Imagine you are a young woman doing research on primate behavior somewhere in
Africa. You’re watching some species of apes engaging in characteristic
behavior. The alpha male is lording it over the troop and the females are
submitting to him.
Tsk, tsk, typical male chauvinist, thinks the young primatologist. But would
she make this sort of observation in her report? Of course not. The species
she’s studying is known to be hierarchical. They have no illusions about gender
equality. In fact, they have no concept of it. It would be unprofessional to
insert such an anthropomorphic observation into her field notes.
Now suppose another young woman is studying some tribe in a remote corner of
the globe. She witnesses men doing their manly deeds…hunting, lolling in
hammocks, dancing around the campfire while dressed as some sort of spirit
animal, telling fart jokes, or whatever, and the women doing their womanly
deeds…cooking, sewing, weaving, swatting their children, or whatever.
Tsk, tsk, typical gender role stereotyping, thinks the young cultural
anthropologist. But would she make this sort of observation in her report? Of
course not. That would be imposing her modern western values on a non-western
tribal culture. She would never sanction such a rigid division of labor in her
society, but to criticize the tribe’s culture might imply imperialism,
eurocentrism, maybe even (gasp!) white privilege. It would be pointless, as
well as unprofessional, to criticize them for sexism, since they have no
concept of same.
Now let’s consider a gender studies professor observing and describing sex
roles in a large organization in a modern western country. It is highly
unlikely that she would collect the data and report it without including
editorial comment highly critical of the slightest hint of discrimination.
That’s because prominent among contemporary memes and themes is the notion that
gender roles are a mere social construct predicated on the gender one was
“assigned” at birth.
Well, I don’t deny the reality of social constructs, but I think they should be
identified properly. After all, those baby apes grew up into male and female
adult apes without anyone placing them into male and female categories. People
in that primitive tribal culture survived for centuries – and continue to
survive – despite rampant sexism.
Speaking of sexism, there was a time, not long ago in historical terms, when it
was not considered a problem. Despite the slow but steady emancipation of women
over the last couple of centuries, the word sexism was not invented till 1965,
according to the finallyfemninism 101 blog.
Believe it or not, youngsters, there was a time when the employment ads in the
classified section of your local paper contained the categories “Male Help
Wanted” or “Female Help Wanted.” If you had objected to this on the basis of
sexism in 1964, you would have been greeted with a puzzled look. Sexism? What’s
that? Why, it’s a social construct that hasn’t been invented yet, but mark my
words! Soon it will be all the rage!
Actually, sexism is a corollary of an overarching social construct that has
been around for centuries. That social construct is equality. You can say it
started with the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the French Revolution,
or communism. You might discern a rudimentary form of it in the early years of
Equality is an abstract quantitative concept, as simply expressed as 2 + 2 = 4,
or 1 oz. of gold = (fill in with today’s exchange rate pertaining to your local
currency). What does that have to do with the organization of society? Given
the complexity of the human genome, how could the notion of equality ever be
Yet the drumbeat goes on: Equality good! Inequality bad! We’re all on board
with that, right? Sounds simple enough. Ah, but what about those devilish
details. That’s when we encounter Procrustean attempts to define (or worse,
enforce) egalitarianism by asserting 2 + 2 = 5…or 6…or 7…or whatever we
say it does.
For example, let’s explore equality in the marriage market, where the average
35-year-old man is blessed with more options than the average 35-year-old
woman. If you wanted to express this in the form of an equation, it might look
something like this: ♂ x 35 ≠ ♀ x 35.
For feminists, what makes this inequality particularly vexing is the lack of a
remedy. They can lobby every legislative body on the planet to no avail. They
can lecture men about the virtues of older (if not necessarily more mature)
women, they can nag the mainstream media to soft-pedal the young hotties and
start featuring women approaching the wall, but there is no instrument they can
wield to compel men to get with the program.
Now I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that somewhere out there a coven of
feminists in a think tank is feverishly working on a solution to this
inequality. Unfortunately for them, short of mass executions of females under
the age of 35, inequality must remain the rule. Read it and weep…or gnash
your teeth, if you prefer. If it makes you feel better, you can change the
unequal sign to equal in the above-referenced equation, turn it into a bumper
sticker, and distribute it by the millions. But it won’t change the reality of
Nothing exemplifies the equality versus inequality debate better than the
never-ending controversy concerning gender equity in paychecks. According to
feminists, if men collectively earn more money than women collectively, that’s
prima facie inequality! The non-feminist response is that when one considers
hours worked, seniority, market pay scales for the type of work performed, and
other factors, men and women are paid equally. Both sides employ statistics to
prove their case.
