The Egalitarian Principle.

There is a big problem I have with Feminism.  It’s the aim of feminism.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of equality. In fact, I genuinely believe that if equality was the aim, then feminism would be laudable.  Unfortunately, in many many ways, feminism is the antithesis of equality.

Historically society has been rather (or completely) misogynistic.  I think it is fair to call that statement a truism.  In many parts of the word this is still the case, with women being unable to hold positions of authority, driving licenses and even bank accounts.  A situation which most rational people will abhor.  However, arguing that in order to redress this historical inequality, we now should be condemning men for the roles their (and women’s) male ancestors played in the subjugation of females is surely as wrong as the historical paradigm.

I hate to be the one to point this out, but women’s rights have come a long way.  I’m not suggesting that we are in a position where women are treated equally, but I am suggesting that from now on, feminism should be discarded in favour of something far less discriminatory.  We need, instead of arguing for women’s rights, to be arguing for true equality.

There is a difference inherent in this distinction.  Feminists argue to increase the representation of women, while egalitarians argue for the best possible person to provide this voice.  In case the effect of this is not clear, consider the following:

We decide, in sport, to separate the male and female athletes.  In the final of the 100m Olympic races, we have 8 men competing against each other, and 8 women doing the same in in a separate race.  Why do we do this?

Well, if we look at the times for the two races, we would see that the last female winner – Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce was a very speedy (and well won) 10.75 seconds, which beats my best ever time by at least 6 seconds.  This would, however, have been far slower than the time required to progress from the heats stages into the men’s competition.  (She would have beaten the slowest man on the track, by over a second, due to a groin injury).

So, in athletics it makes sense to distinguish – that is to discriminate – between the sexes.  Failure to do so would result in many, if not all female athletes failing to qualify for the games in the first place, and would make a travesty of the culture of inclusion which the modern games have become.

But what would be the effect of requiring the final to be made up of 4 men and 4 women?  The answer should be obvious.  On average – certainly at the top level – we would see four men cross the line, followed by four women.

Translate this to everyday life, where we are not reliant on purely physical ability (and the mental stamina which I these athletes possess) and the effect is less dramatic, but just as obvious.  Let’s say we have a committee of 8 people, like the final of the 100 metres.  The committee is meeting to discuss the future investment in space exploration/genetics/renewable energy.  You get the idea, something potentially very important.

Now, in order to demonstrate our equality, we insist that half of those sitting on the committee are female.  What effect will this have on the ability of the committee to function effectively?

Let’s suggest that, of the applicants to join the Space committee, we are offered 30 senior NATOSAT scientists.  NATOSAT is a wholly made-up but faintly believable company, and the vast majority of their senior staff are male.  They are in their 50s and 60s, and joined the company in the 1970-80s at a time when few women were interested, or able to begin, a career in the aeronautics industry.  They put forward 26 men, and four women.  This is pure conjecture, but go with me.  We also have a number of applicants from a progressive company – make one up if you like – but it is far less male dominated than our fake NATOSAT.  They put forward a group of 15 men and 15 women.  We have a base group of 60 applicants for the 8 positions.

We hire a panel of judges, who screen the applicants for us.  We set them the task of identifying the best 8 people to make the decisions about the future of space exploration, and they do so purely on the basis of qualification, experience and the results of an examination.  They are completely unaware of the applicants’ genders.  They choose a panel of 8, six of whom are male and two are female.  This hypothetical result is based on a basic average weighting.

Now we introduce the rules of the committee – 50% of the panel members must be female.  Now we need 4 men and 4 women.  So, the two least suitable men – although better than at least all but 2 of the women – are told to pack their bags, and the two female runners up are called back to fill their places.

Many people may not see this as a problem, but I do.  You see, of the 60 applicants, only 19 were female.  Now we have a situation where – because of discrimination – two of the panellists can reasonably be expected to be a lower grade of applicant, and yet are working on the committee purely as a result of their gender.  I do not see this as a positive effect – in fact I see all discrimination as a negative.  If we rely on no discrimination at all, then the committee will be more effective, which has to be a positive thing, surely?

And another point.  Recently, the BBC made a statement that in future there would be no more all-male panels on comedy (and other) quiz shows.  I agree that in the past, they have often been testosterone heavy, and these comedy panel quiz events – from the aggressive and sometimes shocking (and great, by the way) Mock the Week and 8 out of 10 Cats, through interest-based gems (Buzzcocks et al) through to the rather more cerebral QI – have lacked a certain feminine touch.

Now, whether or not you agree with my diatribe above, you can at least see that there is an edge of discrimination in the BBC’s statement.  By dictating that one panel member must be of a certain gender, we are not only impacting the potential effectiveness but also tainting those people who are of that gender due to association with discrimination.

