat women as if it has already happened.
    But I don’t think it’s inevitable, though. Change never is.

    Kimbo has it right: “…we should be “equal” of course in terms of basic human rights and freedoms.”

  84. @carr2d2: I and my husband are a couple of gay men, according to the tests! I can’t wait to read your post, I’m sure it will be good.

    As for my views, I am less a “feminist” than a “humanist”. I have seen gender stereotypes hurting all parties involved. My husband stays home with our son, and he gets labeled a “deadbeat dad”. My grandmother actually gave me a hug and lamented how I “shouldn’t have to support him”, but she has no problem with letting her husband support her. On the other side, I have heard my female boss talk about how she absolutely would not hire women for the production shop, if it weren’t that she is required to by law.

    I think the real issue is prejudice. People make personal judgments on others before they have the evidence required for an accurate assessment. If we can learn to treat each other as simply humans as we get to know each other, things would be much more equal for everyone.

    As far as equality being possible, it’s going to take our effort to raise the next generations to know prejudice isn’t cool before people will finally be known for what they do, not how they were born.

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