Saturday, June 25, 2011

Equality, not Homogeneity

To finish this series, a guest post by my husband!

When I was in early elementary school, I had to write an essay about a person I knew who I admired as an assignment. I picked Sam, who was dating my grandmother at the time. I wrote about how much fun I had when we went out to visit them, about the things we did together (we'd play ping pong and pool), about his awesome Sicilian cooking, about watching him play tennis, etc. I showed it to my Mom, who told me that I should change it, because I hadn't mentioned that Sam was permanently wheelchair-bound. She explained to me that it's OK to point out people's differences if you're doing it in a positive manner.

I still remember this specific conversation nearly two decades later because I was absolutely confounded by this; I'd always been taught not to mention people's differences, and certainly not if they were handicaps.

This is the culture in which we live, and I believe it's this kind of thinking that has negatively impacted gender relations in many of the ways my wife has been writing about this week. The truth is, men and women are different in many significant ways. I'm not talking about stereotypes here - there has been plenty of credible scientific research on the ways in which brain function differs between the sexes. The feminist movement has certainly raised awareness of many issues that needed to be addressed, and many others that remain embarrassingly unsolved. However, it also seems that there's been a rise in the idea that all people are equally suited to all tasks. Aside from the general ludicriosity of that suggestion (I could never be an NFL quarterback any more than Tom Brady could ever do my job), this also minimizes the differences we should be celebrating.

Tom Brady
"Just thinking about writing error codes for a living makes me sad."

I've heard lamenting among various ethnic groups about the loss of traditions in favor of the homogenized American culture. A fair point, to be sure. I also see this happening in terms of gender roles, but I don't hear the same wistful concern there. This may in part be due to the association of these roles with the oppression of women, but all cultures (including American) have their dark spots that people would prefer to overlook. Why can't we do the same with gender roles?

For the first 6 months of our son's life, I telecommuted full-time. Since then, I've worked at home 3 days a week, so I'm around most of the time. Since I had a flexible schedule, we took turns taking care of Peter (and I did most non-nursing tasks for the first few weeks). When he is upset, he almost always wants to go to my wife if we're both around. When he wants to play, he almost always wants to go to me if we're both around. I know this is anecdotal, but the point remains that this isn't some kind of learned cultural behavior. It's not even necessarily about nursing (sometimes she'll take him and do the exact same thing I was doing and he'll calm down). There must be something to that.

Peter is still mad that I haven't gotten him Halo: Reach yet.
(He had this headset on exactly long enough to take the picture.
No developing brains were harmed in the production of this image.)
During the rise of the Creative Commons license and other open source-type legal matters, there was some confusion in the general public as to what "free" software meant. In order to differentiate between the cost of the programs and the restrictions on their use, one software developer began describing them as "free as in free speech, not as in free beer". I submit that we, as a culture, should look on gender equality the same way. Equal as in equal rights, not equal as in identical. That way, we can all work toward our strengths as men and women, helping us better achieve our potential as people.

Jeremy is married to CatholicMommy. They have had a child for exactly the same amount of time, though she has written more about the experience than he has. He is good at math but bad at spacial reasoning, unless it's Tetris. He has a blog too, but is not sure you'll want to read it, unless you like gaming and politics to go with your natural parenting reading.


  1. Jeremy, thank you for your insightful words! Liana, I've enjoyed this series tremendously. Thanks for beginning a conversation! I consider myself an equity feminist, which categorizes me as a minority amongst the rest of feminists whom are gender feminists. I appreciate and celebrate the different roles that women and men have, while gender feminists seek to abolish gender roles all together. We [society] are so willing to embrace ethnic diversity....but how come our society has such a hard time accepting gender roles and the differences between them? It seems like a double standard! As an equity feminist, I find myself supporting equal opportunities for women in the workplace, just as much as I support women choosing to stay at home as full-time homemakers. I think Jeremy says it perfectly describing men and women as "equal but not identical." I'm from the camp that diversity is always a good thing!

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I hadn't heard the term equity feminist before, but I like it. I'm going to start using it and sounding all smart now. ;-)