(In fact, and as an aside, Dara Ó Briain (host of Mock the Week and panellist on many of the other shows) was terribly misquoted within the last week, when he opined that the issuing of a statement was unnecessary and demeaning, possibly in the way I mention above.  Of course, in order to make a decent headline, this needed to be changed around a bit, and the Times thereby accused Dara of arguing against women appearing on panel shows.  I’m pretty sure that’s not what he was saying at all, but never let the truth get in the way etc…

I’m sure he had fun explaining that in 140 characters or less.)

So, how about trying to find a way forward?

First of all, I think we should do away with all discrimination.  Positive and negative.  Instead of a Minster for Women, why not have a Minister for Equality?  He or she could deal with all aspects of discrimination, whether it be due to gender, race, age or sexuality, and may actually be useful.

Look at how the gay-rights movement has worked.  Within the last few decades, perhaps since the 60s, the campaigners for equality of sexuality have really turned things around.  We are getting closer to a society in which I would like to live, where people are treated with compassion without reference to their preferences or their gender association.  We may not be there yet, but in 50 years, homosexuality has ceased to be illegal.  We now associate with a (fabulous?! (sorry)) section of society openly and without shame.  Gay men and women are serving useful roles in every aspect of our daily lives, and soon will be able to marry with the full rights that this brings.  How was this achieved?  Not by campaigning and demonstrating on a ‘Gay-is-Better’ or ‘Gay is more Natural’ platform, but one which instead included the straight world.  Equality was and is a goal, and I would like to think we get closer to achieving it every single day.

What next?  Oh, yeah.  Put men in to feminist politics.  Not all the way, not by stealth or legislation, but allow men to have an opinion on feminist issues.  Without doing so, you are alienating 50% of the population – something which the feminist movement has been arguing against for centuries.  Again, how far has feminism come in the same time as the LGBT communities?  It continues to be marginalised and ignored because it fails to engage with those people who believe in actual equality, very many of whom are men.

Moving on:  We should throw out the notion that women are reliant on men for their ideas of what femininity is.  The fashion and beauty industries are led and controlled in the main by straight women and gay men.  Beautiful ladies, let me say this to you: Straight men, on the whole, have less of an interest in the shade of eye-shadow you are wearing or the designer of your clutch, and frankly if you show an interest in us and are confident, we will not only accept you for who you are but we will also love you for it.  We love beauty, and it comes in many forms.  It’s the fashion media which is teaching you to hate your bodies and doubt your abilities.  Throw off these hurtful and damaging teachings and think for yourself.  No more reading tales of how all men are disgusting, all they are after is your body, and here’s how to make him want you even more.

Discard hypocrisy, and engage with everyone.  When someone asks if you are a feminist, say “No.  I am a egalitarian, and proud of it.”

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9 thoughts on “The Egalitarian Principle.

  1. Feminism used to be being equal and being given the same rights and opportunities as men. Nowadays, it is more about how women can use their gender to get ahead. It may not be politically correct, but I see it everyday.

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  2. Consider the following train of logic:

    If
    A: women are just as capable as men at leadership;
    B: as a society we select our leaders solely on their capability; and
    C: women are 50% of the population
    Then
    D: women will hold 50% of leadership positions

    Logically, the only way for D not to be the case, is if A, B or C are not the case. The entire movement of feminism is based on the undeniable fact that, in our society, A and B are true, therefore we need to work on C. Nobody is arguing that women are more capable than men or that they should make up more than 50% of leadership positions, only that we need to take action to ensure that we do reach 50% representation.

    In the words of Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner “If we don’t consciously include women, we will unconsciously exclude them.”

    In the example above, try replacing “leadership” with “athletics” and you can easily see why your 100m sprint example is spurious: unlike leadership, men genuinely are more capable than women at athletics.

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    • I see your point but disagree with your assertions. The logic is acceptable, but I think feminists and egalitarians both would say that B is untrue – we do not currently select our leaders based purely on their capability. There is an inequality in our methods, whether conscious or unconscious. There is also a disparity in the figures. You state that 50% of the population are female, but the population as a whole is irrelevant. It is the number of people eligible and applying for a position which is the figure up for consideration. For example, many more women of professional and experienced age still choose to step out of careers to care for children. This creates a disparity in the number of applicants for many positions. I asked afriend of mine who works for a waste disposal company how many female applicants they had for a fairly recent recruitment drive. They had over 200. Out of nearly 2500. In many cases recruiters will have 90%+ of their applicants being male. To insist that half of the successful applicants for these positions be female would be a huge injustice.

      I think this is where we go wrong. But I think the feminist method of overcoming this disparity – by empowering women and/or ensuring the 50% compliance by legislation, overlooks the underlying discrimination, or even reinforces it.

      By failing to engage with society as a whole, this form of feminism is fundamentally a discriminating cause. To be effective, men need to be involved in, and have a stake in equality. We do not solve one injustice by causing another.

      Thanks for your comment!

