The Many Meanings of Equality

Feminism is the belief that men and women are equal.

By that definition, everybody this side of Saudi Arabia is a feminist. But we know that is not the case. No self-respecting feminist would ever call me feminist.

If a feminist were to ask me “Dave, do you believe that men and women are equal?” I would say, “Of course. So far as I can tell they are equal in abstract intelligence, which is the most important thing. They are held equally responsible for their actions before the law, and have an equal dignity in the eyes of God.”

And the feminist would say: “What a fucking hypocrite! If men and women were equal, why don’t you think women should fight in the Marine Corps? Why do you excuse the fact that men earn more money than women? Why, in your own blog you yourself admit that you hold the door for women, infantalize them gifts of flowers, and think girls should not go drinking with boys at frat parties! Your assertion that their abstract intelligence is the same is condescending and this business about men and women being equal in the eyes of God is sanctimonious bullshit. Check your cis-male privilege you patriarchal pig!”

And by her own lights, the poor, bitter, frustrated creature is correct, because we are using the word “equality” differently.

To explain, lets back up a hundred years or so to the intellectual grandfather of modern feminism, Karl Marx.

Let’s imagine Karl Marx sitting for tea with David Rockefeller. “David,” Marx would ask “Do you believe that the rich and the poor are equal?”

Rockefeller responds “Well, of course. We all have different talents I suppose. Mine is making piles and piles of money. But we are all held equally responsible before the law, or at least we have to work to make sure we have honest judges who are not swayed by human respect. Certainly, we are all equal before the eyes of God. Why, I have known many a poor man who is a better Christian than me!”

And Marx would reply “Hypocrite! You invented this “blessed are the poor” bullshit as an opium for the masses to distract them from the fundamental economic inequality. You say we need honest judges: it isn’t the judges that are the problem. If there is no economic equality, what other kind of equality could possibly matter? Equal in the eyes of God? You made God up in order to keep the poor in their place!”

Rockefeller would say “Karl, I didn’t make it up! I really believe it!”

And Marx would say “Which makes you so dangerous. Which means that until you, and everybody like you, are dying in gulags, we can have no equality.”

Because, you know, Communists want peace.

A modern socialist would look at income inequality and prescribe a massive redistribution of wealth in order to level everyone out. But our buddy Marx would say that is a false equality and would achieve nothing; in a generation or two, inequalities would reappear, and people would find ways to pervert the redistribution mechanism into a caste system by which the redistributers make all the money skimming off the top. (And he would be right: ever notice how government bureaucrats seem to do so well for themselves?)

No, according to Marx you don’t need redistribution, you need the abolition of private property. Since all cultural expressions are nothing other than schemes by the capitalists to justify their existence, these too must be done away with in a massive, blood soaked purge. Art, morals, and religion are nothing more than justifications for inequality. Family too must be done away with, because it is nothing more than a means of passing income inequality from one generation to the next.

Contemporary feminism is the intellectual granddaughter of Marx. Just as Marx argued that that all culture was designed to cover up the effort by capitalists to keep the workers poor, at the heart of feminism is the belief that all cultural differences between men and women are nothing more than attempts by the patriarchy to keep women subservient.

It is not enough to be like me and cheerfully think the differences between men and women are fine and that both sexes are different, but wonderful, and equally beloved. What I am too cis-male privileged to understand is that the very differences are the problem.

Some feminists (the more moderate) think they can more or less abolish cultural differences between men and women, and thus achieve a rough equality. Men and women are to be treated the same in everything. Thus, 90lb girls should not be discouraged from getting piss-ass drunk at parties with the college football team cheering them on, because equality. Thus girls should join the Marine Corps and charge machine-gun nests while wearing 80lbs of gear. Because equality. Girls should be allowed to cavort naked in front of dirty old men for dollar bills (that is, $1 bills, normal tip at a strip club). Because empowerment.

Other feminists, the radical feminists, think this kind of feminism is slack-jawed and drooling stupidity, and of course they are right. For radical feminism the differences that are the source of inequality are written into our very biology: women are smaller, weaker, and get pregnant. They think and feel very differently than men, and this makes them more vulnerable. The whole universe is arrayed against them. Biology and reproduction are fundamentally evil, cruel tricks of blind evolutionary processes. Men are by nature wicked and must be avoided at all costs. The only solution to inequality is to avoid men all together.

There are few ideologies as fundamentally pessimistic and depressing as radical feminism, but at least it is consistent.

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