Now the important thing here is not which side has the better argument, but the
fact that both sides feel the need to appeal to equality. In fact, no other
basis is acceptable. Advocating for your self-interest or the best interests of
your tribe is unseemly. In order to win over hearts and minds you must
genuflect to the great god equality. When it turns out that you and/or your
tribe derive more goodies from your campaign for equality…surely, that’s just
To gain legitimacy, even a “conservative” debater must preface his remarks with
something along the lines of “I believe in equality of opportunity but not of
outcome,” or “I believe a man and woman doing equal work should receive equal
pay, but…” At some level, equality must be invoked because it is virtually
synonymous with virtue, even when inequality makes more sense.
For example, in days of old, but within my lifetime, it was customary to pay
married men more than single women (and men) because they were supporting
families. Married men were considered more stable – and hence more desirable as
employees – than single men. Married men needed steady work but they also
needed to earn more because they weren’t supporting just themselves. If they
were happy with their paychecks, they were less likely to job hop. So it made
economic sense to keep the married man – a known commodity – happy and on the
job rather than have him walk off the job in search of a few extra bucks
elsewhere, thus forcing the employer to go to the trouble of auditioning a host
of job candidates – unknown commodities – to find a suitable replacement.
Such a policy, no matter how sensible, would never fly today because you just
can’t wrap equality around it. Of course, if you debate a progressive on the
merits of inequality in this or any other situation, sooner or later the phrase
“double standard” (almost as popular as “sexist”) will crop up. Yet what’s left
unsaid is even more important.
Your progressive opponent will never stop to ask you if you believe in
equality; it is tacitly assumed that any enlightened citizen of a modern
western country believes in equality. And assuming you believe in equality,
then how can you believe in (fill in example of alleged inequality)?
If you want to pull the rug out from under such a debate, just announce that
you do not believe in equality. It does not exist in nature; it is unnatural.
It is an abstraction. It is a social construct.
I suspect that most people will be taken aback by such a statement, since
equality’s tentacles have a stranglehold on sociopolitical discourse. You will
probably be grilled on what you do believe in. What are you anyway? A fascist?
A fundamentalist? A Republican?
Well, I don’t think it’s necessary to pitch your tent in any of those camps, or
any other camp, just because you have decamped from the social construct of
equality. Having done so, you are not obligated to measure everything (often by
dubious or arbitrary methods) to determine if A really does equal B and to cry
foul when it doesn’t. You are not prejudiced in favor of equality.
Equality and prejudice have opposing connotations. Equality implies a lack of
bias; prejudice the presence of same. Equality is a warm and fuzzy chimera, the
Casper the Friendly Ghost of social constructs. Prejudice evokes Ku Klux
Klansmen, anti-semites, xenophobes, homophobes, and misogynists. Prejudice
positively reeks of intolerance.
Yet egalitarianism is a form of prejudice, as it colors the way one views the
world. Customs – even the most longstanding – as well as contemporary social
policy are vetted (in other words, pre-judged) according to whether they pass
egalitarian muster. Unless you are a member of some isolated non-white tribe,
as discussed at the outset of this article, you do not get a pass.
Yet it makes as much sense to apply the social construct of equality to a
modern society as it does to a traditional tribal society or a troop of apes.
But nothing would raise eyebrows faster at a cocktail party than the assertion
that equality is bunk.
So the next time someone cries out that women are under-represented in STEM,
paid less than men, or victimized by the patriarchy, just say “So
You might get tired of saying that over and over; if so, try these phrases:
“Things are tough all over.”
“It is what it is.”
“How ‘bout that!”
And my personal favorite: “Ask me if I care.”
You will probably be accused of insensitivity, a quasi-crime as grievous as
inequality. But it’s better to be an insensitive individual than a microbe in
an insensate collective. In the face of a dysfunctional consensus regarding
equality, a thickening of the carapace is inevitable.