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  3. There will always be industries in which more men will apply than women, and vice versa (e.g building/hairdressing), so to expect 50/50 representation in these industries is obviously unrealistic. It would be a rare feminist indeed who tried to argue that we need to legislate for a minimum number of female bricklayers, for example.

    Fields such as law, commerce and politics, however, have no shortage of willing, capable women who want to be judges, CEOs, board members and government ministers, but who miss out due to the unconscious biases of the people making the hiring decisions.

    Now I’m sure we would both agree that the ideal way to avoid the effects of these unconscious biases would be to somehow ensure that the people responsible for hiring were unaware of the applicant’s gender. Orchestras have achieved this with blind auditions—and if you can think of a way to achieve this in other industries then I’m all ears—but if we can’t achieve this, then we need to do something else to counteract the bias. The most effective method available, to my knowledge, is to put a quota in place: a conscious bias to counterbalance the unconscious one.

    The argument that women must take time out of work to bear children (something men are obviously incapable of) is a fine argument for why female leaders might be, on average, 1-2 years older than their male counterparts. This figure is based on the assumption that a woman has an average of 1-2 children, each requiring her to take 12 months off work. Of course many women take more time off work than this, but I would question whether that necessarily ought to be the case. Once a baby is about a year old, each parent is equally capable of caring for it, so there is no logical reason why there shouldn’t be an average 50/50 gender split in caring duties from that age onwards. After all, equal gender representation in business and political leadership is only one part of the equation. True equality will be achieved when we have equal representation in parenting as well.

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    • I kind of agree, but my short answer is we will have equality when we stop needing to take account of the gender split in either instance. Quotas are inherently discriminatory.

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      • I should clarify that, by quotas, I mean targets that are treated as organisational KPIs (measured, tracked, reported on and linked in some way to remuneration), not a mandated percentage of roles that must be filled by women regardless of the quality/quantity of applicants.

        We will have achieved equality when targets/quotas like this are not necessary. That is, when there is equal representation of women in leadership roles. Until then though, we need to do something to counteract the biases that currently persist.

        Yes, targets/quotas are discriminatory, but it’s not enough just to say “discrimination is bad” and leave it at that. We need to examine why discrimination is bad. The reason it’s bad is because it results in worse hiring decisions, in aggregate. So really the question shouldn’t be “Are quotas/targets discriminatory?”, but rather “Will they result in better or worse hiring decisions, in aggregate?”

        I would argue that targets/quotas result in better hiring decisions, in aggregate, because they cause employers to consider a wider talent pool.

        Of course there will be isolated cases in which a target/quota will result in a less capable woman being be hired in preference to a more capable man—there are negative side-effects in any course of action, including inaction—but these cases will be outnumbered by the cases where a more capable woman is hired, who wouldn’t have been hired were it not for the target/quota.

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      • “…but these cases will be outnumbered by the cases where a more capable woman is hired, who wouldn’t have been hired were it not for the target/quota.”
        This is the largest issue I see with feminism today. It assumes the worst of all men (or the vast majority of them, at least) at all times.
        It assumes that men, by and large, are all still such horrible people that they would hire a less suitable candidate, thus harming their business, solely because of some belligerent idea that women shouldn’t be in the workplace or are inherently less capable or whatever other reason. This simply isn’t the case. Business owners and executives want their business to be successful (just don’t ask them to define the metric they use for success) and, nepotism aside, they are generally going to hire the person that will be most capable of making that happen – because that’s good business.
        Are there anomalous incidents if jackwagons making the rest of us look bad? Sure. But they’re not representative of the whole and feminism assumes they are anyways because feminism has lost the ability to see women as anything other than victims who need to be held above the rest of society and given special privilege.
        And I’m an evil, woman-hating sexist bastard for saying such things, because men aren’t allowed to speak on any issues relating to women unless they’re holding those women above the rest of society and demanding special privileges for them.

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  4. I’m not saying that men are “horrible people” who would deliberately hire less-qualified men over more-qualified women. In fact, I have seen no evidence that women are any better at hiring the most suitable people than men are. What I am saying is that, as humans, we are all unconsciously biased towards people who resemble ourselves.

    Sure, if there are 10 applicants for a job and only one of them has the appropriate qualifications then we’ll hire that person regardless of their gender/ethnicity/etc., but it’s rare that a hiring decision is that obvious. What is much more common is a situation in which there are 10 applicants who all have the necessary qualifications. In that case, the decision becomes much less obvious and, whether we realise it or not, we all tend to rely a lot more on instinct.

    People who hire or promote men over equally- or more-capable women don’t think to themselves “Well she’s more capable, but I’ll hire him because he’s a man”, they think to themselves “I think he’s more capable, so let’s hire him”.

    Women do the exact same thing: they hire less capable women over more capable men due to the same unconscious bias. Women are humans too, after all.

    The key point here is that it all happens unconsciously. And the only way to overcome an unconscious bias is to consciously look for it and try to consciously counteract it.

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