This may upset some of my fellow feminists, but I do not believe in equal representation. I do not think if there is 1 man for every woman, spot number 100 should go to a woman to make the roster 50/50 if better qualified men are available.
What I also believe is that we are so laughably far from presenting men and women with an equal opportunity to be in a competitive position for that final spot that is should shame every member of society.
Let’s start with a BBC experiment. They took boy and girl infants and dressed them in clothes traditionally associated with the other end of the gender spectrum. They then allowed adult volunteers to play with the children, leaving them in a room with an assortment of toys. The volunteers chose dolls and plush toys to play with the “girl”, while the toys that helped with spacial reasoning and mechanical thought went with the “boy”.
That is the reality of gender roles today. Each generation of person maintains biases and beliefs about what is a boy and what is a girl that we impose, consciously or subconsciously, on the next generation. They mature with the same understanding, or at least a similar understanding, of those roles.
We cannot take infant boys and train them in the skills associated with STEM, explain (again, conspicuously or implicitly) that men generally work in STEM careers, and then act surprised when men dominate STEM fields. We cannot teach them to “be tough” and suppress their emotions, that women are far more nurturing, and then act surprised that careers like teaching and nursing have a shortage of men.
Men are doctors; women are nurses, right?
I have written about this particular point in the past. We control for variables in the gender pay gap and draw one clear conclusion: the reason for the variance is not gender. Some people earn less for the same job because they lack the negotiation skills or assertiveness to get the additional compensation. This can be men as well as women – it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with skill.
The reason for the inequity in these skills is gender. We teach boys entitlement, to go out and take what they are worth. Men assert themselves with strength and confidence.
Girls, on the other hand, should be amenable and work to pacify relations. The boys in particular will get out of hand and sometimes the gentle guidance of female diplomacy is necessary to maintain the status quo.
Men rescue damsels in distress; women soothe the savage beast, right?
Society collectively enforces these understandings. The men’s rights activists, who exist solely as a rebuke to feminism and not the good faith pursuit of gender equality, like to highlight the pressures and standards enforced on men. Feminists want them to be softer and in touch with their emotions, yet as soon as they display emotion society rips them apart for failing to meet a standard of masculinity. This absolutely happens – I am merely highlighting that 1) the people pushing for more emotional intelligence among men and the people criticising them when doing it are two different groups, and 2) these societal gender expectations that feminism combats are behind those pressures and standards, too (what one sees discussed in feminist circles as The Patriarchy).
We want the first part – men to develop emotional intelligence. They do not have to be “soft”, but when they are hurt they should be able to express hurt without their society tearing them apart as weak.
Those guilty often use terms like “alpha” to describe it, and they refer to “nature.” However, what nature reveals is far more nuance – specifically, that respected leaders receive the utmost care from their society when they age or fall ill. Younger members do not see weakness and pounce, unless the leader was a tyrant or the youth is a would-be tyrant.
Strongest, even in the animal kingdom, has more to do with character than physical strength – a concept lost on many of those who resist the idea of gender equality. Their take on gender equality thinks the end game is the emasculation of all men. Quite the contrary, gender equality takes the form of lifting women while simultaneously lifting men to a still higher plateau.
A man in this gender equal world may still look like the traditional man. He may drink beer, go to ballgames, work in the yard, love his car, and feel a strong sexual attraction to women. This is not toxic masculinity. This is a list of interests and preferences.
Toxic is to impose any or all of those interests or preferences on all men based on gender/sex alone, and to punish those who do not conform to that definition (men and women alike do this).
This is the heart of gender equality: do not discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, or orientation. If one sees a man, there is nothing further one should infer from that. “I bet he likes sports.” Nope, one is already on the wrong path. Sure, historically certain things may be more likely than others, but treating that as fact and then holding the man to that expectation, when it was never true, is at the heart of gender equality.
Men can be extraordinarily nurturing. Women can be assertive and physically strong.
Consider a pop culture example: “My Cousin Vinny”. In the climactic court scene, Vinny calls his fiancee Mona Lisa Vito, played to Academy Award-winning perfection by Marisa Tomei, to the stand. Vinny calls her to the stand early in the case as an automotive expert on the car in question, and the prosecution jumps all over her credentials.
The scene is a brilliant portrayal of gender expectation. She’s a woman – an out-of-work hairdresser. Even when she establishes that every man in her family younger than Henry Ford worked on automobiles, they still believe that has nothing to do with her knowledge.
However, unlike the average woman, Mona Lisa grew up in an automotive environment. She may not have been specifically encouraged to take an interest in cars, but they were around and she did. She assisted with the automotive work in the shop. She has, as they demonstrate, an encyclopaedic knowledge of automobiles.
Spoiler alert. It even becomes the turning point in the entire case later. Here, have some fun.
The point is that if we treat people, from the earliest age, as people rather than according to gender….
One moment. Rather than according to our perception of their gender, because sometimes we don’t even have that right and impose onto others an expectation of the wrong gender…
….then people have equal access to opportunity to develop interests and the associated skills. They can have the freedom to pursue the career that interests them and we can fill positions according to who is best qualified rather than an arbitrary quota system. Increasing representation by placing under-qualified people is not the answer. Very few people suggest that it is.
But so long as we live in a society that discourages men and women from particular interests or skills, so long as we live in a society that compels men and women towards others, we will not have the fair representation we need in most industries.
Perhaps most importantly, we have to examine this from an intersectional perspective to account for the impact all institutions have on the process, as well as any other biases (such as race) that play a factor.
Equality does not mean same. Four quarters equals ten dimes, but quarters and dimes are not the same. No one is saying that we need some androgynous future that destroys family values and structure.
Men will likely continue to dominate the fields requiring physical strength. Generally speaking, the male physiology allows for greater physical strength. I stress “generally speaking” because we do have men who are physically weaker and women who excel. I’m not stepping into a ring with Tatyana Ali, Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, or any others any time soon. I recommend the vast majority of you do not either.
Will the NHL (sorry, I’m a hockey fan so we’re using an ice hockey example) ever be co-ed? Probably not. Does that diminish the professionalism or skill of the CWHL or NWHL? No, it does not. Hockey fans should be supporting them across the board. Does that mean that no woman should play in the NHL? Again, no.
I look to the example set by goalkeepers like Shannon Szabados (of Team Canada fame, currently in the NWHL with the Buffalo Beauts) and Stephanie Labbé (also of Team Canada fame, but for soccer). Neither reached “the Show,” but both demonstrated an ability to play at that level (Szabados played professional men’s hockey, but not the NHL).
I cannot stress it enough, the point is that we cannot place limitations on people on the basis of sex or gender. That is the inequality at the heart of things, the thing at which feminism continues to strike. It seeks to serve all people, not just women, but remains a part of the feminism movement because the effort comes from the blatantly sexist inequality of prior generations. Those women made tremendous gains for women, but the work remains undone because we still have disadvantageous gender expectations hurting us all.
All of us combating our prejudices and biases on the basis of gender, sex, and sexual orientation is key to unlocking human achievement and progress.